GOWRI RAMNARAYAN

In Arar Asaippadar, Prasanna Ramaswamy transfers the auditory magic of Sanjay Subramaniam's inimitable style to the visual screen.

Desired melodies are part of every day's events at The Hindu Friday Review November music fest. They took a visual form when Prasanna Ramaswamy's film of that name was premiered at The Music Academy's Kasturi Srinivasan Hall.``Arar Asaippadar" (to give its Tamil title), her documentary on front ranking contemporary vocalist Sanjay Subramaniam, attracted not only musicians, but also dance artistes such as Anita Ratnam and writers Jayakanthan, Sa. Kandasamy and Sujatha. The rapt attention with which they sat through its 85 minutes of screening time testified to Prasanna's ability to transfer the auditory magic of Sanjay's inimitable style to the visual screen. The perspectives she used, close-ups and distant, kept building dimensions to the man and his music. ``Gosh, I wish I'd made this film," exclaimed film-maker and cinematographer Rajiv Menon, who introduced the documentary. He added that Prasanna Ramaswamy should continue to make such a film every decade to document the evolution of Sanjay's music. Mr. N. Murali, declared ``Who am I, a mere President of the Music Academy" when ranged with so fine a film maker and lyricist as speakers on the occasion.Describing Subramaniam as one of the brightest stars of Carnatic music, Mr. Murali remarked that with his skills in many fields, the singer could have been a fine chartered accountant, cricketer, or computer whiz kid. But he chose music as his arena, and succeeded in blending tradition with modernity. Poet and lyricist Kanimozhi commended Sanjay's interest in singing Tamil songs. She said that distractions were important for creativity, and Sanjay had converted such challenges into his strengths. Prasanna's mature approach had captured the man and his music with intensity. The most remarkable feature of the film was the unobtrusiveness of the director. Her approach valorised the protagonist, both as a specific individual in his time, and as a representative of an old music. He himself says, almost in passing, that the composer and the song are not as important as the raga itself, and for him it was not what he sang, but how he sang, that was important.

Total surrender

The paradox intrigued — the word `secular' appears in self analysis, but when Sanjay enunciates Syama Sastri's ``Shiramani nammiti" it is not the luminousness of the raga that electrifies, but the bhakta's state of total surrender, his ego blanked out.The camera (R.V.Ramani/M.J.Radhakrishnan) captured the ambience of temples with their panorama of rituals and spectacles, their heady pageantry and nagaswaram-tavil fanfare. The din of the streets and milling humanity are juxtaposed to the grandeur of this resplendent music. And at certain moments, even on the flat screen, the desired melodies did reach the deep silence within, as when a tasselled umbrella, held above a deity in a temple procession, passes into the night. Two sequences stood out for their evocativeness. Sanjay learning from nagaswaram vidwan Sembonnarkoil S.R.D.Vaidyanathan, whose wrinkled visage produces ripe music of a kind that we thought had vanished forever. Sanjay's body language here fascinates, whether listening to a love lyric, or a martial mallari.The camera also frames Sanjay the father, telling bedtime stories to his children. We see the dynamism and drama of his music reflected in this intimate narrative moment.And yet, at the end, it is not the film that lingers in the mind, but the man's music. Its bewildering moods and varieties make you forget the visuals. A mannered, trapeze swinging Shanmukhapriya is balanced with the finale — a soaring ragamalika viruttam. From the first note of Mohanam, you forget all the sounds of mundane desire. It touches a chord in each of us that can be called, for want of a better word, transcendental. You leave the hall with moist eyes.