Friday, March 24, 2017

10 'reasons' why the SPB – Ilaiyaraja issue is unfortunate

It is amazing how fast news travels.  No sooner had Ilayaraja’s legal notice to SPB probably arrived in his inbox than many music lovers who had access to the internet felt righteous indignation and started posting their reactions.  If some of those reactions - as genuine as they were -  weren’t hysterical enough, there were some so-called experts who reveled in the news du jour of the moment and started mentioning non-existent copyright laws, only for others to say that these self-professed pundits had no clue what they were talking about!  There were a few voices of reason appealing for a bit of calm and urging people to not respond without knowing the facts fully.  There were others like comedian Vivek, director CS Amudhan and actor Mohan Raman who voiced their opinions in a very balanced manner.  But a common thread ran across every reaction.  That it was unfortunate that two people who had given us great joy – one through the genius of his music and another through the beauty and versatility of his voice – were going through a crisis. (I am not using the word ‘spat’ since I have no idea what is truly going on, what led to it and what is poised to happen as a result.)

Special thanks to Ravishanker for the wonderfully witty cartoon.  Ravishanker (aka Zola) blogs at
As a fan that doesn’t know either of them personally and as an ignoramus when it comes to copyright laws, I instead choose to rewind the clock (should I say ‘cassette’, given that era?) a few decades in time and mention 10 songs that resulted from their collaboration.  These are 10 songs – among innumerable others – that gave me immense pleasure.  Some songs have had me calm my senses, others have made me tap my feet.  These are the memories that I want to have of them long after one stops playing the harmonium and the other stops singing.  

Since I have seen such a diverse set of messages on this topic mainly on twitter, I am going to let that influence me just for this write-up!  So, each of the 10 descriptions below are 140 characters!  

1 of 10 – Senorita...
Perfect expression of unbridled ecstasy!  The music that plays over the clicking scissors and SPB's rendition of "Poomethai..." are magical.

2 of 10 – Madai Thirandhu
"Pudhu Raagam Padaipathale Naanum Iraivane" - a marvelous way to express the sentiment of a music director.  Godly score and divine singing.

3 of 10 – Sangeetha Jaathimullai
"VizhigaLil ThuLigaL Vadiyumo Adhu Suduvadhai ThAnga Mudiyumo" - tongue twisting magnificence.  Q: What reaches a crescendo?  A: Our senses.

4 of 10 – ILaya Nila…
Mohan owes his career to 3 people - Raja, SPB and SN Surendar.  The guitar, the tune and SPB's dulcet voice vie for our attention.  All win!

5 of 10 – Mandram Vandha
Everything is in sync - visuals, lyrics (the "thotta udan..." line is so perfect to describe Revathi's mindset) and SPB's vocal expressions.

6 of 10 – Kaala Kaalamaga
A song that still sounds fresh, 30 years after launch. Raja's instrumentals are stunningly modern and SPB's singing irresistibly energetic.

7 of 10 – Rumbumbum Aarambam…
The SPB touches - the "yeah" (2:03 min pt) or the way he sings "paerinbam" (2:25) - and Raja's foot tapping tune are like cherries and cake!

8 of 10 – Mannil Indha Kadhal…       
Listening to this breathless song can leave one speechless!  Gangai Amaran's lines are lovely ("Sutrivara seyyum vizhiyum sundara mozhigaL")

9 of 10 – Eduthu Naan Vidavaa…       
A quirky number that finds a place here because I wanted a song sung by SPB and Raja together.  The duo could give a hit even for Janakaraj!

10 of 10 – Kaatu Kuyilu
I am getting insufferably cutesy by posting a song on friendship at this time! Still, a little wistful hearing "Natpai kooda karpai pola..."

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A Movie and a Friendship

I recently hung a framed poster (pic above) of Rhythm above my DVD rack.  To give you some context, this is the only movie poster that I have in my house.  What made it sweeter was that the person who arranged for the poster was none other than the person that created the film, director Vasanth.  I had written about him as part of my Inspirations series, five years ago.  I had written about how I managed to meet him in 2002.  But I did not dwell much on why I wanted to meet him.  Those that have followed Vasanth’s career since his stunning debut Keladi Kanmani (1990) will know that rays of positivity have always shone through brightly in most of his movies.  Sacrifice, selflessness and righteousness are traits that have marked the behaviors of many of his lead characters.  I regard Rhythm as his finest work, the film that truly set him apart as a filmmaker in my mind.  These three traits that I mentioned came together in a wonderfully told story, in a beautifully shot film where the writing, the acting, the craft all were in perfect synchrony.  But there was something more to this film.

