February 22, 2020
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Gaga Over Grecian Gizmos

Indians go predictably crazy in a well-orchestrated coup conducted by Chryssomallis Yanni at the Taj

Gaga Over Grecian Gizmos

NEVER mind the farmers whining about watermelons. Never mind the M.C. Mehtas whingeing about the vibrations. Never mind the Rajni Kotharis bemoaning the demise of rich traditions. Yanni Chryssomallis silenced them all. Compensated the farmers for their crops, countered the ecocrats with his technocrats. "No vibrations," Mehta was firmly told.

But Yanni used $300,000 V-Dosc technology speakers guaranteed to erase vibrations. And as for the Kothari variety of moralists, they were silenced with Rs 10 crore, no less, accruing from sponsorship, ticket sales and Doordarshan commercial revenues all to be dedicated to the newly-founded Agra Heritage Fund which Yanni spokesmen say is of, about and for the Taj Mahal.

The upshot sponsors, Pepsi, Citibank, and Mastercard, were delirious with joy because of the mileage. Yanni and company were ecstatic at the coup they pulled off. Cousin Anda Felitsa, self-appointed spokeswoman and purported publisher of Yanni, couldn't help crowing: "Yanni at the Acropolis sold six million copies. This will be the mother of all Yannis."

If the star turnout at the concert was any indication, it sure was. Madhavrao Scindia with wife and brood, Dilshad Khan with Akbar Khan in tow, Kiron Kher, a newly-wed Tanya Godrej with spouse, Neerja Shah, publisher Elle, Firoz and Mohit Gujral, toothpaste and TV star Maya Alagh, Anil Ambani, Rajshri Sarabhai among others. Someone whispered the Big B as well as the Kirloskars were flying down in a private jet, if you please.

 Small surprise then that the hoteliers were laughing all the way to the bank. The Mughal Sheraton was sold out, the spillover was accommodated in airconditioned but mosquito-infested five-star tents. Rs 1,000 cottages were available down the road at the Mayur complex. Rs 3,000 rooms were going abegging at the Taj but to the chichis that was not quite the right address. The Sheraton it had to be, even though it meant a tent. Apart from the name-dropping premium guarantee, there was the added bonus of

being able to gawp at Medusa-locked, Jitendra white-clad, white-shod Yanni the God as he went in and out of his $500 a night Tan Sen suite. Many a middle-aged matron was walking with head aloft, declaring wonderstruck, "He shook my hand; he even kissed it." Lady 6 to 60, none was immune to the Yanni mania carefully orchestrated through hoardings, glow signs, and T-shirts all over the city.

A phenomenon not entirely without its ridiculous fallouts. The Chryssomallis clan seemed as awestruck by its 'little boy' that made good as anybody else. Sample this Felitsa response to a scribe complaining that Yanni didn't meet the press: "He has higher responsibilities. He was reading Freud at 16, you know. He was a great swimmer, you know. He would have gone to the Olympics if music had not claimed him." Felitsa was merely sister and could be excused for what was after all sibling loyalty. But take Guptaji, my lounge lizard companion from the Sheraton lobby. "Yanniji's music means devotion. Do you know he drinks only Absolut Vodka? Breakfast is so saintly and simple. Only scrambled eggs and orange juice." What did come as a revelation, however, was the concert itself.

Only one word to describe the arrangements, impeccable. Two immaculately laid out roads led to two separate entrance points at the concert site. You parked cars to board battery-operated buses that carted you to the venue where the entry gate opened into an open air carpeted foyer replete with plaster of Paris Ganeshes, chairs and discreetly tucked away washrooms to powder your nose in. The buses gave everyone a lot of joy. A clad-for-snowfall Mumbai family, Gujarati obviously,

could be seen rushing madly to clamber onto a bus. "Board it fast," screeched the father to his clan, "after three trips battery low thai jasse (battery runs low)." The seating arrangements were a plebeian's delight. While the Rs 10,000-ensemblage sat close enough to the stage site to be able to smell Yanni's bootpolish, the less-privileged Rs 5,000-ticket holders had a spectacular view of both the stage and the Taj in the background. Behind them in shoulder-to-shoulder proximity sat the Rs 1,000-hoi polloi, teenagers, export executives, garage boutique ladies of Lajpat Nagar and Greater Bombay.

So much for the run-up. Now for the event. To paraphrase the Wall Street Journal: "This was New Age meeting the 17th century." More irreverently put: This is music for Mumtaz Mahal in a mini-skirt. Mr Yanni comes in the worthy tradition of James Last, our own homegrown Baable & Orchestra variety of composers, the La Jalota of Los Angeles.

One has to admit, though, that the music had its moments. How much of the appeal of the adagio in C Minor accrued from the melody and how much from the sight of silver white birds flying in perfect formation against the luminous Taj with an almost full moon overhead remains a matter of debate.

SUFFICE to say what was monumental was quite simply the monument rather than the music. Though compositions like Nightingale, Nostalgia and Reflections of Passion did offer moments of pure listening pleasure. Moments quickly dispelled  by the spirited rendition of Aria, the musical piece made more famous as the background music for the British Airways commercial as also Santorini which is the Yanni advertorial ditty repeated ad nause-am on Star Plus. The overall effect you got was of being at a ReDiff audio-visual presentation. That special number he composed for the Taj and dedicated to Shahjahan, Love IS All, was, mildly speaking, quite nothing at all.

But then, this Chryssomallis Yanni event was not about music but moment. It was the Malhotra family's night out event with some Pepsi, ruffles, and wide-eyed sex appeal thrown in for good measure.

Star attraction: South Asian, Afro-American, pure White bimbo quartet that swayed and crooned in choreographed contortion along with Muzaak, sorry music.

But Yanni showed his capacity to move even the nani when he played his rousing Niki Nana number towards the close. A white-maned Leela Naidu lookalike, 50-plus Ma Anand Usha, proprietress of the Rajneeshi Zorba the Buddha restaurant at Agra, leapt to her feet and danced with wild abandon. More to Yanni's credit, the Rs 10,000-ticket holders, consisting of bureaucrats on junket tickets, also leapt to their feet to clap and dance with undisguised fervour.

At the end of the Yanni spectrum were people like 23-year-old Reshma and her 50-odd friends who bought Rs 5,000 tickets and landed up in a hired bus to hear their hero play. Said Reshma, "It's a once in a lifetime thing." And then, of course, there were people who would follow Yanni everywhere, like the 30 Indian brocade-clad Americans. Yanniites, they called themselves.

Clearly, the distinction between Yanni the man and Yanni the myth is dissolving in inverse relation to his success snowballing. The Acropolis album went platinum within six weeks of its release. His own face is familiar to people in over 46 million households, courtesy Star TV. As for the man, he remains the simple Greek boy that he is at heart, bleeding heart liberal that took the trouble to meet the poor Indian farmers whose watermelons got destroyed to clear the site for his stage.

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