Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Carnatic contortionism

Where have all the quirky artists of yesteryear gone, I hear you ask? OMG I knew we were related! I often ask this myself!

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.

42 comments:

Poojitha said...

muhawawa...hilarious i say...
though u left out d gaudy dressing up of d vocalists... quite "colorful"..

L N Srinivasakrishnan said...

Nostril Nalini was the best of all :) though I think you left the likes of Horripilating Harini, a fixture in my time in the Venugopalaswamy Temple on 11th Cross, Malleswaram.

Please also watch a DVD of Semmangudi Mama singing with his troop of admirers and observe how the Mama's ENT contortions are faithfully echoed by Sishyakoti's and their sishya's giving a new twist to the Lamarckian theory viz., acquired characteristics can be internalized.

You have also omitted how TNS throws his right hand up with fist and all when he is about to pidichufy a long high note - that is echoed by Madurai R Sundar his student and all his students, male and female, some of the latter being 6-7 year old girls. They do the high arm action during saralivarisai!

WeeAre said...

What about those, "ni ni neeeeee" avartana the artist readies to slap the pakkavadyist, or the pulling strings in the air trying to climb up somewhere... adu hogli, throwing ghatam in the air, showing how good a catcher he is for there is a BCCI selector in the audience!

rads said...

rofl:)
That was excellently boxed up! I've seen most of the quirky faces you speak of. Veryy nice!! :)

unpredictable said...

Ayoo ... this is being TOO THE FUNNY!!! I know zilch about the art and the artists ... but im ROTFLing here with stitch in stomach ... wat a!!!

Arunk said...

LOL! You have covered every aspect of this "un-subtle" art of kaN-torturism

Bit Hawk said...

Too too funny, dude!

Pri said...

varynice. loved the accompanying photos also.

Bikerdude said...

poojitha: oh yeah, top prize winner though is a certain saxophonist and the violinist featured in the post :P

srinivasakrishnan: haha good one!

weeare: im planning a day when i will be up on stage and can tickle the ghatamist when he throws his pot up in the air, and watch him go err.. when it matashes all over the floor :P

rads, unpredictable, arunk - Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Hi Bikerdude,

This is Ashwini from 080 Magazine- your blog was featured in our Blog section in the October issue and was chosen as Blog of the Month. I couldn't find your contact info on your profile- you have won a prize for your post being chosen. Please contact me at ashwini@explocity.com to get details about your prize.

Thanks,
Ashwini

Anonymous said...

witty n brilliant.ROTI MANDIR is best of all with BHINSEN JOSHI'S pic by side.
keep them coming

Rambodoc said...

And you call me nuts!?
Brilliant, dude!!

Mathanki Kodavasal said...

Hey im glad i stumbled onto your blog...This is an extremely funny post:) That mridangam bit esp!

Floydgal said...

Hey im glad i stumbled onto your blog...This is an extremely funny post:) That mridangam bit esp!

Empress said...

This is a comprehensive collection of most vakramsi! I'd like to add just one more from hindustani concerts, when the Fly Catcher prevails over the singer. He will go up to the notes in the tarasapthak and then flay his hand in the air in front of him and as he touches one note hiiiigh up there, will flick wrist, catch a fly and open his eyes and grin at audience, as if to say, "See, I caught off!"

Spunky Monkey said...

I agree. The few concerts I have watched in my small life, have all involved people with mannerisms. And I find it more among the Hindustani vocalists. They belong to an entirely different realm of facial contortionism.

That aside, the biker dude knows his music and knows to speak about it even better.

Krish Ashok said...

Brilliant I say. Brilliant. One addition from my side - Mridanga Chakravarthy, named after the legendary contortions of Sivaji Ganesan in the movie of the same name. The facial contortions are so insanely expressive that mere words cannot describe them. Dictionaries will need updated versions to include new words to describe the appropriate facial and labial muscle movements.

Bikerdude said...

bithawk, pri, anon, floydgal, mathangi, rambodoc: Muy Dankes :)

Ashwini: Yay!! Thanks! Will get in touch!

empress: Oh yeah, I forgot about that one! Good one!

spunky monkey: Yeah the hindustani artists can easily power a small neighbourhood if the energy from their flailing arms is harnessed :P

KA: Danks ba. LOL abt Sivaji. Theres another one in which he plays the veena with a pout and twitchy eyebrows. Full camedy only.

Anonymous said...

I think, I may be in love with you.
Very possible.

thoppai mama said...

Ayyayyoo, enge aarambikka?

LN Seenu mama ennoda TNS post-ai thirudittaeL. Addendum is when I saw him ~23 years ago, he did the fist routine, pulling with both hands..I rather thought he was doing a vastraapaharaNam of a horizontal Draupadi somewhere up in the rafters...

Any way..moving right along..

A very senior male vocalist was accompanied by his pretty if aging flame of the year to a kacheri in our southern hemisphere city. He did not deign to explain the songs/ raagam/ taalams to us gnyaana shoonyams, but would nod and the flame would do the needful.

Plenty of horror stories about otherwise respected artists, living and dead, about their cheap and money grabbing tactics, but I imagine that is not the purpose of this post.

Anyway, bhaaL besht bardri Biker-Anna!

Thoppai Mama said...

the Meera bhajan note reminded me of when 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing' was proved true.