At the time of its release in 2000, I was 19 years old.  In the past 17 years, much like Iruvar, the same film has assumed multiple shapes and forms as I have viewed it from the perspective of a son and later as a husband and even as a father.  When I first watched the movie, the Arjun character held appeal for how he interacted with his parents.  Not for Vasanth the stereotypical ‘Amma Appa sentiment’ that belonged to the thamizh cinema of yore.  The casualness of the interactions and the understatement of sentiment combined to ensure that their scenes found their way to the indelible parts of my subconscious.  This might be hyperbole to you.  But trust me for I was there when it first happened!  As a son, I know that I am not as patient or tender with my parents as the Arjun character is.  But given the verisimilitude that informs Vasanth’s style of film making, it is only natural that I don’t discount my shortcomings by dismissing this as just a work of fiction.  Rather, this film serves as a feedback loop of sorts that keeps reinforcing in me the need to fulfill my filial responsibilities to the best of my abilities. 

The scene that made me want to meet Vasanth (1:37 – 3:13)

As I have eased into the roles of a husband and a father, I can see that whenever I revisit the scenes where Arjun interacts with Jyothika, Meena or her son (played by Aditya) there are little lines or gestures that I watch with admiration.  In the past few years, I have put in considerable amount of time and effort into refining myself as a person.  As I had written in my post on anger management, I genuinely seek to love my near and dear as thoughtfully and as gently as I can.  But in order to achieve the kind of complete satisfaction with how I am to others, I know that I need to cement the cracks in my character, be it getting a better handle on my temper or acting less impulsively in times of distress.  And, when I watch the Arjun character behave with decency and equanimity despite the trials and tribulations that his character goes through, that, for the lack of a better term, is inspiring in its own way.  The delicate touch of the scene where he tells his wife, “Bomb vechurkaange ma,” the maturity with which he deals with Meena’s equivocation, the cuteness of his scenes with Aditya (believe it or not, I address my son as “Sir” quite a bit, similar to the Arjun character!) are all things that have helped me crystallize my thoughts on the ‘ideal’ version of me.  The ‘best’ version of me is something that I am working towards with the acceptance that even if the goal is not reached, just the attempt to reach it would be rewarding enough for me and, hopefully, my loved ones.

Watch from 3:15 – 4:09, 6:06 – 7:20

In the fifteen years that I have known Vasanth, my family and I have been recipients of his friendship, his generosity of spirit and his thoughtfulness of gesture.  The ways in which he has touched my life are too many to count and some are too personal to recount.  But one incident is worth mentioning.  Last October, when I had gone to India following my Aunt’s untimely demise, I had a lengthy conversation with him the day before I left.  As I took his blessings before leaving, I said to him, “Sir, do visit Paati when you can.”  He smiled and assured me that he certainly would.  On the day of Diwali (by this time, I had returned to the US), he texted me saying that even though we wouldn’t celebrate the festival this year that he still wanted to wish me well.  In my response, I said, “Do visit Paati when time permits, Sir.  She will be feeling low.”  Pat came the response, “I already did, six hours ago.”  When I called my grandma, she spoke of how he spent time with her, offering solace and comforting words and asked her to prepare my Aunt’s favorite dish as a token of remembrance, as a way of reliving my grandma’s memories of my Aunt.  The thoughtfulness moved me and my family a lot, during a tough phase.  Of course, there have been plenty of happier memories too, but as the cliché goes, “A friend in need…”  

"Punnagaiye Vaazhkai!" (That was the original title of "Rhythm")

As I have interacted with him over the years, I have also come to immensely respect the stubbornness of a creator that is one of his dominant traits.  As a filmmaker that steadfastly refuses to toe the commercial line, he has been willing to bide his time to make his own brand of sensible cinema.  He is currently making a film titled, Sivaranjaniyum Innum Sila Penngalum, an anthology based on the works of acclaimed writers like Ashokamitran.  As a creator, he has displayed indefatigable grit to make mainstream cinema that appeals to the reader in him as well as the aesthete in him.  Not all his works may have become classics like Keladi Kanmani or Aasai or cult favorites like Satham Podaathay.  But he soldiers on doggedly, to make films that stand the test of time.  I am not going to slot Rhythm into any category.  Because it is an experience that I, over the years, have made my own.  Yes, I am delighted whenever I find fellow admirers of the film.  But truth to be told, contrary to how communal a movie going experience typically is, Rhythm has been an intensely inward looking, meditative experience.  Thank you, Vasanth Sir, for the film and for your friendship.  I value and cherish both, with gratitude.  

