‘Avvaiyar’ , featuring K.B.Sundarambal is one of the classics of Tamil cinema. It was the dream child of S. S. Vasan, the Gemini studio baron : a film released by him in 1953 after a seven-year struggle to disprove cinema-basher Rajaji’s stand that films are piffle and deleterious trash.
The film made waves – Vasan saw to it that it did — but Rajaji saw it and wrote some nasty things about it…its music included. It was his private opinion put down in his diary. It came to be known when Rajaji’s biographer and grandson revealed it decades later (both Rajaji and Vasan were gone by then).
Nonetheless, in the present decades of cable TV and dime a dozen digital videos, the well-preserved ‘Avvaiyar’ makes the rounds as a film shot with finesse and full of lovely songs. In a Tamil Nadu overtaken by urbanization and environmental depredation the visuals and music of Avvaiyar seem to be a call from the unspoilt Tamil country of yore! Kalidasa was on the spot when he made that famous epigram about the diversity of tastes (‘Loko Bhinna Ruchihi’).
And much of the music of ‘Avvaiyar’ is the handiwork of a forgotten music director called M.D. Parthasarathi. He was a worthy from Tiruchi Radio whom Vasan employed at a monthly salary of 1.5 quid. This was a time when salaries did not get into three figures even for the well-educated!
Parthasarathi was a ‘Sangeetha Bhushanam’ of Annamalai University at a time when old time giants like Ponniah Pillai (of the famous Thanjavur quartet family and the composer of ‘Maayaatheetha Swaroopini’ and the now famous ‘Ranganaathude’) and violinist and Sangita Kalanidhi T.S. Sabesa Iyer taught there. After completing his course, Parthasarathi was right on the dot at Chennai, Madras then, in the early 1930s, when the Tamil talkie began to lisp its incipient alapanas. It was the season of a cloudburst of mythologicals and the manifold ragas that go with them, and the tall and imposing young man of twenty with a tuneful baritone was sure to be part of the talkie scene. It was ‘open sesame’ for anybody who could sing.
Parthasarathi was acting in a play of the amateur group of the veteran Pammal Sambanda Mudaliar when the prominent stage actor and writer Vadivel Naicker spotted him. This led to Parthasarathi playing roles in films like Sakkubai (1934), Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (1934) and Srinivasa Kalyanam (the first Tamil film to be wholly made in Madras itself). But he is said to have come into his own with his interpretation of Hanuman in the film ‘Garuda Garva Bhangam’ (1936). A tall young man of admirable physique and a fervent singing voice would surely have had things going for him in such a role. Parthasarathi went to Calcutta’s Pioneer Studios to act in the film, and was known as ‘Sangeetha Bhooshanam’ Parthasarathi.
‘Garuda Garva Bhangam’ opens in the aftermath of the Kurukshetra war, with Balarama coming to know that Krishna was the cause of the ruination of the Kauravas and vowing to wreak vengeance on him. To add to Krishna’s troubles, his vehicle Garuda is also too much of himself and thinks that his services have not be properly utilized. Krishna’s spouse Bhama is also throwing tantrums. The script of the film is the plot that is hatched to cut each of these overweening personalities to size. And it is Hanuman’s self-abnegating devotion that comes in handy for the purpose.
Garuda, Satyabhama and Balarama are shown their place through beautifully orchestrated incidents in the film. A good running role for Parthasarathi. He sings the songs, ