I have an Ilayaraja specific bucket list. Starting to write blogs about his music was one. There are few more:
- A monumental wish of digitally re-recording his popular creations (both songs and BGM so that all of us can appreciate the true depth in his compositions)
- Being in his studio and watching a composition come alive
- Time-travel to 80s and do point 2. Stay put in his studio and never bother to do anything else
But one of the things that I had been longing for and couldn’t somehow do it so far – watch one of his concerts live. Because I am quite aware that being in his studio is a far fetched wish – watching at least a full orchestra performance is pragmatic. And that wish came true. Yes, I managed to visit the temple and get a proper darshan – at the Isai Celebrates Isai event that was organized (pretty poorly; more on that later) to celebrate his 76th birthday and raise funds for the “Cine Musicians Association”.
Hearing the orchestration of a song live is a completely “elevating” experience that cannot be expressed in words. The perfection with which every person of the orchestra plays to bring the composition is something that needs to be experienced in person. It’s not just the instruments, even the singers sing to the notes that’s been handed over to them (of course singers like SPB would add their touch in between). The best example of the perfection was this – one of the songs was halted in between when Ilayaraja got upset with a security guard who apparently came to the stage and disturbed the proceedings (it sounded pretty silly on Ilarayaja to me). Ilayaraja said “stop, stop” and everyone stopped playing. It got stopped at the middle of the second interlude of the song. After all the commotion got over, Ilayaraja asked to resume. That’s when I realized the magic – the entire orchestra just continued from where they paused. It was as if you hit the pause button of your music player and resume a while later.
I had a mixed feeling at that moment. I was completely floored – amazing set of professionals (both the Hungarian/Indian musicians and the singers). And I felt “nothing” as a professional. That I never had aimed for the level of perfection that these people exhibited. Exhibited live. L.I.V.E. In front of 1000s of fans. As a Software Engineer, we fret doing live demos. Like simple “Hello World” demos. We even keep a recording of the demo as a backup.
When I started writing this post, I wanted to keep the SPB section towards the end – like eating your favorite dish at the end. But what lingers in my memory now about the show is S.P.B. Or rather the deadly S.P.B and Ilayaraja combination. This show got S.P.B and Ilayaraja together again – after all the drama between them on the “copyright” part (watch Rajini’s way of making fun of it here). And what a difference S.P.B makes to Ilayaraja’s compositions was right on display during the show. And here’s the breakdown:
The first song that S.P.B sang was the infamous Madai Thirandhu. I realized the magic of S.P.B when he sang the “Pa…Pa…Pa…PaPa” portion (listen to the original here) just after the first interlude. The first interlude itself is an amazing composition with so much of voilins, guitar and keyboard. And then S.P.B does so much modulation of his voice during the “Pa…Pa…” portion. He did that portion exactly (in fact I would even say better than the original recording) during the show. I was blown away on how at this age, he could do those modulations. And I was like “Man…we are on for a S.P.B magic tonight…”
There were couple of important emotional moments. Specifically when he sang these lines:
“காலம் கனிந்தது கதவுகள் திறந்தது
ஞானம் விளைந்தது நல்லிசை பிறந்தது
புது ராகம் படைப்பதாலே நானும் இறைவனே
விரலிலும் குரலிலும் ஸ்வரங்களின் நாட்டியம்
“வருங்காலம் வசந்த காலம் நாளும் மங்கலம்
இசைகென இசைகின்ற ரசிகர்கள் ராஜ்ஜியம்
Definitely “காலம் கனிந்தது” for S.P.B and Ilayaraja to be back together. The lines “விரலிலும் குரலிலும் ஸ்வரங்களின் நாட்டியம்” and “இசைகென இசைகின்ற ரசிகர்கள் ராஜ்ஜியம்” are very apt for the duo. Apparently the lyrics was originally written by Manivannan (http://www.envazhi.com/manivannan-a-lyricist-too/). If so, what a “dheega dharisi” he was!!
This was his next one. To be honest, this didn’t create much of an impact. May be because we have listened to this song a million times and take it for granted.
When S.P.B finished singing this one, I had tears in my eyes and was speechless for few moments. I think it was one of the “Oliyum Oliyum” where I heard this song first and I was may be 10-12 years back then. This song has this character of making one to be at peace the moment they listen to it. Just like one watching a Butterfly!! And if you listen closely, the second interlude really has music arranged like a Butterfly flying (watch Ilayaraja explain it here: https://youtu.be/O4s9Vbs0McU?t=56).
