After being mired in controversy, the ‘Ilaiyaraaja 75′ event was held in Chennai on February 2 and 3 at YMCA, Nandanam. Organised by the Tamil Film Producers’ Council to mark the 75th birth year of the maestro, the event was attended by leading stars of the Tamil industry including Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, and also composer A R Rahman. Actors Suhasini Mani Ratnam and Kasthuri were the hosts.
When A R Rahman was asked about his experience of working with Ilaiyaraaja, he said: “I cannot forget those days when I worked with Raja sir. I joined his team during Moondram Pirai. While entering the recording studio, I felt like I was in the Headmaster’s room. I have learnt a lot from him; he’s my inspiration.” He added that he was elated to receive appreciation from Ilaiyaraaja when he was awarded an Oscar for Best Original Score for the movie Slumdog Millionaire.
Host Suhasini then asked Ilaiyaraaja about mentoring AR Rahman. “He was with me more than he was with his father. Am I right?” said Raaja, looking at Rahman, to which the latter nodded in the affirmative. “You should be saying this, you know,” Raaja joked.
Later, the other host, actor Kasthuri requested Ilaiyaraaja to sing as Rahman composed. Ilaiyaraaja sang ‘Mandram vandha thendralukku’ from Mouna Raagam, the 1986 film directed by Mani Ratnam, and when Rahman missed the tune, Ilaiyaraaja chided him in good humour with: “What happened? Don’t you know this tune well?”
Kamal Haasan, a dear friend of Ilaiyaraaja, sung three songs on stage along with his daughter Shruti Haasan. The duo had worked together in films like Guna, and there was even a separate segment on their discussions during the composition. Kamal Haasan sang ‘Ninaivo Oru Paravai’ from Sigapu Rojakal, ‘Unna Vida’ from Virumandi and ‘Ram Ram’ from Hey Ram. He also shared memories of working with Ilaiyaraaja.
When Rajinikanth was called to speak about the composer, he said, “Ilaiyaraaja is a ‘suyambu linga‘ to the industry. It’s a type of linga that is very rare and exhibits supernatural powers. I saw such power in Annakili and I’m still seeing it. I used to call him ‘sir’, until he started to wear dhotis. After which I started calling him ‘Saami’ and he would address me in a similar way.”
Rajini added: “He made me sing a song in Mannan, but he has given his best tunes for Kamal Haasan.” Before Rajinikanth could complete the speech though, Ilaiyaraja intervened and said, “And Kamal Haasan says I have given Rajini my best tunes! But really, I have made good music for Ramarajan and also for the actor called ‘Mike’ Mohan. I don’t care who the actor or director is; I do my best in any situation.”
The Governor of Tamil Nadu, Banwarilal Purohit, who also spoke at the event, said: “Ilaiyaraaja’s songs, especially the ones that have a rural touch to them, have set him apart. He is been ruling the hearts of people for more than 35 years with over 7,000 songs. That is why both the state and the central governments have honored him. Even after such recognition, he still lives a simple life. He has completely dedicated his life to music, and that is why he is still composing for films. I wish he achieves more success.”
Actor and producer Vishal Krishna, the main organiser of the event, declared in his welcome address: “Every country will have their own king, but there is only one king who can rule music, and that is Ilaiyaraaja. While taking a road trip, most check whether they have Ilaiyaraaja’s songs with them rather than making sure they have fuel. It is our duty to honour such a legend.”
He also addressed the criticism and controversy surrounding ‘Ilaiyaraaja 75’: “There is nothing wrong in organising an event for someone from the industry. Those who have condemned it are in the wrong. Moreover, spending on one’s father is not a big crime. For those who opposed the event, Ilaiyaraaja had already retorted with ‘Enkitta modhadhe...’ I’m sure that the event will take its place in history and those who were against it will also be a part of history.”