World No. 1 Roger Federer: The Inspiring Journey from Wimbledon 2012 to Rotterdam 2018

From being a casual Grand Slam tennis fan with a liking for Roger Federer, I turned into a daily follower of tennis with an inexplicable craze for everything Roger Federer, thanks to the man himself, as he traversed one of the most intriguing and fascinating years of his illustrious career.

I still remember that day – Wimbledon Finals 2012. I was rooting for Roger to win against Andy Murray. After the loss of the first set, the turning point was the set point in the second, when Roger hit a ridiculous drop shot, stealing that set right under Andy’s nose. The rain added to that drama, but that match defined the beginning of my craze for Roger Federer. In the following years, I would see Roger going through ups and many many downs. The back caused problems in 2013. Roger appeared refreshed in 2014 after the racquet change and having Stefan Edberg in his corner. He came tantalisingly close to regaining World No. 1 ranking and winning Grand Slams in 2014 and 2015 with three finals. Novak was there in his way all three times, refusing to lose in Wimbledon 2014 and imposing himself on Roger in 2015. 2016 started off with knee problems and after the loss at Australian Open, Roger wouldn’t be himself. He chose to take that six-month break – in hindsight, one of the best all-time decisions of taking breaks in sports – and came back in 2017 rejuvenated, refreshed and with his game honed with hours and hours of quiet practice. He conquered Nadal in a Grand Slam after a decade and would go on to win three more important matches against him. He won the Australian Open and Wimbledon and would come back in 2018 as the favourite to win Australian Open and do it in style.

As Roger chooses to take a second voluntary break from the clay season, I pause to reflect on the inspiration that he has been through the most challenging times in my life.

1. Never stop believing.

You may lose a match today due to many reasons. You may win a match tomorrow due to many reasons. Instead of reacting to the small successes and failures of each day, never stop believing in yourself. That can go a long way. This belief is what led to his incredible run in 2011-2012, culminating in being crowned the Wimbledon 2012 champion and World No.1 after a (then) long stretch of not winning any Slams. That belief then fuelled the sheer hard work and the grit required to reinvent himself after the back issues of 2013 by switching to a larger racquet and committing to net play like never before.

It is hard not to be disheartened when things don’t go our way, but belief is something that nobody can take away from us despite all external things.

2. Practice is key and there is a purpose to practice.

As Roger has grown older, his practice sessions are supposed to be so much more focussed so that he can bring in the quality that is required rather than putting in a lot of hours on the practice court. Edberg added the element of playing sets during practice instead of only points. There is nothing like practice for honing a skill and muscle memory requires constant practice.

3. Set goals for yourself.

Roger’s career is certainly one of the best in tennis history. Yet, after achieving so much, he still sets goals for himself. Be it getting to top 8 ranking by Wimbledon last year (which he overachieved and attained so much earlier than that), and now the quest to get to 100 titles (and simply winning as many titles as he can) and playing at the professional level as long as possible. Setting goals helps us focus on the actions that would take us to those goals, so practice gets tuned towards those specific goals.

4. Question yourself at the best of times.

Losses are crushing and makes one question what went wrong, but Roger has always questioned himself at the best of times – at his peak even when he won over 90% of the matches that he played. He is constantly on the lookout to improve himself and that shows why and how he has reinvented himself towards these later stages of his career – pretty much unseen in tennis history.

5. Health is more important than anything else.

Roger learnt it the hard way in 2013 when constant back issues thwarted his play. He persisted through it all, combined with an attempt to switch to a larger racquet. When again, in 2016, he had to undergo knee surgery, he finally decided to take a six-month break after some attempts to continue to play after a short rehab. And that paid off and how!

6. Take breaks, often.

Roger takes his vacation seriously. That time off, away from everything, visibly gives him the energy to come back and soak in it all. Even at the peak of his career, when he could have chosen to play so many more tournaments, he chose to take those critical breaks of few weeks between different parts of the tennis calendar. And that pretty much explains his longevity.

7. Celebrate your successes – more importantly, your efforts that went into them.

Roger celebrates his successes and more importantly the efforts that go into those. The definition of success itself varies depending on the stage of his career and what he encounters. At the time when Novak was on his peak, going on his invincible match-winning streak, the win against him at French Open was worth celebrating, even though the Finals was yet to be played.

8. Never forget your roots.

Roger remains a Swiss at heart. One of the most apparent gestures is having a pizza party with the ball kids after the Finals (even if he loses in the Finals) at his home tournament at Basel every year. He was once a ball boy at this same tournament and he never forgets to do his bit whenever he is back there.

