Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sanjay Subrahmanyan at Parthasarathy Sabha

Sanjay's concert at Parthasarathy Sabha on 30/12 was a real delight. Though I have heard a lot about Sanjay, this is the first time I heard him LIVE. Sanjay definitely has a unique style and his expression and exploration of ragas really stand out.I found the selection of songs also to be really attractive. There was one song for each of the Trinity and then there were 2 Bharathiyar songs.

If "Karuna Jooda nammina" in Shri ragam was soothing, the lovely lullaby "Chetashri Balakrishnam Bhajare" in ragam Dwijavanthi was simply amazing. "Manam vaitharul Thaaye" in Sankarabharam was a fulfilling main song. While "Sollavallayo Kiliye" in Ritigowla was still resonating in your ears, "Ethanai Kodi Inbam Vaithai" another Bharathiyar song left you really speechless. The RTP which was Rendered To Perfection, was again unique. I thought I had atleast 2 different ragams, the aalapane seemed to be Hamsanandhi but the pallavi at the end was in clear AnandhaBhairavai.

Sanjay went on by himself for slightly more than 3 hours, always his cheerful self, enjoying every bit of his singing and never missing to acknowledge an improvisation by one of the accompanying artists. However the crowd was fully absorbed and not complaining even a bit.

His popularity also seems to be at its peak, for at the end of a 3 hour long concert, the hall was still almost full and for the first time they had put additional chairs in the parking area at Parthasarathy Sabha :-)

I came out still mentally repeating the lines "Ethanai Kodi inbam vaithai Iraiva" (Pardon me for the shoddy translation but this is my interpretation for people who don't know Tamil- In this world that you have created Oh Lord, I am amazed by the care you have taken to ensure so many crores of pleasures for us to enjoy!)

Sanjay is clearly the Carnatic musician of the decade if not the last two!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Abi"shake" Raghuram at Parthasarathy Sabha

It was Abishek Raghuram singing at Parthasarathy Sabha today. I googled to find out that he is a child prodigy with a good music lineage and has been rising in popularity of late.

After the opening Varnam passed, the next song went like 'Virulavu o kedha'. It took me a while to get used to Abishek. The way he was swaying between the violinst and mridangist, who by the way where atleast 5 ft apart, like he was possessed, with his convulsions and contortions, I really thought he was in serious trouble and needed a bunch of keys right away. The audience was also finding it very difficult, as half the time it looked like he was speaking to the Violinist or the Mridangist. The audio guy for his part didn't know what volume to give him. At the end of the second song, it was figured out that he needed more than one microphone and he was given the same!

The crowd was so much that the sabha guys had put additional chairs all over the place and moving out of one's seat to the rest room or the canteen was a real ordeal. Wish they had done something upfront to confine Abishek within a "comfortable" zone!

However once you get used to his idiosyncrasies, you realize that this guy is a real genius.The crowd just loved him. The third song he chose was the popular "Nee Vaadane gaana" which was dealt with in detail. The main song chosen was set in Pantuvarali and the Swara improvisations and the way they were presented, at really fast pace at places, was simply mind boggling. The Tani was  worth hearing and the accompanying artists (Akkarai Subbulakshmi on the Violin, the other 2 names skip my mind) did their part well.

Abishek is really a genius, a great entertainer and a musician to watch out for in the future.
However till he stops swaying, which hopefully he will do with age and maturity, Abishek is best listened to on CD or in an auditorium that has several microphones placed before him much like those bowls arranged in front a Jalatarangam artist :-)

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sikkil Gurucharan at Parthasarathy Sabha

My second concert of the day was by Sikkil Gurucharan at Parthasarathy Sabha. From a veteran in the morning to a youngster who is just 30, I was somehow seeing two ends of the spectrum on the same day. With Umayalpuram Sivaraman on mridangam, T.V.K.Ramanujacharyulu on Violin and Giridhar Udupa on Ghatam, it was a high profile team accompanying Gurucharan.

After the second song, Gurucharan announced that the theme he had chosen was popular raagas but less popular krithis. Based on Dr.Sivaraman's request , he had chosen a song on Sri Thyagaraja in the raga Kalyani to start off. The song goes like "Sri Madaathi Thyagaraja guru". After a quick "Vidajaaldura", the main song was set in Thodi, "Amba nannu Brovave". The renditions of Kalyani and Thodi were really power packed. 

Dr.Sivaraman really has some magic about him. The Tani as part of the main song was exemplary, so much so that for a change, the crowd that usually leaves when the Tani starts, waited for the Tani to be over before rising with a heavy applause. There was a good contest between mridangam and ghatam and it was a rhythmic treat.

"Enna Vidham Pizhaippom" was a the first Tamil song and then there was an RTP in Sunaadha Vinodhini (as announced by Gurucharan. Hope I got it right), which was simply brilliant.

Dr. Sivaraman could not hold himself and picked up the mike to speak a few words on Gurucharan's uniqueness. "The wisdom of an old man in a young head and an amazing creativity" was what the great man had to say on Gurucharan. It was raining songs as Gururcharan went on. He ended the concert After "Kanagasabai Kanda piragor" and a thillana. The concert went on for nearly 3 hours in total and the audience was not complaining. 

Another concert for the day that ended with a standing ovation! Sikkil Gurucharan is another youngster who has taken up Carnatic music as his full time profession and he certainly holds a lot of promise!

Sabha canteen chit-chats 23/12 and 25/12

After the exquisite lunch on Friday, I had no two thoughts about where to go when I decided to have lunch outside on Sunday 23/12. When I walked into Vidhya Bharathi Kalyana Mahal, I thought I heard a very familiar voice on the speakers. I was in for a shock when I peeped in because I thought for a moment that I saw the late Maharajapuram Santhanam singing. Then I told myself it must be one of his sons at sat down. After listening to an elaborate "Bhayami Raghuramam" by Maharajapuram Ramachandran, which took me back in time, I walked straight to the canteen. 

