Carnatic concerts are synonymous with sabhas and traditionally, that has been the norm for all these years. Taking an alternate route, Chennai’s MadRasana hosts music festival in cinema theatres. Yes, you read it right.
A former corporate professional, at 48, Mahesh Venkateswaran quit his job to focus on his passion – music, travel and photography. He teamed up with Sean Roldan, a Carnatic musician-turned-film-music-composer, in 2016 to give a different experience to the audience and artist.
“All our programmes are very intimate in nature and we started with garden concerts at my home garden with 12 artistes. Soon, it gained popularity and we could not accommodate the crowd. The format intrigued the artistes, too,” recalls Mahesh.
It led the duo search for a different avenue where Carnatic concerts are not held usually. The search ended at spaces like Alliance Française of Madras and IIT-M and as they expected, the audience was a mixed crowd.
However, the innovation did not just end there. With a motive to take Carnatic music to living rooms, MadRasana launched their YouTube channel.
“We recorded artistes with just one song. Artiste and tambura. We wanted to give focus only on the art form. We have recorded close to 60 artistes so far. The reach was something that we were surprised about. People living abroad reached out to us about the art forms and learning it. We launched this initiative to experience a different reach and that has also been achieved,” adds Mahesh.
“While our usual activities were happening, at one point we decided to host MadRasana festival during Margazhi. However, we did not want to be added to the 2,000-odd concerts that happen during the month.”
Mahesh and Sean Roldan were particular about two aspects. Firstly, the duo did not want to change the content of
Carnatic music and secondly, they ensured that theirs is a unique festival that is uncommon. Confident about giving such an experience to rasikas, they chose Sathyam theatre as the venue for the first festival.
“We were looking for a space that is close to the epicenter of Margazhi happenings and we approached Sathyam. Much to our surprise, they were open to the idea and they always wanted to be a part of the Chennai culture and liked our idea,” Mahesh tells.
Besides being unique, the team also works with the audio experience. The artistes sing without any amplification. The shows do not have speakers and the team incorporates several other changes to give a realistic feel.
Thus, the first season kicked off and the response was overwhelming. This year, catch artistes Vignesh Ishwar, Shertallay Dr K N Renganatha Sharma, Jayanthi Kumaresh, Bombay Jayshri and Abhishek Raghuram perform during MadRasana festival from 23 to 27 December at Sathyam Cinemas.
Caption-Vishnudev Namboothri performing at MadRasana’s garden concert.