A gust of dust rises up as a sweeper gets to work at the grounds of Prasad Studios. Someone breaks a coconut in front of a huge Ganesha idol. Branches sway and leaves rustle in the breeze, even as the air is punctuated by the incessant honking of impatient drivers.
All of this is left far behind as you enter a near-austere room, where sits a man whose music has moved millions. You can almost hear your breath in all that silence. Ilaiyaraaja, clad in his trademark white veshti and kurta, is at work, doing what he does best — writing music. Music so pure, so sublime, its notes have mesmerised listeners for five decades now.
It’s in celebration of this journey in music and his compositions for a thousand films that Vijay TV has put together a tribute show, Ilaiyaraaja Aayiram. But, the maestro shrugs off all the adulation, like he usually does. You’re reminded of his refrain: ‘The music comes not from me, but through me. All thanks to the Almighty.’
“After all these years, what I’ve learnt is not even the dirt that sticks to a single finger nail. I know that truth,” he says. As for people worshipping his music, he stops with saying, “Let them do it. It is their belief.”
That Raja Sir’s music has steeped deep into people’s hearts is old news. What isn’t, is the new dimensions it takes on. The composer speaks of a lady who walked into his studio asking him how he manages to create songs that reflect a woman’s feelings. “I wonder, if men and women have different kinds of feelings? I feel, therefore, I’m able to compose numbers that sear other hearts.”
In all these years, the maestro has forged successful collaborations that have stood the test of time. “But some have tried to imprison me within the walls of a ‘song situation’. I don’t aspire to satisfy people. Can music ever be corralled?” he asks.
A creator ideates best with freedom; when he’s allowed to soar unfettered. Then, he creates a score so rousing, it lingers in public consciousness for long.
Something similar happened with Kamal Haasan’s Hey Ram that released 16 years ago. Kamal recently tweeted that Ilaiyaraaja’s music “rescued” the film. Ask the Maestro about it, and he travels back in time to narrate what was special about the score.
“I tried a new pattern in the background score. We stuck to a theme for the nostalgic memories. I’d written music where the orchestra had to hold a note for a long while. The Budapest Symphony Orchestra started playing, and after a point, they were looking at each other, amazed,” he narrates animatedly. “The conductor was smiling at me — my notes had the musicians changing their fingering, but the sound produced remained the same! I like doing some tamasha like this once in a while,” he throws his head back, laughing.
The composer speaks fleetingly about his music, and the varying sounds employed in each decade. Were those musical shifts intentional? “It’s difficult to explain this in non-musical terms,” he says. Can he try elaborating it through some songs? Ilaiyaraaja’s face is a mask of concentration, almost as if he’s sifting through the 5000-odd songs he’s created, before he gives up — there are simply too many to choose from. “But, finally, it all comes down to the seven swaras,” he says.
The maestro’s created music that people seek comfort in, use to romance, and ruminate over fond memories. Does his music ever haunt him? “Sometimes, they come and go in snatches.” His music is also a companion to many — providing a crutch to the lonely, a shoulder to those in agony, and bringing a tender half-smile to someone in the first flush of love. Does it ever serve as his companion too? He smiles. “My music is no different from me. A companion can’t emerge from within, can it?”
Finally, does the fact that he’s god for many sink in? Many have even learnt Tamil to understand his genius better. “I know they revere the music. I know I have a place in their hearts, that’s only due to the one above. But, if you ask me, I don’t think I deserve all this!”
‘Ilaiyaraaja Aayiram’ will be organised by Ilaiyaraaja Music N Management Private Ltd along with Vijay Television. The show will feature performances by S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, Chitra, Mano, Devi Sri Prasad, Usha Uthup, Guitar Prasanna, Thaikkudam Bridge, Karthik, veterans L. Subramaniam, T.V. Gopalakrishnan and Vikku Vinayakram, and director Gautham Vasudev Menon.
The event will take place on February 27 at YMCA Grounds, Nandanam, from 6 p.m. Tickets are available at bookmyshow.com.
The Hindu is the print partner for the event.