Music

A well-woven tapestry

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‘Maniyosai’ recounted Palghat Mani Iyer’s musical journey. Suganthy Krishnamachari writes

Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, Maharajapuram Santhanam, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, Musiri, Madurai Mani Iyer, Alathur Brothers, GNB, Pudukottai Dakshinamurthy Pillai, MS, DKP, MLV, KVN — can all of them be on stage together? Obviously not, unless it happens to be in SS International’s ‘Maniyosai,’ a musical docu-drama on the life of mridangam maestro Palghat Mani Iyer, and his interactions with various musicians. Sudha Ragunathan, Vijay Siva, Sowmya, Sikkil Gurucharan and many others played the roles of yesteryear musicians.

‘Maniyosai’ was episodic and anecdotal, and usually such plays produce a staccato effect. But Nithyasree Mahadevan’s beautiful narration stitched together the various events in the life of Mani Iyer, thereby maintaining flow and continuity.

‘Maniyosai’ captured Mani Iyer’s progress over the years from a precocious child who, judging by the variation in the beats of the percussion instruments, can tell which street the processional deity is in, to a sought after artist with a place in the musical firmament.

The sequence unfolded thus: Chembai (played by Sreyas Narayanan) takes the young Mani under his wing, and insists that organisers of concerts pay him just as much as senior artists. When Mani Iyer falls ill, a distraught Chembai, acting upon astrological advice, makes a Blue Jager diamond ring for him.

Nithyasree recounted that Mani Iyer used to say that Ariyakudi’s music was to Carnatic music, what the Bhagavad Gita was to Hinduism. Mani Iyer defined svarga thus: “Playing for Ariyakudi, on a mridangam made by Somu Achari.” Kanchi Paramacharya observed that in Mani Iyer’s playing he experienced the trilling of birds, the pounding of waves, rolls of thunder, the gentleness of the evening breeze, and saw the beauty of creation unfold before his eyes. And when Palghat Mani was beset by spiritual doubts, Paramacharya told him that Vaikuntha prapthi was assured because of his nadopasana.

Ayushman, who played four-year-old Palghat Mani, had no stage fright, and seemed to revel in the applause that his handling of the mridangam evoked. He played to ‘Jagadanandakaraka’ without a miss! Shertalai Anantakrishnan as the senior Mani Iyer should have spoken up. He was inaudible in some scenes.

Directing an ensemble cast is never easy. But Kuriakose Ranga picked up all the different threads, deftly weaving a wonderful tapestry, which had humour, poignant moments and lots of music and transported one back to a different era.

(‘Maniyosai’ was put together with inputs from various sources including the book, ‘Mridangam Medhai - Palghat Mani Iyer’ by Charukesi S. Viswanathan.)

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Printable version | Dec 10, 2019 5:07:22 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/A-well-woven-tapestry/article14628570.ece

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