Saturday, 8 August 2015

Ilayaraja - The quintessential God to my generation

As I write this, I cant help examine the paradox, herés me -  a non-expert in Music, who cant speak in any of the south Indian languages - writing about one of the legends from the south Indian movie industry. 

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So there's my disclaimer. But then, I think Ilayaraja's achievements was simply that. I cant think of anyone down south in my generation who has not been moved by his music. 

When I was working in the Middle East, one of the tam brams in the team gave me a CD with purely Ilayaraja's songs. I wanted to listen to Tamil film music, because while the music is outstanding I dont get the lyrics so it doesn't interfere with the work I am doing, so I can listen to it while working giving me a pep. So this CD had like nearly 300 songs right from the late 70s, 80s and 90s and were all hits.

That I think just said how prolific he was. For my generation when the south Indian film industry was at its peak and was globally the producer of the maximum number of films - it was common to have a new movie release practically every day of the week. And down South, the probability was high that the music would be from Ilayaraja, as it was one of the guarantee's of a success.

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So Ilayaraja did that and much more. I got to see live shows of him when I was at Chennai (he usually would join in sometimes for his bother's stage shows) and also saw a few shows on TV. And this would be a revelation of how hard producing such great music was.

Most of his music was not digitally generated, so the entire orchestra (practically the philharmonic) would contribute - no mean task. But Ilayaraja also almost always would have a chorus contributing, and so on stage would be this grand spectacle that would really bring alive the song you'd heard and seen on screen - and you'd know how much effort this had gone. 

Remember this was even before mobiles, nowadays I see how easy it is for anyone to produce a song merely using an Ipad or a smartphone.

But the live event would also help highlight his working process. He would describe how the film director would come and narrate the situation, and the lyricist would help him understand what the lines meant and how they tied into the situation. As he would do this, he would then ask the orchestra or specific instruments to be played to convey the sentiments coming, and slowly re-create how the song came to being. Pure genius.

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Do I have a favourite among them? that's possibly the toughest question any fan of his will have to answer. In fact the safest way to do is to provide a list of the second best 100 songs (i.e. ranked 101-200) because there certainly are far far far better songs that we might have not remembered while compiling the list and they should be in the 1-100.

But Ilayaraja is special for a lot more. For me, I think it was unique to appreciate someone's genius, and then realise that very few outside the circle would ever get it. When I studied for my MBA in the north, it was clear that most didn't even want to hear, let alone watch south Indian films or music. so no chance of them even appreciating his achievements. Pity, but no complaints

And in a way that for me makes him so much more exclusive. Ilayaraja was and is God to our generation - period!.

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