Music

Of a triumphant return

Musician and composer Rajkumar Bharathi’s story is a fine example of a child prodigy with a blue-blooded lineage, who tragically loses his voice at the peak of his career yet pursues his passion with determination. It is his perseverance that has resulted in him being selected for the Sangeet Natak Akademi Music for Dance Award - 2015.

Born in 1958 to Venkatasubramanian and Lalita Bharati, the younger daughter of Thangammal Bharati, who was the second of Mahakavi Subramania Bharati’s daughters.

“It took me some time to understand that I belonged to a great family. I would see my great grandfather’s photographs in the house and would be happy to also find them at several programmes where I accompanied my mother,” recalls Rajkumar, as he begins the conversation, comfortably seated on a bamboo mat, with his electronic sruti box beside him.

By the time he was five, he started showing glimpses of his musical talent. He could pick up tunes from the radio and render difficult swaras with ease. His father put him under the tutelage of Valliyur Gurumurthy. In 1975, he won the Tambura Prize, which opened the door the following year for his first major slot in the December Season at Indian Fine Arts. He trained under T. V. Gopalakrishnan because of his interest in Hindustani music, and also took lessons from Balamuralikrishna.

In 1980, he took up a job as an R&D engineer in a company, where he worked on defence-related projects, balancing his musical career alongside by performing in the evenings. In 1982, the year of Subramania Bharati’s centenary, was a turning point for Rajkumar when he was asked to sing his great grandfather’s compositions on television. “Television is a potent medium and brought quick recognition,” recalls the artist, who by then had become a regular performer.

In 1985, TVG invited Narayanaswamy Rao of Rama Seva Mandali, Bangalore as a guest to a concert of Rajkumar. Rao was so impressed with his singing that for the next 15 years he arranged for a series of concerts. “My guru used to tell me to quit my job and take up music full-time. He would say, ‘one who believes in the seven notes will never starve.’ I didn’t believe because an artist’s life is unpredictable. There were instances when for a stretch of 15-20 days I would have no concerts. But finally I heeded his advice and left my job.”

A few years later, he got an opportunity to sing in films, the first being ‘Kaladi Osai’ that never got released. It was ‘Ezhavadu Manidan’ with M.S. Viswanathan as music director, in which he sang a Bharati song, which marked his entry into films. With a playlist of 150 songs, Rajkumar has sung in all south Indian languages.

Singing for dance was not his choice but he did not mind composing for Malathi Iyengar’s Rangoli Foundation in 1992. She also organised a couple of solo shows in the U.S.

Later, he worked for Ramaa Bharadwaj’s ‘Panchatantra’. “I enjoyed visualising the concept through music,” he says. Since then composing for dance productions became a part of his musical oeuvre until 2000, when he lost his voice due to dysphonia, an impairment of the vocal chords.

“ It was in the middle of a concert when I felt my voice was not cooperating. I somehow managed. After a series of check-ups I came to know of the problem,” he says.

“My voice had been my medium of communication and to come to terms with the fact that it was no longer an asset was shattering. It was also the time I realised the faith and affection my family and friends.”

Since then he has been composing music for dancers such as Savitha Sastry, Ambika Kameswar, Lakshmi

Ramaswamy, Alarmel Valli and Leela Samson. Apart from pushpanjalis, sabdams, varnams, thillanas and padams, he has worked on full-length productions. “Music chooses its own messenger and I am carrying forward what needs to be taken to the audience.”

How does he feel when the visual presentation does not match his musical concept?

“I don’t think so hard or critically. Every artist’s interpretation is unique. I feel happy to hear my music echo in the auditorium,” he smiles.

Work profile

Rajkumar Bharathi lists some of the interesting productions he has been a part of.

Jayanthi Subramanian’s ‘Jyotir Gamaya’, inspired by Richard Bach’s Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

“It had no lyrics so the music, purely classical, was situational.”

Jayanthi Subramanian’s ‘Panchali Sabadam’.

“A huge production with an accent on negative emotions such as vengeance and jealousy was a challenge musically.”

Aranganin Padhayil, a multimedia production, featuring Roja Kannan, Priya Murle and Srikanth.

“It was an interesting experience since it combined history, art, literature, oral tradition and folklore to trace Lord Ranganatha’s journey.”

Rajeswari Sainath’s ‘Lalitha Sahasranamam’.

“To present this sloka in dance format made it an exciting experience for me too. To top it all, there was Guru Karaikkudi Mani to guide us.”

Alarmel Valli’s ‘Krishna’ and ‘Nature’.

“It felt nice to set Sanskrit poems and an English poetry to music.”

Lakshmi Ramaswamy’s ‘Sundara Kandam’.

“It had lyrics by Rukmini Ramani and offered scope to explore the different moods in this important chapter of the epic.”

Savitha Sastry’s ‘Chains’.

“A social commentary on how women remain chained at every level of their life had influences of western genres. With very little lyrics, the production’s essence had to be conveyed largely through music.”

Apsara Fine Arts’ ‘Angkor Wat’.

“Featuring 150 dancers, it had fifty per cent recorded music and 50 per cent live. The challenge was to strike a balance without a single jarring note.”

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2021 4:49:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/Of-a-triumphant-return/article14380409.ece

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