Music

A story in MS blue

Recreating a legend’s life Lakshmi Viswanathan and Subhashree Ramachandran at the performance Photo:S. Siva Saravanan

Recreating a legend’s life Lakshmi Viswanathan and Subhashree Ramachandran at the performance Photo:S. Siva Saravanan  

Kanakavalli, the sari boutique, brought alive M.S. Subbulakshmi with a performance by veteran dancer Lakshmi Viswanathan and Carnatic vocalist Subhashree Ramachandran

I must remember to ask M.S. Subbalakshmi how many saris in MS Blue she has,” I made a note to myself only to feel silly the next minute.

The lady on the stage was not MS. She was Lakshmi Viswanathan, over 70 years old, who has written the biography, Kunjamma...Ode to a Nightingale: M.S. Subbulakshmi . And she was only playing MS whose birth centenary is being celebrated this year.

Kanakavalli, the sari boutique, organised an evening where Lakshmi presented the story of MS with Carnatic vocalist Subhashree Ramachandran interspersing her narrative with songs that MS was famous for. Of course, the evening began with Suprabhatam and Bhaja Govindam.

And, with Lakshmi clad in the signature blue sari, with glittering diamonds in her nose, well defined eyebrows and the big bindi, it was easy to suspend disbelief and feel she was indeed MS Subbulakshmi talking to us about her life.

Lakshmi spoke of MS’s early life, the encouragement she received to sing from her mother, her early concerts, her sense of awe in the presence of stalwarts such as G.N. Balasubramaniam and the fateful meeting with her husband Sadashivam that catapulted her into another league.

We heard about how MS lost her voice on the eve of her UN performance. There was utter panic, understandably, but she spent the day in meditation and prayer and, lo and behold, her voice was restored in time for the concert. She met Gandhi at the Sabarmati ashram, sang for him and fainted when she heard on the radio about his death and how All India Radio played her bhajans through the day.

She sang for Nehru who called her a Nightingale. MS did not even know what a Nightingale was and her husband explained that it was an English bird. She says may be that was because there were Lord and lady Mountbatten in the audience that day!

MS Subbulakshmi had a packed life. Full of excitement, challenges, great triumphs and tragedies as well. But she became an icon, one who couldn’t quite believe how far she had come from Madurai and the shadow of Goddess Meenakshi.

Not just singing, she acted in films too and soared to greater heights. And, in that one hour at Kanakavalli, those of us who did know much about MS beyond Kausalya Supraja Rama... learnt so much more about her life.

Outside the beautiful store, the garden resonated with the story of one of our country’s greatest singing legends and the air was filled with her songs.

Kurai ondrum illai as usual brought tears to my eyes and I couldn’t thank Ahalya of Kanakavalli enough for an edifying and moving evening.

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Printable version | Apr 2, 2020 9:26:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/A-story-in-MS-blue/article16670710.ece

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