Sunday, March 29, 2009

Illayaraja Interview (1989) - Frontline

FRONTLINE : Why do you avoid journalists and critics?

Ilaiyaraaja : Why should I meet journalists and critics? First if the critics assume that they know music, they can straight evaluate my music and write about it, no one is going to prevent it. If they don't know music, I have nothing to talk to them about. I am not avoiding out of any fear of controversy or anything of that sort. All these critics approach me with a hell of preconceived notions. They literally use me as a mouthpiece to voice their notions about music. Why should I give room for this?

: What is your view about music?

Ilaiyaraaja : To me, music is nothing but fraud. The moment you play all the seven notes, music is completed. Then going on repeating it - in different permutations and combinations - is nothing short of cheating. The person who successfully cheats a large audience for an extended period is called the "big" composer. Genuine music, to me,is the one which has no purpose. It should be as natural and as purposeless as the flow of the river. I have a purpose in creating my music. The purpose is business. Saint Thyagaraja sang songs to attain God. So even he had a purpose for his music. At least, he never sold his music. But take a farmer for instance. While ploughing, he spurts into a crescendo of music with no purpose. That is true music.

FRONTLINE : Will the vidwans and musicologists agree with your view about music?

Ilaiyaraaja : Please tell me, who are the vidwans and musicologists? Saint Thyagaraaja, who spent his whole life as a wandering singer, sang his heart and soul out. The people who learn 15 krithis of that saint and practise them for their lifetime call themselves vidwans and musicologists. I have listened to all these living vidwans. There is always a tone of arrogance mightiness ringing in their voice and style of singing. I am very sure that Thyagaraja swamigal wouldn't have sung in this manner. His approach must have been the most simple, the most lucid and the most spontaneous. That is missing in the concerts. (Ilaiyaraaja sings a krithi to explain his contention). Therefore, there is no need for me to convince them.

FRONTLINE : Then how do you define music?

Ilaiyaraaja : Music is nothing but sound. There is music in the bark of the dog. There is music in the walk of every human being. Music is not a subject to be discussed. It has to be experienced. The universe is one which has its own rhythm pattern, and it goes on in a cyclic fashion without losing its equilibrium. Similarly, sound is ultimately a solitary note. It is not ascending. It is not descending. It is not vertical. Nor is it sinusoidal. It is dynamic. Yet this dynamism defies our general perception. We human beings have lots of limitations. We are able to perceive only the sounds within the audible frequency. There are notes above and below that. We forget them. Man has fragmented this solitary note into seven notes of the octave. Listen to the howl of the dog. Doesn't it have a swara prashta. Sa Re Ga.( Ilaiyaraaja sings and shows the similarity) There is no difference between the howl of the dog and the songs of vidwans. Actually, I have written a script in which I have recorded in what raga a dog barks on various occasions. This proves my theory - music is nothing but sound.

FRONTLINE : There are various systems in music - like Carnatic, Hindustani,Western, tribal and folk. And
every system has its own schools. Which system do you think is the most well developed one?

Ilaiyaraaja : I do not like to make these types of value judgements. The person who assumes the role of a judge should be extremely well versed in the various systems of music which he com pares. A person who compares and rates Carnatic music higher than light music should know both the systems. But people who dismiss light music here do not know both the systems. Saying Hindustani is superior is superior to Carnatic, and even in Hindustani, Drupad is superior to Thumri or Kayal, opera is superior to symphony, sounds utter nonsense. No one knows all the systems of music thoroughly and hence no one is qualified to be a judge. But every one of passes value judgements about one music or the other. Further, to me, at a different level, all these systems and schools appear imaginary. But before going into the value judgements of other musical systems, let us have a look at the attitude of our own vidwans to wards our own classical music. If a musician sings a particular number very well, with excellent sangathis in the right places and right punctuations, we don't praise him. On the other hand, our vidwans will say : " Seventeen years ago at the Music Academy, I rendered this number in a much better manner. " For me, the past is past ; I am more concerned about what you are going to do. Talking about ancient glory never makes me happy. Now I am sure that a Thyagaraja Swamigal or a Dhikshitar is not going to be reborn, for obvious reasons. They just can't live with this generation of musicians who torture music. (laughs).

