Friday Review

A bond that's so special

'Uncle' Ramjhi with his talented brood.

'Uncle' Ramjhi with his talented brood.  


S. Ramjhi’s Issai Mazhalai, a launch pad for many talented children, turned 15 on May 14. He takes a trip down memory lane with Savitha Gautam.

“When you think ahead of your time, you don’t make money,” laughs ‘Abaswaram’ S. Ramjhi, as he talks about his journey that led to ‘Issai Mazhalai,’ a unique music-linked concept that germinated 15 years ago. So will there be a celebration, a special programme, to mark the milestone, you wonder. “No. For one, I do not have the energy and for another, putting together a programme of that proportion may not work out financially for me. However, I have written to my students all over the world and told them to post a photograph on the social media of their best Issai Mazhalai moment,” says Ramjhi, sitting in his home-cum-office at Kalakshetra Colony.

“It has been an amazing roller coaster ride for me from the beginning. I tried my hand at various things to be a step ahead of others, looking for my true calling,” says the 67-year-old.

The last child of firebrand film maker K. Subramanyam, Ramjhi was a ‘born rebel.’ “My aim was to do something different so that I would be noticed,” he says unabashedly. Especially since he belonged to a family where talent was in over-abundance. Sister Padma Subramanyam is a Bharatanatyam icon and one of his brothers, S. Krishnaswamy is known for his documentaries.

Ramjhi, a hotel management student, started Chop Sticks, a Chinese restaurant, and Idli Shoppe. He quips with his trademark wit, “I reaped two benefits out of my Hotel Management course – a diploma and a wife!” He met wife Shobha during his college years.

But for Ramjhi, music was an abiding passion. In 1969, he started a rock band called ‘Frustrations Amalgamated’ with himself as the drummer. Then came ‘Aradhana’ and the Burmans, which saw a switch in musical tastes. For Ramjhi, it meant rock had to be replaced by Hindi film songs. That’s how the Abaswaram band came into being in 1976, with a repertoire that comprised Hindi and Tamil film hits. The first show was a resounding success and earned Ramjhi the sobriquet ‘Abaswaram.’

In the meantime, Ramjhi anchored music shows, film-star based talk shows and quiz programmes for AIR and Doordarshan, many of them for the first time. And wait…, he even opened Chennai’s first, and India’s second, discotheque way back in 1970!

All the while, Abaswaram was gaining popularity. But in 1999, when the band’s accordion player Chellappa suddenly collapsed during a show and passed away, Ramjhi was too disturbed. Abaswaram was disbanded. When he was offered a job with Raj TV as a consultant, Ramjhi took it. He produced several music-based shows such as ‘Ragam Sangeetham’ and ‘Humma Humma’ and interacted with singers of various age groups.

That’s when the participating children caught his attention. “I noticed that while adults used their free time during shoots to smoke or catch up on gossip, children would always be seen practising. They impressed with their dedication and I decided to do something to encourage fresh talent. So I chose a few children and got them trained in classical and semi-classical music. I also went to schools scouting for new talent. Here I have to acknowledge with gratitude the support of Mrs. YGP, who permitted me audition children from her schools. Soon, other schools followed and I had got myself a band of about 15-20 children,” recalls Ramjhi, who shares a fantastic relationship with his wards. “I become one of them.”

The first Issai Mazhalai troupe thus formed comprised Haricharan, Vidya Kalyanaraman, Sri Madhumitha, Subhiksha Rangarajan, Ravishankar Iyer (winner of ‘Hariyudan Naan’), N.S. Aruna and Sowmya Mahadevan (both Super Singers), Kedarnatha Sairam, Ashwath Thyagarajan (now a pilot), Abhinav and three Class 1 students Sruthi, Madhumita and Sanjana. Later Bharat Sundar joined the group. Today, many of them are names to reckon with in the playback and Carnatic fields.

Thus began a 15-year-long musical journey of Issai Mazhalai.

The first show was on May 14, at The Music Academy. Sitting among the audience were film stars (Nagesh), directors (SP Muthuraman) and academicians (Mrs. YGP). “The tension level was high. But I had complete confidence in my children.” The success that evening resulted in Sun TV offering them a 15-week programme in the Sunday noon slot. Soon came ‘Baala Brahmam’ in association with Jaya TV, where young talent was showcased. It ran for 10 years.

What Ramjhi looks forward to is the ITC Mangaldeep Agarbathis-sponsored week-long Issai Mazhalai festival during the December Season.

“I wanted youngsters to sing in prime slots. That happened thanks to ITC, when one of the company executives was impressed with a child’s performance and came forward to support the cause. Today, eight magical Seasons later, many youngsters are tasting success and continue to do so, both here and abroad,” he says with obvious pride. Some of his protégés include up and coming singers and music directors Ajeesh, R. Raghavendra and Nivas Prasanna, Keyboard Sathya and drummer Siddharth.

What’s more, A.R. Rahman used the voices of this group for his movies, beginning with ‘Lagaan,’ a trend which every music director began to follow.

Today, Ramjhi is happy “not doing anything.” He of course, facilitates concerts and shows, both Carnatic and light music, for special occasions when he is approached by people.

He suggests names of artists and looks in all aspects such as putting a team of accompanists together, organising travel and such details. He also conducts Carnatic workshops and keeps tabs on his team of teachers and their wards.

Looking back, he says, “I think the past 15 years have proved to be the most fruitful. My early activities were more an act of survival and I tried to do that by thinking out of the box. But what has given me immense satisfaction and even a purpose, is my interaction with children, discovering and honing new talent and providing them fresh opportunities. I can say with conviction that I am truly a contended man today.”

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Printable version | Oct 16, 2018 6:32:50 AM |

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