Life came full circle for Sikkil C. Gurucharan this Saturday when he was honoured by Karthik Fine Arts. It was under the aegis of this sabha, 16 years ago, that a young Gurucharan gave his first performance — even recording it on a cassette, on the cover of which he had neatly written his name: C. Gurucharan.
Today, some of the best-selling albums in Carnatic music bear his face, those trademark dimples intact. Giving up a job in order to pursue music full-time wasn’t an easy decision, but it was worth it, he says.
“Whenever I called my friends, they would be in meetings, or travelling on work. And here I was, without a concrete answer when someone asked me what I did during the day,” says the musician, who himself looks like an executive straight out of a board meeting.
He needed to practise all day to come this far, but it was not something he could explain to others. Now, at 30, Charan knows exactly what he is doing. “I discovered this term ‘equipping myself’. That’s what I do during the day — equip myself further as a musician,” he says, letting out a so far well-kept secret.
His growth as a musician has not only been fast, but is marked by remarkable consistency as well. The pace of his rise is easily explained — his music is rich, appealing and evocative, as critics have often pointed out. But what drives such consistency?
“If we were to take the evening slots in sabhas as markers of success, then it may seem like I am doing well. But that does not really set a bar for me as an artiste. I have to continue learning and reflecting on my music to see how I can do better. And maybe that incidentally helps achieve consistency,” he says.
With inputs pouring in from relatives — Charan hails from the family of the revered flautists, Sikkil Sisters, — and gurus Vaigal Gnanaskandan and B. Krishnamurthy, he has a lot of music to engage with.
He is also toying with the idea of teaching. “I think it will be very exciting. Especially when some unlikely questions crop up,” he says, recalling an instance when a teenager asked him the rationale for the sangatis (variations) in Thyagaraja’s masterpiece Chakkani raja…
“It opened up an exciting area for me. How each musician interprets a composition and makes it his own is simply fascinating. Over the years, different interpretations add to the body of work, enriching it in multiple ways.”
Charan’s passion and motivation may have brought him to this comfort zone in his career, but he still remembers his formative years when some crucial questions troubled him. Fame is flattering, but seldom compensates for the absence of an assured salary. “After a really strenuous concert, it can be very disappointing to see a tiny sum in an envelope. As someone who gave up his job, you wonder if you did the right thing,” he says.
During one such phase, a concert tour abroad put things in perspective. “Apart from the monetary aspect, these trips teach you to build contacts, network, and treat singing like a true profession. You come back motivated,” he says. Also, when listeners share their feedback with him candidly, with the liberty of speaking to “namma aathu paiyyan” (our boy), he finds it rather endearing.
Despite many fan pages online, Charan stays away from social networking sites. He finds the idea of maintaining a Facebook account tedious, and Twitter simply does not appeal to him. “I had an Orkut account briefly, but deleted it. I prefer e-mailing any day.”
Charan never misses an opportunity to travel. “My wife and I love travelling. We try and plan holidays around my concert venues every now and then.” These are destinations that could figure anywhere between Thiruvaiyaru and Brussels.
And whenever he needs to unwind, there is always a Kamal Haasan film to go back to. Charan presents a well-thought out case in defence of Kamal’s Dasavatharam as I attempt to provoke him.
“I have an elaborate argument on why that is a good film. Do you know the latest on Viswaroopam?” says the Kamal fanatic, as we wind up.
Another actor Charan adores is Goundamani. “Till date no comedian has come anywhere close to him,” he says with unmistakable conviction, adjusting his glasses.