In the middle of his first concert, Tamil film music composer Yuvan Shankar Raja hung from a helicopter via cable as he descends stylishly down the stage. Basically a schtick pop singers or rock bands worldwide, (especially Americans)use to enhance their concerts. Except, Yuvan is a movie composer, no different from John Williams or Danny Elfman or T. Rajender. It was something new in any Tamizh film related concerts, though similar scene was enacted in a Kamal movie only to have the cable snap so that Kamal can quickly stop his really bad song and emote melodiously*.
Yuvan is too ordinary looking to be a poster material, too short to be hunk material, too bland to be stageshow material, and basically too one-note to be a rockstar material vocally. He doesn’t have Michael Jackson’s move, nor does he possess Bono’s energy, Jagger’s swagger or even Freddie Mercury’s moustache. And yet, thousands turned up to his concert, a mix of young and old, from various background, and a guy who kept dancing with his ass turned towards camera.
But I was amazed to see rockstar level of adoration amongst his fans. The show itself was staged to elucidate such adulation, with guests praising showers on the young composer, and some other pop/rockstar gimmicks. And trouble with old fart grouch like me, I don’t know 70% of the songs delivered, so it cut my fun factor short. Not to mention, everyone on stage has to yell the compulsory, “Come on, CHENNAIII” every two minutes.
What again made me watch with glee is how much stage shows featuring Tamizh film songs has evolved. Back in the 80s, I have seen concerts by veteran composer Ilayaraja or veterans of those day, K.V Mahadevan and M.S. Viswanathan, all usually decked not in leather jacket and tight pants, but formal shirt and veshti (or Dhoti, or some white cloth wrapped around waist downwards, take your pick). It’s hard to think of them arriving by hanging from a helicopter. Well for one, the veshti might get entangled with the blades and create a musical disaster of some sort.
Anyway, these gentleman usually hardly speak, often when prodded by the emcee and the answers would be filled with humility, or in Ilayaraja’s case, very matter-of-fact answers that sometimes misread as being big headed. Guys, he was just being himself. But that would be all. Including many other small time composers who come over to Malaysia or Singapore, where we get the TV broadcast from, give the audience good music, then pack up and take a booze laden flight back home.
Then came A.R.Rahman making sure that his concert is every bit as polished as his audio output themselves, ruined only by the then new school singers like Shankar Mahadevan and Hariharan talking to the audience. A.R Rahman himself took to dressing up non-traditionally, usually smart casual, but remained mostly behind his synthesiser emerging only when he is singing and when he is not fussy with his damned keyboard.
Ilayaraja pretty much stayed away from staging shows at that time, giving way to lesser beings like Deva or S.A. Raj Kumar to strut their stuff on the stage where sometimes you get up to 270 people on it, with only 10 being musicians and singers. It was a messy affair, with musicians missing the queue, singers peering so tightly at the lyrics book in front of them and still miss the words.
The last time I went for a concert was to see and listen to my beloved S.P Balasubramaniam and K.J. Jesudass when I was in
Respect for A.R. Rahman who is now touring the world around with his concerts, when not making music for Hindi, Tamizh and Hollywood films, aside I felt the whole film music concert will be brought one step further having seen Yuvan’s concert. Sure, he looked silly in Michael Jackson outfit, he knows only about three and a half dance steps, and often you have to seek him out when towering celebs share the stage with him (his port where he plays his synthesiser was on a heightened platform so you know the show is still about him), but he made lots of effort to be a performer, rather than a veshti wearing composer standing around looking nervous that the tabla feller might miss couple of beats or the flute guy picked up the wrong stick.
Also, never mind the fact that the celebs who talked about him might make you think that when he is not composing music, Yuvan was helping out at the leper colony (“he’s a great man”), there’s something fresh about the concert, even if I didn’t know most of the songs. I'd love to see Yuvan leading the younger composers to give lots of thought behind their shows and give high quality productions on stage. Though I wish he'd never wear the Michael Jackson outfit. Reminded me of MJ’s Bubbles.
*Kalaignan. Used to love Edakku Mudakkaana Sarakku. Now, unlistenable.