After a few minutes I realized that I had got caught between two extremes. The guy on the left was repeating every thing and took a long time to move out of Sambar rice. The elderly gentleman on the right however was more a sanyasi who was shooing away everything. This had a real frustrating effect on the waiters and I had to put my foot down to prevent getting impacted and I did just that.

MM did not disappoint. It was another special feast with the likes of Uralai vadhakkal, Cabbage Poriyal, Paal Payasam, Kadhamba Sambar, Kariveppilai Kuzhambu, Paal Payasam. Even after 2 helpings of Kariveppilai Kuzhambu, the banana leaf was wiped clean. I stood up after having one more go at Pal Payasam, really "stuffed to the gills", if those are the right words.

On Christmas day, after the TN.Krishnan concert, I thought I should give Iyengar another chance. I walked down from the balcony and took a look at the menu board. I was glad to see traditional Iyengar items on the menu. the likes of Aviyal, More Kuzhambu. Maybe because of Vaikunta Dwadesi, there was no onion in the food. Puliyodharai would have made it a perfect combination but even with lemon rice it was good food. Aval Payasam was really special and worth a second attempt.

This time I was caught between two old couples who knew each other. The second couple came a bit late and I had started eating, otherwise I would shifted to a different seat. It is really irritating when you have to listen to people talking behind your back! If only there were an option to switch off your ears, I guess life would be a lot better. It was only the ladies who were talking. The men were busy lapping up the Iyengar fare. Unfortunately for me, these 2 ladies had been looking out for each other from day 1 of the music season both in canteens and the halls but met only today. By the time the ladies turned to their food and asked for Sambhar, the men around were having rasam after finishing More Kuzhambu. In the time that had elapsed, they had been talking non stop as they moved from concerts to lecture demo by Shriram Kumar to dance jugal bhandhis to sabhas and even the evening traffic on the way to music academy. Wonder how these old ladies go on an on. So much so for the Sabha / Canteen experience! Tomorrow is another day :-)

T.N.Krishnan at Music Academy

It was Christmas special today at Music Academy. The Violin trio of T.N.Krishnan with Sriram and Viji Krishnan at 9:15 am. I had missed their concert and Parthasarathy Sabha and marked this one as a must attend.  I had set the alarm in mobile but unfortunately didn't notice that it was for 7:30 pm! I woke up around 8:45 am and had to really rush. By the time I reached the academy it was 9:25 am but the parking was full and I had to rally around to St.Ebbas school, which cost me another 15 mins. I found my way to the balcony at 9:45 am, as the hall below was full. I found the same seat I had sat in at Shreya Ghoshal's concert a few months back. First row corner seat with a good view and enough space to stretch my long legs.

The first song was one of the Panchratna Krithis, "Endharo Mahanu bhavulu". There was an elaborate main song which I liked but failed to recognize. The maestro then spoke and he wished the audience a merry christmas and a happy new year. He even followed it up by playing "Jingle bells" on the Violin. The popular english note in Sankara Bharanam was lovely. Sriram and Viji played perfect foil and the trio dished out a real treat. After 2 hours I walked out thinking that if Goddess Saraswati were to listen to the maestro, she would give the Violin a serious thought. The packed audience fittingly gave them a standing ovation.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Priya Sisters at Parthasarathy Sabha

I reached a bit early for the Priya sisters concert on Sunday evening, with the idea of listening to Carnatica Brothers and I was glad that I did. They were just starting their main song, which turned out to be Abheri yet again and it was indeed "Bhajare Maansam" two days in a row.

This was my first Priya Sisters concert though I remember hearing them briefly on TV several years back. After the "Nera Nammi" varnam, and "Pancha maathanga mukha Ganapathi" which I later learnt from google is a regular at Priya sisters concerts, came two pleasing Tamil songs "Maalmuruga Shanmuga" and  "Arivaar yaar unnai arivaar yaar". The highlight of the evening, Tygaraja's "Enthara neethana", happens to be one of my favourites and it was presented to perfection and in detail, with niraval and swaram placed at "Seshudu shivunuki". The RTP which went like "Gowri manohari karunai puri", reminded me of the main song presented by TNS ,"Satya narayanam Upasmahe", but I have not been able to locate this song on google to confirm.

The Key aspect that stood out was a perfect coordination between the sisters, they knew their strengths very well and were making good use of it. Apart from that their selection of songs was also very good. It was a thoroughly professional performance and the tempo was maintained through out the concert.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Sabha canteen chit-chats - 22/12

Thanks to our cook at home who didn't turn up due to some personal reasons, I had to eat out today.

Having managed Breakfast with an Oats bar, I was feeling really hungry after the morning concert. Lunch was at Gnanmibga at NGS. Gnanambiga is supposed to be the best Sabha place for tiffin but somehow I ended up at the wrong time. Most of the different items were not available at the time I went. Having decided to take tiffin, I ended up eating Onion Rava dosa and Idiyappam. They were tasty but nothing to really write about.

Dinner was at Parthasarathy Sabha. I decided to go for new items out and out. Chocolate dosa was first. It was a ghee roast laced with chocolate sauce. To be frank I had expected more innovation and more chocolate sauce but it was still tasty, made even tastier by "Kaadhal enum theevinile" sounding at a distance. The other item chosen was Double decker idly. This was a colourful set of idlies stuffed with Chutneys on one side. The taste was good and I finally washed it down with a strong filter coffee.