The magic that S.P.B performed live were these:
- Listen to the start of the song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ny2zQpgvWqA). He utters the word Butterfly 4 times. He starts with “Oh Butterfly! Butterfly!”. And then the third line goes “Wow! Wow!! Oh Butterfly! Butterfly!” The 3rd and 4th utterances of Butterfly has a distinct sootheness in it. He sang exactly like that on stage. Exactly!!! Some 35 years (37 to be exact) since the original was recorded
- Immediately after that the song goes “அருகில் நீ வருவாயோ
உனக்காக திறந்தேன் மனதின் கதவை”. He sings the “அ” in “அருகில்” from the bottom of his voice giving it the required emotion. And its sung in a high pitch. During the live performance, I would say that he even went a higher pitch than the original. And did that completely effortless. What a sight it was!!! No matter how hard I try, its very difficult to express it in words
- S.P.B and Yesudhas sang together Kattu Kuyilu Manasukulla song from Thalapathy. It was so refreshing to hear the song come alive again on stage. It was pretty emotional as well as the lyrics itself is about the friendship between the main characters in the movie. But it looked as if the song was even apt for the friendship between S.P.B and Yesudhas. In fact Yesudhas even called out saying that S.P.B is more like a younger brother even though they weren’t born to the same mother. The specific line “பாசம் வெக்க நேசம் வெக்க தோழன் உண்டு வாழவெக்க
அவனைத்தவிர உறவுக்காரன் யாரும் இங்கில்லே” was pretty emotional – in fact that portion was sung by Yesudhas and S.P.B gave a hug to Yesudhas
My respect for S.P.B has gone up manyfolds after this live show. I am now listening more carefully to all of his songs to enjoy the magical touch that be brings to the genius composition from Ilayaraja. Though Ilayaraja has certain pride about himself (which I feel has become intolerable for me), he should be thankful to almighty that he had someone like S.P.B all along with him to bring all those compositions the life it deserves.
After the show I read more about Yesudhas’ career. Apparently he has sung more than 80,000 songs in a career spanning 40 years. Thats about 5 songs a day. And he slowed down towards the end of his career. I think we take Yesudhas for granted that we don’t even realize the scale of his contribution to music. There can only be one version of Harivarasanam. So much devotion by him in every song that he sang. So much that even “Maasi Maasam” sounds more divine than sensual 🙂
Unlike S.P.B, age shows up in Yesudhas’ voice. But the divinity hasn’t gone down even a bit. In fact, after he sung few songs, he was narrating incidents about the friendship with S.P.B and spoke great about the collaboration between Ilayaraja and S.P.B. He then concluded with some sloka. The whole episode felt as if some divine power came down to earth and blessed two souls.
The other side of the show
While I was happy to witness all of the above, there was tremendous frustration with the way the show was organized. The number of issues that happened that day will make me think a thousand times before I go to any other live show in the future.
- Seating Issues: For the start, there was complete chaos with respect to the seating arrangement. I had got a Rs.2000 ticket. However, the event layout allowed even folks who had got 500/1000Rs ticket to be seated in the same zone. By the time (a good 1.5 hours ahead of schedule on a hot sunday evening) we reached our zone, all the good seats in the 2000Rs zone were already taken by folks who had bought 500/1000Rs ticket. Despite a few of us fighting against this, the organizers did not bother. And the police personnel as well. I wouldn’t blame the police folks. And wouldn’t blame people as well (there were no signages or volunteers to guide). It was a terrible mis-management by the organizers. And they simply didn’t want to fix it. They were just happy to take the money that day
- Delayed Start: While the about seating issue was going on, the start of the show kept getting delayed. There was some lady who was supposed to be an anchor for the show and she couldn’t stand for 5 minutes on stage and keep the people’s mood going. She disappeared in the next minute. Singer Mano came and apologised and cited traffic as a reason for the singers to get delayed. As audience we were instructed by the booking portal to plan for traffic. Why can’t the singers do the same? It’s the people who pay money for the show who should plan ahead and wait for hours together in the scorching sun. By the time the show started it was delayed by 1h45mins
- Terrible Nadhaswaram Filler: It appears that Ilayaraja loves Nadhaswaram and they had organized a troupe of 75 Nadhaswaram artists to start the show. As the singers were getting delayed, the Nadhswaram artists were used as a filler. The overall performance of the troupe was some 10 notch below the Nadhaswaram and Thavil one would arrange for a wedding. It was super irritating (on top of the seating issues and the delay). It was super irritating even for the lead Nadhaswaram player that he made reactions (that were telecasted in giant screens) asking his fellow players to play the instrument better. So much to a point that Mano came on stage and asked them to stop
- People’s civic sense: People who were supposed to be seated behind us, started bringing chairs from the back and formed additional columns. So much that even the walking space were occupied by people. Had there been any need for evacuation, 100s of people would have just died by stampede. The heights of this was a person who brought some 5 chairs and asked someone sitting behind us to take care of those 5 chairs while he goes and brings his family. When he brought back the family, he got upset with this other person for not taking proper care of those 5 chairs
And the biggest of all issues: song selections. Except the ones I have mentioned above, and a couple more like “Hey Ram!” and “Hara Hara Mahadev!!”, the other ones were some of the unpopular songs. In a show like this, I would expect “Ilaya Nila”, “Poove Sempoove”, “Nila Adhu Vaanathu Mela”, “En Jodi Manja Kuruvi” at the minimum. To me the bar is the Singapore show that was organized last year. Hear this playlist in your best headphones and you will understand what I am talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeXeiMKRYB8&list=RDQMqFP3ojdgtXg&start_radio=1
That’s the bar. That’s the bar for a properly organized musical evening. That’s the experience the audience should get.
I just realize that if I start writing about other issues (a bright yellow light blinding the audience, unwanted/irritating fireworks after every song, 20Rs water bottle sold for 100Rs), it would warrant a blog post of its own. A modified version of Master Card Advt is what I would use to sum up:
A latest Android Smartphone. Rs. 5999/-
2GB of 4G data per day. Rs. 249/- per month
Getting value as a customer. Can’t expect
There are certain things that even MasterCard cannot buy.