Posts Tagged ‘Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar’

Championing Carnatic (by objecting to Hindustani)?

October 25, 2007

In his Encore piece in the Hindu, Sriram Venkatkrishnan seems to imply that Sambanda Mudaliar championed Carnatic music when he objected to the use of Hindustani tunes in South Indian movie music (Throughout the post, the bold emphasis in the quotes is mine):

It was perhaps appropriate that at the end of the first decade of Tamil cinema, Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar, eminent playwright, actor and film director of the early period, took time to analyse the role of classical music in South Indian films. His article, “South Indian Talkies — Carnatic Music vs Hindustani Music” appeared in The Hindu dated July 18, 1941, in the paper’s Friday round up of films.

Born as he was in 1872, Sambanda Mudaliar could truly claim that it was his “good fortune to hear almost all the best musicians from the South, including the famous Maha Vaidyanatha Aiyar. I have been thrilled by the sweet strains of Tirukkodikaval Krishna Aiyar on the violin, Seshanna on the Veena and Sarabha Sastri on the flute; I can boast of having heard every exponent of Carnatic music for the past 50 years, both at music parties and on the stage.”

Mudaliar emerges from the article as a strong champion of Carnatic Music. His first paragraph itself is titled “Objections to Hindustani Music!” In it he decries the tendency of music directors of the period to bring in tunes from that idiom. He bases his objection on the fact that “very few South Indian musicians know how to sing northern tunes properly… Probably musicians who have studied both the systems of music scientifically can be counted on the fingers of one hand. What 99 per cent of the people of the South who attempt Hindustani music do, is to hear gramophone records of Northern music, or in a few cases hear Northern musicians in person, and try to imitate the tunes; the result is in most cases a dismal failure.”

I do not know if Mudaliar’s objections about the lack of training of Carnatic musicians to sing Hindustani tunes is true; even so, I can not accept that objecting to Hindustani is in anyway championing Carnatic.

Further, I also found some inconsistencies in Mudaliar’s stand (from what Sriram quotes in the piece, of course — I did not read the original piece); take a look at the following two quotes:

While accepting that Hindustani tunes have a “catchy style which appeals easily to the popular mind,” Mudaliar wrote that the grafting of such tunes into South Indian films also has the problem of getting Tamil/Telugu words to fit into them. Such attempts, he says, go “against every rule of vernacular prosody; it is a jingle of words, which may please the illiterate, but which must make the lover of literary language shudder.”

Perhaps referring to “Sakunthalai,” starring M.S.Subbulakshmi-GNB, Mudaliar writes that “in a talkie which is at present running to popular houses in the whole of southern India in which one of the sweetest-voiced actresses of South India has taken the chief feminine role, though she sings both Carnatic and Hindustani songs, it is the former that sends the audience into raptures and captivates them.”

Finally, I found some of Mudaliar’s arguments to be distasteful:

He uses this to buttress his stance that “the greatness and sweetness of Carnatic music can never fade, and in the hands of proper artistes it can hold its own against northern music or the music of any other country.” Mudaliar ends his article with a scathing attack on English Notes. “Some actresses and actors indulge (thank God they are very few!) in what are called English Notes. There is neither harmony nor melody in these attempts. They are mere servile imitations, which do not please even the European public.”

Oh, come on — music is not about one-up-man-ship — nor is it a weapon to be held against other forms/traditions.

I am also not too happy with the tone of Sriram’s article; he seems to be in implicit agreement with Mudaliar. You might still want to take a look at the piece if you are curious about the history of Indian classical and south Indian movie music, and their interaction, though.