For company today, I was joined towards the end by an angry old man, who seemed to me to be Vishwamithrar without his Jadaamudi. He waited impatiently for a few minutes and was cross at the waiter for not even giving him a menu card. Then he asked for Masal Dosa which was not available, so he chose Adai Aviyal from the menu. The waiter returned after 5 minutes and said Adai was over which really irritated Mr.V. He really flared up and said, " get me coffee. Hope atleast that is available!". We both finished at the same time. Wonder who lost out. I thought the word angry was supposed to be associated with young men!

Sowmya at Parthasarathy Sabha

I reached the hall a little bit early for the 6:30 pm concert by Sowmya. The earlier concert was still going on and I found Violin maestro T.N.Krishnan speaking. He was apologizing for having come late to the concert and making the audience wait and for having to now rush the percussionists to reduce the "Tani Avartanam" time because of it. The audience was really moved. One of them shot back saying the wait was worth it but the maestro still didn't take it. This was the first time he had come late to a concert in his life and he felt really bad. It was a touching moment and I felt bad for the elderly gentleman.

I had got into a good seat and this time there were no teenagers or over weight people around as I settled down for Sowmya to start. Sowmya presented 3 songs which were dealt with in detail, for 30 minutes or more. "Naan oru Siru Veenai" (Chakravagam as per google), "Bhajare Maanasa Shri Raghuveeram" in Abheri and the main song which went something like "Dharmartha Kamavardhini". Sowmya announced the name of the raga for the main song but I somehow don't remember it now. There were 3 or 4 other smaller songs and the wrap up song was "Kaadhal enum theevnile".

The Tamil songs were delectable treats. While the songs of great composers like the trinity, are set in such a way that you get the mood that the song was sung in and the background to some extent, it does really sound sweeter when the song is in your mother tongue and you are able to appreciate the meaning.

"Naan oru siru veenai" is a song on Thamizh Kadavul Murugan. The niraval was perfectly set at the line "Nalla Nal isaigalai tharum naathane varuvaai" as if repeatedly inviting the Lord. The swara improvisations were enjoyable and Embar Kannan on the Voilin was up to the task. 

"Kaadhal enum theevnile" is one of my favourites and was a fitting ending to a nice concert. I heard it from a distance as I was munching the Chocolate Dosa but it was still loud and clear and made the dish taste even better.

Nisha Rajagopal at NGS

When I entered the NGS mini hall at around 10 am, people were slowly trickling in and occupying the seats .I found a good one which I thought had a good view of the stage and sat down. As the crowd picked up, an obese gentleman chose the sit right in front of me and my bird's eye view became a bald head view.  From a tall teenager to a bulky middle aged person! Wonder how these people pick me. I moved to the corner seat and settled down.

The concert started 5 mins earlier than scheduled and in another 10 minutes or so the hall was almost full and by 10:40 am , there were people around 5 or 6 people standing and listening to Nisha Rajagopal in a packed mini hall at at NGS. ‎10:15 am on Saturday is not too early after all!

I had been to Nisha's concert twice last year, at NGS mini hall and at the Music Academy. I was really impressed and I thought she had an expressive voice, very good command over the octaves and a confident stage presence. I also liked her choice of songs, especially her use of Tamil Krithis. I still remember "Piravaa Varam vendum" from the previous year Music Academy concert. 

After the Varnam Evari Bodhana, the popular "Nee Dhaya Raadha" was taken up and rendered to perfection. After a song on Tripura sundari which I didn't register, came the familiar Pantuvaralai. Sarasaaksha was dealt with in detail and proved testimony to Nisha's talent and popularity. "Thamasaa innum" was the first Tamil song of the concert. It is always a pleasure to listen to a song in Tamil and this one was no less. Nisha chose Madhyamavati for the main song, thanks to the prompting of the maama next to me, I knew the ragam quite early in the aalapana. "Rama Kath Sudha" was the song. After an Allapan that demonstrated her range, there were some fast Kalpana Swaras and Padma Shankar on the Violin was good. After an expressive "Kandena Govindana", "Thanthai Thaai Irunthaal" , the next Tamil song and the last song, was very sweet and was like a dessert to wind up.

Nisha is no doubt a rising star in the world of Carnatic music and she definitely has a place in the future.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Sudha Raghunathan at Parthasarathy Sabha

It was Sudha Raghunathan singing at Parthasarathy Sabha on Thursday evening. I reached home a little later than planned thanks to my lovely wife and her work commitments and had to almost gallop my way to the Sabha. I did make some futile attempts in between to hire an auto. Every time I paused no auto would turn up and a few paces after I started moving an empty auto would just buzz past. In about 5 minutes I gave up as I was anyway only another 10 - 15 mins away! I found my way in, around 35 mins late and had to sit in a different seat than the one marked for me, to avoid the hassle of brushing past a long line of people and also in the good will of causing minimum disturbance to the already settled audience.

Sudha was winding up a song and in a few minutes she started on "Etha Vunnara". Kalyani yet again this year! From the elaborate Alapana , I understood that this could be the main song and I had missed quite a bit. By this time I had started getting irritated with a tall teenager in front of me. He was swaying his head back and forth and I really was having a tough time keeping pace with him and trying to catch a glimpse of Sudha. It reminded me of the tough time my cousin used to give to the barber when we were young, swaying his head immediately after the barber had set it in a position and had barely started cutting. I located a seat  which was at the centre in the row behind and moved on.

