It wasn’t just a showcase of the mridangam prowess of Madurai T. Srinivasan. Singer Kalpana Raghavendar’s bytes on the interesting facets of the artist were equally engaging.

The early evening at Bharat Kalachar had the venue reverberating with a fiesta of music served by Kalpana Raghavendar. The event was much more than a tribute to mridangam maestro, Madurai T. Srinivasan, who passed away recently.

It was a coming together of an audience that sat enthralled by Kalpana’s rendering of classical-based film songs for which Srinivasan had played the mridangam, and the artist, whose informal interaction with the audience created an atmosphere of give-and-take -- she gave, we took, and left satiated!

Kalpana had been an avid learner under her guru, Srinivasan. The well-known percussionist was also a composer, and music teacher par excellence. “Cheena Kutty mama belonged to a rare group of percussionists who made a mark on the film music firmament and in the Srinivasan’s Classical arena,” began Kalpana and went on to pepper her concert with interesting anecdotes about her guru. “I insisted my father (actor-singer Raghavendar) put me under him, because I wished to play the mridangam. But mama suggested I learn vocal. ‘Mridangam is not for girls,’ he told my dad,” remembered Kalpana. This was in the 1990s. Soon she became Srinivasan’s ardent disciple and accompanied him to all concerts till the very end. “We would go sabha-hopping throughout the Music Season, catching up with a quick meal at a nearby hotel on the way,” Kalpana said.

Genial mood

It wasn’t just Kalpana, the mood of all the accompanists was equally genial that it permeated through to the audience, as she went on from one unexpected piece to another. Unexpected because you never thought you would get to hear Balamuralikrishna’s ‘Oru Naal Podhuma’ or T. M. Soundararajan’s ‘Paattum Naanae,’ both from actor Sivaji Ganesan’s timeless classic, ‘Thiruvilayaadal’ or for that matter SPB’s challenging number, ‘Poovil Vandu’ (from Bharatiraaja’s ‘Kaadhal Oviyam’) in a female solo concert. She presented numbers with admirable felicity, scaling the higher octaves with ease and finishing every piece with a flourish!

Beginning with the song, ‘Sakala Kalai Arulum,’ her guru’s composition, an ashta ragamalika, Kalpana went on to mesmerise the audience with a variety of film songs in ragas ranging from Mohanam and Kalyani to Sankarabharanam and Sallabham. The songs had a prominent percussion base viz., mridangam, which had been played by Srinivasan in the original. Of course, the songs were not in pure raga mode always because composers had introduced unique touches which didn’t conform strictly to all the swaras of a raga. Kalpana explained the beauty of such songs in detail, touching upon the swara variations adopted by the composer.

Be it the nuances, the modulation or the brigas, Kalpana got better with every song. It wasn’t an exaggeration when Y.G. Mahendra said that if only she chooses to become a Carnatic music performer she would have given many classical music singers a run for their money! Yet, only when such brilliant singers introduce ragas through film music will lay listeners turn discerning and get drawn to the classical stream. So let’s have more such shows from Kalpana – not necessarily as tribute, but for the exhilarating learning experience they offer.