A matter of perspective …

… is how I would describe listening to a music concert. On the dais.

This year’s music season was a flurry of frenzied activity with people bustling about all over the place, clutching concert schedules and tickets and long sheets of LIC policy ads (nothing to do with the concert, just hand-outs) – and the paper of the season: The Kutcheribuzz.

I spent my evenings trying desperately to juggle concerts in this sabha and the other, wondering how best to utilize the three odd hours after 5.30 PM and yet manage to enjoy the talents of the cream of the dancing/singing/acting fraternity. It was the weekends that provided me with some much-needed time. And I spent the 30th of December at a crowded Bombay Jaishree concert. The venue: Narada Gana Sabha, TTK Road.

I’d spent the morning attending a dance seminar organized by the Tapasya Kala Sampradaya (more of this later) – and was keen on attending one packed concert. There’s no real reason to throw yourself on a concert that’s already bursting at the seams with avid rasikas – but what the heck. There’s a joy in being a part of the swelling crowd, attending the kutcheri of the season. You know?

There were several such concerts this season. BJ’s concert was one of them.

To begin with, I landed at the Sabha too late. This was due to some complacency on my part: frequent attendance at all hours had made me familiar with the premises. I was a Part of The Season at NGS. I knew Gates 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, entrances to the mini halls, the balconies, the VIP entrance, the perfect place on the stairs to sit as you wait for a concert, the guy who tears off the ticket before you go in asked after me (he had no idea who I was), the quickest way to get to the loo (snake through aisle 2, wend through rows I-K and you land slam-bang at the exit provided there’s no one on the other side) – and I possessed that most essential criterion to becoming a true Season-Enthusiast: I knew the Lady At The Ticket Counter. By Name.

She looked at me pityingly as I mentioned every single denomination of tickets available, shaking her head, No. To someone else she explained wearily, “Ticket iruntha naan kudukka mattenaamma?” [“Wouldn’t I give you tickets if I could?”]

And then she threw a conspiratorial glance at me. “Stage tickets are available.”

This threw me into something of a flutter (there’s no reason why, it just did.). I am naturally wary of being pushed into areas that have hitherto not swum into my ken – and stage seating was one of these. I had seen numerous concerts where people clustered all around the singer on the stage, stiff and painfully aware that they too, were under observation, yet obtaining a sort of secret pleasure that they were seated so close to the singer. It gave them some distinction. I wasn’t really sure if I wanted to be a part of this group – but the novelty of the experience was tempting. What would it be like?

After hovering about the counter indecisively (and watching the last balcony tickets flutter away into the hands of a brisk salwared woman), I sat on the steps for a while, engaged in contemplation of this momentous problem, gathered my courage and came back to the LATTC. In time to confront a gaggle of maamis also vying for the stage seats. LATTC tore off the last tickets in the book and handed them over, and I watched, stomach sinking. So much for my knowing She-who-was-in-charge-of-the-all-powerful-tickets.

Then she bent (and disappeared out of view) for a few moments, before emerging (fortunately) with a brand new stock of tickets. I put forth my query and was rewarded with a bright “Irukke!”, and was duly handed over the ticket, much to the mystification of one portly gentlemen who was amazed that such a thing as stage-seating was possible. [“On the stage? There are seats on the stage? Really? How much?”]

I walked away to the VIP entrance with my precious passport to Season-Fame before LATTC could declare that these too were sold-out. After a wait of 45 minutes, standing in a buzzing queue, I was rewarded with the sight of Janaki Sabesh walk in, she and other VIPs treated with a wide grin by the usher. 10 minutes later, we were shown in with grim faces. Our path led us through a small banistered passage, up the steps to the backstage, through the rope-littered sidelines … and onto the dais, where the musicians had already assembled. They looked a little surprised at the crowd that flowed in, but swiftly regained their equilibrium and went back to tuning their instruments and testing the mikes. The curtains were still down; they would not rise until 4.30 PM. There were fifteen more minutes. These I spent fruitfully, soaking in the special atmosphere that was reserved for the stage.

The hum that seeps in from the closed of audience beyond the curtains, the twanging violin by Embar Kannan, the mridangist dum-dum-dumming his instrument at the last possible moment, Jaishree murmuring something to the tampura girl behind her, taking the instrument into her own hands and tuning it; last minute discussions on the songs to be sung, the talaas, the raagaas, kalpana swarama, raagam thaanam pallavi; which Thamizh song and when? Topics and issues entirely and completely related to carnatic music. The world outside, with its Saddam Hussein execution, bomb blasts, New Year partying and everything else drops to a barely-there hush. Here, it’s the sruthi that takes first place. Nothing else matters.

We sat down respectfully, well aware that we weren’t to disturb the artists, and conscious of the clamouring spectators outside, filled with a sort of bubbling dignity at having seen them all minutes before they did.

