WE GO AGAIN...
Chennai has become a buzzing beehive of cultural activity almost around the clock and certainly around the year. So many programs on dance, music, theatre, lectures, cultural programs and film festivals have been taking place daily months before the annual December Margazhi festival.
On Oct 13 at the Alliance Francaise, classical pianist/composer Anil Srinivasan and Carnatic vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan spoke about their collaboration and work process in creating contemporary sound. Their maiden collaborative venture, titled ‘Madirakshi’, was such a success that they were motivated to work on their next album titled ‘Colors of Rain,’ from which they presented excerpts. For one of the numbers, Anil visualized a little girl playing hopscotch and the notes follow such a pattern. Though the ragas and presentation followed the classical Carnatic pattern, the pace of singing was slow which Gurucharan confessed, was difficult at first. He did not need to keep talam like in Carnatic music but followed the piano notes. Incidentally, the piano is classified as a percussion instrument and Anil uses its inherent pulse and melodic richness to do away with all extrinsic ornamentation that Carnatic music is surrounded with. Not everyone is in favor of this type of presentation of traditional songs and the duo have received mixed reactions. There are many others who prefer their slower version of “payyada,” the wonderful javali made famous by Balasaraswati, or Bharatiyar’s “aasai mugam marandhu pochey. In fact, there was a request for Aasai Mugam, which Gurucharan obliged. One thing stands out in their music – Anil’s piano is there yet unobtrusive and supportive and Gurucharan’s diction is so clear and decipherable, one can ‘see’ the rasa in his strong voice! In fact, an audience member is supposed to have told Gurucharan after the program that they did not realize Tamil could sound so sexy! Ganjira artiste BS Purushotham was also a participant but did not have much role to play. It is this combination of Anil and Charan that has given the memorable soundscape for Anita Ratnam’s new dance presentation ‘NEELAM’ which has won over purist audiences last December season in Chennai.
From November 1 to 11, Bharat Sangeet Utsav hosted by Carnatica.com and Sri Parthasarathy Sawamy Sabha heralded the start of the Chennai season. Over 3 concerts a day at Narada Gana Sabha, one gets to hear the best names in music and all for free! I managed to catch Aruna Sairam and Hariharan’s ghazal show which were both filled with capacity crowds. Other concerts too had good attendance. Sanjay Subramaniam’s concert was traditional, OS Arun’s bhajans were all on Krishna including some numbers from his new album, a Hindustani and Carnatic music jugalbandhi with Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt on Mohana Veena and Ravi Kiran on Chitravina centred on raag Vachaspati. The thematic presentation ‘Poonkuyil Pattammal’ on DK Pattammal’s songs, presented by Gowri Ramnarayan and sung by Vijay Siva was very interesting because of the background information and anecdotes that were brief and to the point. Like DK Pattammal was averse to singing duets with male singers, so she sang the male as well as female parts of a song, how she valiantly sang a song upholding communist principles during the freedom movement which was promptly banned by the British govt, and her refusal to be a singing star but no objection to singing playback, all lent color to the concert.
Nov 10 to 18, the third edition of The Hindu Friday Review November Festival
titled ‘Let the music begin’ took place at the Music Academy. On Nov 12,
Pt Rajan and Sajan Misra of the Benaras Gharana, enthralled the audience
in a 3 hour long classical Hindustani recital. Performing in Chennai after
several years, they were accompanied by Arvind Kumar Azad on tabla and
Subash Kashakkar on the harmonium. With a brief 10 minute break, it was
a continuous performance. A request for raag Darbari Kanada had the brothers
performing a ‘glimpse’ that went on for more than a half hour! The
concert ended with a bhajan in Bhairavi. When the over enthusiastic Chennai
audience applauded after every intricate raga exposition, Pt Rajan Misra
requested that they wait till the song finished! Another memorable concert
in the series was the evening by Anil Srinivasan and Gurucharan, this time
accompanied by Delhi based sarangi player Murad Ali blending in so well
and adding a wonderful dimension to this new and beautiful sound. The more
popular musicians like Trilok Gurtu, Hariharan and Mandolin Srinivas disappointed,
not with the audience turnout but with the content of their presentations.
With The Hindu
emerging as an organizer of theatre and music festivals, there is so much
more happening and much before the actual sabha schedules, that there does
not seem to be a dull moment in Chennai! The renovated interior of Music
Academy is also very pleasant and people friendly.
