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‘He taught me to sing with abandon’

Sigappu Rojakkal.

Sigappu Rojakkal.  

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Kamal Haasan recalls his association with Ilaiyaraja.

( This is the third part of a series of articles on Kamal Haasan’s tryst with the classical arts.)

And that’s how Kamal Haasan got to sing ‘Ninaivo oru paravai’ in ‘Sigappu Rojakkal’. Ilayaraja said he liked the way Kamal handled those high notes, and he asked Kamal to sing the song again. Kamal went, ‘One is the loneliest number...’ Ilayaraja was mentally translating this to ‘Pa pa pa pa pa pa pa...’, the humming that oozes through the interstices of the pallavi of the song.

“He used what I could give him,” Kamal Haasan told me, gently altering the sometimes-held image of the Isaignani as an iron-fisted dictator whose only inputs come from inside his head. He narrated how Ilayaraja, during a recording rehearsal, heard a nagaswaram player prepare for playing by blowing on the seevali, the reed mouthpiece at the top of the tube. This was incorporated into a musical stretch in ‘Hey Ram’, as Vasundhara Das character’s rendition of ‘Vaishnava janato’ segues into ‘Vaaranam aayiram’.

“I doubt the sound of the seevali being blown has been heard in cinema music,” Kamal Haasan said. “He’ll take what people can give him and produce these uncanny moments.”

Anyway, back to the recording session of ‘Ninaivo oru paravai.’ Afterwards, Ilayaraja told Kamal, “ Hey, nalla irukku ya. Madhyanam paattayum neengale paadidunga.” (Hey, that’s great. Why don’t you sing the song we’re recording in the afternoon too?”) And that song turned out to be ‘Panneer pushpangale’ from ‘Aval Appadithaan’, a revelation that left me slightly weak-kneed. Considering Ilayaraja’s prolificity, logic dictates that this was something that happened all the time where that several songs would be recorded during the course of a day. But to imagine two... (there’s no other word for it) classics like these casually being tossed off without a huge amount of pre-planning... After all, the singer himself seems to have been roped in only after he sang the morning’s song...

I asked Kamal Haasan about the small gamakam, the melisma rather, in the first line of ‘Panneer pushpangale’ at ‘Raagam paadu’. I was curious whether it was the result of his improvising (based on his classical training) or whether it was how Ilayaraja had composed it. He said, “Raja knows how much will work. He’ll say, ‘Avvalavu vendam, konjam koraichukkunga.’ (That’s too much. Tone it down a bit.) And that makes it different from the usual gamakam. ‘Sundari neeyum’, he left it to me.”

Kamal Haasan hummed, perfectly, the downward slide of akaras that leads back to the pallavi. Ilayaraja told Kamal, “Ahn, sari, sari. Jamaai.” (Okay. Have fun.)

Kamal said that he considered Ilayaraja one of his gurus. “As with acting, there can be posturing in singing. He doesn’t like that. He’ll say, ‘Do what suits your voice. Don’t try to sing like others.’ Above all, he taught me how to sing with abandon. ‘Just relax,’ he’ll say. He taught me how to relax over the about 50 recordings I’ve done for him.” Kamal Haasan pointed to Sanyasa mantram in ‘Hey Ram’ where his voice is, as he put it, held back.

“It’s not about performing to an audience,” he said. “It’s a very personal thing.” Because of the camaraderie and the casualness with which these lessons were imparted, he didn’t realise then that they were lessons. “And that was a lesson as well,” he said, “the way it was taught in a very pedestrian manner, without major technical terms, very simply.”

(To be continued)

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Printable version | Aug 14, 2018 3:12:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/kamal-haasan-recalls-his-association-with-ilaiyaraja/article6360293.ece