Listen to change

Listen to change

As the concert hall gave way to a cinema hall through MadRasana, audience and artistes moved closer to Carnatic music this Madras Music Season

It was 8 am in a Chennai multiplex. A crowd — an assortment of old women, college kids, svelte society women and sons-of-the-soil in veshtis and others — had already gathered near one of its halls. Passers-by might have wondered what kind of film had drawn such a crowd.

If you had stepped inside, you would have found a makeshift stage ready with a mridangam, ghatam, violin, tambura — and mikes and speakers… After all, it was the last week of December and the exhilarating Margazhi madness had truly taken over the city.

MadRasana’s inaugural fest of concerts-in-a-cinema hall was one of the highlights of this year’s Chennai’s trademark Margazhi Mahotsavam. The MadRasana concert I attended — Bharat Sunder’s — saw a nearly full house, and the usurer informed me that the crowd had been good every day of the five-day fest. The three-hour programme included the screening of MadRasana carnatic videos on the big screen, followed by Bharat Sunder’s live kutcheri.

“From the response we have had, hopefully this will become an annual feature,” averred Mahesh Venkateswaran, the founder of MadRasana. Someone who quit his high-profile job with an IT firm to devote his life to his passions, Mahesh dreamt up MadRasana in 2016 to “present classical art in an intimate setting, to bring the artiste, the art form and the listeners closer to each other to have a better connect.”

Getting closer

Bharat Sundar Garden Concert

These theatre concerts are one such attempt to forge a connect. “The kind of crowd we saw at the theatre fest was quite different from the crowds at concert hall,” he recalled, taking pleasure in presenting the cerebral music format that is Carnatic music to a new audience of youngsters.

Popular vocalist Sandeep Narayan, one of the singers at the fest, concurred. “It was different. And heartwarming that even at eight in the morning, people had queued up for the concert. Many of them — hardcore listerners of the music as well as those who don’t listen to it — spoke to me after the concert. The concert was visually nice; there was good acoustics and an interesting audience.”

How was singing for an audience seated on reclining chairs? Had he found their attention casual? “The lights were a little dim, so I don’t know. But I don’t think people were too passive. I think people were just comfortable and relaxed,” he said.

Morning kutcheris don’t fit into the festival format. But Mahesh chose this time zone since it was the inaugural edition. This timing allowed for visibility and let the audience experience it without missing out on their evening festival haunts. The concerts handed out free passes, but the audience was given the option of donating funds to support three charities picked by MadRasana. “More funds are raised this way than if we charge for the concerts. The audience has been very generous,” shared Mahesh.  

Mahesh Venkateswaran

When Mahesh founded MadRasana in 2016, he started off with Garden Concerts and then moved on to MadRasana Unplugged, which uploads Carnatic music videos on its YouTube channel. Many videos have gone viral, and have drawn enquires from people across the world.

The videos feature one song with just the artiste, plus the tambura in the case of vocal music. “The idea is to give the art and the artiste all the focus,” he pointed out. 


MadRasana started off with indoor shoots; with Sandeep Narayan’s song, the videos started exploring outdoor terrains.

For instance, Sandeep’s video of the Tulasidas bhajan Gopala Gokula in Raga Vallabi, shot on a waterfront in a village on the scenic East Coast Road leading out of Chennai, has registered 20,000 views already, and has become quite a talking point.“There have been a number of positive comments from across the world; they overwhelmed us. Even during this music season, everyone including the sabha secretaries had a word of appreciation for the video,” said Sandeep.

Meanwhile, the konnakol duet by young V Shivapriya and B R Somashekar Jois, released in February 2018, garnered 2,18,000 views and inspired the making of a cover on it, and even the drum cover (by Amir Usman) on this cover registered 4,700 views.

Today, many artistes approach MadRasana for being part of these music videos. So, these videos provide an effective way to take Carnatic music to the millennials and screen generations of India. However, one hopes that the videos could be better visually. “Shooting these video costs me around 60 thousand rupees, especially when an outdoor location is involved, with seven cameras needed for the shoot and recording on 4K mode so that the videos can be screened in a theatre someday,” detailed Mahesh, adding that he had been spending out of his pocket for the same.

“We do get some support from friends and music aficionados. But because we do not give much limelight to the sponsors, sponsor support has been rather limited. Seeing the good run these videos have, this (funding) scenario is changing, though,” he said.

MadRasana Unplugged has released upwards of 50 videos so far. The artiste chooses the song. “We intervene only to avoid repetitions of  song/raaga,” explained Mahesh.
The idea of MadRasana was to give a different experience of Carnatic music without taking away its core.

An impressive start was made.