FRONTLINE : Your notion about music is reflected in your work. The list is endless. Do the producers and directors immediately accept your experimentations?

Ilaiyaraaja : Now I am a saleable commodity. Above that, I have a reputation on which the producers and directors have faith. My commercial viability, coupled with my reputation, gives me enough freedom to assert my right as a composer. They have confidence that if I do something, it would somehow reach the wider public. But I have the responsibility of proper films for experimentation. I cannot just throw away my labour in a gutter. So selecting producers and directors is my own prerogative.

FRONTLINE : After your entry, we find that for almost all songs, the tune is first set and then the lyric is
written. Don't you think that you are curtailing the freedom of the lyricist?

Ilaiyaraaja : No. it is not like that. This type of question never arises when one understands the nature of the work. It is team work, where the director decides the situation for which I, as the music director, create music accordingly. The function of the lyricist is to write lyrics for that music. That is the demand of the work. If he is notable to write for the tune, it is his weakness. There is no point in finding fault with me. I am prepared to set the tune for any poetry. I am sure that i will be able to create a tune, because I know what my job is. As days progress, composing seems to become a simple and effortless job, a sort of daily routine. I don't expect others to praise my daily habit, composing.

FRONTLINE : There is a void in the field of lyric writing. Do you feel it? If so, what are the steps you have
taken to fill it?

Ilaiyaraaja : Yes, I do accept that we don't have a good lyricist after Kavignar Kannadasan. But what can I do about it?

FRONTLINE : What is your approach to spotting talent in singing?

Ilaiyaraaja : I am convinced that if someone has talent, he will somehow move into limelight. But one cannot go and search and discover any talent. They have to emerge naturally. Take the example of Chitra. After listening to her once, I made her sing. Earlier, another girl called Jency came for the voice test. I felt that she was talented and I started giving her a chance right from the next day. But I cannot pressure others by saying : " Write well ; avoid repetition of words; be spontaneous. " It has to come naturally. Suddenly one good lyricist will emerge. Till then we must wait. What choice do we have?

FRONTLINE : Are the singers able to cope with you in your experimentation?

Ilaiyaraaja : With some amount of hard work and struggle, I am able to get what I want from the singers. We
have to compromise at some levels, otherwise the work will never progress. I should be prepared to forgo certain things and the singers should also be prepared to do the same. Since this spirit is there, I am able to pull on without much of a problem. We also have enough talented singers.

FRONTLINE : Are the other musicians in your orchestra able to rise to the occasion in playing difficult

Ilaiyaraaja : No, there are limitations. I think I have done a lot in film music. And my difficult and experimental numbers have been received very well. The limitation of instrumentalists is obvious in many respects. But that is not a problem for film music. Really, we don't need extremely talented musicians for everyday recording. However, when you attempt some work for study purposes and other musical experiments, the limitation is glaring. We really need more talented musicians for these works. Most of the musicians who play for recording learn music only for their livelihood. The moment something stoops to the level of merely earning, you cannot expect much from it.

FRONTLINE : Some producers and directors who reaped the maximum benefit from your music have deserted you because of your busy schedule. Some people would consider this as an act of betrayal. How do you look at it?

Ilaiyaraaja : Is there any place in the world where there is no betrayal? Even our so-called close friends ditch
us in life. What can I say about this? Today I am a profitable commodity. People mob me. Some who benefited from me are going to praise me and the rest, for whom I was not accessible, are going to slander me. How can I expect them to praise me? I have nothing against any one. I go to Prasad ( studio ) at 7 in the morning and work till 10 in the night. Today is the second Saturday and the whole industry takes rest, but I am at my work. Despite all these things, I cannot give dates to all of them simultaneously. It is humanly not possible. To be frank, I am not at all bothered about the people who have left me. I am not going to gain any thing nor lose anything. Who are the losers? Who knows?

