A tribute in Carnatic idiom to Ilaiyaraaja’s classicism in film music

Ranjani and Gayatri will be performing a unique concert, ‘RaajabyRaga’, on June 5 at The Music Academy to celebrate the maestro’s 80th birthday

June 03, 2022 01:37 am | Updated 11:48 am IST - CHENNAI

Ranjani and Gayatri during a discussion with music director Ilaiyaraaja.

Ranjani and Gayatri during a discussion with music director Ilaiyaraaja. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

When Carnatic singers Ranjani and Gayatri perform a unique concert RaajabyRaGa, on June 5, to celebrate the legendary music director Ilaiyaraaja’s 80th birthday, they will be fulfilling the stated or unstated desire of many musicians, including flautist T. Viswanathan.

While receiving the Sangita Kalanidhi award of The Music Academy, the late Viswanathan called upon traditional musicians to take the first step towards a mutual understanding between traditional art music and film music.

“Ilaiyaraaja has effortlessly created a bridge between classical and film music. We are going to celebrate his classicism in film music by interpreting his compositions in Carnatic style,” said sisters Ranjani and Gayatri, who have chosen to render some of Ilaiyaraaja’s film compositions in the June 5 concert at The Music Academy.

They have planned it as a two-and-a-half or three-hour programme with all the elements of a Carnatic concert, including ragam, tanam, pallavi and Ragamaalika renderings.

“We are not going to reproduce his compositions. The orchestrations have been done with laser-like precision. We will sing to the accompaniment of violin, mridangam and ghatam. It is a tribute in Carnatic idiom to his music,” said the sisters who first collaborated with Ilaiyaraaja in project Maayone.

They said each piece would explore a particular idea of Ilaiyaraaja’s music and his trademark Carnatic adaptation. They have chosen Chinna Kannan Azhaikkiran set to Reetigowla for ragam-tanam-pallavi.

One song will explore the idea of folk versus classical music; another will seek to explain the rhythmic patterns; yet another item will delineate how a Carnatic composition set to a particular raga travels together with a film composition in the same raga.

“We will sing one classical composition and switch over to a film song to prove how he has adhered to the grammar of Carnatic ragas. His songs have inspired us so much that we unconsciously pick up phrases from composition even while performing songs in Carnatic concerts,” they said.

Asked about the reaction of Ilaiyaraaja when they proposed their idea to him, they said he not only encouraged them but presented a wish list which included Mari Mari Ninne, a keerthana of saint-composer Tyagaraja set to Kambodhi raga, but changed to Saramati for the film Sindhu Bhairavi. It triggered a controversy with many Carnatic musicians saying no one had the right to alter the compositions of Tyagaraja.

Ilaiyaraaja had told them that it was not his “ego” that played a role in changing the tune. “I composed a tune in Saramati. When I turned the pages of the volume of Tyagaraja’s compositions published by The Music Academy, the first song I spotted was Mari Mari Ninne and it perfectly suited the tune,” they recalled Ilaiyaraaja as narrating the incident.

Like a Ragamalika singing session, they have prepared a list of Ilaiyaraaja’s songs in various ragas. “Normally, we do not go for rehearsals before regular concerts. But we have done a couple of rehearsals for this programme,” the duo said.

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