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Ilaiyaraaja turns 72: 7 things you probably didn’t know about the music maestro

A file photo of the veteran composer

A file photo of the veteran composer

As the maestro Ilaiyaraaja turns a year older, we present before you some interesting facts about his life.

Hyderabad: A couple of years ago, when filmmaker R Balki said that for him Ilaiyaraaja means music and music means Ilaiyaraaja he  echoed the sentiments of each and every movie buff. During his long and illustrious career, the veteran composer has floored critics and audiences alike, thanks to his tranquilising compositions. Today, as the maestro turns a year older, we present before you some interesting facts about his life.

Ilaiyaraaja is not his birth name: Contrary to popular perception, Ilaiyaraaja is not the maestro’s actual name. When 'isaignani' was born exactly 72 years ago, his parents named him Gnanadesikan. On entering school, his name was changed to Rajaiya. Thereafter, the composer’s name was changed once again before the release of his first film. As it so happens a popular producer decided to rechristen him Ilaiyaraaja , ensuring  that audiences did not confuse him with  music director AM Rajah who was pretty popular at that time.

He is a quick learner: Born in rural Tamil Nadu, Ilaiyaraaja was exposed to folk music right from a very young age. Intrigued by the beauty of music, he joined a musical troupe at the age of 14. Shortly thereafter, the maestro composed the musical adaptation of an elegy penned by noted poet Kannadasan, proving that he was a quick and dedicated learner.

He worked as an assistant to some well known music directors:  Before entering the film industry, 'Isaignani' honed his skills by playing the guitar for 'Anand' fame music composer Salil Chowdhury. Thereafter, Ilaiyaraaja was hired as a music assistant by GK Venkatesh. He worked with him on numerous Kannada films.  Working alongside such legends went a long way in helping him perfect his craft and revolutionize the music industry.

Ilaiyaraaja  is Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth’s favourite composer: A seasoned veteran, Ilaiyaraaja has composed music for well over 1000 films till now. Interestingly, nearly 20 percent of these films have featured either Kamal Haasan or Rajinikanth in the lead. His most noted projects with the 'Ulaga Nayagan' include 'Sadma', 'Hey Ram' and 'Apoorva Sagodharargal'. On the other hand his most significant collaborations with the 'Thalaiva' are 'Thalapathi' and 'Mappillai'.

Ilaiyaraaja is humility personified:  It was in 1999 that Kamal Haasan shocked fans and critics alike, when he asked violinist L Subramanian and not Ilaiyaraaja to compose music for ‘Hey Ram’. Unfortunately, Subramaniam quit the project after recording a few songs. Haasan’s worries increased even more when he realized that the violinist’s tracks were not suitable for what had been shot, meaning that all the songs would have to be filmed again. It was at this point that 'Isaignani' came to the actor’s rescue dubbing the soundtrack while maintaining its quality. This despite all that had transpired previously.

Amitabh Bachchan is scared of Ilaiyaraaja: Some time ago Amitabh Bachchan revealed that he felt nervous on being asked to record a song for ‘Paa’ in the maestro’s overwhelming presence. In doing so, Big B very subtly paid homage Ilaiyaraaja’s musical abilities. This proved that the composer’s musical knowledge is so deep that even a 'shahenshah' can be unnerved by it

He is an International star:  Long before AR Rahman won two Academy awards for 'Slumdog Millionaire', it was Ilaiyaraaja who put India on the world map. In the early 1990’s 'Isaignani' created history when he became the first Asian to conduct a full-fledged symphony of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Moreover, his song 'Rakkamma' from 'Thalapathi' secured fourth position in a poll conducted by a leading International channel to determine the 10 most popular tracks of all time.

first published:June 02, 2015, 14:30 IST