Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Enough Kohl to put Johnny Depp to shame

By far, the Chennai December music season this time has been a case of “I went, I saw, I ran away” kind of experience for me. I began writing a stiff ‘Carnatic music and consumerism — Making the audience buy’ type of article. But considering my sworn readers who cannot brook one grave sentence from my pen, I have here a series of (loony) snapshots on the music season.

  • I thought I had wandered into a South Indian wedding when I entered a concert hall this December season. Rustling silk saris, fragrant jasmine strings, deep namaskarams, aroma of filter coffee and idli-sambar, snatches of gossip…eh? If I had anticipated such heavy dressing, I would have at least remembered to comb. But what the hell? I came to listen to music, not be seen. The violinist on stage had enough kohl in her eyes to put Johnny Depp to shame, while the vocalists glittered like Christmas trees. So much so, I was tempted to carry one back home and hang some gifts for my kids. My vote any day is for Sanjay Subrahmanyan, who prefers to throw his flamboyance into his music rather than his clothes. If musicians felt glittering jibbas and flashy saris added weight to their music, then why wear just one? Why not wear four? Or maybe I belong to that dwindling population which expects only a good concert and not a ‘good-looking’ concert.
  • There was just so much fanfare on stage and off stage in every concert I went to that I wanted to shout, “Will the real performers please stand up?” Where were those good old mamas and mamis hugging yellow cloth bags, taking the 23As and 12Cs to arrive at Sastri Hall and Music Academy? These good souls, who could outcry any geko with their appreciative tch-tch-tches, were completely lost in the overdressed crowd.
  • For those unacquainted with Carnatic musicians, people who sing in pairs give themselves creative names like Mambalam sisters, Hyderabad brothers and Carnatica brothers. Given the burgeoning talent base, there will come a crowded day when we will see Thambiah Reddy street sisters, 4th main road (next to Pizza hut) brothers etc. Tomorrow perchance my daughter and niece begin to perform as duo I plan to call them Vatsalya sisters after the playschool they go to.
  • Coming to music reviews in a popular daily, one can never make out if the concert soared or sucked from what they write. Consider this convoluted writing — “Mutual enrichment of the musical fare was facilitated by the individual merit of each expert member”. Translated it simply means, the musicians did a good job or at least that’s what I think. And then there is this insufferable alliteration critics get into. “Mellifluous Madhyamavati, kindling Kalyani, meandering Mohanam, roaring Ranjani” ad nauseum. As such Carnatic music is inaccessible. For God’s sake, should we employ ‘twilight language’ while speaking about this art form?
  • Carnatic musicians have really smartened up. They act in movies, endorse products, appear in reality shows, write books, email their concert schedules religiously, have perky music profiles, perfect PR, well- updated blogs and websites. It is a good sign that one can indeed make a living out of Carnatic music. I am saying all this so that, that segment of population, which still drools over Carnatic musicians as if they were messengers of God, should wake up and understand that they’re all in this field as professionals, just as any doctor or engineer is in his.
  • Visaka Hari(ji) is one performer who has spoilt every Tambrahm married woman’s chances with her mother-in-law. She is the dream daughter-in-law of every mamiyar, what with her madisar/straight hair parting/diamond earrings and absorption in all things politically correct. She makes all the mamis wonder why it didn’t occur to them to make a career out of the bedtime stories they knew and wear their madisars with more pride. For foot-in-mouthed, jeans-wearing failure of a character like me, Visaka Hari is a Kafkaish nightmare (my mother-in-law loves her). The way the older generation spring into action to ‘catch’ seats for her programme — well, you have to see it to believe it. She makes them forget their rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Amidst kanjeevarams and namaskarams in the concert hall, I also spotted some straight skirts and hugging and kissing on both cheeks. Wasn’t this behaviour usually displayed by the audience of Alliance Francaise programmes? Good! So Carnatic music is also turning ‘happening’! And may it happen minus the trappings!

    This article was published in my Loony Life column


  1. "Mutual enrichment of the musical fare was facilitated by the individual merit of each expert member." Gulp.
    Perhaps the concert left them confused. Hence this attempt (successful one, I must say) at leaving the readers baffled.
    Made for a wonderful read! :)

  2. This column was a tight stuff! Strict and frank. Appreciate it!!!

  3. Very true, Jaya !!! Agree with ur sentiments on ppl giving more importance to looking good than singing good.

    Those Critics at the Newspaper - I think I understood which one you are talking abt - are just awful - I just cant understand whether they are appreciating or pointing mistakes.

    There used to be a time when the artists were scared of Subbudu's writings. They used to focus on singing more to get a good line from him. But not anymore, I think.