Karnatik Musik and Cinematik Magik

(As published in India Currents. Picture of T.M. Krishna is from public domain.)

Margazhi Raagam, the “concert in cinema,” is many things packaged as a movie. It’s a kutcheri concert featuring two popular vocalists, Bombay Jayashri and T.M. Krishna. It’s a film on digital steroids with uncompressed six-track sound and captured on Red 4K cameras. It’s a dream of director Jayendra Panchapakesan, an evocative, mass appeal of Karnatik music on film, the only movie of its kind.

The singers began singing together as a duet through unusual circumstances. In 2007, they published a coffee-table book on Karnatik music, Voices Within, and when they approached then-President of India Abdul Kalam Azad to unveil of the work, he agreed on the condition that they sing together for him. Since then, the two have occasionally shared centerstage, and, in the film, they create history by lending their magical voices to bring Karnatik music to a wider audience.

Jayashri is well-known for her compositions and poetry, and has also composed for documentaries and ballets.

Krishna has received the Young Achievers Award by India Today and the Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar Award by the Central Sangeet Natak Akademi.

While Krishna is known for his fiery style, and Jayashri for her sugary tone, Krishna says they coexist well on stage. “It is like jamming with friends at home,” he says.

Visually, the film is gripping. Seven cameras are used as silent conspirators to capture every nuance as the music played out. Every expression on the two faces is visible, making the movie an intimate dialogue between the audience and the musicians.

The movie captures all the subtle cadences in Krishna’s rich voice brought to full glory, especially in “Jagadodhara.” And if the break of dawn were to be given a voice, I would vote for Jayashri’s “Sarvamangala.”
Margazhi is a concert, but was not filmed completely “live.” At a recent press meet, Krishna said that while there were some retakes, most songs were recorded in a single take to foster spontaneity and keep the improvisational aspects of the music-making alive.

Margazhi Raagam was first released in India during the month of Margazhi or the winter month in the Hindu calendar, the time between Dec. 15 and Jan. 15. Margazhi is the time the Chennai music season is held every year, a time when hundreds of Karnatik concerts run concurrently, and every concert receives a critique by veteran rasikas and the layman masses.

At the press meet, Krishna  recounted a reaction from a septuagenarian theater owner in Trichy, India, who said that were it not for this movie, he might have passed from this world without ever appreciating Karnatik music.

Saturday, May 16, 1 p.m. Norwalk8 Theaters, 13917 Pioneer Blvd., Norwalk. $12. Tickets:www.movietickets.com.
Sunday, May 31, 3 p.m. Indian Movie Center 6, 1433 The Alameda, San Jose. $12. (408) 718-5261.  aruna.peri@gmail.com. www.margazhiraagam.com.

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