Salim Kausar's'Main khyaal hoon kisi aur ka', part of everyone's oeuvre (Runa, Mehdi, Nusrat, Jagjit etc) was being sung in the tukkda section of a C-music concert.

Promptly one of the beautifully turned out 'see and be seen' brigade turned to her equally dolled up companion and said

'That's a Meera Bhajan'.

Preeth said...

some of my women friends who visit my blog often are now asking if Biker dude is single. I told them he has three kids and the little one is a really cutie pie studying in Bishop Cottons UKG A section.Just wanted to take the glamour off da :)

Bikerdude said...

anon: Blush how sweet I say :)

thoppe mama: too funny sahebre :) Swami, thamma swantha blaagu yavaga shtart madtheera? Dayavittu do the needful and oblige ri.

preeth: Err thanks :P Hope you also mentioned the illegitimate ones running around shivajinagar with beaky noses and a slouch ;)

Naveen said...
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Naveen said...
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Naveen said...
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Naveen said...

Nice one dude..luv ur blogs...have u seen this - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4IwHI2RA3k

dont know why, but i remembered this hilarious piece by Sathya and group as i was reading ur blog!

one more thing's troubling me!! why do all the classical singers sit and sing?! have u ever seen any standing and singing??!! gives them more opportunities to channel their energy!

PS: I have no idea why the comments came all disjointed when i posted them earlier..so, kept deleting them!! one more try and i will stop :o)

Bikerdude said...

Naveen: Hoo boy! What a clip!Never laughed so much in my life. Too good buddy- thanks!

Thoppai mama said...

One more from me:

Nahai-kkadai Nagaratnammal.

The jewellery she wears would deflect the best efforts of the rocket launchers the Taliban might deploy at this infidel music.

to wit;
heavy rings on all ten fingers.

sometimes, wrist alankaarams too.

As many piercings as the earlobes will take with attendant diamonds dripping off each.

Necklaces full of vairam-vaidooryams radiating outwards from the neck to the shoulder blades.

Gold bangles inlaid with all kinds of semi and precious stones...all the way up the forearm.

I've always reflected, during the duller moments of the R-T-P, that my retirement could be set up quite comfortably if I just could spirit her away at the finish..

BTW, you are verry kind ree. Aadroo, as I posted in my other nom de plume to KA, I am a better responder than a blogger.

Fark said...

One of your very best sir.

Nostril Nalini - THAT ONE ROCKED.

Carnatic concerts will never EVER be the same!!!

http://farkandfunk.wordpress.com/

Spunky Monkey said...

About the video, those guys are a constant fixture on the day long comedy programme that happens on Christmas day at National College, Jayanagar. Quite the event on the calendar of many a South Bangalorean Kannadiga.
There are some other guys (literature professors and such) who, without quite making themselves look stupid, come up with excellent wordplay which is amazingly hilarious at times.

Spunky Monkey said...

What a coincidence! I just wrote a comment on your blog and I went back to mine, and there I saw yours!

Dusty Fog said...

tumba chanda...: )

Anoopa Anand said...

The Devaranama/Meera Bhajan destroyer: The sort that is clearly convinced of the superiority of music over poetry, and the irrelevance of the actual worlds 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.

That is the single most brilliant piece I've read in a while. Wah wah. I'm still laughing, 20 minutes later.

Vasoooo said...

1. Kodai Mazhai - if u sit in front of such artists u land up having a spit bath

2. Mike Allergists - who never see the mike at all and all the time keep tossing their head around

Naveen - many of the phrases and way sound (called nadham) has to be delivered in classical music, is easier and optimized in the sitting posture-also follows from yogic posture

Vivek said...

Bikerdude:

Brilliant! I am myself more keenly into Hindustani than Carnatic, but have been to enough concerts of the latter to be able to relate to most of the things you say.

//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?//

It is more serious than that. Many old masters of vakras gradually abandoned their idiosyncrasies, thereby considerably narrowing the scope of their entertainment value, restricting it to pure music. Two great Kannadigas (of the crossover-with-Marathi variety) in Hindustani music were the late Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur and Pt. Bhimsen Joshi. The former, unfortunately no more, used to focus all his energy on facial muscles, while Pt. Bhimsen sang with his whole body. Both lost their command over this visual element as they grew older.

Nikhil said...

you are my hero!

This was the most hilarious stuff that I have read in years.

Thanks so much!

undeniablyblah said...

""Kondhaai, moonji-geenji elaam pannapdaadhu kaettiyo? Yellaarum un paattu kaekarthukku bathila, un moonjiyai paapaaLaakkum." "

Rofl :D

splendid post!Brings back such wonderful memories:D I cant even attempt to tell you the nu,mber of times i have gone loony with laughter at kunnakudi's concerts! My mum would struggle between trying to discipline her embarassingly loud and snorting ponkozhandai and getting her own mirth under grips:D lovely days, those! Thanks for this one:D Keep writing, oh please!:D

Ashwini Sriram said...

Vaary nice! :)

Especially your take on the Kunnakudi-Nityashree mannerisms :) You missed out T.M Krishna and Sanjay Subrahmaniam, though.

srikrishna said...

Hahahaha.. too much funny it is.

We should have a contest to promote facial expressions with all due respect to the music.

Anonymous said...

Buhaabuhaaaaaaaa Nostril Nalini..hahahhoohahahmuahhhhhaahhh
cant stop it sorry..:) too good ..u made my sad day Bright !!!!!

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