Coming back to Sudha, the last time I had seen her in concert, which incidentally was my first concert LIVE, was almost 20 years back. In 20 years nothing much had changed. The effervescent smile, golden voice and arresting stage presence, were all just the same. "Etha Vunnara" was rendered in detail and in typical Sudha style laden with breezy Kalpana Swaras.
"Venkatesa Daya maadu" and "Edhayya Gathi" followed and were pleasing to the ears. Then there was a song on Narayana. It was not Sriman Narayana. I thought it went like "Narayana Narayana Enben" but I am not able to find it in google. Anyway the experience was simply sublime. The friendly nod when the accompanying artists did well and the cherubic smile were a pleasure to watch. At one point , I though I saw Satchaath Mahalakshmi singing the song in front of me. The face appeared so heavenly beautiful and the smile so divine and the voice and music only added to it.

I had to move out after this as it was already getting very late and I was also getting a few calls. As I found my way into the canteen, I left amazed how someone could handle all this success with so much humility and look completely unchanged after 20 years!

After all these years she has been around, Sudha Raghunathan continues to be a people's musician and her music continues to be divine and mesmerizing.


We got a preview of the music academy canteen menu, thanks to one of our colleagues who was attending the morning free concert there. A very ordinary menu and continued divergence from Iyengar traditional food, which is the core competency of the caterer,  prompted us to go to PS (Parthasarathy Sabha). This was my first lunch at PS.

Having walked in directly without looking at the menu board, there was an element of surprise as the items were lined up one by one on the plaintain leaf. All the accompaniments took their positions on the leaf - Boondhi thayir Pachadi, Cabbage thengaai curry, senai kaara varuval, kathrikkai rasavaangi and Appalam. After the customary ghee and dhaal, the murungakkai and capsicum sambar was a good opening and the expectation set was high. Next up was the surprise package. Erivalli "More" Kozhambu was a real highlight and it was very tasty which only meant more and more Kozhambu and rice. The stomach was getting fuller but the tongue was really craving for more. While the More Kuzhambu was the Kalpana swaram, the Pachadi ,Varuval and kootu taken in turns maintained the layam. Thanks to the multiple helpings, there was not much space left for the mysore rasam, which had a good peppery taste to it and was quite good. The Kalyana Payasam was a revelation and it was exquisite in taste, giving a unique percussion effect, like in a Tani avartanam. Curd rice was with Puli Inji seemed like a fitting end to the lunch but the waiter came and tempted me with another helping of Payasam and I obliged.

The meal was complete with the Beeda tucked in and we moved out richer in calories and satisfaction deep down, after having tasted the best Sabha lunch till date. 

EPS at PS, was heavenly food , a mini concert in itself and a real treat to the taste buds. Packed with so many wonderful items, It gave the pleasure of listening to a delightful ragamalika :-)

Simple things that make you uncomfortable

Sometimes even simple things make you uncomfortable ..

An unknown security at the office entry gate recognizing you with a smile and letting you in without asking for an ID card. The guy at the Pantry making coffee exactly the way you want without a word exchanged. Senior citizens on their morning work noticing you and acknowledging with a friendly nod. Finding yourself in an auditorium waiting for a concert to start and noticing that you are the only one in the audience with all teeth left. When most of your friends, that too the ones slightly younger than you, start talking about midlife crisis on social networking sites. Realizing that something you strongly like (like a movie) is neither to the taste of your daughter nor that of your father.

Sometimes even simple things make you uncomfortable.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Sabha canteen chit-chats - 20/12

I moved in to the Parthsarathy Sabha canteen for dinner right after Sudha's concert. I had decided upfront to experiment. So I immediately ordered "Ilaneer" (Tender Coconut) Idly. A few minutes later the Idly arrived. I smacked my lips, rubbed my hands and moved forward and the phone rang. Boss on the line and some new dish like Ilaneer Idly on the table, is one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. It turned out that boss was in a good mood but he went on and on and I was answering in mono syllables hoping he would hang up soon which he didn't. I decided to start on the Idly. The taste was really good. There were tender coconut pieces in between and I believe they add Coconut water while grinding for the idli as well. The Chutneys were very tasty and the 2 pieces melted in the mouth and vanished in no time.

With boss still on call, I signalled to the waiter and pointed to the next item on the menu card, this time no experiment - Raagi Dosai. By the time this one came, the call had got over. I now had an elderly couple for company. The talk was around the news of the day, Nithyashree's husband committing suicide. The maami was expressing how she was upset with the news and how this guy's careless act had jeopradised Nithyashree's career when she was at her peak. All along the Maama though was focussing on the Menu card and he was keen to know if "Milagaai Bajji" was still available. The Maami pitched in and said it will definitely be available, otherwise why would they put it in the Menu card?! The Maama still looked at the waiter and  beamed a big smile when he confirmed in the affirmative and ordered a plate.The Maami was still upset and said a tepid ok when the maama asked her to eat atleast a plate of Idiyappam. Contrasting tastes yet together and caring for each other. The kind of love and affection that you see in old Indian couples is really unique. I moved on thinking this is yet another aspect of the Sabha experience!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sabha canteen chit-chats 19/12

I was at Parthasarathy Sabha yesterday for Malladi Brothers concert. The hall was packed but when I took a break , I realized that the canteen was also packed.

The caterers also for their share are exhibiting a lot of innovation now. Mountbatten Mani's canteen has the interior decorated with portraits of eminent artists both current and old, from Semmangudi to T.M.Krishna, from M.S to Sowmya, you can see everyone. It doesn't stop there. The snacks menu is loaded with unheard stuff be it Raagi Vada, Ilaneer idli, Chocolate Dosa.. There is no dearth for imagination. Need to utilize the rest of the season to try few of these. Yesterday I was not very experimental and was content with Kuzhi Paniyaram and Kancheepuram Idli.

