In what can be considered as contempt of court, Chennai’s Prasad Studios broke open the private room of popular music composer Ilayaraja on December 28. Following this, the composer did not visit his chamber to meditate before vacating the premises, as directed by the court.
Following the dispute with the proprietors, who did not allow him into his recording theatre located inside Prasad Studios, the composer, in December 2019, had approached the Madras High Court seeking access to his studio. He had also sought ₹50 lakh as compensation from them for causing him ‘mental agony.’
Hearing the petition, the court had directed both parties to settle the issue through mediation, but it didn’t happen.
It was in this backdrop that the case came up for hearing on December 23. During the hearing, the owners of Prasad Studios argued that if Ilayaraja withdraws his complaint filed against them and also drops the compensation claims, they are ready to allow him into his recording theatre. They also sought a guarantee from the composer that he would not claim rights over the studio property in future. They said if all these demands are met, they would allow him to meditate in his private room before fully vacating the studio premises.
Accordingly, the composer had accepted the demands and also gave a written assurance. The court then directed Prasad Studios to allow Ilayaraja to meditate in his room and vacate the premises on December 28.
Before Ilayaraja’s arrival, his lawyers, along with the composer’s assistants, went to Prasad Studios to take his belongings and shift them to another place. When they went there, they were shocked to find out that the private room of the composer was broken into. His belongings including the Padma Vibhushan award conferred on him were shifted to a godown and kept on the floor. Hearing this, Ilayaraja was heartbroken and decided to not visit the studio.
The action of Prasad Studios despite the high court’s direction has been condemned by many and there were also angry reactions.
Azhagiya Periyavan, a well-known Tamil writer on Dalit issues, wrote on his social media account asking if it was because of Ilayaraja’s caste that such disrespect was shown to him.
“Had it been someone else in his place, this may not have happened. This dishonour is not to him but for all of us,” he said.
Thol Thirumavalavan, founder, Viduthalai Chirurhaigal Katchi, has tweeted in support of Ilayaraja. Terming the breaking of the door as an “uncivilised” act, he said the studio dishonoured the composer without even considering the goodwill he has earned in the society.
“They have forgotten that it was because of Ilayaraja that the studio got its fame,” he tweeted.
When ‘force’ meets ‘sentiment’
A source closely associated with the composer for many years, told The Federal the real reason for this dispute.
“It was LV Prasad who offered a place to Ilayaraja to set up a recording theatre on the campus of Prasad Studios in the late 1970s. It is from here that the musician composed popular numbers for more than 1,000 films,” he said.
“When Ilayaraja was recording the first song of his career for the film Annakkili (1976), the power went off. He was then made fun of by his team. But that did not stop Ilayaraja from becoming a maestro. So, it was evident that Ilayaraja did not go by sentiments,” he said.
He continued, “However, over the years, he became a sort of ascetic and developed an attachment with his recording theatre. He has a life-size photo of Ramana Maharishi in his private room in that theatre. He used to light a lamp in front of the photo and meditate for 30 minutes. This daily ritual had continued for more than 35 years.
“Prasad did not given the land to the composer free of cost. There was a contract made between them and, accordingly, Ilayaraja paid the rent and the contract was renewed.”
But the current owners of Prasad Studios denied the maestro entry to his theatre. “Hurt” by this, he took the legal route.
“We cannot expect the sons and grandsons of Prasad to be magnanimous just as their father and grandfather. To keep in line with the developments in the film industry, they wanted to modernise the studios. They also communicated their desire to the composer and requested him to vacate the premises.
“Ilayaraja had asked some time to vacate. However, at one point of time, the proprietors of the studios did not allow him on the premises. This was done forcefully. Known for being sensitive and short-tempered, Ilayaraja was hurt by this and sought the help of the court. It was wrong on the part of Prasad Studios to act in the manner they did despite the court’s order,” he said.
It is surprising that even the film fraternity has not come forward in support of Ilayaraja.
“Most film technicians, too, face similar issues — they are either occupying someone else’s land and not vacating it or are unable to get tenants vacate their properties. We can’t expect them to stand up for Ilayaraja,” he said.
Talking to The Federal, Ilayaraja’s advocate Saravanan Annadurai said the composer is in “great shock” due to the “injustice” meted out to him by Prasad Studios.
“He says if such a thing is happening to him who is a well-known person globally, it is unimaginable what could be happening to the ordinary citizens of the country” he said.
The Federal attempted to get Prasad Studios’ reaction but did not get any response.