There was something in her singing then that was very avant-garde, stylish, modern and carefree. This should not be taken to mean it was free of care, but free of fear—that is, the fear of going wrong or falling short. Her style had a quality that was fleet but not hasty, quick of movement but not jerky. The modern and the avant-garde are, after all, born from unbound flight: musicians achieve the most elusive artistry when they reach out for the high skies without a second thought.
Source: TM Krishna, MS Understood (Caravan, 1 October 2015)
Some of the early music referred to in the article:
- Maragathivaduvu (her first recording, age 10, 1925)
- Manamogananga Anangae (duet with GN Balasubramaniam from Sakunthalai, 1941)
More from TMK:
For MS’s transformation to occur, the social memory of her had to be redrafted, and then filled in with new details, which meant MS had to be redesigned, both in image and in music. We can see clearly how MS’s style changed just from her attire. Gone were the puffed sleeves and casual saris. Even more dramatically, gone was the MS of that early, fun photograph in which she is pictured with a young Balasaraswati, in Western-style sleeping suit, sporting an unlit cigarette in her mouth. We can now only visualise her in conservative smarta-brahminkattu, the style in which she draped her sari.
The photo: Balasaraswati and MS (1937).
From Rashmi Munikempanna at Illegibilities:
This photograph is arresting on so many levels. The year and the image. 1937 and two Indian women dressed in western wear posing with cigarettes. There is also the fact of the unknown photographer as well as the unknown studio where this may have been taken. The blurb points to the background of the two women as coming from quite a conservative background. There would have been time spent in planning this. Finding the photographer who they seem to be quite comfortable with, arranging for clothes, the unsmoked cigarettes. Also knowing that this photograph wouldn’t find its way out. Keeping the print hidden, the excitement of the seeing this image, of a secret.
The gaze – one outward, one straight into the camera. The hand of one on the shoulder of the other (posed?) The way they both stand. Balasaraswati looking like the one where the power rests, her left leg leaning against the chair. Her right hand holding the cigarette a bit awkwardly posed. Her smile and gaze fixed to a point outside. Subbulakshmi’s gaze right into camera, the cigarette between her lips sitting comfortably. Her hands relaxed holding the back of the chair and a handkerchief which I am surprised made it to the picture unless there exists one without it and this may have been a test run. A tin jar of something on the chair which could be the cigarette tin striking because of its irrelevance, almost like something the photographer forgot to move.