I had 2 Maamas, who had conveniently left their wives at home, for company at my table yesterday. It was fun listening to them as they moved from Kanceepuram Idly to Idiyappam, in parallel catching up to start off on the personal front and then chewing on some Kutcheri gossip. Topics moved from their NRI friends who couldn't make it this time, family, the previous day's TNS concert and so on. Then having finished the above two items, one of them called the server asked, "sweet ennappa! adhu enna athipazham alva? innikku pannadhunna onnu eduthundu vaa. Appuram 2 nimisham kazhichu strong aa rendu coffee sugar kammiyaa"

I moved on with a smile. Canteens are an integral part of the Sabha experience and it is really the Senior citizens who seem to be having a blast in these canteens. I guess this is an opportunity for them to taste a variety of deep fried and ghee loaded items which might otherwise be taboo at home.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

T.N.Seshagopalan at Parthasarathy Sabha

I had to battle the traffic to reach Vidhya Bharathi today for T.N.Seshagopalan's 6:30 pm concert. I managed to reach just in time and hurried into a parking slot in the one of the lanes. As I sat down the curtains were just going up to reveal the smiling maestro and his accomplished team, M.Chandrasekaran on the Violin, Mannargudi Eswaran on the mridangam.

The concert started off well with the varnam Ninnu kori followed by "Rajagopalam bhaje". The maestro then started of on the aalapana of Khamas , recognized thanks to the popular "Broche va" in movie Sankarabharanam. And what and aalapana it was! the kalapana swaras just seemed to be flowing endlessly. It was as if he was making garland after garland out of the swaras and offering them to Lord Vishnu. "Sarasa Dhala nayanaa sankata haranaa" was the song. I have always loved Khamas and this composition and the rendition were sublime.

The next song was the third song in Andal's Thiruppavai, "Ongi Ulagalandha", today being the third day of Margazhi. There was a prelude sung to that which praised andal's tamil which was touching.

The ragam chosen for the main song was Subha Panthuvarali. Before you get any ideas, the alapana had shades of the Ilayaraja song "Vaigarayil vaigaikarayil" which is one of my favourites and I have heard from my uncle that it is set in this ragam. I think it takes years to understand a raga and that experience really stood out in his Subha Pantuvarali main song. The song was "Sri Satyanarayanam Upasmahe". Learnt from Wikipedia that it is a composition by Muthuswamy Dikshithar.

"Sri Parthasarathy Nannu Paalimparadha" the next song made me nostalgic and had me in tears. This was one of my mother's favourite songs and she used to sing it almost every time, out of love for both the reigning deity of Triplicane and her dearest son she had named after him.

M.Chandrasekaran on the Violin was really enjoying every improvisation and was quite vocal about his appreciation. There are only some people gifted enough to make the violin talk and follow the vocalist. Kunnakudi is one of them. M.Chandrasekaran also has that gift. In the middle of one of the swara improvisations, he said "idha padarathum kashtam, vaasikarathum kashtam" but went on to play it and it was a treat to the ears. I liked the way he nodded his head and acknowledged every time there was an applause from the audience.

Mannargudi Easwaran is an accomplished and sought after Mridangist and B.S.Purushothaman on the Ganjira was also up to task. The two percussionists enjoyed each other's company and the result was a great Tani.

Loved every moment of the concert and hated missing the last few songs. It has been 2 days in Parthasarathy Sabha now and am yet to visit to the canteen. Maybe tomorrow I will have time for a Chocolate Dosa at the canteen run by Mount batten mani:-)

Monday, December 17, 2012

Dr.Pantula Rama - Day 1 at Parthasarathy Sabha

I had not heard about Pantula Rama till I saw her name in the Parthasarathy Sabha donor pass. If a renowned Sabha gives her a day 1 prime slot, I assumed she would be good. I also came to know from her profile on the net that she has been around for sometime and holds a PhD in Carnatic music.
When I entered the Sabha, I found the Chief guest who happened to be some Swamiji talking and there were many old people listening with rapt attention. Uninterested I loitered around for a while till it was announced that Unnikrishnan would speak. P.Unnikrishnan, the carnatic singer, has been awarded the title "Sangeetha Kala Sarathy" this year by Parthasarathy Sabha. It was an interesting speech interspersed with subtle humour. He remarked that at one point he was on the pitch both in music and cricket but he was glad to have chosen the right pitch - music. It was also good to listen to Unnikrishnan speaking about the current challenges today's musicians face with changing tastes.
Back to Pantula Rama .. The concert started off with the usual Varnam and after a crisp alapaana of Kalyani and rendition of Ganapathe mahaamathe, Rama started off on Dhenuka. I recognized Dhenuka, having listened to Semmangudi's Theliyaleru Raama several times. It turned out that the song was indeed Theliyaleru Raama. The raga was dealt with in detail and the rendition of the song was soulful. Thyagaraja's helplessness and worry about the people getting lost in their daily chores came out very well. Later when I went through the Sahityam and the meaning, I noticed a similarity with Boris Pasternak's poem on day break. While both are about people going about lost in mundane activities, the difference is that Pasternak mocks at them for not stopping and enjoying life and beautiful things around them and Thyagaraja is worried about their lack of real understanding of bhakthi.
Giripai nelakonna in Sahana was really soothing and was another song which was dealt with in detail. I couldn't figure out the raga of the main song which started something like this "Neeye gathi Kaanthi mani". I am not able to find it on google. I did try with Kaanthimathi as well but the search returned was Nee padhame gathi nalinakaanthi mathi which is a different song. However the song was a perfect main song that started off with a tanam and was loaded with kalpana swaras which were duly reciprocated by the Violin and ended with a nice Tani and a wonderful Korvai. Incidentally the violinist MSN murthy happens to be Rama's husband. Murthy on the Violin and J.Vaidyanathan on the mridangam were exceptional. 

