Guide to Rendering Yeoman Service to Rasikas By Writing Formulaic Carnatic Concert Reviews in The Hindu

Bollywood has The Formula and it involves shirtless, six-packed heroes, shampoo-model bimbettes and graceless music. Jerry Bruckheimer has The Formula and it involves car chases, lots of explosions and cliched dialogues. Back in class 12, even I had The Formula and it involved mixing Toluene and concentrated Nitric acid in the vain hope that I could mass produce TNT. Carnatic artistes have The Formula, and it involves RTPs, tukdaas and thani-aavarthanam coffee breaks.

But did you know that The Hindu Carnatic concert reviews also had The Formula?

This blog has been offering useful career advice, no, wait, let’s try saying that in thehindusanctimoniouswindbaggy style. It has been rendering yeoman service to the blog-reading public on alternative careers.

So let’s straight get to the Guide to Rendering Yeoman Service to Rasikas By Writing Formulaic Carnatic Concert Reviews in The Hindu.

We first need a title. It must be short, sweeping and entirely uninformative. For mostly positive reviews,

  • Brilliant Collaboration
  • Lingering Effect
  • Stirs the Intellect
  • Rich Tapestry of Emotions
  • Of Harmony and Melody
  • Strict adherence to Baani.
  • Fast tempo settles intro sober stride

For a slightly censorious effect,

  • Needs more refinement
  • Touched the intellect, not the heart.

In case the reviewer, i.e. you, fell asleep during the concert and didn’t pay too much attention, best to play it safe and stick to details you clearly know, like,

  • Talent from Bangalore
  • An evening of beauty

Now that we are done with the title, we proceed to the meat, sorry, the curd rice of the review. Make a list of song verses and raaga names, and use the following sentence constructs around them.

  • The artiste set a fast tempo and then subsequently settled into a sober stride with {Song}
  • {Artiste}’s exposition of {Raaga} was {evocative/solemn/filled with emotional hues}
  • Longish phrases and full of catchy brigaas
  • {Raaga} with its intrinsic melancholy filled the air with a solemn feel.
  • Extrapolation at {specific verse of song} backed by emotional hues and varying streams of kalpanaa swaras.
  • The gradual development by {Artiste} surfaced several of the bhaava-loaded angles of the raaga with a few touches of fast-moving brigaas included in between.
  • {Artiste}’s voice easily traversed all the levels
  • {Artiste}’s aalaapana in {Raaga} always steered clear of unwanted flights but strong and solid phrases progressing step by step by emphasised the core of the raaga
  • It was a fluent, breezy aalaapana, very brigaa-oriented, the notes clearly emerging from the depths of {Artiste}’s throat.

And at the end of the review, add a few words about the able accompaniment of the violinist/percussionists and you are done.

And now, it brings me to the obvious question. Why? Why does The Hindu do this? Why this formulaic, politically correct insipidity? Why don’t we have English equivalents of Subbudu? Not that I completely approve of that man, but imagine the sheer entertainment value.

ps: For the uninitiated, Subbudu was a legendary Carnatic critic whose reviews were mostly droplets of concentrated sulphuric acid masquerading as Tamizh words. His wit wasn’t just biting, it was a T-Rex. A hungry one.

So what would a contemporary English Subbudu-style review look like? Some snippets.

If notes were goats, this artiste’s rendition of Karaharapriya would be the equivalent of a lost herd, roaming aimlessly in unfamiliar pastures, bleating plaintively for help from the shepherds in the audience who have already given them up for dead.

He went on to plead “Mokshamu Galada” and I was inclined to suggest that our chances might improve if he, in particular, stopped pleading.

Her attempt at the raaga almost made me stand up and ask her to stop and instead, ask the audience to play random ringtones from their cellphones in unison. One had good reason to believe that the random ringtones have a greater chance of hitting the right bhaava of Saaveri than her rendition.

It’s good that Vedanthaangal is far away from the Music Academy, because the migratory swans there might mistake {Artiste}’s dhwani as being the sounds of the enemies of Hamsas.

I would advise the singer’s voice to take some training from her hand. During the concert, it seems to reach greater heights with far more facility than her voice.

It was not Kalpana (imagination) swaram. It was Kal Banaa (Made yesterday) swaram.

24 Comments

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  1. The Hindu will never be the way you ask here. They’ve always chosen to stay on the safer side, now with true reviews with subbudu like sarcasm and wit, a majority of the rasikas ( the whole thatha, paati crowd ) will be disappointed. And they defn. don’t want to bring down the rep of the Chennai music season with people like me ( people who know zilch about music, and they just follow the reviews once in a while to see what is going on).

  2. Very true about the lacklustre reviews in The Hindu as in most mainstream media writing.
    Subbudu’s style is hard-hitting and entertaining. But again, only perhaps for people who dig that kind of writing?

    Let’s not pretend there isn’t a very sizeable audience that likes/approves of the lacklustre Hindu reviews.

    And, perhaps “biting humour” is not the only style a review can be written in? One can decimate a concert without descending to rudeness, right?

  3. Awesome post. The initial part of the post, I felt, was incomplete without reserved words like “bhava laden assay”, “beauteous suddha dhaivatham” etc

    Subbudu was the prototype of which the Delhi Mami who said”yennaa, oru dus nikaal pannungo” was merely a finished product.

    One reason why there was so much sulphuric acid in his writing was basically the sambar he imbibed in the India Coffee House in Connaught Place, New Delhi. The Coffee House does not exist now having been replaced by Palika bazar in the 70’s.

