The authentic Kannada voice

Karnataka Bengaluru 27/10/2015. Picture from the book Dr Rajkumar- Samagra Charitre written by Doddahallur Rukkoji ( Pic credit should be given to the book Dr Rajkumar -Samagra Charitre )   | Photo Credit: Picture from the book Dr Rajku

Kannada actor Rajkumar started singing for his roles all of a sudden: playback singer PB Sreenivos fell ill and couldn’t come for the recording, the thespian pitched in. Of course, he had sung for Mahishasura Mardhini and Ohileshwara. From then, Rajkumar sang for all his roles. This actor who came from company theatre was trained in classical music and like his spoken voice, his singing voice was powerful, steady and clear. More than all, his voice was naturally soused in emotions; this, I think, played a huge part in his success as an actor also. His voice was central to his being – it could take on a range of things. From social to mythological to historical – his voice could easily switch worlds. In fact, many a times, the language that he spoke through his voice, was more convincing than the one his body spoke.

One can take up any number of examples from the innumerous songs the actor has sung. I will, to start with, pick two extraordinary songs from the film, Nee Nanna Gellalaare (Composer: Ilaiyaraja): “Jeeva Hoovagide” and “Anuraga Enaytu” – the first is a duet with S. Janaki and the second is a solo by Rajkumar. Both the songs begin with the refrain “I love you”, both songs have a chorus; but the first is clearly different from the second in terms of its mood. The refrain however, is sung in exactly the same way, before the songs take on a life of their own. Rajkumar an actor primarily, looks at the song as an extension of the screenplay. There is love and happiness, so “Jeeva Hoovagide” is romantic, breezy – wearing a cover of bliss. He infuses the words with a dreamy languor. Then, there is love, but a discord: Rajkumar sings the refrain “I love you” for “Anuraga Enaytu” exactly the way he sings for “Jeeva Hoovagide”. The orchestra is heavy and so are the words, but the balance that Rajkumar’s singing achieves for the song is remarkable. Like a true actor, Rajkumar believes in the power of the words and music: he adds nothing else. He articulates the words poignantly, and gives the notes with a plaintive stroke -- no melodrama.

“I love you” refrain is full of Carnatic gamakas, and it can easily sound incongruent-- English words in Carnatic idiom. But what Ilaiyaraja and Rajkumar achieve is remarkable. It is as if they are saying: “This is how we say ‘I love you’ in my language!”

The other exceptionally rendered song is “Yaaru Tiliyaru Ninna” (with P.B. Sreenivos) from the film Babruvahana. The song is a kanda padya, a sort of prose poem, something that would have worked greatly as a soliloquy in a play. Rajkumar with great flourish, blends the twin skills of theatrics and music into this song, and packs everything from sarcasm to anger to challenge into the song. Rajkumar’s eloquency with words makes the rendition so special, which I think would not have been possible for someone who is only a “musician”.

These songs can easily slip into hyper melodrama as in the case of songs like “Raghavendra Nee Mounavadare” or the Telugu song “Shankara Nada Shareerapara”. If these two examples echo Heidegger, “the more consciousness, the less being”, Rajkumar’s singing is a perfect example of the Aristotlean thought of ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ as correlative.

In someone like Rajkumar, the question of Now was more than the immediate. Both his natural and artistic persona – consisting of past and present collapsed into his Now. In a reality that is constantly making and remaking itself, his Now was strictly defined by his past. His love for language, acting and music, was defined in the past, and even in the flow of things, Rajkumar protected it. He was a true blue Kannadiga and he remained loyal to his language. He was passionate about acting, and worked hard and uncompromisingly for it. He was trained in music by masters who valued emotion more than virtuosity. Rajkumar’s music is the quintessence of this past. His Now was perhaps different each time, but its ingredients never changed.

Rajkumar’s simplicity and innocence is something to be celebrated: it shone through his life and art. In Rajkumar, while Being was a constant, Becoming was unlimited.

Kuvempu, in a prayerful poem pleads -- “Baa illi sambhavisu/indenna hrudayadali/nityavu avataripa satyavatara...” -- for truth to reinvent in him everyday. Rajkumar was perhaps that.

Inner Voice is a fortnightly column on film music

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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 5:32:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/the-authentic-kannada-voice/article18134857.ece

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