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In memory of the original

Celebrating a legend (from left) Nithyashree, S. Sowmya, Haripriya and Shanmukhapriya Photo: M. Periasamy  

I have a very personal connection with MS Subbulakshmi. Her Meera bhajans, or rather the soundtrack from the Hindi film, were my lullabies. So when my brother was born, I insisted he should be named Hari. My parents, who wanted to name him Krishna after our grandfather, tried explaining that Hari and Krishna were the same. But I wasn’t looking for a theology lesson here; I just liked the sound of the name Hari, as sung by MS amma. So Hari it had to be. Arguing with an irrational two-year-old is an exercise in futility. So my exhausted parents gave way and prefixed the Hari to the name of their choice.

The sequel to this was a meeting with the lady herself a couple of years later. As the family lore has it — embellished along the way no doubt — she had come to consult my grandfather, an Ayurvedic physician. I marched up to her, told her the story of how my brother got his name and finished by bursting into tears because she hadn’t sung any songs about my name. Her reaction, according to my very embarrassed parents, was to lift me into her lap and sing a couple of songs that did feature my name.

So when The Hindu November Fest in Coimbatore opened with Kaatrinile…. Remembering MS, it was a no-brainer that I would attend. The other reason was to see how S. Sowmya, Nithyasree, Haripriya and Shanmukhapriya — four artistes belonging to different banis — would present songs that MS was famous for. The crowd at the venue was testimony to the pull the legendary singer has over music lovers 11 years after her death.

Conceptualised and scripted by author, playwright and director Gowri Ramnarayan, the programme had people recalling their favourite MS song. Both ‘Bhavayami Raghuramam’ and ‘Sriman Narayana’ were rendered in the classic MS style but with subtle interpretative touches that marked the artiste’s individual style.

The introduction to Papanasam Sivan’s ‘Nee irangayenil’ told of MS’ championship of the Tamil Isai Sangam and how she brought Tamil songs to the fore in her concerts. This song was a kind of a musical dialogue between Nithyasree and Sowmya showing how two musicians from different banis and with different styles of vocalisation could come together to great effect.

Dikshitar’s ‘Meenakshi Memudam’ saw the Priya Sisters delineate the raga Gamakapriya. The years of singing together told, as the siblings were in perfect sync with each other. And in sync with them was MA Krishnaswamy on the violin.

Introduced as “an imposing composition”, Shyama Shastri’s ‘Raave himagiri kumari’ is associated as much with the legendary Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer as with MS Subbulakshmi. But the four vocalists were more than up to the task of rendering this composition in Todi the way it ought to be.

It was now Sowmya’s and Nithyasree’s turn to take centre-stage with Kharaharapriya. Sowmya’s masterly alapana and Nithyashree’s sancharas had the Priya Sisters rapt leading to a moment where Sowmya had to tap Haripriya so that she could take on the baton and continue the relay. The tani avartanam by Neyveli Skandasubramanian on the mridangam and Chandrasekara Sharma on the ghatam got a well-deserved ovation. The fact that no one walked out during the tani showed the artistes’ calibre.

What’s an MS concert without a Meera bhajan? And so we had ‘Brindavanathil’ from the Tamil version of the film sung by Sowmya and Nithyasree.

But if I may be allowed a personal quibble: one more from the Hindi soundtrack would have rounded it off. I wasn’t the only one feeling this way. The general comment among the audience was “They didn’t have any Meera bhajan.” And the answer of “Brindavanathil” was dismissed with a shake of the head.

With ‘Kurai Ondrum Illai’ and ‘Maitreem Bhajatha’, the concert ended on a familiar note. A little girl seated behind me sang along enthusiastically as did many others in the audience.

But these two songs left me wondering if they should have been included in a tribute concert. While the execution was faultless, the emotion that MS invested in them was missing. The final invocation of ‘shreyo bhuya sakala jananam’ in the original gave me goose pimples. Here I was left with a feeling of “hmm well sung but ...”

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Printable version | Jan 19, 2021 6:15:42 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/In-memory-of-the-original/article10237123.ece

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