SP Balasubrahmanyam’s Illaya Nila concert in Kuala Lumpur was making headlines even before the event commenced, thanks to the last minute change of timing. The organizers, Raaghav Productions, did a good job informing ticket holders about the change of timing, and Illaya Nila ended up a sold out concert. However, it did feel like the SPB concert could have used a little more SP Bala.
Raaghav Productions show us how its done
KL Convention Centre is large enough to confuse most of us with its numerous escalators, and this was well anticipated by the organizers. From the moment we alighted from our Grab, there were volunteers wearing the Illaya Nila T-shirt, guiding every brown person towards the Plenary Hall.
Amidst the sea of concert goers, volunteers were aplenty, and queues were short, as all we needed to do was to present our e-tickets to be allowed into the hall. Excellent use of technology, Raaghav Productions.
The choice of venue was wonderful, not only because of the comfortable seats and plush surroundings, but also because of the stadium seating that ensured everyone could view the stage without a hindrance. The show began promptly at 3.10pm, which was a lovely middle finger in the face to those who chose to come in late.
the show began promptly at 3.10pm, which was a lovely middle finger in the face to those who chose to come in late.
Malaysian emcee Saint was paired with the popular host Priyanka Deshpande from India. This was another brilliant move by the organizers, Priyanka is one of the best Tamil hosts the industry has seen, she is quick witted and her ability to think on her feet is unparalleled. She could have easily carried the entire show on her shoulders without Saint.
The talent on stage was mind blowing
SP Bala needs no introduction. His voice is mellifluous, and devoid of a quiver or break, in spite of singing for the past 53 years. His on stage charm stole the show as he bantered playfully with his co-singers. SPB’s tunes were interspersed with nuggets of his experience with Illayaraaja. He even started the show by singing Selamat Hari Merdeka and Mubarak Muharram in the tune of Kalaa Mangaiyo.
The veteran singer was joined by a gaggle of talented singers, namely, SPB Charan, Priyanka, Swagatha Krishnan, Deepti, SP Abhishek and Aravind Srinivas. The singers were backed up by the Sunshine Orchestra of AR Rahman’s KM Music Conservatory. This included four cellists and five violinists ranging from the ages of 16 to 20.
The rest of the band comprised of keyboardists Chinna and Ravishankar, trumpeter Vijay, guitarists Mangaraj and Keith, tabla players Palraj and Sivesh, with Hirik on the drums and Viji on the synth pads.
And then there was the very talented pianist Lydian Nadhaswaram and his sister, flautist Amrutavarshini.
One word to describe the set list: IMPECCABLE!
Going into the concert, everyone knew that only Illayaraaja tunes will be performed. But we were blown away by the set list planned by the performers. It was surreal to listen to SP Bala sing long forgotten tunes like Mannil Intha Kadhalandri, Mutha Muthalaaga Kaathal Duet, Idhazhil Kadhai Ezhudhum Neramidhu and Poththi Vacha Malliga Mottu.
It was obvious that the bulk of the audience were Mouna Raagam fans, the organizers preempted this and featured the film’s music numerous times. Not only did Lydian play the film’s background music to the heartbreaking visuals in the climax of the film, SPB sang Mandram Vantha, as well as a medley of Panivizhum Iravu and Nilave Vaa.
As if this wasn’t enough, SPB sang two hits from Ilayaraaja’s hit film, Thalapathi. He performed Sundari with Priyanka and Kattu Kuyilu with his son, Charan. Both tunes, along with every song he sang that night, buoyed the audience into another realm.
The other singers were also given tunes to belt out. Charan was obviously the star. His rendition of Ilamai Itho Itho (where he cleverly reworded the lyrics to “avarthaan sakalala vallava”) was the perfect start to the night. He also sang the tunes Vanitha Mani Vanamohini, Ilavattam Kai Thattum Dum Dum and Ada Machcham Ulla Machchaan with Swagatha and Deepti.
The dark horse of the night was singer Priyanka, who sang beautifully, in spite of her timid demeanor. Swagatha didn’t disappoint either.
Thumbs down: Way too much Lydian Nadhaswaram
While Raaghav Productions did a brilliant job with the organisation of the event, the audience was disappointed at a few areas. The show started off on the wrong foot, with ONE WHOLE HOUR of Lydian on the piano. The teenager is incredibly deft on the piano keys, but the tunes he played were a little jarring. Music by Bach, Chopin, Mozart and Rimsky-Korsakov did not really appeal to the audience of the evening. It might have been best if he did a short snippet of any one of these famous compositions.
But it got worse. They invited Lydian’s sister, Amrutavarshini, to play the flute as he played the piano. This was nice, for the first minute, and then it got really tiring. Don’t get us wrong, the two are superbly talented, but it was just an overdose of them. If every member of the audience had a degree in music, this would have been an enjoyable performance, but we only have our self-awarded PhDs in Tamil songs.
If every member of the audience had A degree in music, this would have been an enjoyable performance, but we only have our self-awarded PhDs in Tamil SoNgs.
After this prolonged performance, an animation was played on the screen and Lydian and his sister dubbed the characters’ voices while Lydian played the piano. It was difficult to understand what they were saying as they were trying to emulate the American accent, but their Indian accents were too strong. Also, the audience was in a WTF mode at this point, as 45 minutes has elapsed since the show began. Things then took a really weird turn as Lydian began playing the piano and his sister started singing the opera.
At one point, people began to shout, “Enough lah, we want SPB!”, echoing what the rest of us were feeling. Lydian and Amrutavarshini took up ONE WHOLE HOUR (the repetition is solely to emphasise how draggy this performance was) of the four hour show.
One good thing that came out of Lydian’s performance was the medley of background scores to Mouna Raagam, Punnagai Mannan and Hey Ram. He also played Anjali Anjali on his iPad, which was nice.
More of SPB & Charan, less time for the second tier singers please!
SP Bala only came in at 4.40pm, an hour and a half after the show began, and he sang only 11 tunes in full, with a medley of 5 songs accompanied by Lydian on the piano.
Aravind Srinivas and SP Abhishek may be decent singers, but they cannot compare to SPB Charan and SP Bala. It felt like the organizers could have maintained them as backup singers and had more of SPB singing, as they were heavily promoting the veteran singer. We are unsure if this is SPB’s maximum performing capacity, given that he is now 73, or if this was just the deal the organizers struck with the singer’s team.
“Aattaam podadi, ho ho, paattu paadadi, ho ho,”
The beginning of SPB’s Illaya Nila may not have been perfect, but the ending was spot on! SPB’s Illaya Nila ended with all the singers joining in to sing En Jodi Manjakkuruvi with SP Bala himself leading the tune. As we walked out of the hall, the crowd was almost collectively humming “Aattaam podadi, ho ho, paattu paadadi, ho ho,”
Overall, Raaghav Productions did well, and we are excited to see what they have in store for next year. One can only hope it will involve more SPB!
All images are credits of Barathan Amuthan.