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Music > Face-To-Face
Rajkumar Bharathi
12 October, 2019

Rajkumar Bharathi is one of the many unsung heroes of our times. Apart from holding the Bharathi lineage he is  always in close touch with music of the classical kind and is a well-established and well-recognized music composer, again of the classical genre’. The Music Academy has decided to honour him with the TTK award this year and we talked to him about this and many other things, but nothing other than music.

Here is the outcome of this exchange:

What was your first reaction on knowing that you have received the award?

Honestly there was no reaction. Just a blankness. Then I asked Sriram why they chose me as the awardee and he said they all felt that I deserved it. I kept quiet and accepted the award to respect their love for me.

We have to perforce begin with Bharathi. Special stories that have been told to you about him.

Your favourite quote/song of his. Anything further about him……. 

Of course we should begin with Bharathi only! What a blessing to have been born as his great grandson! As a child I understood him to be some ‘great man' whenever I watched how the public adored and revered him. My mother used to attend many Bharathi functions and so as I got to go with her. I understood him that way. After I grew up I could slowly grasp his Himalayan stature and am still doing that!

Whatever anecdotes I have heard at home about Bharathi from my mom has conveyed this to me – He is one person who was way ahead of his time. Even now he is way ahead. He was a perfect human being full of love and compassion towards all living beings. Even though he was utterly in need of money he had the great heart to give away the dhoti he was wearing to a needy person. His wife Chellammal used to keep some reserve dhotis secretly fearing such acts by him!

I like almost all of his poems. His far-sightedness, sense of freedom, sense of equality are unparalleled. During my concert days I tried to bring out many lesser known songs of Bharathi. What puzzles me is that his songs which were relevant in those days continue to be relevant even now! So I am perplexed – have we evolved or still stuck at the same unconscious state?

About your first guru your mother and the others who trained you

Yes it was my mother Smt. Lalitha Bharathi who introduced me to the world of music. She taught me the basics in Carnatic music apart from some Bharathi songs. She also used to train me for some of the tough music competitions conducted by the Music Academy and other such sabhas. I had a very short stint as a student of one Mr. Srinivasan in Nungambakkam. I then learned under Valliyur Gurumurti for about 12 years. That was a blossoming session for me.

I was a great fan of the legendary Dr. Balamurali Krishna’s tillanas and so had the fortune of learning them from him. He also taught me a few of his own compositions. This was probably for about two years.

I was always looking to expand my musical horizon by venturing into other genres of music. This led me to another legend Dr. T. V. Gopalakrishnan. I first started learning Hindustani music from him but soon started learning advanced lessons in Carnatic music. He was instrumental in moulding my career in music  in many ways. I am ever grateful to him for that!

How about the singing of Dasara Padhagalu? How did this come about?

I was introduced to the Kannada world by two methods. One was by Dr. L. Vaidyanathan who made me sing my first film song in Kannada language for a film called “AntaraaLa”. Soon I began singing quite regularly in Kannada movies.

In the meantime, in the year 1984, during the December music season I had a concert in Mylapore Fine Arts Club. Actually I was having a bad throat that day and wished that my Guru TVG Sir will abstain from attending the concert. To my startling surprise I saw him entering the venue along with a few more persons! After the concert he introduced me to those he had brought with him and asked one of them, “Didn’t I tell you? How was his performance?“. The gentleman not only had good words for my singing but straightaway gave me a date in the next year's Ramanavami music series in Bangalore.

He was none other than Sri. Narayanaswamy Rao, the founder of Chamarajpet Ramaseva Mandali. From then on I had a great time in Karnataka giving lots of Carnatic concerts all over the state.

The Bangalore audience was so loving and appreciative of my singing. Right from a young age I had been brought up giving importance to lyrics whatever the language. I soon picked up Kannada and could speak quite fluently too. Also I was trained from a young age to learn the meaning of whatever song I sang. That way I was greatly influenced by Purandara Dasar Padagalu. In every concert of mine at Bangalore or anywhere in Karnataka I used to sing quite a number of Dasar padas both familiar and rare. People used to shower their love and affection on me just because I sang Dasar padas. I have sung in many Kannada devotional albums too that included many songs of Purandara Dasa as well as other Dasas.

Special mention needs to be made about Sri M B Srinivasan. Your experience with him…….

Sri MBS was a great personality. He was a pioneer in popularizing choral singing in India. I had a wonderful experience singing in the Madras AIR choral group for quite some years. I learned so many things. Firstly, to learn to sing in a group where all are considered equal. Spiritually it was an eye opener I would say. I learned the importance of singing lyrics with emotion and the need to learn so many things when singing new songs in unknown languages. The strength of unity was revealed to me.

You are a well established composer for dance events. Is it something requiring special effort?

Indeed, yes. It’s a separate art by itself. One should understand dance fairly thoroughly. When dance and music combine it’s phenomenal. One should know to emote, otherwise it cannot be brought out in music. One should be able to appreciate poetry, appreciate mathematics et al. To be honest, it’s a total gift to be able to compose anything.

Now that you are a recognized composer, what about film music?

I have composed music for some TV serials. Recently I had the great fortune of composing music for the film on Vedanta Desika which I enjoyed very much. Composing music for films is a very challenging job! I am not made up of a mindset to do music for films in general. A lot of conditions are there which I fear will take away my freedom. For certain exceptions yes I will do the job willingly.

About your collaboration with Pop artistes and the result? And your take on fusion?

Some twenty years back I had a great opportunity to sing with a pop singer Sharon Rose and the show was in the UK. It’s not easy at all to sing jugalbandi and fusion concerts. One should be able to make adjustments according to the situation. Here again one will come to know that all forms of music are great. One learns to appreciate the beauty in each style of music. That way it helps the musician to evolve.

Fusion concerts are okay provided all the musicians concerned understand the styles of music involved. The focus is to try to get the best blend instead of trying to project a particular style.

“Can I ask this question?”  You had a voice problem? How did you solve it?

Yah! It’s not a secret and the whole world knows about it! I cannot solve it but I have learned to deal with it and continue my musical journey. It was a great spiritual awakening for me that nothing belongs to anyone and also that nothing can be taken for granted. Life is full of challenges and one shouldn’t get bogged down at any cost. There are so many avenues available and one has to find his or her own way. In my case I found out I was blessed with the gift of composing and was guided by Creation to pursue it!

And to end, your suggestions to the young who take to music?

Whoever wants to take up music let them do so fully with total commitment and involvement. Please  try to equip oneself in all possible ways. Fame is a by-product so one need not go after it. One has to understand this - we need to travel towards music and more importantly music needs to come towards us. Then only we get to meet.

S.Sivakumar

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Sabhash.com is the one-stop destination for the latest news and information on the performing arts of India - classical music and dance, theatre, bhajans, discourses, folk performances, and other lesser known art forms. Institutions that revolve around the performing arts have exploded in numbers, and thanks to the Internet which has made information easily accessible, the number of rasikas has grown too. Corporate patronage has played a big part in increasing the world-wide reach of the Indian arts. Sabhash wishes to be a platform for inclusive growth giving an equal opportunity and recognition to not only the main performer but also the artistes who accompany them on stage, and the people who work backstage and play the role of unsung heroes.