Ilaiyaraaja remembers MSV

Music composer Ilayaraja.  

Ilaiyaraaja shudders when you ask him to recall his last meeting with the late music composer M.S.Viswanathan. “I was shocked to see how frail and thin he was when I went to the hospital a couple of months ago,” he recalls, turning away, lest we see the pain in his eyes. “I did not expect to see that.”

That wasn’t the MSV he knew. The MSV he knew was one who was full of life, one who loved his mother dearly and one who had overwhelming gratitude towards his guru. And of course, one who was a magician with music.

It was magic that enthralled everybody growing up, listening to Tamil film music in the 60s and 70s. That is exactly what Ilaiyaraaja wants audiences to experience in his tribute concert, ‘Enullil MSV’, this evening at Kamaraj Arangam. “The intricacies in MSV anna’s compositions are something that’s not known even to those who are tuned in to music. Having said that, I wanted to share with listeners whatever I have grasped from it. His mastery is already displayed in his compositions, but whatever I have learnt from those, I will perform for listeners,” he explains.

This is a concert that is close to his heart for many reasons; chief among them being that it is one that was slated to happen for a long time. “He wanted both of us to do a programme. We had discussed it many times, but it didn’t happen. When he passed away, it affected me deeply. So, this is something we’d already discussed; I believe he’s with us in music and I’m sure he will be there with us during the event.”

MSV was, in many ways, Ilaiyaraaja’s ‘manasiga guru’, inspiring him to scale heights in music. How much of an impact did the Mellisai Mannan have in his growing up years? “That’s a personal question you’re asking me,” he says, eyes staring intensely, “You’ll say that I came from a village, I grew up listening to his compositions and became a composer. You’ll finish it in a single sentence. But it isn’t like that; the impact he had on me was all about emotions, feelings and purity. His songs reached everybody, but it changed me.”

Elucidating, he says, “Fire is the same always, but see the effect it has on various objects. A vazha mattai (banana stem fibre) may not light up, a kanchupona sulli (twig) might take some time, but gunpowder flares up immediately. I’m that gunpowder. This is not to tell my greatness; it just tells that his music has reached down to hit me.”

The first time Ilaiyaraaja met MSV was when he was leaving home for a recording. “I remember that day when I went to his house… I was a nobody at that time,” and then quickly adds, “Strike out that ‘at that time’; I’m nobody even now. He was in a hurry to leave, his driver was lurking around. There were a few musicians around too. I just quickly said ‘vanakkam’ and didn’t introduce myself. He looked at me and perhaps thought I was a fan. That was the first time I saw him up close.”

A few years before, he would have been standing in what we now call Dr. Radhakrishnan Salai to catch a glimpse of the composer, travelling in his famous Black Fiat 1100, bearing the registration number MSV 5052. “He used to head out at 8.30 in the morning to go for recording,” reminisces Ilaiyaraaja, “I would be going from Royapettah to Dhanraj sir’s room and would wait in the corner to catch a glimpse of him. He was always in the front seat, keeping his hand on the door. I used to see him and then go to class.”

Subsequently, Ilaiyaraaja became an established composer, being much-sought-after by directors looking for fresh sounds. His relationship with MSV continued, albeit on a professional level. “There have been several times when both our recordings were in the same place. When my morning recording got delayed, I used to get jittery as he would be waiting for me,” he states.

MSV was open to appreciating good music wherever it came from (“I’m Ilaiyaraaja’s fan,” he once famously said) and used to keep giving feedback. ‘Poongathave Thal Thiravai’ (Nizhalgal) was one such song. “He said, ‘Thambi, that song is very good.’ This was during the time when there were no audio cassettes. I was happy that he had heard it and appreciated me. Like ‘Poongathave’, I wonder how many of my songs he has heard and not been able to convey to me. I consider this not as praise, but as a blessing.”

Ilaiyaraaja points out how people shouldn’t forget the times MSV thrived in — a time when playing musicians were considered equivalent of five composers. “Composers sometimes used to be afraid to explain tunes… they used to think highly of playing musicians. And, just look at the names of those times — there were greats like G. Ramanathan and K.V. Mahadevan. And there was Papanasam Sivam. MSV was a composer hailing from such a rich musical tradition. He had a wealth of experience and exposure and took that in the form of music to listeners.”

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 11:53:00 PM |

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