MUSICSCAN: Suparna Sankaran, an exceptionally gifted Hindustani musician, will be singing in the musical ‘Moulin Rouge’ this weekend.

A remarkable thing about one of the young amateur actors who will be singing in a French musical play called ‘Moulin Rouge,' which is being staged by Nicholas Productions at the Chinmaya Heritage Centre in Chennai this weekend, is that she's not only a professor of French in the city, but is also an exceptionally gifted Hindustani musician. We are, of course, talking about Suparna Sankaran, whose extremely impressive accomplishment in Hindustani music we had discussed in this column a couple of years ago.

Looking at the amazing progress Suparna has made in Hindustani music in spite of living in South India and teaching French, I can't help thinking about the very high standards achieved by some amateur Carnatic musicians who are working or studying full-time in diverse fields abroad. Apparently there can be effective ways of overcoming the enormous difficulties caused by distance in cultural education if there's a powerful will to learn!

Fine performance

Hamsadhwani in South Chennai has been consistently encouraging Hindustani musicians, just as it has been encouraging foreign-based Carnatic musicians. There was some dislocation in this activity some time ago due to the construction of a permanent shed on the lawns of the Youth Hostel in Indira Nagar, but in the last week of November 2009 the Sabha organised a couple of events with Northern colours, and Suparna's concert was one of them. Accompanied competently by the Bangalore-based veteran Ravindra Katoti on the harmonium and Chennai-based D. Chandrajit on the tabla, Suparna gave a fine recital lasting nearly two hours.

Starting with a full-fledged khayal in the raga Behag, she went on to render a shorter ‘chota khayal' in Malkauns. Later on came a couple of lively Hindi bhajans and a Marathi abhang, with a lovely composition in Bhairavi concluding the concert. Her rich voice was finely tuned, and her characteristic rustic accent ensured the conservative tenor of her music.

No matter how excellent a performance happens to be as a whole, there's always a part of it which is brighter and more appealing than the others. On this occasion it was a famous thumri in the beautiful raga Mishra-Jogiya – ‘Piya Ke Milan Ki Aas' -- which came midway through the recital, like a shot of cognac warming the listeners' heart in the cool and windy winter ambience at Hamsadhwani's semi-outdoor setting.

Reposeful elan

Somehow the way Suparna sang this thumri reminded me strongly of the way Balamuralikrishna, aided by TVG's super-sensitive mridangam, had rendered Tyagaraja's Sanskrit song ‘Naada-tanum Anisam' in raga Chittaranjani at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan last year, savouring each syllable of the lyrics with great relish and making it glow like a jewel.

(www.thehindu, Friday Review, Chennai edition, May 1, 2009).

I am not at all suggesting that Suparna's music bears any resemblance to Balamurali's. But the following sentence summing up my overall impressions of the above concert of the maestro would also be true of Suparna's recital under review, word for word:

“Although the dominant mode of the music was reposeful, it did not prevent the singer from setting out on occasional spells of soaring and animation. But somehow these didn't constitute a distraction, but were well balanced and actually added some attractive colours.”

Well, after saying that, I can only add: “Well done, Superbna!”