The concert was so engaging that I returned without paying a visit to Mountbatten Mani. There is an old saying "Sevikku unavu illadha pozhuthu sirithu vayittrukkum eeya padum". Very true indeed!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Aruna Sairam at Krishna Gana Sabha

I have heard a lot about Aruna Sairam but I have never heard her sing. I took my season ticket at Parthasarathy Sabha this time but they had almost everyone except Arun Sairam. Given my interest to see other Sabhas as well this time, I decided to buy a ticket for Aruna Sairam's concert at one of the other Sabhas. It turned out to Krishna Gana Sabha which was the only venue I knew apart from Academy where Aruna was singing this time

After a sumptuous lunch and a nice siesta, we got through the T.Nagar traffic and ended up just in time for the 4:30 pm concert. The curtains raised and revealed the smiling face of Aruna Sairam. An artist with a pleasant demeanor, she maintained an excellent connect with her accompaniments and her audience throughout.

The concert started with "Margazhi Thingal" from Andal's Thiruppavai. An apt and impressive song to choose considering it was the first day of Margazhi. I found it intriguing given my liking for Andal, Lord Krishna and Tamil. After "Surya Murthe", Aruna started on an alapana which brought the image of Kamal hassan dancing inside a Marriage hall kitchen in the movie "Salangai oli". Bala Kanaga maya was the song for which Kamal danced. Aruna had chosen "Ilano Pranadaarthi" but it turned out that both were of the same ragam - Atana. The Kalpana swarams were extraordinary and the rendition of Atana exquisite. "Enna Punniyam Siedheno" had me feel the same way about my presence at the hall at that moment. The next song was "Siva Siva ena", another song from an old cassette collection at home. "Soundara raajam" was serene and brought lord soundara raja in front of my eyes. I remember running behind Sundararaja perumal during Chithrai festival in madurai to get a glimpse. At the end of song Aruna announced that song was on Soundararaja perumal in naagarkoil but my soundara rajar will always be Madurai Kallazhagar. At the end of this song, there was voice from the crowd which asked for "Maadu meikkum Kanne". Aruna reminded the lady with a smile that the main song was still pending and she would take up this request at end.

Somehow this time Pantuvarali and Karaharapriya have followed me in all the concerts I attended. The main song was set in Kara hara priya and I again recognized the raga during alapana thanks to "Pakkala nila pati" in the Yesudoss cassette I keep mentioning. After a lovely Abhang and a Padham by Aruna's guru T.Brinda, the concert ended with " Maadu meikkum kanne" which is an Aruna Sairam special.

J.Vaidyanathan on the mridangam and Raghavendra Rao on the violin and Giridhar Udupa on the Ghatam did a great job.

The concert on the whole was a divine experience. I just loved the way Aruna sairam sets up a raga, explores it and takes the audience along with her in that journey. Every rendition was filled with so much depth and feeling. A really wonderful experience!

The impact was so deep that I had to miss the next concert that I had planned at Parthasarathy Sabha, that of T.V.Sankaranarayanan, one of my favourite singers.

First lunch of the season at Academy

Today 16/12 happens to be the first day of Margazhi. While some Sabhas started their programmes in the first week of December, the more traditional ones like Music Academy and Parthasarathy Sabha had their inauguration only on 15/12. The first morning Kutcheri started today, it was a Nadaswaram recital by someone. More importantly it is the first day the Academy canteen opens for lunch. I don't remember seeing it last year but this year there was an ad in The Hindu giving the lunch menu at the canteen, image above.

The menu was tempting and we skipped breakfast and headed to the academy around 11:30 am. the otherwise elusive parking slot was available considering it was too early an hour for Sunday or for lunch. We headed straight for the canteen. The price had gone up to Rs170 from Rs 120 (or was it 130?) last year. Anyway who cares as long as the food is good.

The items were laid out one by one on a plantain leaf starting with Badusha more or less in the order in the image above. What a lovely sight it was! I did not waste time and delved into the ensemble. While the Sambar and rasam could have done with some more improvisation, maybe a touch of pineapple in the rasam, the taste was still very good. The Vatha kozhambu was a pleasure to the taste buds and the Semiya Payasam was special but the real stand out was the Badusha. Iyengar had maintained his reputation and did not disappoint. Great start to the music (food) season!

2 Good concerts and an ordinary lunch at Vani Mahal

In my attempt to explore the music season and cover all Sabhas, I found myself at Vani mahal on Saturday 15/12 morning. The first concert was by Saralaya sisters. Google told me that they were students of Balamuralikrishna who had been around for quite a while and were invited by MS some 20 years back to sing a song. 

When I walked in there were only 2 other people in the auditorium which seemed to have a capacity of 200 to 250. Wonder how artists feel when the curtain goes up and there are less than 10 people in the auditorium including the 5 on stage. I guess 10 am on Saturday is too early a start, the count did go up considerably by 11 am. However I did feel bad for the artists as the curtain went up but they didn't show much reaction, maybe they are used to this!

The concert started off with a Padha Varnam by Dr.Balamurali and was engaging. I recognized Pantuvaraali (Sarasaaksha) as they started the aalapana, thanks to my repeated hearing in the 80's of a K.J.Yesudoss carnatic music cassette. Didn't have much choice those days as cassettes at home were limited. The main song taken was Srikrishnam bhaje maanasa in Thodi. Again I was glad that I recognized Thodi, this time because of Semmangudi's rendition on Rave Himagiri Kumari in the CD "Divine Unison". Some improvement atleast given the increase in my involvement in the music season. "Bhoogeendra Saayinam" made it 3 in a row from one of the old collections at home. This song is one of my favourite Swati Tirunal compositions and it was rendered very well.

