Mani Ratnam's musical tribute to Jayamohan's epic work 'Venmurasu'
In “Venmurasu,” a modern re-narration of the Mahabharata in Tamil, by renowned bilingual novelist Jeyamohan, the epic stretches across 26,000 pages in 26 novels. Jeyamohan accomplished this task over a period of seven years, writing a chapter a day since 2014. When the 26th and final chapter was published in 2020, the Vishnupuram Literary Circle in the US made a documentary titled “Venmurasu – A Tribute” to laud this achievement. The documentary includes a musical tribute to “Venmurasu” — composed by Rajan Somasundaram and sung by Kamal Haasan, Sriram Parthasarathy and Saindhavi Prakash, featuring a German Brass band and strings by the North Carolina Symphony. Select lines from the lyrical novel, “Neelam” (one of the books in the “Venmurasu” series) have also been set to music. The album, “A musical tribute to Venmurasu,” will be released by renowned filmmaker Mani Ratnam in a virtual event at 5: 30 pm (IST) on October 9.
“Venmurasu” covers subjects such as philosophy, art, culture, traditions, and political systems during the Mahabharata period, action and adventure, weapons of war, cuisines, culinary traditions, and the way of life of early tribal societies, each presented with fascinating details. Rajan Somasundaram, who composed the music, says it was challenging. “It is an experience of a lifetime when a magnum opus unfolds in front of your eyes, an episode-a-day. The magnitude of this canvas is breathtaking and so intriguing. I mean, how do you do justice musically for a work of 26,000 pages filled with adventure, philosophy, history, culture and all possible emotions you can think of? It is a gargantuan challenge and an opportunity for any composer,” says Rajan Somasundaram, a composer based in New York.
However, when Rajan Somasundaram read ‘Neelam’ in the ‘Venmurasu’ series, everything changed. Neelam is so poetic and so addictive that I cannot stop thinking about setting it to tune. Again, you could pick any expression from ‘Neelam’ — it could be lust, it could be devotion, it could be the pain of rejection, or it could be an exaltation of love. I could pick any of those emotions from ‘Neelam’ and make music. I chose the spiritual bliss that I got from ‘Neelam.’ That is how the 12-minute-long ‘Shades of Blue: A Musical Tribute to Venmurasu’ was born,” he says.
Rajan Somasundaram says composing “Shades of Blue” gave him the courage to compose grand theme music to show the grandeur of the whole “Venmurasu” series. “The challenge was to reflect layers and layers of intricate stories, interwoven with cultural references and details. You will hear layers and layers of music, in brass, in strings and percussion all merging into one grand epic narration,” he says.
“I was lucky to get some of the best musicians and singers of our times, including the most versatile and legendary Kamal Haasan himself. It was heartwarming to see the love and respect they had for Venmurasu,” says Rajan Somasundaram, who is known for making the first-ever music album on Sangam poetry in association with Durham Symphony in 2020.
The 90-minute documentary “Venmurasu – A Tribute” has been screened in major cities across the US and Canada, and it will soon reach screens in India as well. “All the 26 novels in the Venmurasu series were released in 2020. But we are not able to screen the documentary due to lockdown. It evoked tremendous response when screened in the US and Canada. As a first step, we will be screening the music album on October 9,” says Rajagopalan J, a member of the Vishnupuram Literary Association, an organization formed by readers of the writer Jeyamohan in the name of his famous novel Vishnupuram.
“Jeyamohan, along with writers A Muttulingam, Nanjil Nadan and Ravi Subramaniyam, singer Saindhavi Prakash, director-editor Appu Bhattathiri, sitar artist Rishabh Sharma and composer Rajan Somasundaram will participate in the event,” he added.
“Venmurasu is not a reinterpretation or justification of a particular character of the Mahabharata. I haven’t changed the stories in the epic, as I retained the original characters as they are. I have given importance to even the sub-stories and placed them all in a single frame,” says Jeyamohan. It documents the rift between the Veda-based ancient India and emerging India based on Vedanta. “Venmurasu has many stories across various ‘countries’ in India. It is the triumph of Vedanta,” he says. The Vedas are the earliest sacred literature of India. Considered the last literary works of the Vedic period, the word Vedanta literally means the culmination of the Vedas, which referred to the Upanishads.
The documentary is an introduction to the “Venmurasu” series, which comprises 26 novels. “Music takes a major share in the documentary. The fourth book (Neelam) narrates the story of Radha and Krishna. The romantic story has been narrated in a poetic way. The documentary will be released in India after the launch of this musical album,” Rajagopalan J said.