The Ilaiyaraaja interview

What do you first ask an artist whose work has flavoured — perhaps even lent meaning to — the lives of millions? Do you talk about how you were fed food as a child to his music? Do you talk about how his music helped you tide through personal tragedies? Do you talk about how they amplified your greatest achievements, how they made more beautiful your most beautiful moments? Do you talk about how his music is the glue that helps you piece together the past? Dressed in white, as though he needed further deifying, he sits in front of you, waiting for your first question. You blurt out astonishment that he’s worked on more than 1,000 films, more than 7,000 songs, and more than 20,000 concerts. It’s astronomical, and it’s almost frightening. You exclaim this aloud. He shrugs; it just happened, he says. No research needed, no analysis of it required, nada.



You remember, while devouring all his speeches, that he’s always spoken of concerts with great love. You ask him about the rush of playing music live. He throws a far-off look, and remembers how the first high he got out of composing music was in playing them to his friends. Armed with an harmonium, he would play the popular cinema songs of the time, and in between, sneak in original compositions. His friends would ask him which film they belonged to? In pride, in ambition, he would say, “The film hasn’t been released yet.” It was the first time he believed that his work was worthy of being in films. It was the first sign that his music had, as he often puts it, “uyirottam” and “iyalbaana azhagu unarchi”. He uses these words to explain the inexplicable that makes good songs great. He says a great song needs to have a musical sense, the right grammar, but most importantly, “Adhayum thaandi…” You have listened to Kanmani Anbodu Kadhalan many hundreds of times, and so cannot stop yourself from completing his sentence: “…punidhamaanadhu.” He may be 75 years old now, but he’s as sharp as ever. He remembers Kamal Haasan’s song, and with a laugh, goes, “Idhu manidhar kaadhalalla!” Your mind happily continues, “Undaana kaayamengum…” but he’s waiting for your next question.

For the remainder of this interview (and there’s a lot more left, I assure you), please visit

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