The Indo-Polish Chamber of Commerce and Industries, and Jaya group of institutions presented an evening of ‘Dancing through Europe’ on Nov 27 by Zofia Rudnicka and her troupe, to mark the National Day of Poland. Ambassador of Poland to India, Krzysztof Majka, Tamilnadu Governor Surjit Singh Barnala, and Polish Consul-General in Mumbai, Janusz Bylinski participated in the function. Naturally, speeches took up the better part of an hour. Vivacious dances from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Germany and Poland were interspersed with ballet numbers and opera music accompanied by a piano. The audience was comprised of mostly college students who are not familiar with opera, and they dissolved into giggles every time because the vocalist refused a mike and all we could see was her head going back now and then, her mouth opening and closing, but not a word! The backdrop banner (of course a must for cementing international relations!) was an eye sore and the vast Kamaraj Arangham is badly in need of renovation. Then, all our auditoriums are in need of a face lift and an engineer who really understands sound and audience sight lines!
Prakriti Foundation presented its first edition of The Park’s NEW FESTIVAL
at the Museum Theatre from Dec 2 – 6. This came after 9 years of THE OTHER
FESTIVAL, India’s first annual contemporary arts event, founded by Shah
and dancer Anita Ratnam. The New Festival continues the theme of the ‘new’
with Park Hotels as brand sponsor and Shah as sole artistic director. Of
the five days of this event, I only caught two evenings. ‘Jazz,’
scripted by Ramu Ramanthan and directed by Etienne Coutinho, is based on
the research by Naresh Fernandes on the role of jazz in Bollywood music
at a time when Goans and Anglo-Indians were the jazz musicians around Mumbai’s
Bandra. The main characters are Bugs Bhargava, who plays an ageing jazz
musician, a typical Goan with love for music and booze, lot of talent but
not getting his dues, the raw deal he gets from making a living in Bollywood,
and young Rhys Dsouza who comes to him to learn.
comes back from the dead to tell his story – the lighting in the shape
of a coffin with Bugs lying inside it, is very effective! Past loves, friends,
acquaintances and music cronies, reminisce on the video projection screen
and the narrative swings from monologues and great singing by Bugs to screen
dialogues in a smooth switch. Through a mix of nostalgia and wry humor,
music and dialogues, experiences of jazz musicians in the Bollywood music
circuit of the 60s and 70s comes through as experienced by the main characters.
Music is composed by Merlin Dsouza. The tracks are recorded but Rhys plays
the sax on stage and the play ends with a grand solo by him. The student
has finally come into his own. ‘Jazz’ is a feast of jazz music and great
theatre. It was a well attended evening and the technical side went off
without a hitch. Strangely, despite the resounding applause, there were
no introductions at the end of the show.
Closing night December 6 was a wonderful blend of dance, music and painting, ‘Dhara’ by Dance Routes, Bhubaneswar, featured Rekha Tandon and 4 gotipua dancers - Punachandra Maharana, Purnachandra Jena, Bishwanath Jena and Chandramani Pradhan. Dhara is a result of the Raghurajpur Lila Project to provide a career in dance to gotipua dancers after their gurukul comes to an end. The dance is a mix of traditional Odissi and Gotipua styles involving their acrobatic moves. The original music score directed by Michael Weston draws from folk and classical Oriyan music, Hindu tantric chants and prayers. The whole presentation was very interesting because of the simultaneous projection of traditional Orissa patachitra style paintings on the back screen. The visuals have English subtitles to illustrate the theme being danced, so it is easy to follow the narrative. Beautiful illustrations of Krishna, Durga and Jagannath formed the backdrop for ‘Free my path,’ ‘Simhavahini’ and ‘Jagannathswami.’ In the pure dance item ‘Battu,’ the visuals of a dancer matched the dancer on stage in stunning coordination. ‘Yantra’ was performed to chants and mystic images. The drawings as well as the dance were so eye catching that it was quite distracting at times! Judging by the standing ovation, one could say it was indeed a grand finale for the New Festival.
The sabha season is now in full swing, with predominantly music performances and some dance. There are also music and dance seminars this year, with the Natya Darshan seminar hosted by Kartik Fine Arts having its own website, something that Krishna Gana Sabha has not bothered to do after 28 years of having its Natya Kala Conference. In fact, the site has not even been updated with this year’s season schedule. It’s time many of our sabhas keep up with technology, start their websites and put their schedules online, instead of being secretive till Dec 1 to reveal their schedules!