The Hindu November Fest

Crossover concerns


Boundless delves into a deeply personal journey through music unfettered by genre

Somewhere in the middle of Boundless, the second act of the 13th edition of The Hindu November Fest, Sid Sriram tells us a story of loss. The Day my Aunt Passed Away, a spoken word, talks of the passing away of an aunt; of a phone call and of a scream thereafter that his mother lets out — a scream “so primal, so painful”; he speaks of how there’s no way one can prepare for loss — “of a sister, husband, mother, brother”. And then, he breaks into a song — ‘Oh Brother, Why’d You Have to Pass on by’… ‘Never to Say Goodbye’, a jazz-inspired reflective song where Sid captures pain and longing with ease and conviction.

It’s literally like he’s home with his family back in the States, where he was born and raised, before he became the poster boy of playback in Kollywood, breaking into people’s hearts with AR Rahman’s blues-y ‘Adiye’ from Kadal. But what many don’t know perhaps is the story before the playback. Boundless is an attempt to distil the many influences and experiences that reside within this being, whose signature statement during the concert was, ‘My name is Sid Sriram’.

Boundless was also testimony to Sriram’s creativity, and his ability to navigate an array of genres (of music) in a manner that is liberating both to the artiste and the audience. Through the 90-plus minutes that made up Boundless, Sriram shifted gears freely from Carnatic to cinema to R&B to Electronic to Jazz to Rap and to Funk, in a way that genres mattered very little and what took precedence was poetry and feeling.

And that is perhaps the narrative of Boundless, a free-flowing, unbridled construct of a deeply personal journey that is comfortable wearing many hats and having many identities. Yet, the vein of Boundless, both in the choice of songs and its poetry, was angst and a sense of existentialism, of coming to terms with life and self. The show began with a Thiruppugazh, Sivanar Manam, and ended with it, becoming in a sense, a metaphor of life coming full circle. In between, the audience meandered between finding comfort in the blanket of familiarity and feeling a bit lost in the milieu of the unfamiliar. Clearly, the cheers came for cinema; when Sriram broke into ‘Pudhu Vellai Mazhai’, the iconic snow song from Roja, the audience sang along every time Sriram scaled the higher octave, that part in the song where Rahman weaves his magic. There were other popular pieces too from his own playback repertoire — ‘Maruvaarthai’, ‘Thalli Pogathey’ — where he sparkled, and a few oldies like ‘Thenpaandi Cheemayile’ (Nayagan) and ‘Malarnthum Malaratha’ (Paasamalar) that were perhaps Sriram’s own stories of memories — the music of his childhood, the music in his home — but strangely, they lacked the gravitas of the original.

Boundless also had a visual component in a series of images that were meant to add yet another layer to the poetry of the song and its expression. But to process them in relationship with the music is going to take audiences a while. Yet another movement component in Boundless was Bharatanatyam by Sriram’s sister, Pallavi, who attempted some interesting movements no doubt, but whose inclusion in the overall scheme of things could have been thought through more deliberately.

Boundless comprised of a team of very talented musicians — Sanjeev Thomas on guitar, Leon James on keys, Keba Jeremiah on bass, Praveen Sparsh on percussion, Tapass Naresh on drums and Marti Bharath on synth, live loops and sound effects, all of whom aided in creating the right atmosphere for an experimental production attempting to explore nuanced ideas such as multiple identities. What definitely bothered many was the level of sound and the reverb that made it nearly impossible, at times, to listen to the words, and soak in an emotion.

Boundless could perhaps consider a choreographer who may be able to view the work with an objective pair of lens and help weave these varied and versatile segments into a singular thread whose core idea is to communicate the story of a crossover, both for the artiste and for the audience. But like Sriram said in an interview to me recently, “Even if a handful (of people) in the audience are exposed to my music beyond what they already know of me, I’d like to think of it as a beginning.”

Crossovers, after all, don’t happen overnight. For those who watched the show, it may be worth our while, to chew on the show just a little bit before making a decision, this way or that.

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 3:57:49 PM |

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