9. Choose your goals intelligently depending on the stage of life you are in.

At the peak of his career, getting to No. 1 (and staying at No. 1) was always a big goal. Even as he reached No. 1 a few weeks ago (and he went out and played Rotterdam to reach there), his goals clearly have changed. Titles and playing at tournaments he enjoys playing and has best chances of winning are his current goals and more than all, simply expressing his love for tennis.

10. It’s all about love (for tennis).

At the end of the day, Roger loves tennis too much to easily walk away from the game. It is this love that drives him to work hard, to set high goals for himself, to manage being not just a tennis player, but a family man, ambassador for many brands worldwide and work on his Foundation to give back to underprivileged children in Africa and Switzerland.

11. Make sport a part of your life.

Roger recently talked of how he encourages his children to play tennis/sport – not to push them into becoming professional players but simply to lead a healthy life style, have fun, make friends and experience the feelings of winning and losing and thereby learning how to deal with them.

12. Family first

Roger’s priorities in life are always dictated by the well-being of his family. It is a privilege that he is able to travel on tour with his family. Yet, given the logistics and having to deal with four small children, it requires much more than just a will to be able to do it. Staying with his family and keeping his family together is far more important to him than participating in many tournaments staying away from his family.

13. Fans are people. Support staff are people. Ball kids are people. Journalists are people.

There are countless accounts of Roger staying back for so long after each of his practice sessions and matches to sign autographs and allow fans to take selfies with him. His dad talks of how much time he spends signing cards to be sent to his fans (based on the fan requests sent to him by mail and on his website). The way he seems to ‘care’ for people around him makes him the special person that he is. One of his favourite quotes is ‘It is nice to be important, but it is more important to be nice’. And he walks that talk.

14. Give back (to the society, to tennis, to fans, to juniors).

Tennis has given Roger so much in his life and he feels that responsibility to give back in so many ways. Be it the work through his foundation, taking up administrative positions on the tennis tour, or taking the time out to help juniors who start off new on the tennis tour.

15. Be an ambassador for what you stand for.

Roger is a true ambassador of tennis. He believes that he has a role to play in the evolution of tennis. He goes out of his way to promote tennis – playing in many non-competition events, kids’ clinics and defending tennis for what it stands for. He believes that he should leave the sport in a better place than it was when he started out and he took up the responsibility of being the players’ representative for 8 years during the peak of his career. He even endorses the brands he is sponsored by with such passion.

16. Every little detail matters.

Starting from the colour of his outfits to the designs on them, Roger is involved personally. He pays attention to every little detail because he cares and believes that each little thing has an importance of its own. During an interview at this year’s Australian Open, he said that it was an opportunity to tell stories about yourself through the designs that you put on your outfit.

17. Manage your time by focussing on the task at hand.

Roger has this incredible ability to focus on whatever he does at that moment. This automatically improves the quality of time he spends on different tasks – practice, family time, attending social events. He says how when he goes back to his family after a match, he should play with them and spend time with them in the exact same way, irrespective of whether he lost or won a match. This ability to switch off and switch on not only makes him so much more efficient but also helps him enjoy each task fully.

18. Think positively.

Roger is an incredibly positive person. He is able to put things in perspective after every loss. In fact, all I have to do to cheer up after one of his losses is to hear his post-match press conference. The way he rebounds from every loss (he has won the following tournament he participates in after so many of his crushing losses) shows his incredible positive view on his tennis and his life.

19. Have fun.

Though he appears to be this cool and calm person on court, the Roger we see off court is super-fun. The joy inside him is very much visible and he makes sure he has fun – be it on the practice court, in interviews (which he doesn’t consider a terrible obligation, but an opportunity to tell his story), and in all his public appearances. Sample this.

20. Keep reinventing yourself.

Even in his upcoming years, it took a lot of time for Roger to round up his game and attain invincible heights, given the many tricks he had in his bag. Yet, that was not enough. The game kept changing and so did Roger. He could have said enough and walked off the game at any point – the success he had from 2004 to 2008 was unprecedented. Yet, he would not hesitate to change his game, try out different strategies, take the big step of changing his racquet after 11 years of playing with the same one that suited him the best, hire his childhood idol Stefan Edberg to be his ‘inspiring’ super-coach and embrace the net courageously. All these have culminated into the last one and a half years of late-career success, crowning him with the No. 1 ranking and three Grand Slam titles and numerous other titles at places he loves to play in.

The grass season is around the corner. The GOAT must be getting ready to graze in his beloved lawns. I can’t wait to see his magic and artistry once more, as he dances on the green grass, moving his feet light as an elf, waving his racquet like a wand in the hands of a wizard and conceiving strategies that would take the game to the next level and hitting out-of-the world shots that would leave his opponents shaking their heads.

