At Panjavarnam, we are all on a musical high. It feels great when highly esteemed artists take the time off to get in touch with us and let us know that they admire our collection. It was through one such instance that we came to meet April’s Panjavarnam Penn. After reading RaGa’s post about their collaboration Panjavarnam, Ms Mahathi got in touch with us, appreciating us on the sarees for Ranjani-Gayatri and telling us she loves our collection. Now tell us, how could we resist featuring Ms Mahathi as a Panjavarnam Penn!!
For those of you who want to know about Ms Mahathi - Ms Mahathi is a professional Carnatic musician, who hails from a family of musicians. She is the great-granddaughter of Pazhamaneri Swaminatha Iyer a renowned violinist from Thyagaraja Swamy's generation. She has also sung many songs for Kollywood films. She is a musical prodigy. She started recognising ragas at the tender age of one and a half years when she was at a concert. Ms Mahathi enthralled the audience with her knowledge of Ragas in front of an audience at a Mandolin U Srinivas played and she would mention that raga - all this at the age of one and a half years. And thus began the musical journey for Ms Mahathi. Ms Mahathi is also an active part of the judging panel in several singing reality shows in the South.
Ms Mahathi is an energetic and lively person. Her persona is reflected through the sarees she is draped in. She wears bright colours and loves traditional designs. Collaborating with her has been wonderful. What's more, we thoroughly enjoyed how she found it hard to pick and choose sarees for this shoot. We discussed politics, music, feminism, music, fighting social biases and opinions, music… if you get the opportunity to meet her, you know she is all about her music. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation during the shoot.
We'll start with some warm-up questions. What is your favourite Ragam?
It's mostly Thodi. Every time I sing it, it gives me a different flavour.
Who is your favourite composer?
Trinity always. But definitely Tyagaraja and Muthuswamy Dikshithir. Tyagaraja keerthana is a lot of pep and sync it has with the tune. Dikshithar just tugs at your heart with his lyrics.
Do you train Kids/Adults for Reality Shows?
Parents and Children who come to my academy asking for Reality Show training are immediately rejected. I do not train kids for Reality shows. In fact, because of my signing commitments, I don't take an active part in my academy. My father, Thiruvaiyaru P Sekar, who is a disciple of Sr. M Balamurali Krishna, takes care of the academy and teaching students. After I got into mainstream singing, my father took the responsibility of Vocal training and my mother, Vasanthi Sekar, a flautist, takes care of teaching flute. We have about 10 teachers and 2 office staff.
We do get a lot of requests to train kids for reality shows because I have been associated with reality shows. My father immediately turns them down and doesn't even give them admission. We don’t have anything against these shows. I was a judge when I was 18 years old and that is a proud moment for me as I was the youngest judge in the panel. It all started with classical music for me and so we want to concentrate only on classical music.
We see many musicians trying out new formats of singing on stage. Are you trying something new this year?
Although I have had a very traditionalist training, my father is quite open-minded and encourages me to explore new formats. At one particular conversation of ours, my father says to me "why stick to a traditional pattern" when I can also use my art for a social message. This season, I will be presenting Ragam Thalam Pallavi on Social Messages - For example, I will do a Pallavi on “Suttham Sugaadhaaram Tharum” (Loosely translated: Cleanliness gives safety and health ).
Let’s talk about the presentation. What matters to you and an audience, when you present a concert?
Being on stage is all about being presentable. And mostly your comfort levels. It cannot be too jazzy, so much that it distracts people, nor can it be too sober. That is my opinion. There are a lot of people who are of the opinion that singing is enough and the dressing doesn’t matter, but it is not like that to me. Concerts are a Visual Medium. Rasikas and people come to see and listen to you when they come to a concert. So it must be a complete presentation. They are not listening to a tape. As an ensemble, we must be presentable to look at, the colours we wear shouldn’t be too loud and distracting and definitely must not be annoying.
Personally, what matters to me is my attitude and personality on stage and outside in general, when I meet the rasikas.
Do you have sentiments that you attach to a saree for your concert?
Oh yes! I am very sentimental about the saree I wear. No matter how positive the reviews are for my concert, I must be happy about it at the end of the day. It may have been really crowded, the concert may even be the most talked about for the season too, but if I am not happy about how I delivered my concert, I would never wear that saree again. I will give it off to my mother or I may wear it casually, never to a concert.
