A peek into Ilaiyaraaja's life

At 4.30 in the morning, a guru would call his sishya for the day’s classes. Many a time, the disciple would dash in, fresh from his bath, water still dripping from his hair — he would have recorded till midnight, caught a few winks and then rushed to learn. The guru would lovingly towel his hair, and then proceed to teach. “I’ve never looked at him just as a sishya; he was beyond that. I considered it a privilege to teach a man who’s God’s gift to music,” said veteran T.V. Gopalakrishnan, of Ilaiyaraaja.

Writer and producer Panchu Arunachalam, the man who introduced Ilaiyaraaja to the industry, with Annakili, spoke of the silver jubilee celebrations for the movie in Madurai. “The distributor had arranged it at the Thamukkam grounds. Usually, these events are held in theatres. Once there, we were shocked — about 10,000 bullock carts were lined up, and the venue was overflowing with people. It poured that day, but no one left. They sat in the rain, drenched in the notes that Ilaiyaraaja produced.”

Nuggets such as these made ‘Ilaiyaraaja Aayiram’ — put together by Vijay TV and Ilaiyaraaja Music N Management — an evening to remember for a long time, notwithstanding issues with the audio, the LED screens, and the lack of a time schedule. The event was not a music show, like many hoped it would be, but more a chance for his innumerable fans — the YMCA grounds held over 15,000 people — to get a peek into the composer who touched their souls with his music.

‘Guitar’ Prasanna, who performed a couple of numbers, including ‘Ae Unnai Thaane’ (Kadhal Parisu), with Steve Jenkins (bass) and Mauricio Zottarelli (drums), spoke about how ‘Ilaya Nila’ set him firmly on the path of music, and that listening to Ilaiyaraaja “is like coming back to mum’s food”.

Singers, actors and directors, who took the stage, spoke about how much his music has transformed them, their films and careers. Telugu star Venkatesh said that even an average film would shape up well, thanks to his music. Among those who shared their experiences with him were singers P. Susheela, S.P. Sailaja, Jency and Uma Ramanan. The ‘concert’ part of the event started with the lilting ‘Kannan Vandhu Paaduginraan’ (Rettai Vaal Kuruvi), ‘En Ulle En Ulle’ (Valli) and ‘Maanguyilae Poonguyilae’ (Karagattakaran).

Director Gautham Vasudev Menon, a self-confessed fan, recalled how when he sat down with singer Karthik and Guitar Prasanna, with ‘his’ list of 10 songs, he realised that it was not just ‘his’, but everyone’s list too. The unplugged session featured some evergreen melodies such as ‘Kodai Kaala Kaatre’ (Panneer Pushpangal) ‘Neethane’ (Ninaivellam Nithya), ‘Kaatrai Konjam’ (Neethane En Ponvasantham) and ‘Raasave Unna Nambi’ (Muthal Mariyathai), and the pulsating ‘Pottu Vaitha’ (Singaravelan).

Next on stage was S.P. Balasubrahmyam. “From travelling by katta vandi and bus to trains, and finally flights, we’ve come a long way together,” he said, before breaking into the hugely popular ‘Oh Priya Priya’ (Geethanjali/Idhayathai Thirudathe), ‘Ilaya Nila’ (Payanangal Mudivathillai), ‘Sundari Kannal’ (Thalapathi), and the superhit Kannada number ‘Jotheyali’. “I’ll get beaten up if I don’t sing this in Karnataka,” he laughed. He was brilliantly supported by Ilaiyaraaja’s orchestra.

Violinist L. Subramaniam, whose father was Ilaiyaraaja’s first guru, recalled how they grew up together. He put together a small performance and presented him with the Lakshminarayana International Award. This was followed by some songs by composer Devi Sri Prasad and Usha Uthup, who said performing Ilaiyaraaja’s songs is the reason that many musicians the world over have their “roti, kapda and makaan’.

The best tribute, however, came from the young and vibrant Thaikkudam Bridge. They performed a medley including ‘Raja Raja Chozhan’ (Rettai Vaal Kuruvi), ‘Nee Paartha Paarvai’ (Hey Ram) and the rousing ‘Om Sivoham’ (Naan Kadavul). That a band based out of Kerala, whose singers don’t know Tamil, and who did not grow up listening to his music, could internalise his compositions and give it new life was proof that some composers transcend time.

Those who were patient enough to linger on till 1 a.m. got to witness magic on stage, when Ilaiyaraaja and his ‘thambi’ Kamal Haasan came up. Kamal screened portions from his stalled magnum opus Marudhanayagam and took out a paper with the lyrics — Ilaiyaraaja has also contributed to it. He also performed a number from the film, and the minutes that followed were a masterclass in background music. At first, you saw only the powerful visuals on screen and listened to the voices of Kamal and Ilaiyaraaja. And then, you got the real deal — the composer and his orchestra giving it new life with his background score.

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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 9:07:35 AM |

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