Saturday, March 4, 2017

The joys and perils of increased connectivity

I am very comfortable in my zone as a laggard when it comes to adopting and adapting to technological innovations.  I took a very long time to convert from my flip phone to a smart phone.  Even my current phone is a few versions behind the latest version that is out there.  And that is okay.  I do appreciate the brilliance, taste and thoughtfulness exhibited by the inventors of these tech products.  But it is not something that I will spend too much money on.  As I think about it, it is not just the money aspect.  Blogger, Facebook and Twitter are all free.  Yet, I took my own sweet time.  (I do blog (clearly!) and am on Twitter but not on Facebook.)  As I think deeper, I think the reasons are two-fold. 

One, I have a very small world, with priorities, preferences and interests that hardly need the bleeding edge of technology.  There are less than 15 people that comprise my ‘family’, including my "chosen family" - my family of friends.*  And, there are just a half-a-dozen bloggers that I actively follow, but I follow them religiously.  They give me tremendous joy through their work, they make me think, smile, laugh and in a few instances, have made me tear up (as when one spoke about seeing her newborn pass away in her arms).  All of this is to say that when a true ‘connection’ happens, it tends to stay strong and abiding, barring a few isolated instances. 

My preferences are quite old-fashioned.  I still prefer in-person meetings and phone calls!  Heck, I still send handwritten cards to people for their birthdays!  I don’t do Facetime (Thank you, Steve Jobs!) except when my family wants to spend time chatting with my son!  And even my no-frills HTC phone supports Whatsapp quite well!  I spend considerable amount of my leisure hours reading non-fiction but I spend even more time to pause, reflect on and sometimes, write about what a particular book means to me and how it can help me evolve as a person.  So, in a given year, I would not have read more than five to six books.  I am still most at home reading hard copy versions of books; not a compelling need for any favors from Jeff Bezos there! 

And secondly, I have a healthy amount of fear when it comes to modern tech innovations, be it apps or otherwise.  Yes, fear.  The trepidation stems not from the innovations themselves but how people use them.  I just cannot get myself to truly accept the fact that people abuse the comfort of anonymity and dare to do things outside the ballpark of decorum and decency. (Sometimes, it’s not just outside the ballpark but outside the “league” and outside the “sport,” as Samuel Jackson said in “Pulp Fiction!”)

The truth is that this increased connectivity is a double edged sword.  It has been utilized in umpteen positive ways and I love the fact that things go 'viral' at the speed of light.  When large scale crises happened, such as the Chennai floods or the Jallikattu protests, smart phones, Whatsapp, Twitter and Facebook were all used to drive awareness, connect people and mobilize resources in a truly awe-inspiring manner.  But by the same token, negativity can go viral so fast that it could give pancreatic cancer cells a run for their money.  

The recent crisis involving singer Suchitra Karthik’s twitter account is a case in point.  There were some truly appalling content shared about some of Tamil cinema’s top celebrities and some equally disgusting personal attacks by commoners who, with the ‘privilege’ of anonymity, put up insulting and hurtful remarks.  There was hardly any display of empathy or even the willingness to be patient enough to find out what exactly was happening.  We still do not know what she went through or is going through and even whether the tweets were hers to begin with.  Fortunately, amidst all the comments were some truly sane voices such as stand-up comedian SA Aravind, whose comment was at once eloquent, empathetic and touching.  He wrote, “Our empathy is any day more important than our curiosity. It really is that simple guys. Think about it and let things be.”  It is voices such as his that must resound as loudly as the background score of Singam-3!  It is comments such as his that must serve as the panacea that outpaces and curbs the growth of malignant societal tumors such as nastiness and meanness that threaten to destroy every atom of the society’s being and kill its progress.

As I reflect on what this increased connectivity has given me, I consider myself fortunate to have come across people across the globe whose voices I respect, whose writing I admire and whose thoughts help shape my own thinking.  And, I am thankful to the different technologies that have eased my lines of communication (pun intended) with the people that make up my little world, despite the geographical distances that stand in our way.  At the same time, I wish and pray for a better future for those that are abused in myriad, unfortunate ways.  I will continue to hope for a utopian society where abusers can begin to recognize the ill effects of their behaviors.  I once came across a lovely quote, “Everybody has a chapter that they don’t read out loud.”  While people might be exposing themselves by opening up their own wounds in public, what we may be seeing is only a line from that “chapter” of their life.  What led to it and what follows it might be things that we will never, ever know.  But for now, let’s not judge the book by a few painful 140-character lines in a very difficult chapter.  That, right there, would be the ultimate insult to not only the pioneers behind these technologies but also to humanity itself.
* - In a recent tweet, Anu Hasan referred to her friends as her "chosen family."  I loved that choice of words, hence its inclusion here.