Friday, January 24, 2014

Running on Full

Not one of those heroic tales this. A run in Mumbai is always magical though and worth documenting. Well over 6 hours to finish 42 km but that is another story...

From the moment one enters Azad Maidan, the energy and excitement are palpable. Thousands of runners from all over India nay from all over the world are here. There are the loud ones, the ultra fit ones and the debutants all raring to go.  We are all penned into alphabetical enclosures, with 'A' being for the human torpedoes. In the dismal 'C' category with only the 'D' category bring up the rear.

5:40 a.m - A huge reverberating cheer ensues and we know that the race has started somewhere far ahead. The cold winter air brings a small shiver, or is it just the nervous energy. Church Gate passes at the start point. The 'C' folks are already 10 minutes into the race even before the start line.

Lovely running the first 10K despite the tumultuous Peddar Road. Loud cheering all the way. Music blaring, cops waving, yes, this is the Mumbai Marathon! The half marathoners go by and a few celebrities swish by at considerable speed.

Amazing to run on the sealink. 20K done. The elite runners with the BMW lead car go by silently at well over 20 km an hour. Just have to take photos as they glide by and can't help but marvel at how some humans are engineered.

Great support all the way. Cookies, oranges, ice packs, energy drinks, fruit juices, chocolates, peanuts are on offer from the thousands of residents who come out for the sole purpose of supporting foolhardy strangers.

Cramps at 25K but manage to finish with a hobble, limp, walk run combo. Going past the final electronic timer, the mind is already on 2015. There's romance and magic here and one can only dream of coming back year after year.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review: An American in Madras

I'm really no expert on movie reviews, especially documentaries. However, this is one that I just had to write about. Karan Bali is my class-mate from my early school years and it was great to be able to see his work first hand.

Not one for watching documentaries unless it's about food or travel, there definitely was some trepidation when I entered the beautiful premises of the National Gallery of Modern Art in Bangalore. However, in a few moments after the screening started, I was totally into the narrative and picturization. I won't go into the details of the documentary itself as people more competent than I will do a better job.

For me, it was fascinating that a white man would come to South India and the Tamil film industry and make Tamil movies in the late 30s and 40s. The  combination of sheer determination, creativity and focus of Ellis Dungan was a treat to watch.

With the right pacing and an engaging narrative, the events and interviews unfolded chronologically (in time) resulting in simple and effective storytelling. Like most documentaries, it was informative as I had no idea that Dungan had directed movies like Meera and Shakuntala. To me, the highlight will be the heartwarming look into the early movies of  the legendary doyen of Carnatic Music - M S Subbalakshmi. A truly ethereal beauty with a voice quality I have not heard from anyone else. As Sarojini Naidu says in the documentary, MS WAS Meera!

 I had never actually seen MKT Bhagvathar on-screen and getting glimpses of his acting and singing gave me an unique insight into his persona. And of course, who can forget the scenes of MGR in Sathi Leelavati.  Some trivia here - I learnt that the signature MGR tiny beard was a clever ploy to hide a small cleft in his chin as such deformities in heroes were frowned upon! Who knew!

There wasn't actually a single dull moment in the entire seventy odd minutes of the documentary and the ending with the felicitation of Dungan in Chennai did leave me a bit teary eyed, especially seeing MS, still classy and dignified.

The research done, people interviewed (including Kamal Hassan), the rare footages; pretty much the entire package was something that I will cherish for a long time to come.

After the program, I overheard a Caucasian lady in the audience say that it's not often one gets to meet a director during a movie preview and wanted to go up and talk to Karan. I felt proud that I know a very good filmmaker well and sincerely hope he continues to make lovely movies of this nature in the future.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Wrapping up 2013 musically

The music season in Chennai is one rocking affair. Multiple sabhas around town host some of most talented and popular musicians and events starting in mid December and going on until early January. Past attempts at attending have been half hearted and unfocused but this time I was determined to make full use of a week. Fair warning for the remaining part of this article - so many adjectives used that I ran out of them at some point.