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The Ilaiyaraaja Top 20 Project

On Nirmal‘s request as a parallel to The ARR Top 20 Project, I set out to make this very nostalgic playlist. Most of these songs are mixed with the inseparable feeling of me fiddling with the music system in the ‘Orange room’ in our old home about 25 years ago, only to leave my father bewildered every evening at the weird things that the music system would do. I can almost feel the breeze from the balcony, as my sister and I would hear these songs, defining what my first memories of film music would be. Rahman was around the corner and Chinna Chinna Aasai would start reverberating in that room soon enough, but Raja had ruled those days with his unique sounds and unbeatable Carnaticness and sheer melody. I enjoy these songs even more today as I listen to the nuances in the music, enjoying each sangati, and the lyrics. As I type each of the song names, I can see in my mind’s eye their names inked by my father in Tamil on those good old TDK D90 cassettes. I only wish these songs are re-mastered in high quality and released again. Here goes the top 20 in no particular order:

1. Sundari Neeyum – Of all his avatars, I probably like the singer Kamal Hassan the best. A wonderful voice suited for Carnatic and the way he emotes brings alive the song in a beautiful way. Kedaram ragam is lovely by itself. Made lovelier by this song.

2. Manram vandha – If one song could define a movie, it is this one that basically encompasses the main emotions of Mouna Raagam. The proximity yet the unbridgeable distance. Water on lotus. SPB’s impeccable rendition.

3. Thenpaandi cheemayile – Another movie-defining song. The rustic rendition by Ilaiyaraja that echoes the plight of the boy Velunayakan, the classic Kamal rendition at different stages though the movie. Powerful emotions. At the end of the day, it is just a small boy’s angst who saw his father murdered in front of his own eyes.

4. Panivizhum malarvanam – Simple melody in Chalanattai. The deep tones of a ‘vivadi’ ragam transform into a romantic melody in the expert hands of Ilaiyaraaja. Inspiration enough for Sanjay Subrahmanyan to weave the landing ‘S S S S S S S S’ of Panivizhum malarvanam into his Chalanattai kalpana swarams.

5. Per vechchaalum – A fun song to hear and hilarious to watch. Dappankuthu beats, Malaysia Vasudevan in full flow.

6. Thoongaadha vizhigal – The flow of Amritavarshini. Yesudas’ deep voice. Brilliant picturisation by Mani Ratnam.

7. Idhu oru ponmaalai – Kedaram again. This song serenely flows in constrast to Sundari Neeyum, which lingers on with its mischief in every line. Beautiful lyrics – Vairamuthu’s first song.

8. Ninnukori varnam – Probably the peppiest song in Mohana ragam ever. Interludes with the quirky sounds only add to the charm.

9. Motta maadi – All songs in this movie are amazing, but this is my most favourite. More childhood memories of growing up with these songs. Mani’s magic comes through as well when we see how these songs are conceived completely interweaved with the movie.

10. Raakkamma – The catchy tune of Raakkamma, the ‘sodukkus’ to keep the beat, ‘jaangu jakku’ – all of these blend to take the song to a pinnacle and that’s when ‘Kunittha puruvam’ happens and takes it to an all-new level. And what a way to capture the first He-She meeting.

11. Nee oru Kadhal sangeetham – Beautiful romantic song. There is a great deal of discussion online about which ragam this is in. I am more in favour of ‘Shuddh Saarang’, as given here. Everything about this song (the voices, interludes, the sound of the instruments) is simple and mellifluous.

12. Poomaalai vaangi vandhaan – Yet another example of the genius of Ilaiyaraaja while dealing with classical ragams. There is an inherent depth in Kaanada ragam, and here Ilaiyaraaja wields it to show the desperation of the main character. Kaanada shines through it all.

13. Kanmani anbodu – An interesting song concept. A beautiful melody. The song starts off with just plain words written in a letter and moves into the wondrous La La Land 😉 towards the end.

14. Mari mari ninne – I am sure this must have gotten a lot of backlash from the purist Carnatic community at that point. This original song by Saint Thyagaraja in ragam Kambhoji has been completely reinvented by Ilaiyaraaja in ragam Saramathi and only goes on to show his prowess in Carnatic music. A majestic song.

15. Maalaiyil yaaro – The beautiful Suddha Dhanyasi ragam flows in this song. Beautiful lyrics and the melodious-yet-strong voice of Swarnalatha adds to the beauty of this song.

16. Yelangaathu veesudhe – One of those songs hearing which you wonder whether it is coming from within or without. Like something that has always been a part of you but you never realised it until you heard it out aloud.

17. Endhan nenjil neengadha – Nalinakanti ragam. That suffices.

18. Valaiyosai – Wonderful combination of SPB & Lata Mangeshkar. That Pallavi line beats all tongue twisters. And at what a pace! A whirlwind of a song.

