When we drove into ‘The Concert Arena’ near the Kempegowda International Airport at around 3.30 PM, almost two and a half hours ahead of the scheduled start of proceedings, we were greeted by strains of ‘Hey Kavithe Neenu (Priya) and ‘Aanandha Raagam’ (Panneer Pushpangal) wafting through the breeze.
It was ‘Sihi Gaali’ time after all. The orchestra was practising and peeling layer after layer of the preludes and interludes as part of the soundcheck, in what was a precursor to the many surprises that were to follow, later in the day. This was the 1st concert in this arena and it was only fitting that the man who ruled the southern film industries with his music in the ’80s and ’90s was invited to perform the opening act.
The gates, scheduled to open at 3 PM, anticipating a crowd of over 15000, hadn’t opened yet, as the crowd was gradually building up. After having attended a handful of concerts in the last few years, one can anticipate what logistical and administrative challenges to expect in a concert of this scale, starting from parking to collecting tickets, etc.
After a brief act by a mentalist to engage the audience and the customary lighting of the lamp, the Maestro made his entry at 6.45 PM to the chant of ‘Gurur Brahma, Gurur Vishnu’ by the chorus and immediately launched into ‘Amma Yendu Koogithare,’ from one of his earliest non-film albums dedicated to Kollur Mookambika. This was also the first time his concert did not start with and feature ‘Janani Janani’ (Thaai Mookaambigai).
The Chief Minister of Karnataka, Shri Yeddyurappa made his entry and felicitated Raaja and praised his contributions to music. ‘Om Shivoham’ (Naan Kadavul, 2006) and ‘Ram Ram’ (Hey Ram!, 2000) followed and it was a revelation when Raaja mentioned that the spectacular arrangements of the latter were done originally by his older son Karthik Raaja.
The LED screens unfurled the Karnataka flag to SPB singing “Entha Soundarya Nodu, Namma Karunaada Beedu” (Mathu Thappada Maga, 1978 – Raaja’s debut as composer in Kannada) and he in the company of the super talented Vibhavari Apte followed it up with ‘Aakashadinda Jaari’ (Janma Janmadha Anubandha, 1980) and it was indeed magical when the prelude featuring the Shehnai, the delightful flute and the layered chorus, came to life.
For the next 3 and half hours, Ilaiyaraaja and his musicians kept the audience hooked with hit after hit, predominantly in Kannada (21 of the 36), followed by Tamil (10) and the rest. The list of songs performed on Saturday was every Kannadiga fan’s dream come true and included some of his biggest hits in Sandalwood.
‘Jeeva Hoovagithe’ & ‘Nanna Neenu Gellalaare’ (Nee Nanna Gellalaare, 1981), the only film Raaja composed for Dr.Rajkumar, ‘Sihi Gaali’ (Aa Dinagalu, 2007), the super hip ‘Yaarigaagi Aata’ & Sweety Nanna Jodi (Bharjari Bete, 1981), ‘He Kavithe Neenu’ (Priya, 1978) famous in Tamil as ‘He Paadal Ondru’, ‘Yaava Shilpi’ (Janma Janmadha Anubandha, 1980), ‘Omkaradhi’, ‘Halli Lavaniyalli’ & ‘Hele Kogile’ (Nammoora Mandhara Hoove, 1997) were some of the songs from his Kannada repertoire that was well received by the appreciative gathering.
‘Bhanu Bhoomiya’ (Mathu Thappada Maga, 1978), later adapted in Tamil as ‘Edho Ninaivugal’ (Agal Vilakku,1979) was a sweet surprise. But the loudest cheers were reserved for ‘Naguva Nayana’ (Pallavi Anupallavi, 1983), that marked Manirathnam’s directorial debut (starring Anil Kapoor) and songs from the cult hit, Geetha (1981).
In what was the stunning highlight of the evening, SPB sang with aplomb ‘Kelade Nimageega’ and ‘Santhoshakke’ one after the other, as only he can. He showered encomiums on Raaja stating ‘Kelade’ was nothing short of a ‘performance’ by the composer. The scintillating vocal harmony was a treat to listen to live! Ilaiyaraaja narrated an anecdote about how lyricist Chi. Udaya Shankar had originally started the song with ‘Sampige Ondooru, Mallige Ondooru’, that eventually became the “charanam” and how the narrative of the song came about. Two other classic hits from the film. ‘Nanna Jeeva’ & ‘Jotheyali’ were also performed amongst much fanfare.
The Tamil songs performed included ‘Vegam Vegam’ (Anjali, 1990), the now staple ‘Sundari’ (Thalapathy – 1991), ‘Thendral Vandhu (Avatharam – 1995), the rare and delightful ‘Eriyila’ (Karaiyellaam Shenbagappoo, 1981) and the A Cappella ‘Naan Porandhu’ (Maya Bazaar, 1995) that the singers have perfected now. It was a sight to behold as Raaja conducted the A Cappella.
‘Maate Manthramu’ (Seethakoka Chilaka, 1981), Kalaya Nijama (Coolie No.1, 1991) & ‘O Priya Priya (Geethanjali, 1989) were the Telugu songs on the playlist. The orchestra also presented ‘3 in 1’, a 3 note (Sa, Ri & Ga) composition that Raaja originally made for his Italy concert back in 2006, with Kannada lyrics.
Raaja and SPB, both septuagenarians, showed no signs of age and were in their elements both in terms of singing and banter, over the entire duration of the concert. Vibhavari Apte (she sang in all 3 southern languages with excellent diction) was superb. They were ably supported by Usha Uthup, Mano, Madhu Balakrishnan, Narayanan Ravishankar, Mukesh Mohamed, Anitha Karthikeyan, Priya Hemesh, Surmukhi Raman & Srivardhini. The vocal harmony lead by Vasu and the strings & orchestra conducted by Prabhakar (Raaja’s lead violinist) deserve special mention. Napoleon Selvaraj on the flute, Sekar (son of legendary violinist Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan) on the Cello & Balesh on the Shehnai have been the mainstays of Raaja’s orchestra over the years alongside Prabhakar and was reliable as always.
Sandalwood lyricists K.Kalyan, Manohar & V.Nagendra Prasad were present at the event and heaped laurels on Raaja and his music. Popular Kannada actors Saikumar & Ravishankar also made their presence felt.
What could have been one of the best shows was marred by a poorly managed sound system with frequent fluctuations in volume leading to lower registers not being heard at times. One had to also put up with the constant distractions caused by hawkers selling popcorn, water, and other food items. The restroom facilities were found wanting and the food sold was exorbitantly priced for the quality offered.
The LED screens placed for the fans to get a closer view of the events kept going off intermittently. These are absolute basics for a show of this magnitude and significance and it is sad to see these being ignored. One hopes organizers take note and take measures to ensure fans have a hassle-free experience for the ticket price they pay. The parking and box office were better managed and the concert ended at 11 PM with SPB & Usha Uthup singing ‘Rum Bumm Bumm’ (Michael Madana Kama Rajan, 1990).
The facility issues notwithstanding, this one will go down as a memorable concert for the fantastic list of songs performed, that every Kannada music fan dreamt of. For the fans of the Maestro, this is a ‘Janma Janmadha Anubandha’ that is only bound to continue forever.
Chandra Sekar TV