Kamal Haasan, who was sitting in the front row, when he quietly walked on to the stage, I thought this is going to be one of those segments in a typical concert where people say things that everyone already know. I must admit that if there is one person whom I don’t mind hearing talk about Ilaiyaraaja it is Kamal Haasan, but here, in this concert, I thought it would disrupt the mood and momentum of the concert. Just when these thoughts were clouding my head, I noticed that Kamal Haasan was dressed exactly like any other musician in the orchestra — the only one dressed differently on stage was Ilaiyaraaja.
Kamal Haasan walked closer to a microphone, and started -- Singing! He rendered “Raghupathi Raaghav Raajaraam” from Hey Ram - the version that plays out in the movie’s opening credits. It finally hit me like a thunderbolt then that this was the only version in which the song that have always been sung like a Hindu Bhajan was set to a melody with a heavy Islamic flavour. Kamal Haasan rendered the tune and the words with perfection, modulation on the word Seetha was bang on. That moment I felt the song wouldn’t have the effect it does if not for the voice of Kamal Haasan, and that is coming from someone who hates Kamal’s singing voice. Sometimes, you need to see the singer perform the song live in front of you to know how much of themselves they pour into the song and realise the extent of inseparability. To fall in love with a song even more, you sometimes need to see the way the nerves on their neck stretch and strain to deliver a melody like the strings triggered inside a Piano by the fingers on the keys outside.
And then a glimpse of grace. Without giving time for audience to react or appreciate Kamal Haasan - the singer, the western choir with Indian choir joined in to sing the moving choir piece from Heyram Opening Credits. I remember that for the pre-release promotions of Heyram, they use to repeatedly play this video of a Hungarian choir group singing in a huge recording hall with Kamal Haasan and Ilaiyaraaja sitting amidst the orchestra and watching the recording. I use to wonder why Ilaiyaraaja is sitting there idle when his music is being recorded. I didn’t know that anybody can conduct a written piece of music. I used to be wide-eyed with wonder and amazement whenever I saw that video, and would ask myself if I would ever get to watch such orchestral music performance live. Here at the concert, I was pinching myself.
I don’t know whether they were doubling the voices live in the mix, but it sounded massive, as if the entire crowd was singing along with the choir group. The choir group of Budapest Symphony, wood winds and strings — it was like a gentle fountain with layers of instruments laid one after the other and rising high and reaching far on all sides. But, I was watching only the Harp, though the Harp is not doing anything in the lead in the piece, I have always been intrigued by the part it plays in an orchestral piece. What exactly does it do? Is it a dispensable part? Would the piece loose something if there was no Harp player available to play the part?
When Preeti Uttam walked in, I thought they were going to perform the symphonic interlude of Pollaadha Madhana Baanam too, but was wondering how they would manage to reproduce the synth layers live. I always wondered if there is some kind of minus-acoustic track — just the synth layers from the original without the acoustic instrumental parts — for instrumental pieces too like minus-one track that singers use for most of their concerts, which is the song minus the voice. However, what followed after the short choir piece is the instrumental prelude of Nee Partha Paarvaikku oru Nandri, without Rani Mukherjee’s bengali poetry though. I like how the tune blossoms in a western flute suddenly out of nowhere when the piece is about to end, and the ensuing strings that brings the prelude of the song to a satisfying closure. And they didn’t sing the song. When it moved on to one of the softest pieces involving just two flutes I realised that this is becoming a well arranged suite of major musical motifs from Heyram score. The two flutes — one innocently looping a phrase and another playing a melody to the cuteness, innocence and lovability of Mythili’s character. Even the placement of Mythili’s theme in the movie is brilliant. When Mythili asks if she can be Kamal’s friend, the piece is first introduced and when she says she has caught Kamal smiling thrice - Hat-trick - it is diligently cued in again.
I was hoping that the suite would include one of my most favourite musical scoring moments in the film. It is when Mythili expresses her love to Kamal in the hospital. The title choir piece is reprised on the orchestra for the first time here. It is an amazing scene, conversation and the score that precisely changes course on right sync points — the strings that whip up a magnetic force that is drawing Saketh emotionally closer and further closer to Mythili when he is in trance while Mythili is kissing him all over his face, and for the first time Nee Paartha Paarvaikku is played for Mythili and Kamal Haasan, now that Mythili has replaced Aparna from Saketh Ram’s life - Saketh even passes on the Aparna’s ring to Mythili as if that is the moment when they are really getting married. The changeovers, the shifting themes in this piece may not work as beautifully and as intensely in a music-only concert as it does when experienced with the visuals.
And finally Preeti Uttam did what she came to do — crooned her alaap that begins the breathtaking instrumental interlude from Pollaadha Madhana Baanam. This piece is heady mix of softer wood winds playing for the sensuous layer, the brass and percussions layers for the violence, and that bang when Vasundhra Das on bed turns into a giant rifle, the ass of which Kamal kisses. There are so many layers in the visuals and so too in the music conveying everything. As we all know that the songs of this movie were composed after they were shot, I wonder what was in the original. I just can’t think of the multi layered cut of this scene working coherently without the accompanying score of Ilaiyaraaja. And the live performance - The sight of entire orchestration swinging into action for this piece - Ah! You just don’t know which part to concentrate on.