The Madras Margazhi Music season is one of the largest festivals dedicated to classical music. It is a testament to the true essence of Chennai – a confluence of modernity and culture. Even today, the Carnatic stage continues to give innumerable talents to Kollywood Cinema.
The base of Tamil Cinema was laid by Carnatic Music. When we trace the roots of Tamil Film Industry, we realise that its founding stones were laid by Carnatic music. The industry began by narrating storiess from Hindu Mythology. World-renowned musicians such as G.N. Balasubramaniam have all played various characters on the big screen. Bharat Ratna M.S.Subbulakshmi's 'Katrinile Varum Geetham' from the movie Meera (1945) touches our hearts and explores inexplicable emotions even today. Carnatic Music's history and the story of Tamil Cinema are thus intervened and can never be viewed as 2 separate entities.
It is almost impossible to separate Carnatic music from the studios of Kodambakkam. Carnatic Music just like cricket, for a long time, was known to be a “gentleman’s affair”. The role of visual media in popularising both these elements that are so dear to the spirit of Madras is immense. Movies took Carnatic music to the larger audience and this saw, much to the disappointment of the elites, a paradigm shift in the functioning of the art form. It was made accessible for both appreciation and criticism from a larger audience. With the growing Tamil Isai movement, Carnatic music was forced to open it’s doors to the larger part of the society.
Film Music up until the 2000s was majorly based on the intrinsic concepts such as ragam and talam which originated from Carnatic music. There have also been some interesting interpretations of a Carnatic Musician’s life on the silver screen. A classic example of the same would be K.Balachander's masterpiece- Sindhu Bhairavi. The movie explores the life of a renowned Carnatic musician and his journey through love, addiction and obviously, music. “Maha Ganapathim” in Yesudas's mellifluous voice has been the point of inspiration to learn Carnatic music for many including me.
The music in Sindhu Bhairavi has a unique mixture of Carnatic and light music. The credit for the same goes to the man who very seamlessly merged Carnatic and light music- Isaygnayani Ilayaraja. The man has used almost all of Carnatic music's most challenging concepts such as Graha beam, some of which even Carnatic musicians today hardly showcase in film music. He delivers the technical melody quite effortlessly and still retains the essence of the music and the mood of the song.
Oscar award-winning Music composer, A.R.Rahman has also been deeply inspired by Carnatic music. Compositions like Kandukonden Kandukonden in Ragam Nalinakanthi, Nila Kaigurudhu in Ragam Yamuna Kalyani, Thai Sonna Thallatu in Ragam Charukesi have truly stood the test of time because of their Classical touch. Several singers through the years have all vouched for their success to the training they received in their younger years in Carnatic Music.
While Carnatic music is trying to break several of its irrational constraints and try and appeal to a world audience, there lies a faction within the artist community that is trying to preserve past traditions that define the art form. Musicians who are popular through movies are slowly trying to adapt these songs into the Carnatic stage. While I truly appreciate the artists' versatility, I also believe that some aspect of Carnatic Music performance is better left untouched.
- Akshath Ram.J