Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ilayaraja - The Musical Genius


Those were the days when the technicians of the film capital of south were on strike in the year 1991. The movie had to be shot not many options left with movie makers no matter where they recorded it or in fact it was even viable and acceptable if they could have done without the music at all. The Music director did not want to record in the neighboring state capital Bangalore since there were some disasters whenever he recorded in Bangalore so it was decided that they would proceed to Bombay – now Mumbai to record a few songs. It was Sunny studio in Juhu where the dates were booked. Mumbai generally boasts of music and sound quality and truly so they were good. This never meant that no one could be better than him. Soon a request was passed through Kuldeep Singh ( one of the best music directors in Mumbai ) to some of the musicians for recording dates and all the string players (violins, Violas, Cellos) were summoned and there was panic in the financial capital since it had never been a history that so many musicians were sought for a single floor of recording. Truly so Sunny looked too small – for those of who have seen Sunny it would be the size of a classic movie hall in India (I am not talking of the current day size of multiplex screens). Soon the brass section (trumpets, bugle players) were also in panic. Instruments not very commonly used double bass, oboe players were also summoned. There was rave in Mumbai all about the to be recording since it was to be seen how three rows of strings would be managed by a music director from Chennai – then Madras. Soon the day of recording arrived when the music director was the first one to be present in the recording theater. He is an early bird generally and buffers time for his prayers in the studio prior to recording and as usual most of the musicians turned in late (none of his musicians are ever late back home and there are instances when he has managed an entire movie without those late comers). Soon he was distributing the notations scripted on by him in pencil. Not many of them had ever seen anything like this before since most of the music directors never understood notation writing, with due regards to each of them, because they were not used to those professional approach since it is and was out of practice. The notes broke a few knuckles in the studio and one could hear a few unhappy expressions from the mixing console. Soon the song was recorded and as soon as it was recorded there was a long pause and an unknown sense of happiness, satisfaction, surprise with a did I do that? Did I play that? in the air. The musicians clapped like a bunch of school kiddos. It was their appreciation to the musical wizard – Ilayaraja. It must have been hard for them to comprehend that a small man dark in complexion could not throw around air with a battalion of people around him and a simpleton dressed in dhoti and a kurta could make them produce such wonderful notes from these musicians – many consider it to be a day of their birth in the musical world.

He is a perfectionist. His career has spanned for over 30 years now and has seen many generations of movie makers and yet he was able to produce music that were distinctively his own. I remember Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia was thrilled playing for Ilayaraja’s Nothing but wind. He is not a musician who would play for any one in the country unless he was above his stature of music. But am sure he had his tough times with this man in the recording sessions but it was always in true spirit of music.

Raja would walk into the screening studio for the movie preview and watch at the soundless movies. He would have his harmonium next to him – this piece of instrument is not a very sophisticated or branded one but an old and unbranded one. He would be gently tapping all the while and mind you he does not like to be bothered even by his family for anything. He is a karma yogi as I see him. Soon you can hear some pencil scribbles harshly on the notation papers and the music is ready. He may not even in walk into the recording but the team would sweat their blood in producing complex music that this maestro would have casually scribbled. He would have literally written scores of three part harmony effortlessly (three part harmony is supposedly complex form of music arrangement and he would have always had musicians playing his tunes live under a roof unlike the present days of recording). He would have generally struck theme music with a unique combination of some keyboard tones that even his keyboard player – Viji Manuel (the finest of keyboard player and who would have been the owner of the instrument) would have never known of. It is said that Chandrashekar, his guitarist, had to play for almost 16 takes before the song Ilaya Nila was recorded,(although everyone thinks Sada was the one who played the) or Prasadji would have rehearsed a few hours prior to playing on tabla or Napolean would have come with options on his flute, mind you these are the finest musicians on earth and it is not very easy to please this maestro when he is on the job. You just cannot get away unless what has been scribbled is produced in your instrument and then he would have dished out a great song that any of us would be hearing late nights and spoiling ones sleep. I know one could have sleepless nights when in love but when you are in love with his music it is always sleepless nights listening to his music. The way he would have managed the grand western orchesterazitaion with Indian context lyrics and tunes that always take you to lush pastures in south of India. It is an amazing fusion of music that none can even ape in this current day setting and technological advancement.

What is very unique about this five foot plus maestro is that the music he would have scribbled on his papers would be a perfect fit by feet length of the movie when the re-recording would be on. His success would also be attributed to his team of dedicated musicians who are in real terms his family since most of them have been with him for over 30 plus years now and have churned out music which others can only listen.

I regret at times that he must have been born elsewhere, where his music must have been on a platform unparalleled. But I am selfish and may be so were the Indian gods who would not have let him elsewhere.

