IFFI 2019 Day 7: A masterclass from the maestro

The columnist writes about his experiences of Day 7 at the ongoing International Film Festival of India 2019 in Goa
Ilaiyaraaja and Balki
Ilaiyaraaja and Balki

Where Ilaiyaraaja’s songs get played, there’s home. The Kala Academy in Panjim on day 7 of IFFI, Goa, turned into home for many travelling fans, as maestro Ilaiyaraaja, in conversation with National Award-winning director R Balki, took them all back in time with a ‘masterclass’ session. Before his arrival, even as the musicians were gearing up, a hint of the Punnagai Mannan theme got played to rousing reception. And then the roof was brought down when Ilaiyaraaja (who Balki dubbed ‘the coolest dude I’ve ever met’) walked in. “I’m not a master, but I can take classes,” Ilaiyaraaja remarked.

He began on a pensive note, musing over the origin of music. “Music should take you somewhere else. It should take you beyond the clouds. If it cannot, it is not music,” he said, following it up with a track called ‘Enge irundhaai isaye’. The lyrics attempted to capture the origin of every track, and how they ‘occurred’ to composers. Balki quipped that he didn’t care and was just happy to listen to Ilaiyaraaja’s work. The composer laughed, and later, after performing another track, said, “I may or may not know music, but music knows me. That’s why these tracks come to me.”

The evening’s best minutes were when Balki got Ilaiyaraaja to compose live. “The situation is that of a son who’s on his way to kill his father,” Balki narrated. After a brief pensive moment, Ilaiyaraaja began writing the song, after making the audience promise they would maintain silence. The audience kept its promise, the all-consuming silence let down only by the occasional cough. “This composing process usually takes about two days with many other composers,” said Balki. Minutes later, Ilaiyaraaja was finished writing his track, and handed over the sheet to his violinist. “These days, composers take months to do something like this,” the composer said, to loud cheering. The resultant track involved all musicians, including the flautist, and barely seemed like the result of two minutes of writing. The track felt like a lullaby almost, and when asked about it, the composer blew everyone’s mind with his explanation: “I made it like a lullaby because it’s about a father who is about to be killed. Surely, he would have sung a lullaby to his child about to kill him.”

The icing came in the form of a couple of performances including of Thendral Vandhu and Kanne Kalaimaane. Ilaiyaraaja sang with the audience, gently rebuking them when they stepped out of rhythm. The audience lapped it all up, and the composer seemed to enjoy the experience too, given that he took a few steps towards the exit, only to return and perform a medley involving Ilamai Enum Poongatru, Ilaya Nila, and En Iniya Pon Nilave. To thunderous applause, he left the auditorium looking quite pleased. Perhaps he did know that he had given many a memory for life.

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