19. Chinnakkannan azhaikkiraan – The legend Balamuralikrishna. Reethigowlai ragam. The joy with which Balamuralikrishna sings is infectious. Though many recent songs in this ragam have appeared in movies, this still remains one of the best.

20. Akashe Jyotsna/Nee paartha paarvaikkoru – Hariharan. Asha Bhonsle. Piano. Magic.

Bonus (Non-film): Pooveru konum – Thiruvasagam – Orchestral music always sounds grand. Here the beauty of Suddha Dhanyasi (in the first half) combines with it to create this masterpiece. Ilaiyaraaja and Bhavatharini have sung this with a lot of bhaavam.

There are many more gems to discover in Raja’s music and hopefully, we will get to hear more from him, but nostalgia of my early childhood shall always be synonymous with his magical music.

antarkatha – inner story through music & art

Charsur recently conducted a 3-day series on the theme ‘antarkatha’, an inner story through music and art. There was a great line-up of artists and, added to it, it was being held at the recently-renovated Rasika Ranjani Sabha, which I was yet to visit. I was pretty curious and attended this event on Days 2 and 3.

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The theme of Day 2 was ‘Muddu Krishna’ (or Bala Krishna) performed by Sriram Parasuram (narration and singing), Nisha Rajagopalan and K Gayatri on vocals, Nishanth Chandran on violin, Poongulam Subramaniam on Mridangam, Srikrishna & Ganesh Rao on harmonium and tabla. The artist illustrating the story was Keshav, whose cartoons appear everyday in The Hindu.

The programme started with Sriram Parasuram singing mArgazhi thingaL. Keshav, on his corner of the stage, started sketching something out with pencil. There appeared to be the form of Krishna, a couple of cows and a small girl. Though the concept of the programme was supposed to be bringing out the leelas of little Krishna through music and art, the music part turned out to be mostly like any other concert, with the addition of Sriram saying a few words about each composition. One interesting fact that he pointed out was that many songs, though they start out singing about ‘bAla’ Krishna, spell out the stories from the later parts of his life as well (example: bAlagOpAlA in Bhairavi by Dikshitar). Another new thing I learnt was that the rAgam hindOLam means ‘to swing freely together’ (with Krishna 🙂 ). Sriram said that it is as if the rAgam is made for Krishna and inspired by Krishna. Sriram, Nisha and Gayatri (excellent rendition of Bhairavi alapana and bAlagOpAlA) took turns in singing compositions (full list below) while Keshav’s canvas started to bring out in vivid strokes, Krishna’s graceful form, his beloved cows, a little girl (Radha?), Yashoda and a little Krishna running towards Yashoda. With the pastel shades of black and orange, the brilliant-and-beautiful form of Krishna took a life of its own while we heard songs singing his glory. A very interesting experiment on the whole when the audience got to enjoy not only the sounds and words, but also got a visual experience. We do get to experience the musicians’ creativity in concerts through kalapanaswaras, alapana, etc., but when an artist wields his drawing instruments, we are left to wonder how the final form was conceived in the artist’s mind starting with a completely blank canvas, how his hands execute the ideas from his brain and if and how he reacts to the music and words that were flowing from the other side of the stage. I did not stay till the end of this programme but the concept impressed me enough to come back the next day.

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Image courtesy: https://twitter.com/keshav61/status/923744035826630656 (you can find more beautiful sketches of Krishna by Keshav on his Twitter)

1. mArgazhi thingaL – nAttai – ANdAL – Sriram
2. bAla sarasa muraLi – kIravANi – UtthukkAdu venkatasubbaiyar – outline – Nisha
3. srI vENugOpAlA – kurinji – dIkshitar – Gayatri
4. sAmaja vara gamanA – hindOLam (meaning: to swing freely together) – tyAgarAja – AlApana, swarams – Sriram
5. srI rAjagOpAla bAla – sAvEri – dIkshitar – AlApana, neraval – Nisha, Gayatri
6. jamunA kinArE mOrA gAon – misra kalyAN – ? – Sriram
7. bAlagOpAlA – bhairavi – dIkshitar – AlApana, swarams – Gayatri, Nisha
8. kAkkai chiraginilE – brindAvana sArangA – bhArati – outline – Nisha
9. tAyE yasOdA – tOdi – UtthukkAdu venkatasubbaiyar – Sriram

