At Svanubhava 2010, young audiences enjoyed their interaction with veterans.
During his conversation with director Rajiv Menon, at Chettinad Harishree Vidyalayam, on the third day of Svanubhava 2010, S.P. Balasubramaniam said his mother tongue was music!
SPB's father, who was a Harikatha artist, also acted in plays. Once he played the role of Bhakta Ramadas, and the five-year-old SPB played the role of Ramadas' son. Plays in those days began late in the night, and the little boy had to be woken up from deep slumber, when he had to go on stage. The scene was one where Ramadas had been tied up by the king, and the sleepy child forgot it was only a play. Seeing his father tied up, he ran up to him, hugged him and cried his heart out, and had the audience thinking that he was a great actor for his age!
The family's first radio, a Philips, was bought only in 1962, when SPB was 17 years old. Apart from Binaca Geetmala, SPB would also listen to classical music concerts on the radio. Among playback singers, Ghantasala and P.Suseela were favourites.
SPB remembers all those old songs with the background score and the obbligatos!
Rajiv wondered if the presence of choir singers in MSV's troupe inspired him to experiment with new genres. SPB said that there were indeed many choir singers from Purasawalkam and Vepery areas in MSV's troupe, without whom, a song like ‘Enge Nimmadhi' from ‘Pudhiya Paravai' would not have been possible. SPB spoke of how the popularity of his ‘Tere Mere Beech Mein' in the raga Sivaranjani resulted in a ‘Sivaranjani' season, where he had to sing a song in the raga in almost every film in which he was a playback singer. Every era has thrown up a musical genius of a different kind. “Who else but Ilaiyaraja, the self taught genius could have composed gems such as ‘Raaga Dheepam Etrum Neram'?” marvelled SPB. “And what about ‘Nilaavae Vaa' in ‘Mouna Ragam'?” added Rajiv. When you listen to ‘Chinna Thaai Aval' from ‘Thalapathy', you get the feeling that you have been listening to a dhrupad, said SPB.
The children in the audience, charmed by SPB's heart talk, had many questions for him. How does he preserve his voice? “I eat ice cream and drink refrigerated water. If you want to worship God, you don't have to become a sanyasi. In the same way, you don't have to deny yourself your favourite food in order to be a singer.” Why hasn't he learnt Carnatic music? “I have always wanted to. But I would sometimes recorded 18 or 19 songs in a day, and didn't have the time. But you children are lucky. Make use of the opportunity. Nothing can knock down Carnatic music from its pedestal.”
(For the participants: Questions put to the experts by the audience should have topical relevance. Questions about people's physical appearance have no place in a discussion. That such a question was put to SPB attested to a lack of manners on the part of the lady who asked the question, and the fact that SPB did not take offence, attested to his graciousness.)
The afternoon session of Svanubhava on August 5 at Padma Seshadri Bala Bhavan, K.K. Nagar, began with two plays by Koothu-p-pattarai. The first was an adaptation of Sundara Ramaswamy's short story ‘Prasadam.' While ‘Prasadam' would have been a good read as a short story, the stage adaptation made slow progress, and didn't quite bring out the ironies of life. The second play ‘Jothida Puli' was about one pretending to be a man of God. Many in the audience were heard remarking that there was nothing remarkable about the play.
Flagging interest in the goings-on was revived when the programme on upa pakkavadyams began. The children clamoured to get close to the stage to see the instruments better. B.S. Purushotham said the ganjira was one of the most challenging skin instruments. It cannot be tuned to a particular pitch and can only be played in bass tone. Purushotham said he had heard Ramachar play the ganjira even at the age of 80. Palani Subramania Pillai was one of those rare persons who could play both the mridangam and the ganjira. Harishankar was a left handed mridangist, but a right handed ganjira player!
Karthick showed how all the 10 fingers, wrist, the palm and the stomach are used to play the ghatam. He too listed great ghatam players of the past, and hoped he hadn't left out any names. Bangalore S. Rajasekhar displayed his collection of morsings from Russia, Germany and Japan. Rajasekar used his morsings to produce a variety of sounds. He produced the sound of a croaking frog on his German morsing! On the Russian one, he produced the clip-clop of a trotting horse. All these delighted the children.
G. Ravikiran sang the Bhairavi varnam, and snatches of the Pancharatna kritis, and the upa pakkavadyam artists demonstrated how to embellish the percussion.
The upa pakkavadyam artists then showed how intrusive playing can ruin a concert. Karthick said that upa pakkavadyam artists must familiarise themselves with as many kritis as possible, for only then they would know how to play, when to play, and when not to. There are certain moments while singing kritis such as ‘Devi Brova Samayamidhe,' where the upa pakkavadyams should be silent and the mridangam alone should be played.
The students couldn't have enough and wanted more. But it was time to wind up. Rajasekar, not wanting to disappoint his young fans, played a “Thank you” on his morsing, and brought an absorbing session to a close.
Keywords: Svanubhava 2010