Anup Jalota – Bhajan Samrat had a few instances to share with me on a casual lunch on. He was sought for his dates for a private concert in Chennai by Kuldeep Singh during his Peak season, not that he is not in his peak now. But those were the days when he had no time for himself and he agreed for this special request since it was from a very special person in Mumbai film industry. On the day of the concert Anupji and his musicians were driven to T Nagar in Chennai into a huge bungalow and it was the day the maestro had to chosen to listen to this maestro. The stage and the evening were set for Anup Jalota to churn out his Music for the maestro and his wife who were happy sitting on the floor through out the event. Soon the maestros exchanged notes on music, which obviously had no language and needs none but those vibrant notes. By the end of the day, the event lasted almost the whole night, when raja played some complex western compositions and some of the bhajans and devotional numbers he had composed for Ramana Maharshi.

Blessed are the singers such as S P Balasubramanyam , S Janaki , P Susheela, Yesudas , Chitra and many more singers who have sung for him. They have lived in the blissful years singing the very best of the Maestro’s very best years of composition. There would not be a concert of Suresh Wadkar when he would not have performed – Aye Zindagi. His music did take people by surprise and are very musically the very best.
Ilayaraja a name that can ring sweet bells in your ears. (born June 2, 1943 as Gnanadesikan) is an Indian film composer, singer, and lyricist. He is a gold medalist from Trinity College of Music, London has composed over 4,000 songs and provided film scores for more than 800 Indian films in various languages in a career spanning more than 30 years. He is based in Chennai, the fourth largest city in India and the centre of the Tamil film industry.

Ilaiyaraaja was born into a poor rural family in Pannaipuram, Theni district, Tamil Nadu, India, as the third son of Ramaswamy and Chinnathayammal. Growing up in a rural area, Ilaiyaraaja was exposed to a range of Tamil folk music. At the age of 14, he joined a travelling musical troupe headed by his elder step-brother, Pavalar Varadarajan, and spent the next decade performing throughout South India. His brother Varadarajan used the group's music to promote the ideals of the Communist Party of India. While working with the troupe, he penned his first composition, a musical setting of an elegy written by the Tamil poet laureate Kannadasan for Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister.
In 1968, Ilaiyaraaja began a music course with Professor Dhanraj in Madras (now Chennai), which included an overview of Western classical music, compositional training in techniques such as counterpoint, and study in instrumental performance. Ilayaraja specialized in classical guitar and had done a course in it with the Trinity College of Music, London.

In the 1970s in Chennai, Ilaiyaraaja played guitar in a band-for-hire, and worked as a session guitarist, keyboardist, organist for film music composers and directors such as Salil Chowdhury from West Bengal. After his hiring as the musical assistant to Kannada film composer G K Venkatesh, he worked on 200 film projects, mostly in the Kannada language.As G K Venkatesh's assistant, Ilayaraja would orchestrate the melodic outlines developed by Venkatesh. During this period, Ilayaraja also began writing his own scores. To hear his compositions, he would persuade Venkatesh's session musicians to play excerpts from his scores during their break times. Ilayaraja would also hire instruments from composer R. K. Shekhar, father of composer A. R. Rahman who would later join Ilayaraja’s orchestra as a keyboardist.
In 1976, film producer Panchu Arunachalam commissioned him to compose the songs and film score for a Tamil-language film called Annakkili ('The Parrot'). For the soundtrack, Ilayaraja applied the techniques of modern popular film music orchestration to Tamil folk poetry and folk song melodies, which created a fusion of Western and Tamil idioms. Ilayaraja’s use of Tamil music in his film scores injected new influence into the Indian film score milieu. By the mid-1980s Ilayaraja was gaining increasing stature as a film composer and music director in the South Indian film industry. Besides Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam and Kannada films, he has scored music for Hindi (or Bollywood) film productions such as Sadma (1983), Mahadev (1989), Lajja (2001) and Cheeni Kum (2007). He has worked with Indian poets and lyricists such as Gulzar, Kannadasan, Vairamuthu and T.S. Rangarajan (Vaali), and film directors such as K. Balachander, K. Vishwanath, Singeetham Srinivasa Rao, Balu Mahendra and Mani Ratnam.

Ilayaraja was one of the early Indian film composers to use Western classical music harmonies and string arrangements in Indian film music. This allowed him to craft a rich tapestry of sounds for films, and his themes and background score gained notice and appreciation amongst Indian film audiences. The range of expressive possibilities in Indian film music was broadened by Ilayaraja’s methodical approach to arranging, recording technique, and his drawing of ideas from a diversity of musical styles.

By virtue of this variety and his interfusion of Western, Indian folk and Carnatic elements, Ilayaraja’s compositions appeal to the Indian rural dweller for its rhythmic folk qualities, the Indian classical music enthusiast for the employment of Carnatic ragams, and the urbanite for its modern, Western-music sound.
Although Ilayaraja uses a range of complex compositional techniques, he often sketches out the basic melodic ideas for films in a very spontaneous fashion. The Indian filmmaker Mani Ratnam illustrates:
"Ilayaraja would look at the scene once, and immediately start giving notes to his assistants, as a bunch of musicians, hovering around him, would collect the notes for their instruments and go to their places... A director can be taken by surprise at the speed of events.” And truly so Mani Ratnam would have experienced of the same.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I have been reading your blogs. Good job with the keyboard. Have you ever met this man? May be you should leave his best clippings online for us to listen.