Ilaiyaraaja whose birth name is R. Gnanathesikan, is an Indian musician, composer, arranger, conductor, orchestrator, instrumentalist, lyricist and singer, popular for his works in Indian Cinema, prominently in Tamil & Telugu films. Reputed to be one of the most prolific Indian composers, in a career spanning over forty-five years, he has composed over 7,000 songs and provided film scores for over 1,000 films, apart from performing in over 20,000 concerts. Ilaiyaraaja is nicknamed “Isaignani” (the musical genius) and often referred to as “Maestro”, the title conferred by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, London.
|Full Name/Stage Name||R. Gnanathesikan/Ilaiyaraaja|
|Date of Birth||3 June 1943|
|Occupation||Indian Musician, Composer, Arranger, Conductor, Orchestrator, Instrumentalist, Lyricist and Singer|
|Net Worth||$15 million|
Who is Ilaiyaraaja?
Ilayaraja was one of the earliest Indian film composers to use Western classical music harmonies and string arrangements in Tamil film music, and the first South Asian to compose a full symphony. In 1986, he became the first Indian composer to record a soundtrack with computer for the film Vikram. He also composed Thiruvasagam in Symphony (2006), the first Indian oratorio.
In 2013, when CNN-IBN conducted a poll commemorating 100 years of Indian cinema, Ilaiyaraaja, secured 49% of the people’s vote and was adjudged as the country’s greatest music composer. In 2014, the American world cinema portal, “Taste of Cinema”, placed him at 9th position in its list of 25 greatest film composers in the history of cinema, he’s the only Indian in the list among names such as Ennio Morricone, John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith.
Early and Educational Life of Ilaiyaraaja
Ilaiyaraaja was born as Gnanathesigan in a Dalit family belonging to Pannaipuram, in present-day Theni district, Tamil Nadu, India, on 3 June 1943. Ilaiyaraaja chose to celebrate his birthday on 2 June to leave 3 June entirely to Karunanidhi, the politician who called Ilaiyaraaja “Isaignani”,
At the time of joining school, his father changed his name from Gnanathesigan to “Rajaiya”, and the people in his village called him “Raasayya”. When he joined Dhanraj Master as a student to learn musical instruments, the master changed his name to “Raaja”. While working for his first film Annakili, Tamil film producer Panchu Arunachalam added the prefix “Ilaiya” (Ilaiya meaning younger in Tamil language) to the name Raaja, and renamed him as “Ilaiyaraaja”, as in the 1970s there was another popular music director with the same suffix, namely A. M. Rajah.
Ilaiyaraaja grew up in a rural area and was exposed to a range of Tamil folk music in his formative years. At the age of 14, he joined a travelling musical troupe named as “Pavalar Brothers”, headed by his elder brother Pavalar Varadharajan, and spent the next decade performing throughout Southern India. While working with the troupe, he penned his first composition, a musical adaptation of an elegy written by the Tamil poet laureate, Kannadasan for India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.
In 1968, Ilaiyaraaja began a music course with Professor Dhanraj in Madras (now Chennai), the course included an overview of Western classical music, compositional training in techniques such as counterpoint, and study in instrumental performance. Ilaiyaraaja was a gold medalist in classical guitar after completing the course through distance learning channel from Trinity College of Music, London. He learnt carnatic music from T.V.Gopalakrishnan.
Career Path of Ilaiyaraaja
During 1970s in Chennai, Ilaiyaraaja played guitar in a band-for-hire, and worked as a session guitarist, keyboardist, and organist for film music composers and directors such as Salil Chowdhury from West Bengal. Chowdhury once said that Ilaiyaraaja is going to become the best composer in India. After being hired as the musical assistant to Kannada film composer G. K. Venkatesh, he worked on 200 film projects, mostly in Kannada cinema. As G. K. Venkatesh’s assistant, Ilaiyaraaja would orchestrate the melodic outlines developed by Venkatesh. This is the time when Ilaiyaraaja learned the most about composing under the guidance of G. K. Venkatesh. During this period, Ilaiyaraaja also began writing his own scores. To listen to his compositions, he used to persuade Venkatesh’s session musicians to play excerpts from his scores during their leisure times.
At the start of his career, the music sensibility of Ilaiyaraaja was very different to the film music being composed in those days, so he spent a lot of his time in learning, but “wasn’t able to grasp how music was being made for films.” However in 1975, film producer Panchu Arunachalam, impressed by a song casually sung by Ilaiyaraaja, commissioned him to compose the songs and film score for a Tamil film titled Annakili (The Parrot). For the soundtrack, Ilaiyaraaja applied the techniques of modern popular film music orchestration — to Tamil folk poetry and folk song melodies, which resulted in creation of a fusion of Western and Tamil idioms. Initially he was little apprehensive about how his work would be received, and thought that musicians in the industry may write him off. Eventually, when Annakili released in 1976, the music became a huge hit. For his next following 12 films, Ilaiyaraaja based his compositions on the contemporary film music of the time, later when a new wave of films started to come, they opened the space for the kind of music he wanted to explore.
Ilaiyaraaja’s use of Tamil folk music in his film scores injected new life in the Indian film score milieu. By the mid-1980s, Ilaiyaraaja started gaining increasing stature as a composer and music director in the South Indian film industries. He has worked with Indian poets and lyricists such as Kannadasan, Vaali, Vairamuthu, O. N. V. Kurup, Sreekumaran Thampi, Veturi, Aacharya Aatreya, Sirivennela Sitaramasastri, Chi. Udaya Shankar and Gulzar, and became well known for his association with filmmakers such as Bharathiraja, S. P. Muthuraman, Mahendran, Balu Mahendra, K. Balachander, Mani Ratnam, Sathyan Anthikkad, Priyadarshan, Fazil, Vamsy, K. Viswanath, Singeetam Srinivasa Rao, Bala, Shankar Nag, and R. Balki.
Marital Life of Ilaiyaraaja
Ilaiyaraaja was married to Jeeva and the couple has three children—Karthik Raja, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Bhavatharini—all film composers and singers. His wife Jeeva died on 31 October 2011. Ilaiyaraaja’s brother, Gangai Amaran, is also a music director and lyricist in the Tamil film industry, and both were not in talking terms for 13 years.
Ilaiyaraaja Net Worth
Ilaiyaraaja is a talented veteran composer, with an estimated net worth of over $15 million. He is also a brilliant composer who worked on some of the best movies ever made.
Ilaiyaraaja is known to be using his same old harmonium, whether in a studio, or in a concert. He has scored with it throughout his career, curiously in his younger days, he was never allowed to touch it by his brother who thought he would spoil it. However Ilaiyaraaja would play with it whenever he wasn’t there, “that’s how I learnt how to play,” he says “the harmonium knows that it was made for me. It tells me that there is more music to be made.”
One of the earliest admirers of Ilaiyaraaja, Bengali composer Salil Choudhury, under whose tutelage Ilaiyaraaja initially worked as a lead guitarist, once remarked, “Our main guitarist in Madras is the best composer in India”. British Musician Andy Votel, described Ilaiyaraaja in an essay thus, “Whatever “genre” of music you choose to like/ love/ promote/ protect/ politicise/ over-intellectualize/ despise/ defend or pretend to enjoy, Ilaiyaraaja has done it.” Director R. K. Selvamani claimed that for his film Chembaruthi (1992), Ilaiyaraaja had composed nine songs in just 45 minutes, which is a record.