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MUSICAL journeys

This group eats, thinks and breathes music whenever it meets. Using the web as a medium, the fans of Ilaiyaraaja have struck a musical chord, writes M. ALLIRAJAN

Collage: R.Rajkumar

NARASIMMAN HAS come all the way from Chengalpattu to Coimbatore, standing through the long journey. But he has no complaints. K. R. Ayyappan has cancelled his personal appointments for the day. What links both of them, and many others in their group, is music.

They were discussing music when you walked into their midst. After sitting through their discussion for a few minutes, you realise they are the people who made the world to take note of their `maestro'.

They voted overwhelmingly in the "World service listener's favourite" BBC's online poll and ensured that Ilaiyaraaja's musical composition "Raakamma kaiya thattu" got the fourth place. On a leisurely Sunday evening, doctors, technocrats, students and people from diverse backgrounds from across the country assemble promptly in the city for the first meeting of the Maestro Ilaiyaraaja Fans Club. Soon, their friendly chat turns into a discussion that delves deep into the technicalities of the Isaignani's compositions.

Even as you try to understand the nitty-gritty of the maestro's compositions, the organisers tell you that the five-year-old club is having its first meeting of online and offline fans. The terribly clichéd "Music is all pervasive" adage seems tailor-made for this group. And, they are among the most active on the web.

But this is not a forum that sings only hosannas for Ilaiyaraaja. Proof lies in their interaction. When Premkumar, an avid fan of Ilaiyaraaja, says he always debates with his father (an M. S.Viswanathan fan) about who is the better of the two, Dr. J. Vijay Venkatraman, the founder and moderator of the club, reminds him: "There is no need for us to speak ill of others or draw comparisons."

The discussions range from technical analysis of the maestro's music to future projects and collection of donations for the `Thiruvasakam in Symphony' project. As one of them puts it: "Listening to good music is akin to meditation. The beauty of Maestro's music is that his songs retain their charm even 15 years after they were composed." Soon, they get down to the main agenda — copyrights and song piracy.

"It is not fair to download songs. You have to buy original cassettes and CDs. Only then will we be able to support a true artiste," says N. R. Prashanth Rao of Bangalore. A software professional, he is the brain behind Project Gem. (See accompanying story).

"We talk about the rare musical compositions of Ilaiyaraaja. Through this, we come to know about the raaga, the notes, thala bedam and shruti bedam," he says. Prashanth is also the quizmaster of `Ilaiyaraaja Quiz 50!' wherein every respondent gets a chance to pose a question if he gives the right answer.

Each one of them explains why they follow Ilaiyaraaja's music passionately. When Murugesan says he became a fan after listening to "Aavarampoovu aarezhu naala", Dr. Venkatraman promptly corrects him, saying, "The song was composed by V. S. Narasimhan." But, he quickly adds: "Don't worry. The maestro is connected to the song in that he is the one who selected the tune that Narasimhan had thought of for the situation."

The members of the club also share some interesting details about Ilaiyaraaja. "He is a perfectionist. I came to know from a sound engineer that he never uses the stopwatch for composing the background score for any sequence," one of them says.

J. P. Dhanasekar, a student of engineering and the youngest in the group, says: "There is a notion among critics that the younger generation does not like Ilaiyaraaja's music. That is so wrong. We like his songs because they are melodious."

* * *

WHEN N. R. Prashanth Rao checks out files on the computer, he looks every inch a software professional. That comes as no surprise for he works for a leading multinational software company in Bangalore. But his interests stretch beyond the world of computers and software programming.

He is now putting his computer skills to a different use. Prashanth, an avid fan of Ilaiyaraaja, has a large collection of the Maestro's compositions. Name the film and he gives you the list of songs at the click of a mouse. What started as a childhood hobby has become a passion for this software professional.

"I started collecting Ilaiyaraaja's compositions in 1979. Now, I have the compositions of 758 movies (out of the 823 movies he composed for)," he says

And, all this comes with a copyright. "Home taping is equivalent to killing music," he says, adding: "From 1986, I took to collecting compositions quite seriously. But it was not easy. I went to every shop and a number of recording companies to get them. I used to visit music libraries to collect rare film songs," he recalls.

Prashanth has a database of the songs he has been collecting for 25 years and has classified them into gramophone plates (small and big), LP records, cassettes, CDs and VCDs. He can now give you a complete list of the songs, year-wise.

What did the maestro think about this effort? "When I met him three months ago, he congratulated me. And, it was then that I came to know the exact number of songs sung by him."

Prashanth even has the original background score and songs that were not included in movies in his collection. "Till 1995, audio companies used to have rights for all sound (including background music) in films. But, this is not the case anymore." Prashanth also has some rare compositions, which he has compiled for `Project Gem'. "This project took me nearly five years. Some audio companies had even become defunct. Even with these constraints, I managed to trace rare songs," he says. Thanks to his efforts, these songs have been re-mastered from the original stereo and come with a bass effect.

"Collecting original music records is a tough job. Most of the work was done during my school and college days. I used to collect them during vacation time. Now, as I have a busy work schedule, my wife assists me." Prashanth has one goal now — to have a complete collection. He signs off in style, saying: "I am on the job. By 2005, I would be able to achieve a 100 per cent score."

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