Day 3

Day 3’s programme was called ‘Story in concert’. The description given in the pamphlet that was distributed the previous day did not quite give away what it was about. While introducing the artists, Charubala of Charsur said that it was Jayanthi Kumaresh’s idea to do a ‘story in concert’. From that idea sprang a full 3-day festival, which Charsur chose to call the ‘antarkatha – inner story through music and art’. Jayanthi’s idea was to present a story in a concert through different media – song, percussion, words (story), painting. Jayanthi Kumaresh played the Veena (rather her Veena enacted the part of the Veena 😉 ), Vidhya Anand transported us to Ambi’s world through her story ‘The Mystery of the Missing Veena’, K U Jayachandra Rao played the Mridangam, Pramath Kiran played the tabla and morsing, and Neernalli Ganapathy from Hubli brought to life with his lightning-fast strokes each episode of ‘The Mystery of the Missing Veena’. The programme invoked hearing drama on radio, reading a comic book, listening to a concert, listening to fusion music and simply listening to a grandmother’s tale all rolled into one. Perfectly conceptualised and perfectly executed. Vidhya Anand narrated the story in colloquial Tamil, interspersed with some English, just as we speak, starting with ‘Once upon a time… ‘.

There lived a little boy called Ambi with his parents, periamma and periappa. He was fond of his Lalitha periamma, who pampered him and was more of his friend except for that magical time after lighting the lamp in the evening, when she took out her Veena for her daily sadhaka, which left Ambi in so much awe and wonder that he would only peep from behind a door or a window to see his periamma practising with that aura. We could imagine Jayanthi Kumaresh transforming into Lalitha and her Veena played the Sankarabharanam varnam, while we saw within the span of that five minutes the back view of little Ambi standing hesitantly in a room, looking out from the window at the form of his periamma playing the lilting swarams of Sankarabharanam on her Veena. Neernalli Ganapathy was a magician. With a thread(?) and some paint, he could create a marvel in a span of minutes, bringing to life the little details of our little Ambi’s world, perfectly in sync with the duration of the song.

As Ambi grew more and more in love with the music and the Veena, he boldly asked his periamma one day to teach him the Veena. His periamma agreed to teach on two conditions: 1. he would practise for two hours every morning before school and 2. practise for two hours every evening after coming back from school. Ambi, after much thought, agreed to it, pushing away thoughts of his play time that he would have to give up in order to do this. And so began Ambi’s journey with the Veena. A song in Malahari was one of his first lessons. Jayanthi’s Veena now transformed to Ambi’s Veena playing the song and we saw the next canvas creating the scene of Ambi and Lalitha seated with their respective veenas, playing Malahari. Yet again, the painting was complete just as the last strains of Malahari flowed from the Veena.

Lalitha’s Veena was not just any other Veena. It was a 150-year-old Veena handed down over generations and Lalitha took great care of it. When she became very old, she gave it to Ambi so that he could continue playing on that. Ambi, by now, had become a true vidwan. He would not perform in public, but whenever he played the Veena, one sensed the magic of the world that he was creating through his Veena. He had learnt to play rare ragams like kAntAmaNi – a melakartha ragam that sounded like a beautiful amalgamation of kalyANi and sucharitrA. Jayanti outdid herself playing this beautiful ragam. Neernalli Ganapathy painted a picture that invoked nature, sculpture and art through Ambi’s Veena.

In the meantime, Lalitha had passed away. Ambi was working as a Data scientist and got an opportunity to move to Mumbai from his beloved Madras. He couldn’t stand parting from his Veena and decided to take it with him. He arranged for a separate cargo to take it to his new Mumbai house. And so Ambi began his new life in Mumbai waiting eagerly for his Veena at 3106, 10th Main, Shanti Vihar. The rest of his luggage arrived within a couple of days but his Veena seemed to be missing without a trace. The courier company had no answer and could only keep assuring him that they were ‘trying to locate it’. Ambi was anxious, and dreaded what would have happened to his precious Veena. His heart was playing its agitated tani avartanam – Jayachandra Rao and Pramath played a very different kind of tani avartanam that would have fitted perfectly as a background music to any movie scene showing the emotions of an Ambi-like character. Meanwhile, the artist was drawing what looked like a modern guy with torn jeans, t-shirt, earrings on one ear, playing the Veena in an awkward position sitting cross-legged in an angle with a thought-bubble that showed a guitar inside it. The audience was left wondering who this person was. There seemed to have been a bit of a confusion since Neernalli Ganapathy did not know Tamil, so he wasn’t sure of the exact scene being narrated, but this also added an element of mystery to the audience.

