By Priya Das
Margazhi Raagam, the “concert in cinema”, is many things packaged as a movie…It’s a kutcheri/ concert featuring two very popular artistes Bombay Jayashri and T. M. Krishna. It’s a film on digital steroids, with uncompressed six-track sound, audiographed by H. Sridhar, and captured on Red 4K cameras, cinematographed by P.C. Sreeram. It’s a dream of director Jayendra Panchapakesan come to life- of bringing an evocative, mass appeal to Carnatik music.
Margazhi Raagam is a concert on film, even though an actual concert was not filmed. Seven cameras were used as silent conspirators to capture every nuance as the music was acted out, so to speak. Every expression on the faces of the two main artistes is visible, making the viewing of the movie an intimate dialog between the audience and the musicians. The acoustics are brilliant; all the subtle cadences in T.M. Krishna’s rich voice are brought out in its full glory. Hearing Bombay Jayashri sing is like listening to the breaking of dawn.
I fell in conversation with T. M. Krishna at a press meet recently-
Didn’t the retakes kill the spontaneity of the performances?
T.M.K.: The entire shooting for the film was done in 2 days. Almost every performance was shot uninterrupted, except for one of mine, which we had to shoot in 2 parts because the lights went out! We wound up shooting till 2am that first day.
Have Bombay Jayashri and you performed together before?
T.M.K.:Certainly not for a full-fledged kutcheri. How we first sang together is an interesting story. Jayashri and I were collaborating on a coffee-table book on Carnatic music. We approached the then President of India, Abdul Kalam Azad for the unveiling. He agreed, on the condition that we sing together. It was then that we realized that we hadn’t ever sung together before! So we performed together for an invited audience at the Rashtrapati Bhavan. (The book is called Voices Within, published by Matrka, founded by TM Krishna and Bombay Jayashri, “to create a new platform to present Carnatic music.”)
How did the two of you prepare for Margazhi Raagam?
We didn’t prepare together as such. Jayashri and I have been friends for many years now, and are comfortable in giving each other the space required. We have only 2 duets, incidentally, one of them is without any music, just the two of us singing. Jayendra wanted the music to sound fresh, and gave us a free hand when it came to improvisation. In any case, preparation doesn’t work for me. I like to give in to the mood of the moment and raaga. Jayashri is more organized, on the other hand, and makes for a very appealing contrast in the movie.
Was it difficult to not have an audience during the shoot?
T.M.K.:Singing for Margazhi Raagam was like jamming with friends at home. We did have an audience about a 100, that’s the crew. The set was readied for us beforehand, and then there was a pindrop silence. It was a very intimate setting, very conducive to singing.
How was it to see yourself on film?
T.M.K.:Scary!! (laughs) When Jayashri and I saw the rough cut, I looked at her, nonplussed. I had never before seen myself sing, and this is in close-up! I wasn’t sure how the audience would like it.
And how did the audience like it- how has it been received in India?
T.M.K.:It has been received well. Of course there have been comments all over the spectrum, but I remember one particular incident. I was in Trichy. On a whim, I decided to see Margazhi Raagam in a theater there. When the owner heard that I was in the audience, he called me aside and said to me, “I am in my 70s. I would’ve died never having known the beauty in Carnatic music were it not for this movie, thanks for making it!”
Sarvamangala Mangalye and Jagadodhara are fairly accessible songs- Who selected the content?
T.M.K.:Jayendra, Jayashri and I unanimously selected the songs. Jayendra wanted this to be a common man’s music-movie. So the songs were selected first based on popular appeal, then on composition. We also wanted to choose different composers for each. The choice of the last song was particularly difficult- we felt it needed to hit the right resonance with the common man…our violinist came up with that one- Bharthiyar’s Vande Mataram. You can make the most commonplace song sound exotic and vice versa. It also depends on the rasika and the mood s/he is in- the same music can be enjoyed at 25 different levels.
Is this movie like a much-awaited democratization of Carnatica?
T.M.K.:I think so. I believe that for many centuries, music in South India belonged to the masses. It was during the British Raj that it got closeted into an auditorium, and ticketed, leaving out the common man. In Kerala during the temple season, right to this day, music is sung among the people, in temples, and anybody can come close and ask for requests. I remember a few years ago, there was this drunk rickshaw driver sitting right up front, smoking a beedi. I thought he was in a stupor, and had dismissed him as a serious rasika. Suddenly he gets up and says, “Saami, Todi padangey”! So you see, there is a rasika in every common man.
Margazhi Raagam is set to be released in the US in April and May this year. It was first released in India during the month of Margazhi or the winter month in the Hindu calendar, the time between Dec 15 and Jan 15. Margazhi is the time the Chennai music season is held every year, a time when tens of Carnatic concerts run concurrently, and every concert receives a critique by veteran rasikas and the layman masses. That the movie is named after this season and released first during this time is a gentle nudge to all rasikas to sit up and take notice of this new medium on the block.
Bay Area Dates –
Friday, April 24th at 7 pm, Dolby Labs Theater, 100 Potrero Avenue, San Francisco. Tickets are $25 and $40.
Sunday, May 31st at 3 pm, IMC6, The Alameda, San Jose. Tickets are $12 each or $10 if purchased in groups of 4 or more. For tickets and info contact Aruna Peri : 408.718.5261 | firstname.lastname@example.org
The trailer can be seen at marghaziraagam.com