Padma Vibhushan Ilaiyaraaja celebrates his 75th birthday today. Here’s Silverscreen’s coverage of the Maestro’s birthday celebrations back in 2014.
The first thing that you notice about Ilaiyaraaja is that even when in a crowd, he seems a little alone. He mostly keeps to himself, save for the occasional smile that he parts with. It’s as if he exists on a different plane altogether. And his assistant has to gently prod him now and then to bring him out of his reverie. But once Ilaiyaraaja is on-stage, he’s fully alert; even offering some sagely advice to the event-co-ordinators. Nalla paatta podungappa, he tells them, and when they play one of his songs, he parts with another smile. And this time, it’s quite mischievous. He turns 71 today, but there’s nothing about him that betrays his age. He’s quite agile, walks at a brisk pace, and is still as busy as he was 30 years ago.
Panchu Arunachalam, who introduced the then 21-year-old Raaja to movies, was on hand to help celebrate Ilaiyaraaja’s birthday this morning – at Prasad Studios. “I find more pride in having introduced this legendary music composer than in having produced successful movies. He is my biggest contribution to Tamil cinema,” said Arunachalam – “he is 71 today; but I still see in him the 21-year-old Raaja who was hungry for success. He changed the way things were done and for that, we should salute him.”
Director Bala also waxed lyrical about Ilaiyaraaja. “He has this very special quality about him. Every time he walks into a room, he brings peace to it. Being spiritual helps him a lot. He is calmer now and most importantly, his music has changed – it has mellowed and the result is incredibly beautiful to hear.” Post this declaration, the Avan Ivan director brought in a huge birthday cake; which was duly sliced and handed around. Then, it was time for the star of the day to say a few words. And naturally, it was about all things spiritual. “I remember sitting in Thiruvannamalai temple and thinking of the many greats who must have sung there. There was power in that place, some great mystical energy that was always a source of wonder and joy to me. It gave me peace and calm.” He doesn’t believe in success anymore, he added. “All I wanted to do was create a different kind of music. More specifically, my kind of music. I have done that and more. What I’m doing now is not to please anyone – I create music for myself. And for God, of course.”
He also alluded to some trouble in his past. “There was a time when my ego became a huge source of trouble for me and that was when I surrendered myself to God. He set me straight and brought things into perspective.”
As always, around a hundred people braved the sweltering sun to catch a glimpse of their favourite music director. Some brought gifts and bouquets. Many just brought their love. An old man,who had travelled all the way from Madurai just to meet Ilaiyaraaja, immediately prostrated himself in front of him. As Raaja helped him up, he gave his idol a hearty handshake and only reluctantly let go. It was the best day of his life, he said. “His songs have cheered me up many a time. I wanted to thank him in person for that. Now, my life is complete.”
Ilaiyaraaja, who patiently heard him through, then flashed one of his rare smiles at the man and walked into his studio at Prasad.