We would discover who that young man was after that sprightly tani avartanam. John, residing at 3106, 10th Main, Shanti Vilas, received a big box one day. He was a confused electric guitarist playing in a jazz band and simply assumed that someone had sent that box as a gift. On opening the same, he found this ‘strange’ instrument, the name of which he had no clue. After googling about Indian instruments, he found out that it was the Saraswati Veena. Something drew him to the instrument, so he started trying to play it. Not in the Carnatic style, but in his chaste electric guitar style. And, once again, Jayanti’s Veena acquired its new character of an electric guitarist’s Veena. Jayanti played some completely non-Carnatic jazzy music which sounded absolutely delightful, while Neernalli Ganapathy recreated the torn-jeans-earring-adorned John once again playing the Veena, while Ambi was terribly worried about his Veena, since it was over a month since he moved to Mumbai.

Finally, Ambi received a call from the courier company informing him that the Veena had been delivered to 3106, 10th Main, Shanti Vilas instead of Shanti Vihar and they could return it to him in a couple of days. Ambi couldn’t wait that long. He immediately noted the address and drove down to the current residence of his cherished 150-year old Veena. And there he was greeted by John and his amazing music studio. He was glad that his Veena had somehow found its way to a musician’s house. John was way too curious and had gotten very attached to the Veena with his recent experiments that he wouldn’t let Ambi simply pick up the Veena and leave. He asked Ambi to tell him more about this instrument. Jayanti (as Ambi) spoke eloquently about the history of the Veena – an ancient instrument with an important place in Indian culture with all gods and goddesses playing this instrument, its form as a reincarnation of the human body itself, the positive vibrations that are generated (destroying any negative vibrations that may be present) when one plays the Veena and the peace that it brings to the listeners, the incredible amount of multitasking that a person playing the Veena has to do in terms of keeping the beat with one hand, remembering the notes and playing them with the other hand and keeping the spine straight – a great exercise for children that could help them improve their learning capabilities and concentration. The Veena has not changed form for a long time now. If one has a Veena at home, it does bring positive vibrations, but it should be regularly played and one should never keep a broken Veena at home.

After hearing this, John really wanted to hear Ambi play the Veena the way it is supposed to be played. And Ambi launched into a Ragam Tanam Pallavi in Kharaharapriya that totally blew John away. It was as if Saraswati herself was playing the instrument. By the time the Tanam was done, Neernalli Ganapathy had already created a masterpiece of Saraswati standing in a graceful reclining pose, playing the Veena. John and the audience were really left with no words.

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Thus, Ambi was reunited with his missing Veena. In a few days, his doorbell rang and he was pleasantly surprised to see John with a new Veena in his hand. John wanted to learn the Veena from Ambi. And so continues the story of music – passing from one generation to another, taking in its stride countless musicians, artists, storytellers, and the millions of hearts of enamoured and overwhelmed and blessed rasikas. As Madhyamavati poured out from the Veena before the curtains would close, I felt the bliss of having experienced a unique programme by outstanding artists (kudos also to Vidhya Anand for a truly engaging storytelling with ‘natural’ dialogues and expressions), that gratified all the senses, and I revelled in the magic of art.

 

Pre-determinism

If this moment was already pre-ordained,
That I would write these words,
That I would smile thinking that thought,
That in some corner of the globe right now,
There is a person laughing out loud,
Another crying out loud,
Someone ranting mindlessly,
Someone giving the most inspirational speech,
If it were all pre-ordained,
What do you and I have to worry about?
Ah, you might say that this worry too is pre-ordained,
But isn’t it your mind that is worrying?
What are you doing?
Just watch your mind,
Following its pre-ordained course,
Rushing through the forest of objects,
Streaming its incessant emotions,
Carrying along the boat of thoughts,
Unto that unknown destination.
It’s just a beautiful picture – let it be.
You go on, not worrying about the past or the present or the future,
It’s the mind’s job.
You go on,
For thou art that not.

Kaatru Veliyidai – An assault on the senses

Spoilers ahead…

It is oft-said that no two people watch the same movie (even though they ‘see’ the same movie, they ‘experience’ different movies). To me, a movie is an experience that goes beyond the 2-3 hours that I spend watching it. A Mani Ratnam movie never fails to create this experience – the impact of watching the film lasting much longer than the duration of the film, as one tries to unravel the layers built into that final package, making sense of dialogues, fitting scenes into the neat little theories that we have already made for Mani Ratnam (mirrors, trains, rains, his trademark romance, sharp dialogues), being in awe of the technical superiority of the whole film, and more and more these days, what is new that Mani Ratnam is attempting (the switching between the past and present in Alaipayuthey, the completely offbeat editing style of Raavan(an), what is left unsaid, and so on).

