Ilayaraaja and A.R. Rahman | Not music to ears


Ilayaraaja and A.R. Rahman were panned by rival ecosystems for expressing political views

Ilayaraaja and A.R. Rahman were panned by rival ecosystems for expressing political views

There is hardly any nook and corner in Tamil Nadu where the music of Ilayaraaja and A.R. Rahman, wizards of two different generations, has not touched the hearts and souls of people even in the contemporary world. It is unlikely this will change in the years to come, for such is the magic of their creations. Despite being a part of people’s lives in Tamil Nadu and beyond, in a span of a fortnight, the two award-winning musicians were panned by rival ecosystems for expressing views of a political nature.

The sharper attacks were directed at Ilayaraaja after he penned a foreword for the book Ambedkar & Modi: Reformer’s Ideas, Performer’s Implementation, comparing and equating Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the father of the Indian Constitution B.R. Ambedkar. The ‘Isaignani’ (saint of music), who has largely remained politically aloof, saw similarities in the two leaders saying they witnessed poverty and stifling social structures from close quarters and worked to dismantle them. “Both dreamt big for India, but both are also practical men who believe in action rather than mere thought exercise,” he felt.

Also read | BJP slams ‘DMK-led ecosystem’ for trolling Ilaiyaraaja

There were dignified responses from a section including politicians, which argued the comparison between the two leaders was “irrational” and “inappropriate” given the different pedestals on which Mr. Ambedkar and Mr. Modi were placed and the nature of their vastly varying political contributions.

However, another section was unsparing and took the criticism beyond political counter. The critics felt let down by the man, whose career began on Communist platforms co-travelling with his elder step-brother Pavalar Varadarajan. The latter, a comrade, was said to have been hailed by former Kerala Chief Minister E.M.S. Namboodiripad for helping the CPI win the Devikulam by-election in Kerala, staging propaganda songs with a teenaged Ilayaraaja, in the late 1950s. Digressing from the issue at hand, they faulted the musician for his inclination in following the footsteps of ‘Brahminical’ spiritual gurus, while seeking to alienate himself from his Scheduled Caste roots. The Ilayaraaja’s Modi-praising foreword coincided with recent summons issued to him from the Directorate General of GST Intelligence, giving them more fodder for suspicion.

Top BJP leaders including party president J.P. Nadda lost no opportunity in jumping to the maestro’s defence. State BJP president K. Annamalai sought conferment of the Bharat Ratna on the music composer. This invariably triggered charges that the party was seeking to use the music director to further its political cause in Tamil Nadu, just as it made an aborted attempt with superstar Rajinikanth.

A fortnight earlier, Mr. Rahman was embraced by the Dravidian and Left ideologues. Against the backdrop of Home Minister Amit Shah backing Hindi as a “link language” between States, he had put out a subtle tweet with a seemingly modern image of Goddess Tamil highlighting the glory of Tamil and subsequently quipped “Tamil is the link language”. Certain right-leaning ideologues from within and outside Tamil Nadu sought to attack Mr. Rahman, as in the past when his daughter defended the burqa. He was accused of portraying Tamil goddess in a ‘dark’ and ‘demonic’ form but attempts to orchestrate public opinion against this failed. The musician himself later stressed the need to cast people of “colour” in important roles in films to break stereotypes.

Ilayaraaja has not backed out from his praise for Mr. Modi or offered any explanation. Instead, he used music to express himself by tweeting one of his many hit compositions from a Rajinikanth-starrer, the verses of which translate into: “I will not leave you; I will not sleep if you leave. I will sing for you…”


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