Rajesh Khanna was remembered with a spontaneous joy that made the evening a perfect finale to the November Fest

At ‘Remembering Rajesh’, which was the finale of November Fest 2012, there were many heroes. The biggest of them was the audience, a generous mix of young and old, that was out to shatter every myth associated with the Chennai crowd — except perhaps the ‘knowledgeable’ bit — for when asked to sing, quite a few times, the packed hall not only knew all the words to the Hindi songs but sang in perfect key and in perfect unison. What myths you ask? The first being ‘the crowd leaves by 9:00 pm, no matter what’. At the event that didn’t even see an intermission, the crowd not only stayed till 10.15 in the night but nearly refused to leave, asking for more. Then there’s the myth that Chennai’s crowd is always ‘solemn in its revelry’. If the young were up on their feet dancing to ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’, the middle-aged swayed in their seats and sang lustily along.

The evening began with Srinivas rendering the beautiful Kalyanji Anandiji composition from Safar, ‘Jeevan se bhari teri aankhen’, one that the singer called “the ultimate romantic song, an ode to the diehard romantic Yash Chopra”. Even as the audience erupted into applause at the end of the song, Srinivas confessed that the first song was always the tough one. But the crowd made it clear with its sustained applause through the evening that it wasn’t there to critically analyse the team’s prowess but to reminisce its Radio Ceylon Binaca Geet Mala days and Doordarshan’s Sunday afternoon movie days. The appreciative nodding, the constant kya baat hai, the heartfelt sabhaashi and the spontaneous clapping lasted through the evening.

After ‘Mere dil mein aaj kya hai’, another Rajesh Khanna-Sharmila Tagore number by Srinivas, Shweta Mohan took over, her haunting ‘Raina beeti jaaye’ (from the classic Amar Prem) stunning the hall into silence. Amar Prem ‘Kora kaagaz ta yeh man mera’, a duet featuring Srinivas and Shweta followed. And then entered another hero. Naresh Iyer walked on to the stage saying, “Itna sannata kyun hai bhai” and then took the audience on a rollercoaster ride with ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana’, complete with near-perfect yodelling. By the end of the song, the hall was charged and the audience had let its guard down. A little later came ‘Roop Tera Mastana’ that threw the spotlight on Nikhil Ram, whose sparkling saxophone and flute renditions earned him continuous applause, sometimes even in the middle of songs. Srinivas’ ‘Kuch toh log kahenge’ and ‘Zindagi ka safar’ were poignant.

Naresh Iyer’s outfit changes, in the meantime, provided much entertainment and earned him some compliments too, as someone screamed out, “We love your red coat”. The young and sweet-voiced Saptaparna Chakroborty joined him for the Kishore-Lata duet ‘Gore rang pe na itna gumaan kar’ from Roti. Singer Haricharan, who was in the audience, sportingly got on stage for a couple of songs.

By the end of the evening, the show had turned into an intimate dialogue, as audience and singers sang for each other. Srinivas charmingly accommodated the deluge of audience requests by singing a few lines of each song, much to the crowd’s delight.

The orchestra featured a six-member string section which did a fantastic job of recreating the retro mood. The bass and lead guitarists, keyboard artistes, the flautist and three percussionists were consistently brilliant.

The evening ended on a high note with ‘Duniyen mein logon ko dhoka kabhi ho jaata hai’ and ‘Jai jai shiv Shankar’ rendered zestfully by all four singers. The standing ovation that followed the show was so spontaneous that it reminded one of the gleeful outbursts that are usually reserved for occasions such as a Tendulkar century.