The opening sequence, shot in grey and the fonts that looked like they were dripping with blood and ending with VC being captured as a prisoner of war, created a dramatic start to the movie. Contrasting that was the casual conversation that followed between VC and Girija that ended in an unexpected edge-of-life moment in all senses. A brilliant start to the gripping first half – tightly packed with plenty of songs and the chemistry building up between the two in lots of ‘Mani Ratnamesque’ moments – Leela going in search of VC to his ‘camp’ reminiscent of Karthik going in search of Shakti to her ‘camp’. ‘Naa ippo duty la irukken’ pops up here verbatim – a dialogue that we heard in Alaipayuthey too from a doctor when she gets a call from her lover 🙂

As in all of Mani’s movies, the supporting characters steal the show here too with a few scenes – Leela’s friend and Elias (RJ Balaji plays the part perfectly). Mani Ratnam uses both of them to understand and ponder over what’s going on in Leela’s mind and, of course, providing us his trademark comic relief with just a couple of ‘natural’ dialogues. The dialogues in the last scene between the two too are crisply written.

A R Rahman outperforms himself yet again with the songs and the background music. It is sheer magic to experience the music unfold throughout the movie. In this movie too, he utilises one of his oft-used and effective techniques of using the song in a slightly different form as a background score, carrying over the emotions and the lingering moments (a reflection, really, of how nothing truly leaves us – we continue to carry the emotions from the past and they surely express themselves in different ways – as strengthening of a bond, as the doubts that creep in when faced with a decision to make; how music never leaves us – the much subtler carrier of emotions than words and thoughts and action): ‘Vaan’ at the beginning, ‘Tango’ instrumental reinterpretation in a scene that follows the song and AR Rahman’s humming at those moments when VC is the most vulnerable, including that last scene.

There are lot of ManiRatnamesque moments throughout the movie. One such is the conversation between Karthi and another officer over a beer about comparing the war with Pakistan to Mahabharata, which also portrays clearly VC’s attitude to everything in life. Mani relishes in showing the beautiful little joys of life that we derive from art – humming while going about one’s work around the house, just gathering of a group of friends where singing, dancing happens naturally (and it’s not just a group of friends here but a group of officers strongly bound together away from home and who face war day in and day out), reciting Bharatiyar poetry. All this made me reminiscent of that brilliant single shot of Vedic chanting, Carnatic music lessons and Bharatanatyam lessons happening at the river bank at the break of dawn in Thalapathy.

Mani has talked about the evolution of the urban women in our society with time: from Divya (Mouna Ragam) to Shakti (Alaipayuthey) to Tara (OK Kanmani) who were more and more empowered to make their choices. Here, we can see the evolution in the way some of his other characters think as well. In 2004, Aayitha Ezhuthu was a new age and ahead-of-its-time story even for that time, with Michael reacting with surprise and not shock or shame when Esha says that she may be pregnant. Mani tracks the further evolution of that attitude in this film. There is a casual offhandedness about a pregnant bride and VC saying that he will marry only after the birth of his first child (which may actually come true, if Leela ever agrees to marry him).

The core of the film is Leela and VC’s intense relationship. This is the first film of both Karthi and Aditi that I watched and was blown away by both their performances, especially Karthi’s. He can be the charming wooer and it’s no surprise that Leela falls for him, especially given her ‘fandom’ from her school days after hearing about VC through her brother. The initial scenes of their getting together are crafted beautifully. The songs accentuate every emotion. Mani is no stranger to weaving his story with songs and those short dialogues within the songs (Yaaro Yaarodi, Yakkai Thiri/Fanaa). ‘Tango’ does that perfectly yet again. Formal dancing in the Armed Forces, it seems, is a remnant of the British culture that is there even today. After one of their first tussles, his coming to her home and wooing her back with Nallai Allai was beautifully picturised. It actually didn’t seem out of place at that point since we had already been introduced to his influences of Bharatiyar and Tamizh and interest in music. This scene was immediately followed by him bragging to his friends about getting her back – another glimpse of how things would continue to evolve throughout the course of their relationship.

The whole relationship is complex, intense, passionate, exposing both their vulnerabilities and strongheadedness. He doesn’t really seem to care about anyone but himself, but he does care about her at some level – it was too buried amidst everything else for it to come through. He was a work in progress at the beginning of the film and he still seemed to be so at the end. On the other hand, Leela struggles with herself throughout the movie unable to be without him and unable to be with him. The discovery that she is pregnant (another brilliant piece of acting by Karthi when he shows with just the change in the expression in his eyes that he discovers that she is pregnant) and his answer to her Yes or No question finally seemed to force her to take the step of separating herself from him. Even at the end, Leela introduces VC as Varun and not Appa to their child (she does name her Rohini as he had wanted for their imaginary twins (Rohan and Rohini)). Does this mean that she doesn’t entirely believe that he has changed? That it was just another episode in their alternatingly passionately loving and suffocating relationship? That she had outgrown him in those three years, that she was already prepared when she decided to have her child that she doesn’t ‘need’ him? I felt the transformation in her rather than in him in that last scene although she tells him that the child is his ‘poruppu’. A very classy and understated performance by Aditi.

