Ilaiyaraaja’s masterclass at the International Film Festival of India  

Posted on November 27, 2019


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Balki gave Raja a situation and asked for the score to be composed on the spot. It was a privilege to watch the great man at work.

The Ilaiyaraaja masterclass took place this Wednesday evening. Balki was moderating it, and I met up with him for a chat this afternoon. It turned out to be a session of Raja remembrances. I spoke of growing up with the maestro’s music and what it was like to be in Chennai at that time, ear tuned to the radio. I spoke about listening to a Geethanjali number for the first time. Balki hummed a number from the Mani Ratnam film. I said it was an earlier movie, the one with Thulli ezhunthathu paattu, a song that made you feel the night. He then, spoke of the day he approached Raja for the very first time — for Cheeni Kum — and said he wanted to use his older songs. He recalled how Raja pulled out a file filled with sheet music — from among several such files — and showed him the notations for Mandram vandha thendralukku, which even stated which musicians would play which notes.

Balki spoke of the time Raja came out of the loo with the melody line for Piddly si baatein (which appeared in Shamitabh), written on a flap of toilet paper. He spoke of the time Raja told him his music wasn’t just a tune — a “melody” — but something systematically created to affect the listener’s neurons, which is why the sad songs make us feel so sad, the happy songs make us take flight into the clouds. He spoke of Raja’s disappointment when he saw the way many of his songs were picturised, of the abyss between the lofty things Raja had imagined while composing and the vulgar reality on screen. Balki’s passion for Raja is second to none. “This man made a stinking city smell sweet,” he said, meaning that after a session with Raja at Prasad Studios, even the sewers of Kodambakkam appeared fragrant. (He repeated this anecdote in the masterclass.)

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