The title to the concert could not have been more apt.
It was the second live show by Isaignani Ilayaraja and the first one for me. The furlong walk along a chaotic road from the parking lot at YMCA grounds to the Wesley school ground where the concert was held, insinuated the lack of proper arrangement for the concert. For the Rs.200 ticket, we expected a lot more than climbing a perilously tied set of wooden planks.
We were on the second highest spot in the entire ground at around 1730 hrs. The show was scheduled to begin at 1805 (we did not read the IST following 1805), as is normal with Indian Slow Time, the announcement for the first song came at 1900 hrs. The maestro was soon expected.
The artists waiting to perform for us were Sadhana Sargam, Uma Ramanan, Manjari, Swarnalatha, Bhavadharani and of course, the maestro himself.
After a few prayer songs, amidst a thunderous show of fire-crackers, Ilayaraja appeared on stage, bowing to the audience's applause. The show was marked with raja's musical brilliance and intelligent quips. The first words he told were something like, "These crackers and fireworks were not great, your applause is".
He started with "Janani" song. The real dampeners for the show were the Lakshman Sruthi troupe troupe and the compere, Abaswaram Ramji. Though the Lakshman Sruthi troupe regained some ground after some good performance in the later stages of the show, Ramji was pathetic throughout the evening.
Ilayaraja then talked about the reason behind conducting the concert. It was for raising money for a tamil magazine "Mullaicharam" owned by Kavignar Ponnadiyaan. The magazine in its glorious past had more illustrious custodians in Bharithiyaar and Bharathidasan.
Ramji asked Ilayaraja to tell about his first composition. His first was when he composed music for a poem in Dinathanthi on Kaviyarasar Kannadasan's death to be sung at a Communist Party's street meeting. Then he sang the same. His first song as a lyrist was "Idayam oru kovil". Both the songs were promising (for the evening).
Then came the first blooper. In the place of "adi aathAADI", Sadhana Sargam sang "adi aaTHODI" for the famous song from "Alaigal Oyvathillai". Soon she corrected her mistake during the song. But her fit for most of the songs was questionable.
The first real entertainment came in the song, "Sorgame Enraalum athu nammoora pola varuma..". Ilayaraja, in addition to singing the song amazingly, tweaked the lyrics to suit the latest developments in India. The lines were touching Software development, Fast food culture, Women in BPO, High-raised buildings, Kohinoor diamond and other treasures of India lying outside India and the longing of Tamilians living outside Tamilnadu to get back home. The lyrics were so clearly matched to the tune, that a person unaware of the original lyrics could barely identify the tweaks.
Next Ramji's turn to give us some fun. Forgetting who was sharing the stage with him, Ramji told that the directors of the movie have to clearly describe the song situation so that the composers can come out with the best possible composition. He went on to ask who was the best director to explain the situation for a song. He then quoted an example, "Oru paiyan oru ponnai kaadalikkiraan, appadi-nu sonna compose panrathu kashtam". Ilayaraja replied,"Illai, athellaam kashtam kidaiyathu. Thaaralamaa ithukkellaam tune podalaam". Then he went to explain how SD Burman used to torment the directors with questions when asked to compose.
Before the next song, Ramji continued with his next question. Ilayaraja replied, "First song, then question..". He started his next song "Raaja Raajadhi raajan intha raaja" from Agni natchiram amidst thunderous applause from the audience.
Ilayaraja then talked about the different method adopted while composing "Karakaatakkaran" songs. Gangai amaran and he composed the tunes and wrote the lyrics at the same time. Both evolved together. And the movie itself was completed in record time. The next song was "Intha maan unthan sontha maan..", Sadhana Sargam paired Ilayaraja. This song was bungled so pathetically by Sadhana Sargam and the Lakshman Sruthi troupe that Ilayaraja apologised for the slip up in quality.
The next insult to Ramji was when he appreciated a person dancing wildly to the music and asked others to dance. Ilayaraja then promptly asked the audience to calmly listen to the songs and not disturb others.
After "Kadhal oviyam paadum kaaviyam" from Alaigal Oyvathillai, Ilayaraja sang one of the best songs of the evening:"Then Paandi seemaiyiley, therodum veethiyiley..", the masterpiece from Naayagan. The song was easily the most mesmerizing one of the evening.
The next was a super song from the movie, Dharmapathni. "Naan thedum sevvanthi poovidhu..", Inspite of a sodappal by the troupe, Ilayaraja was requested to sing the song once more for which he obliged and pleased the audience. Manjari gave a good company to Ilayaraja in this song. She was the best among the female voices of the evening. Swarnalatha was under-used and Sadhana Sargam was over-used and was pathetic in almost all the songs she sang.
Then on request from a section of the audience, he sang a telugu song. The tune was in tamil also, but I could not recollect the exact title of the song.
Kavignar Palanibharathi was called to the stage. When he began to rant, he was booed away.
After singing the evergreen "ennai thaalatta varuvaalo" from kadhalukku mariyadhai, Ilayaraja talked and praised Kannadasan as the greatest poet/lyrist the world has ever produced. He recollected the extraordinary pace with which the Kaviyarasar used to write/say lyrics to the tunes with profound meanings - which one would realise only after singing the song.
The next were "ilamai enum poongraatru", "antha nilaave thaan naan kaiyula pudichen" and "Maanguyile poonguyiley..". Then Ramji tried to test the maestro by asking him to compose different tunes for a song depending on different situations. The impeccable one gave 4 different situations and 4 different tunes for the "Maanguyile" song. He even sang "Maanguyile" in the style of Yuvan's composition. The ability not to mess up with the lyrics in 5 utterly different tunes was astounding to me. The last tune in Yuvan's style was truly amazing.
Kavignar Muthunayagam, after some rants and booes, requested Ilayaraja to compose a tune for "Muthai thiru..." (One murugan song). IR explained that it is a santham and very difficult to change the tune for the same. Unable to have Muthunayagam get down the stage, IR yielded and composed a tune. Any other music director would have released that as an album - the tune evolved as he sang.
Then were the songs from "Avadharam: Thenral vanthu theendum pothu..", "Badrakali:Kannan oru kai kuzhandai..". Bhavadharani, Sadhana sargam, Manjari joined Ilayaraja and sang the "Kaatril varum geethamey" from "oru naal oru kanavu".
On request from the audience, Ilayaraja sang "annakkili unnai theduthey.." and some songs from "Kadhal oviyam". Then came the best patch of the night with songs "Nila athu vaanathu meley..", "Orambo orambo rukkumani vandi varuthu","Veetukku veetukku vaasappadi venum". In all these songs, Ilayaraja was at his best and the troupe also regained its lost ground.
The penultimate song was from Kaasi: "En mana vaanil, siragai virikkum vannapparavaigaley". I wished Ilayaraja had sung the song in the movie also. There was a deiveegam in his voice.
The last song was "en thaayenum koyilai kaakka maranthitta paaviyadi kiliye..", a fitting finale to the night.
Inspite of the lack of proper arrangements, pathetic compering, average music by the troupe, Sadhana sargam, one man really lit up the show. I now understand fully why the show was called "One man Show".