    It was said that he used to be in India Coffee House every day 5 days a week from 2 PM in the afternoon , with pen in hand and pogai yelai in mouth. Those days the government of India was a great patron of arts. Never penalized art critics for absenteeism πŸ™‚

    He had a favorite table in the coffee house from where he used to spew fire, brimstone and tobacco juice against Carnatic artistes, critics and most interestingly, professors of Carnatic Music – KA, mannikkavum.

    He did however have a soft corner for younger artistes and always had a nice thing to say about them.

    Now for the all important question of why don’t we have English equivalents of Subbudu? He was a refugee from Burma who is said to have escaped the ethnic violence there in the 40’s in his under veshti and walked nonstop about 2 months from Rangoon or Mandalay to Calcutta.

    Hindu critics won’t even walk the length of Mowbray’s Rd (or TTK Rd as it’s called now) because some sabha secretary or some other bandicoot (another HINDU word) will have given him a lift in his Ambassador . These critics also get better quality sambar.

  4. Your knowledge of music and entertaining style of writing surely qualifies you for an English version Subbudu. Seriously, you should consider this as an alternate career for yourself.
    Regarding carnatic music, I am a descendant of a grand-aunt who in her childhood translated a tamil song to ‘Thinkaadha Thought elaam Thinki Thinki..’ in the last row of her music classs.. So I better not review the reviews!

  5. Ah Subbudu! Sorry to name drop, but he once said he’d have liked having me as his girlfriend. His wife cackled loudly at this. He was 72 then and I was 24 and our flirting retained a gamey fondness of each other.
    There are many who found his brand of acerbic writing and insousiance irritating, including Hema Malini, Yamini, Yesudas, Sonal Mansingh and more.
    But the man had wit and a restless spirit for things new and as you say, he was entertaining. Both are absent in The Hindu’s sanctimonious and listless reviews.

  6. Just for you…

    The slow medium meanderings of Natakuranji, the tranquil pleasant raga of the hills and dales tend to lull both the audience and the artistes into losing the sense of time. It is to ‘s credit that she kept up the time frame without sacrificing the mood

    OR

    Her Natakuranji was chaste and absorbing. The thana and pallavi struck a chord which was as sensuous as its technical expertise. A promising vocalist

  7. Gaaaahahaha, too much!! Love it, love it!!

    KA, I think you should shed your diplomatic cloak instantly and become a vitriolic carnatic critic.

    The world NEEDS you!!

  8. Your blog is a revelation. Haven’t laughed so hard since the chaiwala spilt a hot cuppa into a former boss’s lap.

    I’m seconding bikerdude. You should liven up the gentle profession of music concert reviewing. Though there is the danger of the classical music mafia ordering a hit. “Garrot him with a violin string and throw him into the sea, weighted down with a coupe of veenas or a mridangam”.

  9. Haha! Yes, yes we want Subbudu style writing..maybe they should mention the food served during the festival…”What drew rasikas to the Sabha was the excellent pesaret served there more than the Gummudipoondi brothers”

  10. And what’s stunning is the gall of the Hindu to put out a whole book, 400 pages odd, full of such reviews and portentously call it

    “The Hindu speaks on Music” !!

  11. Absolutely enjoyed the whole Subbudu style of conntemporary critiquing.

    Keep rocking, with the Jalsas and Jilpas machi. Aana onnu, idhellam remba too much!!!

    Cheers……..Jam

  12. kostin: innaa… what the State Raaga of Andhra is?
    awnserru: khaaraahaarapriya

    puriyaliyaa? ask Goommidippoondi Brothers… any of them!

  13. Couldn’t resist linking this post to one of my own containing something about The Hindu’s sanctimonious pain-in-the-a8sness.

    Yeoman! (Yo Man!)

  14. how coincidental.. i wrote a review for a carnatic music event in which i was not even present.. it was featured a promotional package for the event.. and i dunno the first word about music.. my only musical interests are dappankuthu and some western stuff:-

    “The vocal concert of R Abhirama Sundari on 20/9/2000 was quite inspiring. It created a mood of tranquil serenity and expressed the spirituality that was infused in the music. Quite a memorable performance. Due credit can be given to the violinist T Hemamalini and mridangist J Ganesh.”

    and btw.. ur blog is totally cool.. have been whiling away quite a major portion of my internship time reading ur blogs instead of doing my work..

  15. Subuddu was also perhaps one of the all-time greatest Harmonium player. One of my favourite cassettes was Subuddu’s harmonium accompaniment for Guruji A S Raghavan’s Tiruppugazh Bhajan. His music was brilliant, original, wonderful to listen too, and he himself would have been at a loss to find a flaw in it ( if he couild double as his own critic ) !!!

  16. Sometimes, I end up without an idea of a single composition rendered: “Kalyani was a conservative essay without too much stress in the upper reaches. The artiste needs to gain confidence.” This was the whole essay about some piece sung that evening, no idea whther it was the main piece or not. No krithi name, thaalam, composer. No idea about anything except that she sings Kalyani conservatively. The next time that I want to attend her concert then, I will have to base my decision after calculating her probability of repeating Kalyani and then carefully considering whether I want stress to be placed on the upper reaches or not. Like reviewing the whole of Karpagambal mess based on a cup of filter kaapi and saying it was a trifle weak. What will the hungry reader gather? 😑

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