Sunday, November 06, 2005

Women in Saptha Swarangal

With a four-year old at home, we have pretty much stopped watching TV ("Hey! You don't allow me to watch Power Rangers, and how come you are watching that movie?"). The one thing that I have managed to negotiate with the f.y.o. is the half-an-hour of Saptha Swarangal show on Sun TV every Sunday. It is a music competition, with its focus firmly on Tamil film songs, and it has been running non-stop for over six years now.

In the last year or so, Saptha Swarangal has reinvented itself into a truly wonderful program. Not that the earlier program was a pushover, but the new format is even better. There is none of that voice-oriented display of talent for individuals; now, it is for teams. In other words, the competition is between two different orchestra teams which, typically, are from colleges.

I like the new format for several reasons. First, when the teams perform a hit song, in spite of their best efforts to sound like the original, they end up sounding refreshingly different -- probably because they lack some of the instuments used in the original. Since some parts of the competition are forced on the teams (songs from MGR movies, for example), their choice of songs is also different from mine. This makes for an exquisite combination of songs.

Even in the regular song rounds, some excellent talent is on display on the instruments; in addition, there is also an instrumental round. When they perform as a team, their ability to work together is also nice to watch. Sometimes, whey they try to hide the inadequacies of a weak player, that is also cute!

Different teams come in with, naturally, different sets of instruments. I have seen a simple guitar-keyboard-drums combination; I have also seen teams with flutes, violins, two sets of keyboards, veena, mridangam, tabla, and so on.

In an earlier era: In the excellent Indian light music groups that we had in IT-BHU in the early eighties, the women rarely did things other than singing. Of course we had very few women in IT-BHU those days (I don't know if things are different now); but even in university-wide light music competitions, women just sang, with men doing pretty much everything else.

The best part is that I have seen women playing almost all the instruments; there have been several all-women teams, and there have also been other teams where women played the keyboard, the mridangam and even the drums! So, it is absolutely great to watch so many women doing pretty much everything there is in an orchestra. Some of the teams are also led by women -- a sight that is really, really rare in professional light music teams.

Needless to say, the role-model effect of all this is obvious.

You don't need to think about such social consequences to enjoy the program. You can watch it just for its refreshing and wonderful music. And when the team is really good (like the one that played 'Minsaara Kannaa' when Nithyashree was the judge!), the music could be truly sublime.