Having skipped breakfast, I hurried to the canteen. Gnanambiga had chosen a very ordinary menu and so was the execution. It was like a main song without niraval, an aalapana without kalpana swaras and tani without korvai , on the whole it invoked kuraippu from the consumer. Gnanambiga has a lot to improve, no wonder the crowd was less.

After lunch, I took a walk around to explore the Sabha. The notice board outside announced that Mumbai Shilpa would be singing at 1 pm. When I walked in around 1 pm, the auditorium had 20 -30 people, lot better than the first concert. Mumbai Shilpa turned out to be a Mambalam maami. She was born in mumbai and moved to chennai 10 years back to pursue music. Nidhi Chaala Sugamaa was the main song and she did a great job. another raagam I found at the start of the aalapaana.  Rithvik Raja was next, followed by Sriranjani Santhanagopalan and the crowd was building up. However I had to start as I had to pick up my daughter from school. Also needed some rest before the evening concert by Pantula Rama at Sri Parthasarathy Swamy Sabha, where I have a season ticket.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

130th Birth Anniversary of the Mahakavi

The daily sheet calendar had the image of the man with the white turban, bright eyes and a big moustache. Subramanya Bharathi, a phenomenon that changed Tamil literature was born on this day 130 years ago.I don't have enough mastery over the language be it English or Tamil to talk about Bharathi and his genius. However I couldn't resist writing about him today

I have never been to Ettayapuram but I have visualized it. There are several times I have woken up from a dream thinking I am in Ettayapuram. Maybe I will go there one day and visit the birth place of a genius who has ignored during his lifetime, who has maybe still not got the recognition he deserves but has left an everlasting impact on Tamil and Tamilians. Maybe he has become so much an integral part of Tamil and Tamilians that he doesn't need to be recognised separately?

There are poets who have sung about nature, those who wrote for social causes, people who specialized in writing about religion and those who wrote motivational and philosophical poems but Bharathi is one of the very few, if not the only one, who wrote poems on all of these. Poetry that is relevant even today, almost 100 years after they were written.

Bharathi laid the foundation for modern poetry, what is called Pudhu Kavidhai in Tamil. His hallmark was his choice of words and simplicity but then you can't brand him only as a Poet. He was a great patriot and Philosopher. His interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita brings out his deep understanding of hindu philosophy

Bharathi was a visionary who was well ahead of his time. He was born in a country which was lost in caste and cultural divides but he could see through those barriers and had a vision of a unified India. The multi faceted personality that he was - there are songs where he expresses his frustration and anger, while in some he portrays the homeland he envisioned. He wrote simple poems for children on the one side but also wrote deeper ones which were philosophical.

One could go on writing about his songs and fill up blogs but to talk of a few:

In "Aaduvome Pallu Paduvome" he could imagine an independent India and sing a song celebrating the independence which came almost 26 years later. His "Sindhu nadhiyin misai nilavinile" recognizes the speciality of every state and his view on how they could collaborate. Songs like "Mogathai Kondru vidu", "Nirpathuve Nadappathuve" bring out his philosophical side. "Acchamillai Achamillai" is a song that will motivate people forever while you can resort to something like "Nalladhor Veenai Seidhe" or "Ninnai Saranadainthen" when you are feeling low. In his Kannan Pattu collection, he imagines Kannan as god, as his lover, as his servant, as his employer and so on and each song is beautiful. And there are so many beautiful songs on love, those which highlight the pain of separation from the loved one.. "Aasai Mugam marandhu Poche" and all those songs on Kannamma, be it "Indha Kaatru veliyidai Kannamma" or "Theertha Karayinile".

The Carnatic music and Cine music platform did play a big role in giving his songs the much needed reach to a wider audience but I believe the popularity of his songs is because of the simplicity and the truthfulness in his words. Bharathi's poems have accompanied me like a friend all along. There is a never a situation in life where you cannot pull out one of his songs and realize their relevance.

I will borrow the great man's words to welcome the next Bharathi. Maybe he is just around the corner and will announce himself soon or maybe he is a 100 or 1000 years away. Who knows!

ஒளிப டைத்த கண்ணினாய் வா வா வா 
உறுதிகொண்ட நெஞ்சினாய் வா வா வா 
களிப டைத்த மொழியினாய் வா வா வா 
கடுமை கொண்ட தோளினாய் வா வா வா
தெளிவு பெற்ற மதியினாய் வா வா வா 
சிறுமை கண்டு பொங்குவாய் வா வா வா 
எளிமை கண்டு இரங்குவாய் வா வா வா 
ஏறு போல் நடையினாய் வா வா வா 

Monday, December 10, 2012

An Early start to the season - Malladi Brothers at Tattvaloka

Yesterday I woke up to the fact that the music season is no longer Maargazhi music season or December music season or Madras Music season for that matter. With Bharathi Vidya bhavan and a few sabhas starting their programmes in November and first week of December, it is now the "Chennai music season"!

Somehow I had always associated this with Margazhi and I failed to notice that Singapore Indian Fine Arts in collaboration with Carnatic Radio, had started their music festival in Tattvaloka, Teynampet, an auditorium few minutes away from my place. I was casually turning the pages of the sunday Hindu and suddenly noticed that there was a free Malladi Brothers concert that evening happening very near by.  I searched and realized that I had missed a few good ones in the past few days - likes of Sowmya, Gurucharan. However I was glad at the propsect of listening to Malladi Brothers. I went in 30 minutes ahead so that I could get a good seat and an youngster by name Nishanth Thiagarajan from Singapore was  just winding up his concert. While SIFA tries to get  popular artistes sing in the evening to draw the crowds, their main goal is to give an opportunity to youngsters from Singapore to showcase their talent to the carnatic world. Nishanth was ok but I didn't pay much attention.

