Music

Humming 'Ilaiya nila'

tracking his journey Chandrasekhar at his studio photo: M. Vedhan  

Why did Ilaiyaraaja choose C sharp minor scale for the song ‘Ilaiya nila pozigiradhu’ from the film, ‘Payanangal Mudivadhillai’? Ever since its release in 1981 this question has been lingering in my mind. Recently when I met R. Chandrasekhar (aka guitar Chandrasekhar/ keyboard Chandrasekhar), he explained, “Ilaiyaraaja is an ace guitarist. As a composer he wanted to highlight the guitar’s beauty. The C sharp minor chord sounds like an added chord and in that song’s third background, the open E string sounds beautiful in the combination of notes.” It was Chandrasekhar who played the guitar for this song.

“No regrets,” said a smiling Chandrasekhar to a question on whether he rued the decision to take up music full time after doing his B.Tech.“The five-year course opened up new vistas in my mind that helped me as a musician.” His mother Rajalakshmi was proficient in Carnatic music. She taught him many ragas and their nuances.

Realising his interest in music his uncle gifted him a mouth organ and he started playing the National Anthem and the famous ‘Konji Konji Pesi’ on it.

“Listening to film songs on radio was a favourite pastime. I was particularly attracted to guitar, which was played by the doyen, Philip. I was keen to learn the instrument but there were no guitar masters in T. Nagar. So I had to travel either to Royapuram or St. Thomas Mount.”

His relationship with the instrument began after a visit to Musee Musicals, where he purchased a book on the guitar’s rudiments. Six months later, the self-taught Chandrasekhar started playing the guitar along with T.S. Diwakar for Y.G.Parthasarathy’s (UAA) plays.

Diwakar introduced him to K.V. Mahadevan. “Suddenly I found myself busy, balancing my time between studios and AC Tech. I also started a group called ‘Missiles’ and played the tracks of the popular bands Ventures and Shadows. Y.Gee. Mahendra played the drums. My younger brother Purushothaman would join us whenever YGM could not make it. Purushothaman still continues to work for Ilaiyaraaja.”

Chandrasekhar was quick in grasping the pieces given to him, without writing down the notes. Hence Mellisai Mannar M. S. Viswanathan took a liking to him. Soon Chandrasekhar became a favourite of many music directors. He has also recorded violinist V.S. Narasimhan’s works.

When did he start playing the keyboard? “A monophonic synthesiser purchased to help a friend was lying idle. I started playing the instrument during leisure and mastered it within a year. I became aware of sounds, frequencies and dynamics. Music directors from across the country invited me to play both the keyboard and the guitar. I was the first to own an echo unit and Yamaha’s keyboard DX-7, which became a rage among musicians in the 1980s.”

Chandrasekhar also had the looks to make it on the silver screen and did some modelling assignments. He recalled an incident.

“During a recording at Devar Films, I was playing the rhythm guitar. Suddenly, Sando Chinnappa Devar asked me to remove my shirt and appreciated the way I had maintained my physique. He then announced that I would be the hero of his next film. The next day, he sent a car to my house to take me for horse riding lessons. My family members were against this. So I had to politely turn down his offer.”

Chandrasekhar was one of the first to demonstrate the use of computers in composing music when he did scores for several TV serials, corporate films and jingles.

His only son Sanjay is a music producer, who lives in Mumbai with his wife Rajalakshmi, an accomplished singer.

“I still remember the days when a helper and I would carry 250 kilos of equipment to the studios. Today music directors send notes and ideas through mail or mobile. Sitting in my studio at home I can compose. Technology has changed the way music is created,” he pointed out with a sigh.

“A piece of art cannot be created in a jiffy. It requires complete focus and enough time to put it together meticulously. I still work at my own pace. I teach western music theory, guitar, and keyboard. I feel that I am still a student learning something new each day.” He then obliged our request to play ‘Ilaiya Nila’ on the guitar.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 1:36:01 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/Humming-Ilaiya-nila/article14564100.ece

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