Artist vakras (idiosyncracies) at a concert have been a dying art form for several years now. They have been almost completely obliterated by the new breed of rigid necked, poker faced, young artists of today. Whaaat is this I say?
All these self-righteous, modern music teachers are to blame for this, I tell you. I have personally seen them correcting the facial ticks and grimaces of young impressionable pupils right from their childhood. I myself have been a victim of this modern brainwashing. My beloved and late Shakunthala Teacher, a well meaning and very talented Trivandrum AIR artist, would always tell me after an inspired grimace during a difficult varnam passage: "Kondhaai, moonji-geenji elaam pannapdaadhu kaettiyo? Yellaarum un paattu kaekarthukku bathila, un moonjiyai paapaaLaakkum." (My child, don't make face-gees. People will look at your face instead of listening to your song. Ok? Ok.)
This post, however, is dedicated to those few, far between (and usually immensely talented) artists, who have managed to stick to their old school ways, and continue to grimace, gesticulate, cough, and slice their way into the hearts of their rasikas. Presented below is my humble attempt at documenting artistic vakras at a lively carnatic kacheri, in the hope that it may be used in the future to rejuvenate this wonderful lost art:
Varaaha Vaidyanathan: For the uninitiated, this is the delicate art of piggyface making. Especially prominent while executing delicate sangathis during a raga: "Thu dhu rin na nu....uuiiium", or during a long phrase in a Thyagaraja Krithi involving words like "munu ju joochuchumu".
Self Appreciater : Breaks into a hearty "aaaan" and "sabhaash" after executing a complicated gamaka. The usually timid violinist is forced to smile weakly and agree, while producing a mouse-like answer to the same phrase.
Audience-confusing thaalam putter: A master of thaalam who never needs to keep time with the music, but will suddenly slap his/her thigh 27 times in the middle of an avartana, and confuse the entire audience.
Exorcist VI: While the usually talented artist sings with abject devotion to various gods and goddesses, all the demons of the netherworld surface on his/her face. "Mah-hwaaaaaaa(scary face) Guh-Na-pa-thiyiwwwwwwum (scowl)"
Roti mandir: Usually found in the North, this artist will begin the concert by kneading some imaginary dough, pounding and pummelling it, stretching it out, and finally rolling it into imaginary chappatis. Needless to say the audience leaves disappointedly hungry after 2 hours of tempting chappati making.
Bronchitis Bhatrachar: The artist who thinks nothing of going "harrrghgthghgmph" in the middle of a subtle sangathi, instantly popping a spell-bound audience back into the real world.
Uh-uh, nope, not possible: The negative percussionist that shakes his head in hopeless despair throughout the concert. If the audience had any intension of sacrificing a bonda-bajji break during the thani, it is promptly pre-empted by an extra bout of intense head waggling during the first mohra.
Shanta Idly Grinder: Goes into raptures while singing "Maadu mekkura kanne nee poga vendaam munne". Sits on an imaginary arisi-paruppu (rice and dal) mixture and grinds away by swaying body in a clockwise motion, now and then tamping down the imaginary batter with a thrust of her closed fist.
Karate Kid IV: The Black belt master at a hindustani concert, who aims expert air-slices at imaginary bearded chinese masters. Most of these singers also have a secret ambition of substituting the percussion accompaniment with a big brass gong.
Comedy Chakrapani: Usually a violinist or a ghatamist with a humungous vibhuti, pottu and fantastic wardrobe, who drives the audience (esp the kids) insane with laughter with all manner of quirky faces, grins, eyebrow waggles, and funny screechy notes, with an "I didn't do that" expression.
Agathi Alamelammal: The consumptive looking "pretty girl" playing the tanpura. Either bored senseless with the concert or completley hypnotized by the buzz of the tanpura she is playing. Nevertheless a good nirvana-esque place to be in.
The lotus eater: An over-humble artist who will anounce all his kritis with hand in lotus bud formation held close to his mouth in a gesture of humility: "This is my wown hummmmble caamposition. Please feel free to kick and spit all over it because I am your wown hummmble servant". An instant cue for various maama-maamis to leave, or catch up with the weekly gossip.
Shruthi sodhapper: The avant-garde flautist/singer who is never satisfied with the tuning of the tanpura. Will repeatedly adjust the strings right in the middle of the song. Worse still is the electronic tanpura adjuster, who will unhesitatingly make shruti adjustments in full volume, making the entire audience tut-tut in irritation.
Mridanga Manikyam: The artist who smiles brightly at the mridangist after every phrase of a manodharma swara. By the end of the concert, the mridangist's polite return-smile gets sealed permanently onto his face.
The overcompensator: A native tamil speaker, unaccustomed to the heavy plosive consonants of other languages, especially Sanskrit. Will overcompensate by converting all consonants to their heavier versions, in the hope of pronouncing foreign words correclty: "YenDhara nee Dhana, Ghendha BhoNi, JhinDha viDhuva Jhaa Rhaa, Kshreeee Raaahaahaamaa". Usually eliciting sniggers from the audience when performing outside chennai.
Blind Fury III: An artist who has cleverly convinced the audience for years that s/he is visually challenged, by screwing eyes shut throughout the concert. The eyes will pop open occasionally during a thani, but close instantly, before the audience catches on.
Witty Waradachar: Makes quips in mid-phrase about the faulty sound system, or the concert organizer, eliciting polite laughter from the audience.
The Devaranama/Meera Bhajan destroyer: The sort that is clearly convinced of the superiority of music over poetry, and the irrelevance of the actual words being sung. Hence if Meera sang:"Maii thwo kirithara ge ranku raaaajee", Krishna would still appear, albeit scraching his nails on a blackboard. This artist is also convinced that all devarnamas are composed using the two imaginary kannada words "Hothle and Hidhlu" and will sing an entire purandara dasa kriti using them.
Nostril Nalini: Eyes permanently fixed at indeterminate spot on ceiling of hall. While Yashoda had the privilege of seeing the world in her son's mouth, the audience now has the dubious one of seeing asteroids and other formations in the artist's nostrils.
Footnote: For all those die hard fans of the artists lampooned here, freeya vidunga (leave off I say). I love 'em as much as you do.