Jaishree mostly confined herself to a few minutes of quiet meditation, before the curtains rose at exactly four thirty, to a packed auditorium. That’s the first and most compelling fact about her that you notice: her serenity. Her face is calm, and when she looks at you, there’s no trace of high-brow “I’m-a-top-musician” bandha … neither does she look right through you as though you didn’t exist. Her gaze is forthright, direct. And there are none of the hand-waving, jangiri-making histrionics when she sings. Her hands and face remain serene.

She started off, typically for her, not with a varnam (as is tradition), but with a krithi in Sahana, an invocation to Lord Ganapathi. Thereafter it was a whirlwind of musical notes, falling like welcome rain on your ears. Her kalpana swaras are breathtakingly complicated – the patterns she picks are seemingly random … it becomes clear only when she elaborates on it. Her Raagam Thaanam Pallavi [“Muthukkalo kankal – thithippatho kannam – Veynkuzhal oothidum kanna…”] was an exercise in brilliance – and the accompanying artists knew it. I saw Embar Kannan mouth a dazzled “Appa!” when she finished a particularly complicated array of swarams. He should know, of course – as he has to follow where she leads. [One of the perks of the dais seating – you are intimately aware of the emotions and reactions of the performing artists.] Acoustics can be a problem though.

Two and half hours flew by, and at some point, we forgot that we were on the stage and resorted to sitting every which way to relax cramped limbs. No one seemed to mind. A Thiruppavai or two later, when Jaishree finished with a beautiful thillana in Sindhubhairavi … I actually wished she’d go on. But the curtains descended, along with the anti-climax of a concert at an end – and home beckoned.

Not before witnessing the throng of autograph hunters, Sivasankari and Sudha Ragunathan among the front-seaters, and trailing behind as much as possible to get one last glimpse at the singer herself, though.

Paartha mudhal naale –
Unnai paartha mudhal naale

Oh, and a Happy New (Sensible) Year, folks.

5 Comments so far

  1. Navneeth (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2007 @ 4:47 pm

    “Muthukkalo kankal – thithippatho kannam – Veynkuzhal oothidum kanna…”

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the first two phrases remind of me of a song from a movie from yester-decades. So, is that a that starts with the same words?

    re:Stage seating: For how long has this been practised? Apart from being an interesting vantage point for the listener, is this just another move by the Sabha(s) to keep cash registers ringing a little more than usual? I cannot believe that there are people who regularly buy an expensive(?) ticket to be seated in discomfort at a place where the acoustic could be the worst possible.

  2. Pavithra (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2007 @ 4:56 pm

    Re the song: No, you’re not wrong; the song’s from the movie “Uyarntha Manithan” (Sivaji and Vanishree)- incidentally, one of my favourites. Perhaps that was why it struck me so forcibly.

    As to the seating – am not really sure for how long this’s been going on; a good many years is my guess. It happened in yesterday’s Yesudass’s concert too. You’d be surprised by how many people queue up for this. Yes, it’s a move that’s calculated to keep the cash registers ringing – and a lot of it depends on the artist who’s performing. The more popular he/she is, the larger the queue. Plus, the ticket’s Rs 50 – considered an affordable price by many. :)

  3. Navneeth (unregistered) on January 2nd, 2007 @ 7:18 pm

    I guess that’s cheaper than a front-row seat! :D But still, that doesn’t make the sabha admins any bright, in my book. Ah, well, time of a cliché: It happens only in Madras, that is Chennai! ;)

  4. Srivatsan (unregistered) on January 3rd, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

    Audience on the dias is a common thing now.I was at Vani mahal for Yesudass concert.

    It was quite noisy initially.When the curtains went up, i was shocked to see Yesudass surrounded by 100 people.

    It normally happens in a star concert.In fact,last year I missed out aruna sairam’s concert at MFAC as there were no seats.

    The organisers should hanga Housefull board as in a theatre,so that ordinary rasikas can go elsewhere.

  5. Thad E. Ginathom (unregistered) on January 4th, 2007 @ 12:33 am

    My theory is that it originates in the artist being surrounded by a crew of their students, not only to learn and observe, but also to supply any small thing that might be wanted.

    For many though, it will be an eye-opener: you may think that the sound quality is bad out front, but wait until you hear what the artists themselves hear! Then imagine yourself as one of the accompanists! Not only are excellent ears and concentration needed, but a psychic sense would probably come in useful!

    Perhaps there is an improvement on this front, as I seem to be seeing more ‘foldback’ monitors…

Terms of use | Privacy Policy | Content: Creative Commons | Site and Design © 2009 | Metroblogging ® and Metblogs ® are registered trademarks of Bode Media, Inc.