Working with the violin maestro for the award-winning film Sringaram wasa revelation of his creativity

“L for Lalgudi, L for legend.” These were the succinct words of Pt. Ravishankar, after he watched the film Sringaram like an enthusiastic child a few years ago. I pursued Lalgudi mama for no less than a year to compose the music for the film. I was relentless but so was he. “I have had scores of offers but have declined them all,” he said when I first met him to ask if he would compose its score. With a title like Sringaram (2007), and a story about the relationship between a devadasi and her art, I knew instantly that the musical energy for this film would be justified by none other than Lalgudi Jayaraman, whose music was suffused with the Shringara rasa, whether as a performer, composer, or musical poet. After 365 days of pursuit, and my fourth narration of the script, he finally uttered that magical word, “Yes!”

I asked him much later why he had accepted to do this film and he had a simple but profound response. “I cannot remember the last time I saw a film that depicted the relationship between an artiste and her art; the joy, anguish, power and revolution that an artist can experience.”

To me, Lalgudi the genius, the musical poet, was but rhetoric until I worked with him on the film. The creative process that became the music of Sringaram enabled me to experience this rhetoric. Engaging with Lalgudi in the creation of the songs enlightened me on how even an atheist could become a believer, since I would often tell him during moments of banter that I experience god in his musical moments of truth. When he composed the inimitable Mallari for the film, complex with its rhythmic patterns, melodic development and composition value, I was stunned by how he was able to synergise the aesthetic, soul and intellect to produce a musical piece that would become a benchmark for all classicists and composers. The song that he wove in the film for a simple girl who is getting betrothed highlighted his ability to understand the layers of anxiety in that girl; his folk song for the film has been described as original and refreshing in a film industry that is inundated with the folk genre. The Padam he composed for the film has become an integral part of the classical repertoire for dancers the world over.

Opening titles

Lalgudi Jayaraman, the musician and composer, is a university for future composers. He blended soul and mind in a way that transcended the grammar of music. And when I met him to work in Sringaram, I daresay that Lalgudi and music had become one seamless entity. In one instance, when we had finished the music for the entire film, we suddenly realised that we had omitted the music for the opening titles. A calm Lalgudi churned out a brilliant Bilahari in one hour, tailor-made to the second for the titles trajectory, taught the studio musicians in half an hour, and recorded in less than 15 minutes. The project showed me a dimension of this stalwart that perhaps no one else has had the privilege to experience. He was an incurable romantic who loved poetry and sought inspiration in nature’s bounty. We often went on memorable drives to the seaside after a long day’s work. On one such occasion he told me, “A mediocre success is a failure but a failure of excellence is success. Remember this, and you will never lose perspective of life’s purpose.” This perhaps captures what Lalgudi mama stood for, a holistic artist who saw music as a medium to attain the divine. As he has.

(Sharada Ramanathan is a film director, cultural thinker and writer.)

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