Though the scenes that show VC at work and even during his first flight with Leela gave a glimpse, I felt that it did not help us understand more about the officers in the Armed forces and what they go through in their job. There was a lot of buildup about this in the promotion of the movie before the release, but that didn’t quite come through. Just enough was maybe retained to understand why Karthi was an extreme character. And that, I think, made the whole sequence of events leading from their capture to escape even weaker. There was no suspense in their escape and it seemed to happen matter-of-factly. This was the weakest part of the film.

Kaatru Veliyidai, in short, was an assault on the senses in all possible ways – the highs of the music throughout (the soul-stirring humming by Rahman in key scenes including the last one, which stays with you long after (another ‘impact’ of the film)), breathtaking visuals that are weaved into the story and don’t stand out just because they were shot in scenic locations, a complete transportation to the look, sound, feel of being amidst snow-capped mountains, the intense chemistry between the two, the emotional highs and lows, and the frustratingly simple sequence of events leading to their escape from Pakistan.

I would rather watch a Mani Ratnam film any day, however flawed it may be, than watching a film by someone else. Mani always celebrates the joy of life, and in this film, he goes a layer beneath and the joy, though present, is more elusive, as we also tend to experience in the stark reality of life.

P.S. At Escape (Express Avenue, Chennai), where I watched this movie, at least two scenes were not shown (they seem to have been shown in other places/theatres): death of Leela’s grandfather and the dinner table confrontation between VC and Leela’s parents. Wonder if this was a last-minute cut to the film to fit it into 140 minutes, as some news articles report. Would have felt more complete watching these important scenes which seemed to have shown VC in his worst element.

What if someone other than Voldemort had cast Avada Kedavra on Harry Potter?

I have been pondering this question of late. From the information that JK Rowling has given us from the Harry Potter books, what is expected to happen (or not) if someone other than Voldemort had cast Avada Kedavra on Harry (while Harry was still a Horcrux)?

There are several aspects to be considered before answering this question. Firstly, Harry’s body does not contain only his soul but also Voldemort’s, i.e. Harry Potter = Harry Potter’s body + Harry Potter’s complete soul + Voldemort’s one-eighth soul.

Next, Avada Kedavra seems (http://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/65638/what-type-of-damage-does-avada-kedavra-do) to make the body on which it is cast lifeless and separates the soul from the body (in a single-souled body). Therefore, assuming that Avada Kedavra can make the body lifeless, which soul(s), if any, would an Avada Kedavra separate from Harry’s body? Would souls have the choice of their fate? To move on or be a ghost maybe. (As an aside, are the talking portraits some form of a ‘Horcrux’?)

But then, Harry is a Horcrux, that is, he’s a container for Voldemort’s soul. Applying the rule for destruction of Horcruxes, he cannot be destroyed simply by Avada Kedavra. However, which part of ‘Harry’ is the container for Voldemort’s soul? Is it Harry’s body only? If it’s Harry’s body only, then the Avada Kedavra should not be able to have the usual effect it would have on a body of making it lifeless (which can be thought of as rendering the container incapable of holding a soul). If it’s not Harry’s body only but also his soul, then, well, the container (= Harry’s body + soul) cannot also be destroyed by Avada Kedavra. Therefore, the Avada Kedavra is not expected to produce the effect of making Harry’s body lifeless when it is cast by someone other than Voldemort. Consequently, Voldemort’s one-eighth soul cannot be destroyed by casting Avada Kedavra on Harry.

Finally, Harry’s blood runs in Voldemort’s body as well – which is a sort of Harry’s Horcrux, so Harry cannot die. Therefore, Avada Kedavra, if was cast by someone other than Voldemort, even if it manages to separate his soul from his body, since his body cannot be made lifeless, could he have just flipped back to his body?

What exactly happened when Voldemort cast Avada Kedavra on Harry in the forest? Harry’s body, I think, couldn’t be made lifeless since it was the Horcrux-container. However, both souls split from the body. And Harry and Voldemort respectively went into the ‘after-life/limbo’ zone since each of their souls was split from Harry’s body. Harry’s soul chose to come back to his body. Could Voldemort’s one-eighth have also chosen to come back to Harry’s body or some other object? Was Voldemort afraid of the limbo zone and chose not to bring that part of his soul back?

In any case, it would have added more drama and intrigue to the story and to the aura of The Chosen One if someone had tried to cast the Avada Kedavra on Harry and it failed to kill him or had produced some unusual effect.