The crowd slowly started trickling in and the auditorium was full by the time the Malladi Brothers duo walked in and settled down. With accomplished artistes as accompaniments - Mannargudi Eswaran on mridangam, M.A.Sundaresan on the violin, the show promised to be an exciting one. One of the brothers announced that the concert was dedicated to their Parama guru Dr. Pinakapani who is celebrating his 100th year. After an interesting speech about Dr. Pinakapani, the concert started. It seems Dr. Pinakapani sings for 6 hours in a day even at the age of 100!

Manasija Koti Lavanya, a varnam in Hindolam and composed by Dr.Pinakapani was a promising and fitting start to the concert. Daritapuleka in Saveri followed. Naadadina Maata , Thiagaraja's plea to Lord Rama to keep up his promise, was rendered with a lot of depth. The main item chosen was Satatam Tavaka, a Swati Thirunal Krithi in Karahara Priya. It was delivered with all the improvisations which one expects out of a Malladi Brothers Concert. The Percussion artists and the violin did a great job of the Korvai.

"Ninnu Juchi" a Padam in Punnakavarali was a real stand out. It was sung so well that I had a feeling that all the snakes in the area would make a dash for the auditorium and seriously considered keeping my legs on the chair towards the middle of the song.

Malladi Brothers filled the auditorium with their vibrant voices and impressed the audience with the depth of their knowledge and their improvisations. Apart from these, I think the kind of dynamics and variety these two bring together, the passion they exhibit and the way they connect with the audience, the way they set up the mood of a raga and delve into it, all constitute the uniqueness of a Malladi Brothers concert.

A great beginning to the season. Looking forward to the real margazhi season starting next week, now that I have a season ticket at Parthasarathy Sabha:-)

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Music in the air - Margazhi 2012

Chennai is getting ready to welcome the mystic month of Margazhi. There is a sudden chillness in the air as Margazhi approaches which is a welcome break from the otherwise hot Chennai weather but that is not the only thing about Margazhi. It is time for the music season which has become some sort of an identity for Chennai over the last few decades.

The weekend news paper is loaded with advertisements from all the major Sabhas and there are a dozen or maybe even a score. While all the Sabhas try to get the popular artists and all the stars try to accommodate every Sabha, the good thing is there is also a lot of encouragement for youngsters. There are free 2 to 3 free Kutcheri slots every day in the schedule where the new comers are given a chance and many of them have made it big. I listened to some of them last year - Nisha Rajagopal, Amrita Murali, Sandeep Narayan and I am glad to note that some of them have advanced to the evening slots this year.

I listened to Nisha Rajagopal twice last year and she was really outstanding . The mini hall in Narada Gana Sabha was over flowing and the TTK auditorium in Music Academy was full despite heavy rain. Malladi brothers, the duo were amazing and I will make it a point to hear them again this year.

While the numerous artists dish out delectable concerts and enthrall the audiences who keep increasing with every passing year, the music season is not only about music. The smell of filter coffee, the tasty traditional lunch that is served on a plantain leaf and the hot tiffin items that melt in your mouth and add to that gastronomic pleasure, are very much an integral part of the season.  There is a healthy (?) competition not only between the artists but also some of the leading caterers in the city. It is Padmanabha Iyengar at the academy, Mountbatten Mani at Parthasarathy Sabha, Gnanambiga at Vani Mahal and Arusuvai Arasu at Kamarajar Arangam. You will have to see and experience it to believe the array of items that they have to offer. The music season on the whole is an experience which appeals to all senses and good feeling cannot be really explained in words.

Like the last two years, I am really looking forward to the two weeks of Sabha hopping both for food and music. It is going to be a packed schedule and I have started picking the concerts and the Sabhas I want to visit. There are still 2 weeks to go but I can feel the music and the aroma of good food lingering in the air already!

Thuppaki review

Thuppakki is the second Vijay movie I happen to see on big screen. Immediately after Nanban, that makes it two in a row. It is heart warming to note that both are not typical Vijay movies.

The film for a larger part is an A.R.Murugadoss film. There are some similarities to "Ramana" but the plot is still different and the screenplay is interesting. It would have been a lot more interesting with lesser number of songs but I guess that was a mild attempt from the director to satisfy Vijay fans.

The music and the background score are very ordinary. In fact the background score is really irritating at times. I think the problem with Harris Jeyaraj is that he has become too predictable. " Google Google" is the only song that catches attention and I guess that is also largely attributable to the singer Andrea and even Vijay to some extent.

While too many songs hamper the pace in the first half, as long as you don't reason too much the second half is really interesting with enough twists and turns. Vijay is convincing as an army officer who sees a terrorist act and wants to do something about it despite being on vacation. Vidyut Jamwal as the terrorist leader controlling the Sleeper cell, has done a good job and is the only other actor worth mentioning in this movie. All other actors including the herione Kajal Agarwal don't have much of a role to play.

The movie has been shot full and full in Mumbai which is a different setting that you don't get to see much in Tamil movies. Cinematography is handled by Santosh Sivan which needless to say boosts the viewing experience. The song Vennilave has been shot in some great backdrop and is a treat to the eyes.

While the movie is a hit , I think it has become a bigger hit more because of lack of competition and failure of something like Mattraan, on which people had lot of expectations.

Thuppaki is loaded alright but takes a long time to fire but the good things is it does fire in the end. Worth a watch if you have the time.