Written and directed by S.B. Khanthan, ‘Isai Vaseekaran’ has something fresh to offer about the legend.
If told that there is to be a screening of a film on GNB, one might ask, and with justification, if there is anything new to add, considering all the articles that have been written about GNB. That’s precisely how this writer felt when asked to attend the screening and release of review the film ‘Isai Vaseekaran,’ DVD, written and directed by S.B. Khanthan, the DVD of which was released on January 4 at the German Hall, as part of the ongoing GNB centenary celebrations.
However, the film was not a rehash of facts already known about GNB. It documents the thoughts of senior vidwans such as Lalgudi on GNB’s music as well as those of younger ones including like T.M. Krishna and Sanjay. Sanjay mention how GNB showed that ragas could be developed using little phrases, instead of only through akaras. While GNB made this seem easy, it isn’t.
To Krishna, GNB is proof that one can be a ‘natural’ musician and an intellectual one too. In the 80s a cassette recording of GNB’s ‘Maragathavalli’ was in such demand among his circle of friends, that they must all have heard it umpteen times. Lalitha Ram, on whose book ‘Isai Ulaga Ilavarasar GNB’ the film is based, says that although he was born 15 years after GNB’s death, he would consider himself honoured if someone described him as a crazy fan of GNB’s.
Accoridng to T.R. Subramaniam many like him were drawn to music, only because of GNB. He talks of how GNB broke with convention, when he chose ‘Tapatraya’ as the point for niraval in ‘Sri Subrahmanyaya namaste.’ To S. Rajam, GNB means Great-New-Bani.
Dr. Durga observes that GNB’s vocal chords had the flexibility that made brigas possible. A criticism sometimes made is that GNB’s brigas singing kept him from doing justice to our gamaka laden music. Lalgudi answers this criticism, by pointing out that while GNB’s music had brigas, it never lacked in gamakas and jaru.
Apart from an analysis of GNB’s music, the film also documents unique experiences that GNB had. Once when the Kanchi Paramacharya was camping in Mylapore, he walked over to GNB’s house, which was close by. GNB had just returned the previous night from an out station concert, and didn’t know Paramacharya was in town. Honoured by this unexpected visit, GNB gave a private concert for the Acharya. Paramacharya once remarked that GNB was not a ‘saamanyan.’ Only a great thinker could have composed the Kaanada raga kriti ‘Paramukha.’
Predictably, the film talks of GNB’s first concert at the Kapali temple, GNB’s admiration for T.N. Rajaratnam Pillai and for Ariyakkudi. But it also has snippets of information that show the extent of this admiration. It’s interesting to know that GNB played the tambura for some of Ariyakkudi’s concerts!
One is always curious to know how the family of a famous person felt about having a celebrity in their midst. An omission in this film was how GNB’s wife coped with the pressures of being the wife of a celebrity, and what she felt about GNB’s music and about GNB the man.
Madhuvanti Arun as the anchor was lively. The voice over (Muralidharan) resembled P.C. Ramakrishna’s. Maniam Selvan’s sketches provided the visual backdrop in the film, which is of two and a half hours duration.
The DVD, produced by Swati Soft Solutions, is available at retail outlets and can also be ordered at www.kalakendra.com. The DVD comes with a bonus DVD, which has a scientific analysis of GNB’s voice by Dr.Durga and discussions on his compositions and also some interesting information on the GNB-Palghat Mani Iyer friendship, the split that came later, and the patch up too.