Gnanathesikan, known to the entire world as Ilaiyaraaja, has composed more than 7,000 songs in nearly 200 films in Tamil, Telugu, and other languages. R Balki, who is the only contemporary Hindi filmmaker who has coaxed Ilaiyaraaja to crossover from the South to North Indian cinema in Cheeni Kum, Paa and Shamitabh, pays rich tribute to his most favourite music composer.
Speaking exclusively, Balki says, “What are my thoughts on him? I don’t have thoughts on him. My thoughts are all about him. Like I always tell him he grows younger every year. That’s because his body composition is 98 percent music… 1.9 percent water .. and 0.1 percent everything else. Happy birthday, Music!”
Kamal Haasan, who has had the privilege of working with Ilaiyaraaja innumerable times, also had the rare privilege of singing for the Maestro, and that too at just half an hours’ notice. It all happened in a flash. The team of the film Happi featuring Pankaj Kapoor in the title role was in Chennai to record Ilaiyaraaja’s composition titled Zindagi Dish written by Jaideep Sahni. Ilaiyaraaja was not getting what he wanted. The singer who was assigned to do the job wasn’t getting it right.
“Get me, Kamal, on the phone,” Ilaiyaraja commanded his assistant. Within an hour Kamal Haasan reached the recording studio in Chennai and in half an hour the ‘ditty’ deed was done. The song that Kamal Haasan sang was for the Pankaj Kapoor starrer Happi which was a tribute to Charlie Chaplin. And Kamal Haasan is a diehard Chaplin fan. But the real incentive for rushing in where other professional singers tremble to venture was his ardent devotion to Ilayaraja.
When I had spoken to Kamal Haasan after the recording, he said, “My respect for certain people goes beyond the workplace. Shivaji Ganesan, K. Balachander and Ilayaraja are to me, idols. And if they call I run. As simple as that. Ilaiyaraaja to me is the God of music. There’s nothing he can’t do.”
What Kamal Haasan said 9 years ago remains true even today. Singer Hariharan has just recorded the immortal lines of the 8th Century poet-thinker Saint Thirumangai Alvar as composed by Ilaiayaraja.
Says Hariharan, “I’ve recorded innumerable songs for Ilaiayarja Sir. His spirit remains unflagging. I just sang for him the 5,000 years old scriptures by the Saint Alvar.”
Almost for sure, Ilaiayarja’s music will be remembered 5,000 years from now.
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