The Music Academy in Chennai is an awe inspiring auditorium comparable to most music halls in the west. The cavernous interiors with well laid out seating and incredible acoustics lend themselves to a superior experience for your senses.

I had the honor of opening my account with U Srinivas; a master of Carnatic music on the mandolin. His use of the low bass is exemplary and one wishes he just plays bass all the time. This is not to take away from his overall mastery and control of a difficult instrument like the mandolin for playing Carnatic music. Accompanying U Srinivas were S.D. Sridar (violin), Trichy B. Harikumar (Mridangam), E.M. Subramanayam (Ghatam) and Selvaganesh on the Kanjira.

The start was the haunting and melodious Kaanada raaga which pretty much set the stage for the remaining performance. This was followed by a mesmerizing piece in Bahudari, Nattai, Sriranjini, Shanmugapriya (Thiru Venkata Muraya Jaya Jaya Govinda). With my 10 year old daughter attending her first full performance, we didn't get to stay till the end but I got a good dose of some amazing mandolin playing.

Unfortunately, the Music Academy is a bit uptight about their tickets and one needs to get there at 5:30 a.m. to get a token which can then be exchanged for a ticket at 8 a.m. As a result, I was not able to get any other events by well known artistes. Oh well....

On Christmas day, it was off to Krishna Gana Sabha in T Nagar for Sanjay Subrahmanyan who's one of the young breed of vocalists making big strides in the musical halls of fame.  Again, the presence of two fidgety ten year olds cut short the experience but from what little I was able to listen, I was determined to attend his concert the next time I had the chance.

The highlight of all the kutcheris I attended was undoubtedly Kadri Gopalnath on the saxophone. Unadorned by company, the focus was complete during his three hour non-stop performance which had me in tears for most of the time. What made it better was the fact that he played the ragas and compositions that I am familiar with. An opening with the evergreen Vatapi Ganapathi in Hamsadwani just sealed the deal. He was more than ably accompanied by A Kanyakumari on the violin who is a top notch violinist in India. The lilting Moksha Mogalada in Saramati was the piece de resistance and the gamakas were something else. To top that, he played Innu Daya Baarade and this was easily a 15 minute performance and the way Kanyakumari kept up with him was a treat to watch and hear. Both mridangam and tabla accompanied this great musician who has no equal in India or for that matter anywhere in the world for playing carnatic music on the saxophone. The finale was Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma and the last few minutes showed us why he's the best as the increasing tempo and crescendo to finish with a bang threw us off our chairs for a standing ovation.

Back at Krishna Gana Sabha a couple of days later, L Subramanyam hosted the Global Music Festival which saw stalwarts like Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna and Pandit Jasraj perform short and sweet gems leaving us yearning for more. The alaap recital with Pandit Jasraj and L Subramanyam was truly other worldly! The day also saw the introduction of Oystein Baadsvik to India. Hailing from Norway, he's pretty much the only solo tuba player and his mixture of tuba playing and lecture demo were astounding. Hubert Laws on the flute was yet another extraordinary event.

Proving that talent runs in the family, the daughter and son of L Subramanyam sang and played violin (respectively) and assured us that the future of music is in good hands. Kavita Krishanmurthy then sang a few bhajans and her powerful and passionate renditions were calming and invigorating at the same time.

Finally dragging the wife, we finished our Chennai trip with a vocal recital by the Malladi Brothers with the superbly talented Mysore Nagaraj on the violin. The brothers complement each other in every way and their music is pure, imaginative and rich. 

Lots more to write but want to stop before the rambling gets worse. At least one of the new year resolutions is to revive my own musical learning so we'll see how that goes.

Here's to a great new year to everyone and for me - more running, writing and learning.

A wedding in Chennai

It's been a while since we had a massive wedding on the wife's side of the family. This one was especially important as it was the...