FRONTLINE : You have thus far scored music for more than 400 films. After all, our films are the same. Are
you planning to avoid film assignments to concentrate on recorded musical ventures like, 'How to name it '?

Ilaiyaraaja : Recorded music is still not a popular concept in our country. Film is the only medium through
which one can reach a wider public. At present, it is very difficult to avoid films completely. But I have an idea on these lines. Just now I have completed my new album, " Nothing but wind'. They will materialise as time progresses.

FRONTLINE : The term 'rerecording ' has become popular even among the village folks, thanks to you. (
Film background music is referred to as rerecording in industry circles). What special care do you take to make your background score so different?

Ilaiyaraaja : All the musicians who visit my recording theatre appreciate the speed in which I am able to work and the quality I am able to produce. But I don't find any reason to it. The ideas come automatically to me according to the mood of the film. If i don't get any idea, then the film is like that. I have a screening of the film the day previous to the recording. The next day, when I am sitting with 60 musicians in the theatre, the reel is screened again. As I view the film, I start eliminating the ideas which others in the profession would adopt for the particular situation. I don't even use the instruments which others will use for a particular sequence. Therefore, I have to think fresh. A man settled in life with a secure job approaches life in a casual manner. But a man for whom most of the chances are closed approaches life with all-out courage and from a new view point, which enables him to achieve a lot more than the former. I am like the latter. That is the reason for the freshness and novelty in my background score.

FRONTLINE : Are you prepared to support new directors who want to make experimental films?

Ilaiyaraaja : Definitely, yes. But before that, what is experiment? I don't understand. Most of the experiments never take people into consideration. There cannot be an experiment without people. It is indulgence. I don't subscribe to it. People who have listened to my music and studied it will notice that I have popularised the various elements of Indian and Western classical music by slightly dilut ing them. A rich harmony is taken to a rickshaw-puller by adding a folk element to it. 'Marimari Ninne' and 'Maha Ganapathim' are popular among the villagers not because of any vidwans. They are popular because I have used them in a proper manner. To me, experiment means taking things on a high pedestal to the masses in such a way that they will accept them. Other than this, all experiments are a process of fooling oneself and the general public.

FRONTLINE : Who is the composer you like most?

Ilaiyaraaja : Bach. The reason is that he composed music in the formative days of Western classical music.
There are three different types of counterpoint among which writing invertible counterpoints is the most difficult one. His compositions are so complete with every note falling in the right place with amazing mathematical precision. That is his greatness.

FRONTLINE : Do you think you have the right recognition? Are you happy with your two national awards?

Ilaiyaraaja : I have not been recognised by this Government to which I pay my tax happily. The national
awards don't mean much. It made no difference to me. The only recognition I have is that South Indians throughout the world listen to my music. But this doesn't help me even buy a train ticket on the emergency quota! I don't have any good quality instruments to record my music. I cannot even get the basic requirements to function as a musician. This is the recognition I get in my own country. source:

The Frontline (1989)


Naani said...

a rare and nice interview...

kavi said...

An honest and frank interview. Rare to see his interview from early days. Good post. Thank you

Emjay said...

Frank responses were often misunderstood as arrogance.

Unknown said...

The accusation that carnatic musicians are those who practice 15 krithis of the Saint and keep repeating them for their lifetime is a very immature comment for a musician of his rank. He has totally neglected the fact that a carnatic music concert is not about just singing the kritis of the Saint one has memorized but it is about using the content of the kriti as a framework to demonstrate one's improvisational skills using aesthetic features like ragam, neraval and kalapana swaram within the framework of the melodic scale (ragam). I respect Illayaraja for his contributions to popular music in the 80s and for some of his well-meaning attempts at simplifying carnatic and western music for the benefit of a larger audience. But I wish he was responsible enough not to belittle the efforts of classical musicians in promoting our rich musical heritage.