When I was not successful getting guest writers for my 300th post, I turned on my creative hat and wrote a post in the Q&A format, with me both questioning and answering. I use the same format below to describe an experience I had recently — meeting the revered musician, composer, conductor, singer, writer — Ilayaraja.
How did the thought of meeting Ilayaraja occur?
Ever since I first met Ustad Zakir Hussain, it occurred to me that celebrities are not mean people. At least not all of them are. That allowed me to fantasize meeting (and taking pictures with :-)) the people I most admire and respect.
Specifically, how did the IR meeting come about?
IR is right up there on my to-do list. If you don’t know that about me, you don’t know me. When I planned my trip to India, I went “Why don’t we try to meet IR this time?”. I asked a friend of mine and as it turns out, I had asked the right person.
Was it that easy?
To me, it seems like it was. But I had learnt from musicians performing in IR’s orchestra that he is quick to turn down people, especially when they come in the way of his work process. So, as much as I prepared well and partnered with the right people, the actual meeting was still an accident.
Did you talk to him? Did he talk to you?
I talked to him in praise and he did not respond. I did not expect anything different — because it takes a lot of substance to strike a conversation with somebody like him. Besides, I was already interrupting him in his work day. Of course, people like Zakir Bhai are exception to this — because their charisma and flamboyance makes up for your (lack of) substance.
So, what was he in the middle of?
IR was in his creative process of coaching a handful of chorus singers for a re-recording piece in his current work, a movie by name Dhoni. It was during a break he took that I met him.
Who else did you meet?
I was equally happy to meet some members of his orchestra, whose work I have known for a long time — Arulmozhi a.k.a Napolean (Flute), Prabhakar (Lead Violin), Purushothaman (Conductor), Ganesh (Sitar) etc…I also saw many more people who I knew by name, but did not necessarily talk with.
What is your biggest learning from this meeting?
It is that the singers and instrumentalists most of the times forget what they create. Each new day forces on them an intense meditation process of the score they are working on for that day. So, the music that haunts us day in and day out on our iPods are simply forgotten by them. When you tell them how great their performance was on a particular piece of music, they go, “Did I do that?”
Who else is on your list?
If I say that now, my future pictures won’t have a surprise element. However, I can say that most of them will be related to music.
By some estimates, Ilayaraja’s movie projects alone count to about 940 or 950. He still spends 14–16 hours per day at work — which means we can soon expect his 1000th movie :-)