Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan’s open-air Margazhi festival

Sudha Ragunathan  

Newtone Studio in Kilpauk is an important place in the history of Madras. Kannamba’s dance for M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s song ‘Unaikkandu Mayangada’ in the 1941 film Ashok Kumar (music by vocalist Alathur Sivasubramania Iyer; lyrics Papanasam Sivan) was shot in a single night at Newtone. Some scenes of M.S. Subbulakshmi’s Meera were filmed here, and the song ‘Kaatrinile varum geetham’ was also recorded here. Anandan (of Film News), the chronicler of Tamil film history, learnt photography at this studio. And now this venue is on the verge of creating history again.

From studio to school

In the place where the studio functioned, we today have a school, Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram. This year, the school campus is going to be the outdoors venue for the Margazhi festival of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (BVB).

S. Sowmya

S. Sowmya  

This is especially significant because Chennai’s much-awaited December festival has moved online this year because of Covid-19.

“Every year we have a programme that runs for eight weeks. This year, we obviously cannot have something on that scale. But we hit upon the idea of an open-air event in the Rajaji Vidyashram campus,” says K.N. Ramaswamy, director, BVB, Chennai.

N. Ravi, chairman of the Chennai Kendra, says, “Artistes felt live concerts were better than virtual ones. If the weather permits, the end of November should be fine for the festival. Other things being equal, if at all a gathering is permitted, then our programme will give both artistes and rasikas a feel of the season. The programmes will be open to all. The playground is large, and we can have sufficient space between chairs.”

Ramaswamy explains the safety measures that will be put in place. “The playground can hold 3,000 people, but we anticipate an audience of about 800. We will place six screens on the grounds, so that people can even watch from inside their cars. Bhavan’s has an excellent reputation for its audio standards, and we will maintain that. The place will be sanitised everyday. We will check everyone’s temperature at the gate and they will be given a mask and a cap. We will arrange buses to pick up and drop those who want to attend the concerts. There will be three pick-up points — near our Kendra in Mylapore, near Narada Gana Sabha, and near Ice House in Triplicane. If there is a demand from the Adyar area, we could have an additional pick-up point near the Sivaji Ganesan Memorial. We also plan to give the audience a hygienically prepared, packed dinner.”

Says Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, vice-chairman, BVB, Chennai, who is on the board of many sabhas, “None of the sabhas in the city has planned a live programme this year, because no one has so much open space at their disposal. Bhavan’s is a unique attempt.

“The last time we made use of the school ground for a public function was in September 1983, when the school, which used to be called Rajaji Centenary Vidyalaya, was renamed Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram. Chief minister M.G. Ramachandran, President Zail Singh, and a host of other dignitaries attended the event. M.S. Subbulakshmi sang the invocation song and I had the honour of playing the sruti box for her,” recalls Ramaswamy.

Artistes on board

Singer Pantula Rama, who lives in Visakhapatnam, is one of the artistes participating in BVB’s open-air festival. “Since all precautions are being taken, we should be safe,” she says. “People are depressed being indoors. I think they would like to attend an open-air kutcheri.”

Pantula Rama

Pantula Rama  

O.S. Arun, who is scheduled to perform a bhajan concert, says, “I do miss live concerts. The element of unpredictability is the charm of a live performance. I am looking forward to the Bhavan’s concert.”

Bhavan’s initiative is supported by South Zone Cultural Centre, and Tamil Nadu Governor Banwarilal Purohit is expected to inaugurate the fest, which will run from November 28 to December 19 and include religious discourses as well. What happens if the government allows only a small audience? “In that case, we will organise some sort of pre-registration format,” says Ravi.

The Chennai-based author writes on culture and heritage.

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Printable version | Jan 27, 2022 12:02:22 PM |

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