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I honestly think Bombay Jayashree and Michael Danna did a great job in creating this very soothing track for Life of Pi. However, this caught an unexpected plagiarism controversy while the Oscar nomination is on and a potential felicitation is ringing at the door.
The controversy is surrounding a portion of the lyrics of this track. Apparently, a couple of lines are taken or adapted from the very very famous Malayalam lullaby “Omana thingal kidavo… nalla komala thamara poovo….”, which almost all Malayalaee mothers recites to their babies at bedtime. The slow pace at which this being sung would draw even the crankiest of babies lulled into sleep. There is a sense of nostalgia and cultural belonging this song evokes to all Malayalees and in that sense it is not entirely surprising that a question being posed when a few of the lines of Life of Pi echoed resemblance to Irayimman Thampi‘s masterpiece. Some argue that the lines under dispute are literal translation of the original, from Malayalam to Tamil, but others refute with the claim that it is a common feeling any mother could have and Jayashree only scripted it in her own words. Whether a segment of the song was adapted from somewhere else, still a lot of work had to be done to make this to a wide awakening one and to something like an Oscar nomination. That way, it is touch unfair to simply brag the artists as copycats. At the same time, if there was a genuine adaptation pooled into the song, then it is only fair to respect and give credit to where it belongs. It is a bit sad that this had to be drawn to a public bashing. Getting an Oscar will be a real delight since that also will take Carnatic music trace to the world stage reaching to a broader audience, hitherto unheard of its rich and classical history.
Since we are on this subject, I thought it is a good time to read up a little on the history of the Omana thingal kidavo song. This song was supposedly written by the famous Travancore king Swathi Thirunal‘s uncle Irayimman Thampi. When Swathi Thirunal was born, his maternal uncle himself a trained Carnatic musician composed this and was apparently sung by the mother Gowri Laksmi Bhai and the royal ladies to put the baby to sleep. The princely baby was all the more special since he was born after a prolonged wait at a time the Kingdom itself was at threat of being dissolved with the British empire having had no foreseeable replacement of a male successor to the King. Swathi Thirunal went on to become a famous King, who being an ardent Carnatic music follower also produced several masterpieces, some of them are popular even today. Irayimman Thampi as well produced many more compositions including Karuna Cheyvan enthu thamasam.
Besides the rich and soothing music, the lyrics of Omana Thingal Kidavo are knitted with superlatives comparing the baby to the most wonderful things one can see in nature such as nectar in my sight or the bright and charming crescent moon. It doesn’t utter a word about the sleep, but just has many questions posed by the mother to baby as to which among the greatest wonders will match the priceless baby grandeur. For any mother, none will match her baby and the lullaby carved into the minds of mothers of many generations. Whether they gave credit to Irayimman Thampi or not, the lullaby echoes in several hearts, even today.
Some interesting information on this composition is here. Further information on Irayimman Thampi and his contribution to Carnatic music is discussed by Dr. PP.Narayana Swamy. Renditions of some of the famous compositions can be heard here. A page on Swathi Thirunal is also maintained here. I am not sure whether it is the most comprehensive of his contribution, but has several useful links there.