I should feel energised when I wear a saree. I am quite bubbly. Fawns, browns, nudes never work on me. I have just started experimenting with greys. The saree shouldn't weigh me down also. I need vibrant colours that match my personality. It should give me energy.
I have a few sentiments about my accessories also. I have my own set of lucky accessories that I wear at a concert. I have a lucky charm mirror that I carry with me for every concert. It was given to me by Actress Srividya on a train journey when I met her. She told me she loves my songs and wanted to gift me something because she met me. She had a Christian Dior mirror on her and gave me that as a gift. I have had it with me for 14 years.
My other sentiments - I talk very less. I don't pick up calls. I message only if its an emergency. I try and keep my temper cool and calm. And just for that, I prefer to be alone. I would head to the academy and lock myself up in a room and think about my concert and maybe even practice. I would think over and over about what I am going to sing and how and the specifics. If in Chennai, I take my parents blessings before I head to a concert. If I am out of Chennai, my mother has to pick my call before I go into a concert.
After a concert, I have to tell my parents what I sang, in detail. Oh, I also have a cushion that I take with me to the concert. And of course my pillayar kovil. I have to drive through the pillayar kovil before a concert.
How do you decide your saree for a concert?
I have to decide my sarees according to the backdrop at the sabhas. I have ardent followers and photographers who call me and give me details on the sort of backdrop and colour., My father goes to every concert and gives me an idea of the backdrop. This sort of gives me an idea of what saree I must choose to wear.
Do you colour coordinate with your accompanying artists as well?
I do sometimes tell my artists to match and coordinate costume colours. But I cannot tell senior vidwans, who accompany me, about costume colours. So it mostly depends on the people with me at the kutcheri.
Ok. Now let’s do “TAKE-5 with PANJAVARNAM”. A quick five about the top picks for a saree.
Favourite colour that you will mostly pick.
Pink, Blue and Red are sure shot colours. Whites may be. I love them but they get stained easily. I have a wish to wear White with different coloured borders but I don't know how I would maintain it. I love black, but it is considered inauspicious by many. I do wear Blacks wherever I can now. I want to wear pastels but then I am afraid that I may end up looking dull.
Your Saree Choice.
I love traditional design sarees. I don't like computer designs and deferred patterns all over the body. I very naturally pick up traditional sarees with a plain body and a striking colour contrast border or a temple or bhavanchi border. I love Silk threadwork and zari work sarees, but I can't wear them at a concert because my bangles or my accessories pull and tug at the threadwork while I am singing and hitting my hand maintaining the thalam. So it completely spoils my saree and now I refrain from wearing threadwork sarees. I don't like Jacquard body sarees. I don't wear borderless and half and half for a kutcheri. Somehow they don't work for me. In fact, I hate sarees with a big border on one side. If I love a saree that has a big border on one side I try and reverse the pallu to have the big border come on top. Palum pazhamum sarees are also ones that I cannot wear on stage because the border with the maximum contrast ends up being on the bottom of the saree. I don't like mubbagam sarees. I don't like big checks and multicolour checks, I like small checks. I like banarasi tussars, I don't like artificial silk. If it is cotton it must be pure cotton, linen - pure linen.
Your guilty pleasure when it comes to sarees and accessorising.
Nail polish! I love nail polish. It has to match the clothes I am wearing. Fans also notice my love for Nailpolish and I have many fans gifting me nail polish in some amazing colours.
Price or Comfort - what you base your saree decisions on?
Comfort matters a lot more than the price. The price doesn't matter to me. I must like it. I also give a lot of importance to people/fans who gift me sarees. They gift me silk cotton sarees too. I value them a lot and I would definitely wear them and cherish them. I have a huge attachment to it only because of the thought. Surprisingly the one thing I am never worried about when it comes to wearing a saree is my pleats. It always falls well for me and I am sitting half the time, so I am absolutely comfortable with that aspect.
Borders and Motifs - Your Pick.
I love annams and chakrams. My favourite motif is the Mango/Paisley motif. I am still in search of a particular paisley design, but I haven’t found it. As for borders, I love bhavanchi and temple borders. These are my pick.