He is a live wire on stage while she is demure and distant. He is a complete showman who strikes an instant rapport with his audience and takes them along with him, joking and quipping and even clowning around a little if need be. She is quiet and still, not so much as swaying to the rhythm of the music and only allowing the golden notes to sail across the hall from time to time. His voice is deep and strong, hers mellifluous and thin.
Despite their dissimilarities or perhaps because each is such a fine foil to the other, A. V. Ramanan and Uma are a very popular duo. They have sung together for nearly 25 years delighting audiences with the melody and variety of their songs. In the sphere of light music, theirs is a sure voice of success.
The couple was recently given the Kalaimamani award by the Government of Tamil Nadu for their contribution to the fine arts. They have staged more than 4,000 shows (half of them for charity). But their enthusiasm is as fresh as the day they formed ``Musiano'', their troupe in 1972.
``I have striven all these years to obtain a place for (what, I prefer to call) `popular music' on par with classical music,'' says Ramanan who is a bundle of energy and dynamism. His vitality would put a performer half his age in the shade. ``Popular music has still not got the recognition it deserves,'' he adds regretfully.
Nearly 65 per cent of Musiano's songs are film-based. The latest film numbers have to be at one's fingertips to be produced on request or demand. The couple is particular, however, to include devotional songs in each programme, ``Kurai Ondrum Illai, Kanna,'' being a favourite. ``The great MS has sat through our concert'', they say with pride.
The old and the new, the modern and the folk, the slow and the fast, the Indian and the western are served up in a single programme. ``We don't copy but bring across the spirit of the original,'' stresses Ramanan. ``Our aim is bring joy to the listener and if he or she can forget the cares of the workaday world for two hours, we feel it is well worth our efforts''.
Both of them have a flair for languages and can render songs in eight languages _ Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, Kannada, Hindi, Telugu, English and Punjabi.
``We do not rely on gimmicks, special lighting or bombs but communicate only through our music,'' says Uma.
``Heading a popular music troupe is not easy'', says Ramanan, ``for organisational problems take up much time leaving little energy for the actual performance. Sabhas lend us the hall just an hour and a half before the show. Equipment has to be set up and the right sound effects obtained within a short time. It is a constant struggle to attend to the innumerable details that contribute to a smooth performance''.
Young Ramanan would sing film songs to entertain his friends at school. His parents were not too keen about their son taking up popular music full time. Ramanan, however, had set his heart on this. After completing his pre-university and a course in printing technology, he sang in various troupes from 1968-72.
The search for a female lead singer led him to Uma through a mutual friend. Ramanan had trained with Balamuralikrishna and P. S. Narayanaswamy for some months while Uma had a thorough grounding in Carnatic music, having been a disciple of Palani Vijayalakshmi for many years. It was natural that with such mutual interests and similar talent, the two should team up. They were married in 1976.
Apart from their stage shows in various cities of the country, both Ramanan and Uma have made forays into the world of cinema. Ramanan acted as the hero in ``Kaadal, Kaadal'' in 1980 but the film was not a hit. He has done stints in modelling too.
Uma's venture into the film world saw her established as a playback singer with 200 songs to her credit (mainly for Ilaiyaraja).
Ramanan is a sought after compere for TV programmes. His role as compere in ``Superhit Muqabla'', ``Paatu Paada Vaa'' ``Surf Aatam'' and Bajaj ``Saptha Swarangal'' has won him many fans.
Among his TV appearances, Ramanan prizes most his role as protagonist in ``Thamizh Thatha'', a serial based on the life of the renowned Tamil scholar, U. V. Swaminatha Iyer.
Uma and Ramanan were given the ``For the Sake of Honour award'' by the Rotary Club of Madras Chennapatna in 1994. They received the award from Mrs. M. S. Subbulakshmi.
The Ramanans' son Vignesh has inherited the gift of music and melody from his parents and as composer and instrumentalist, is a vital part of Musiano.
Credits: KAUSALYA SANTHANAM (for The Hindu)