CHENNAI: It is not easy to tell his age, as veena artiste R Parthasarathy still bustles about as in his 30s. He’s one of those artistes who has had the opportunity to play veena for veteran music directors like K V Mahadevan, Ilaiyaraaja, A R Rahman and Vidyasagar. City Express catches up with the artiste who will be conferred with Vidhya Tapasvi award for his significant contribution towards bhakti-oriented arts, on December 21.
“My goal was not to become a veena artiste. It was an accident. But music has always been there in the family. My father Raghavan was a well-known veena exponent back in the days. He was supposed to play an elaborate veena bit in Idhaya Veenai, an MGR flick released in 1972. Due to his commitments then, he wasn’t able to. I stepped in for him, and since then, there has been no looking back,” he says.
Parthasarathy has more than 1,500 feature films to his credit. He has played a number of devotional songs, besides albums for artistes including German flautist John Kaizen Neptune, Pandit Ravishankar, Lalgudi G Jayaraman, T N Krishnan and V S Narasimhan.
Parthasarathy says his musical career spanning over three decades in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi industry, is just something that happened to him. “When I entered films, I didn’t know how to write notes. I learnt music without knowing that it will become my calling one day,” he says.
An A Grade artiste of All India Radio, Parthasarathy says he never found it tough to balance veena recitals and film recordings. “In concerts, you decide what to play. In film recording, you have to play as per the composer’s directions. In film songs, you have to shift the sruti and play. That was a big challenge,” he says.
Talking about his friendship with maestro Ilaiyaraaja, Parthasarathy says, “He and I share a good rapport. I was part of his music orchestra most of the time. We gave many hits in the 70s and 80s including Aayiram Thamarai (Alaigal Oyivathillai), Thakita Thadhimi (Salangai Oli), Aadal Kalaiye (Sri Raghavendra) and Janani Janani (Thai Moogambigai),” he says.
Parthasarathy’s technical competence and analytical proficiency have made him a natural teacher. He has seen carnatic music emerging from temples to sabhas and later to instant downloads and YouTube videos. “Though I don’t handle regular music classes, I teach students here and abroad, on Skype,” he says.
Parthasarathy says that instruments like veena do not get their due during the December season. “Vocal concerts form almost 95 per cent of the pie and for instrumentalists, there are fewer opportunities. Sabhas should not look for crowd and prefer vocalists all the time,” he says.
Parthasarathy doesn’t participate much in the music season. He says he’s quite unhappy about the existing sabha systems and practice. “The deserving always got a chance, but nowadays, it’s not so. Though there are more opportunities for budding talent now, quality takes a backseat,” he says. He quotes initiatives like veenotsavs, organised by Mudhra and Narada Gana Sabha, as a solution to give veena its due importance. “The instrument has to be celebrated throughout and not during the festival time alone,” he says.
According to Parthasarathy, who is part of a legacy with an illustrious musical lineage, the more gifted one is, the more responsible one has to be. “Performance might bring popularity but satisfaction comes only from delving deep into the instrument and learning more,” he says.
A recipient of many recognition and awards, Parthasarathy has performed in a number of places across India and abroad. “But somewhere within me, the experimental artiste is looking for an outlet. I have no regrets whatsoever. What I am today is because of the film music. And that’s where my heart is,” he signs off.