Epithets about his music acumen are redundant. Connoisseurs, the world over, treasure the compositions of this wizard from Pannaipuram. Yet Ilaiyaraja bowed down before the audience and touched the stage in supplication. The act of humility was worthy of emulation. His joy on sharing the proscenium with inimitable achievers of the calibre of Balamuralikrishna who came up to sing the ever-fresh ‘Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiraan …’ that evening at the Nehru Indoor Stadium was genuine. Singing, conducting the orchestra along with Purushothaman and indulging in friendly banter with the effervescent emcee of the evening, Prakash Raj, it was a Raja show all the way. And like in the good old days, it was a full-fledged orchestra that dazzled on stage.
The presence of musicians from Budapest, who had come down to dedicate a couple of their compositions to Ilaiyaraja was a reiteration of the renown of this magician with the baton!
“You are all seated while I stand before you. And like me, my music will also ‘stand’ in your hearts forever,” began Ilaiyaraja. “But now shall I sit down and present this song?” ‘Janani Janani …’ his melodious Kalyani creation, followed.
Raja’s compositions about the greatness of a mother’s love are most cherished. When Jesudas entered, it was only natural he would open with ‘Amma Endrazhaikkadha …’ in Kalyani again. He did. SPB, for his part, came up with a very expressive ‘Naanaaga Naanillai Thaayae’ to round off the sentiment in scintillating fashion. The eyes of many in the audience had turned moist. “I lost my mother recently,” said the person beside me, as he wiped away his tears.
“The mother singing for her baby is a norm. But Ilaiyaraja’s lullabies were for the mother herself,” Prakash noted. “His songs make you forget your sorrow and help you unwind,” he added. Kamal Haasan’s thoughts were similar. Though not present in person, his bytes that were beamed on screen said enough about his admiration for Raja.
Some of Prakash’s posers resulted in ecstatic music sojourns. “Tell us about symphony,” he requested. “This is a show for cinema numbers. Are you sure you want it,” Ilaiyaraja queried back. “I’m a rustic and you are asking me such things,” he chuckled. And the next moment the imposing string section offered an aural fiesta – a Schubert piece that culminated in Raja’s own ‘Idhayam Pogudhae’! Amidst deafening applause he explained, “If you are made to listen to the verses of four lyricists at the same time, can you appreciate it? But listen to this once again,” he suggested and made his violins alone play, and then the cello and others. “The beauty of the blend, when played together, is immeasurable. Simply put, this is symphony. Schubert composed the piece in the first part of the 1800s. I was so inspired by it that I created ‘Idhayam Pogudhae,’ but it is original,” he explained. The initiated in the crowd sat rapt in attention.
The combo of director Mahendran and Ilaiyaraja has resulted in some wondrous music. “But the
‘Paruvamae …’ duet with its montages that had the lead pair on a jog is intriguing Sir! The visual and aural effect it had on us was tremendous,” began Prakash.
When Mahendran told Raja that the pair would keep running as the song was played in the background, the composer decided that the sound of footsteps would form the beat for the entire song. “I made a person stomp his feet standing stationary before the mike. It was an ear sore. I tried all kinds of sounds but nothing worked. So I had two of my musicians – Kanniah, my tabla player, [he couldn’t make it to the show because of his delicate health] and Jayacha, who is here, to tap their thighs with both their hands, because the soles of two pairs of legs had to be heard,” laughed Raja.” And soon came the mellifluous song in the voices of Chitra and SPB.
Dedicating ‘1000 Thamarai Mottukalae,’ to the memory of Malaysia Vasudevan, Raja dwelt on his experience working with Kannadasan, who had penned the lines. It turned out to be a veritable exercise in hilarity.
“This is one of my favourites,” announced Jesudas, as he sang, ‘Poove Sempoovae.’ The minor misses and gaffes weren’t glossed over. The verses were sung again. As Jesudas mentioned, it was as though the audience got an opportunity to witness a recording session in progress!
The singers were many. And each did well. The crowd whistled in joy, but he gently ticked them off saying that catcalls ought to be reserved for shows where jigs and jokes dominate. “Not here, we have worked hard to offer you an appealing fare. We made around 10 lists before we zeroed in on the final pick,” he smiled.
The hero of the evening handled his music and his mass base with ease.