Music

Light and classical hand in hand

Parthasarathy. Photo: V. Ganesan  

“It was the early 1970s. I had had fractured my leg and was confined to the bed for three months. I had to lot of time on my hands and that's when decided to learn the veena,” says R. Parthasarathy during a chat after his concert at Mudhra.



He continues, “My father V. Raghavan was a disciple of Seranmahadevi Subramania Sastry, who was a direct disciple of Veena Seshanna. I used to listen to him teach his students and grasped a lot. Soon I was able to play some tunes without knowing any raga or kriti. I was 18 then.”



V. Raghavan was busy playing the veena for films. Those were the days when film songs of all South Indian languages were recorded at the studios in Chennai.



Parthasarathy shares an interesting anecdote about his father. “The iconic M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavatar was impressed by the veena sound in the song ‘Rajan Maharajan.’ My father had played that bit. Bhagavatar was so pleased that he called my father and gave him Rs. 40 as a special gesture. He went one step further and saw to it that my father’s name was printed on the 78 rpm disc alongside his. It was a record of sorts.”



When his father fell ill, Parthasarathy had to stand in for a re-recording under the baton of K.V. Mahadevan.



“I had no knowledge of film recordings and the related techniques. As I entered the studio, I saw many senior musicians who recognised me who showered their blessings. K.V. Mahadevan’s assistant Pugazhendi gave me the solos I had to play. Since I had no knowledge of swaras, I requested him to sing it. And that's how I played the veen at the appropriate moments in the song. Ever since, I began practising under my father’s guidance, and leant the viraladi technique as well, which is important for playing in films.”



Parthasarathy also learnt the sitar as the pulling technique and sphuritam were attractive. However, the finger markings clashed and hence, he decided to stick with the veena. Instead, he introduced some sitar techniques while playing the veena.



“I would listen to sitar and sarod recitals on AIR and improved my knowledge of Hindustani music. Ragas such as Pilu, Kapi, Desh and Behag were music directors’ favourites and they were happy when they heard me play these ragas on the veena. Thus, I became a regular for film recordings.”



Parthasarathy fondly remembers Guna Singh, the flute maestro, who taught him the rudiments of tonal shift. Film recording, devotionals and classical concerts at weddings kept him going. He has played for almost all leading music directors of Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films -- Rajeshwar Rao, Ranga Rao, Sathyam, K.V. Mahadevan, M.S. Viswanathan, L. Vaidyanathan, Shankar-Ganesh, Ilaiyaraaja, Dakshinamurthy Master, Devarajan Master, Ravindran, Kannanore Rajan, Johnson, Rajamani, Ramesh Vinayakam, Vidyasagar and A.R. Rehman, to name a few.



Until Ilaiyaraaja came on the music scene, the veena was predominantly used in historic films and mythologicals. It was Ilaiyaraaja who began using the veena instead of the guitar for romantic interludes.



“This opened up my chances and soon, I became busy in films. The challenge was to play pieces of varying tempos and srutis. This necessitated research on the usage of strings and placement of frets on the melam, made of wax. As a result, my veena had a new sound, which music directors liked.” Parthasarathy feels playing at high pitches such as G and A for films, has aided his playing classical music. He even donned the role of a hero in two Malayalam films but realised acting was not for him. His son Sriram Parthasarathy, a child prodigy, is a busy playback and classical singer, and plays with his father often.

The Concert Review

I first heard R. Parthasarathy play the veena in the noon slot at the The Music Academy. The year was somewhere in the mid 1970s. I instantly loved his sound quality and dexterity. The lingering sweetness was somewhat unique and the rave reviews about his concert led me to believe that he would soon make it to the top. Strangely that never happened. His concerts were only few and far between.



So, when Parthasarathy played for Mudhra recently at the Infosys Hall, T. Nagar, I was happy to note that all those qualities which he displayed in the early phase of his career were still in tact with additional vishranti that has set in. And that made it a pleasurable evening.



J. Vaidyanathan (mridangam) and S. Karthick (ghatam) contributed immensely to the concert’s success with their imaginative and unobtrusive foray.



The Hamsadhwani kriti ‘Gamganapathe’ with kalpanaswaras helped Parthasarathy settle down. Tyagaraja’s ‘Bagaayanaiyya’ (Chandrajyothi) was treated with respect and the pace was apt. Sruti suddham (perfect unison in tuning) of the instrument was an added advantage for the player and the electronic pick up too did not mar the real sound of the veena.



The concert found further dignity when Parthasarathy essayed Begada (‘Kadaikkann Vaithennai’) that was an aural treat. Panthuvarali, the evening’s sub-main, was sketched with some breath-taking phrases, the vainika’s nimble fingers doing wonders on the frets. Some of the lines were quite fresh. The sahitya meetu was at its best for Tyagaraja’s divyanamasankirtana kriti, ‘Dasaratha Nandana,’ and the melody that emanated from Vaidyanathan’s mridangam added to the mood. The tekka varieties that he showcased in the company of Karthick were lilting. The Khambodi raga alapana that preceded Dikshitar’s ‘Kailasanatha’ was marked by melodic purity.



It was a step-by-step elaboration in an unhurried approach. For their thani, Vaidyanathan and Karthick presented several innovative nadais and variations. Parthasarathy’s treatment of Sindubhairavi was engaging and the pacing of ‘Visveswara’ made it even more emotional.



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Printable version | Jan 16, 2021 10:42:02 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/vainika-r-parthasarathy-strikes-a-balance-between-films-and-classical-music/article7507422.ece

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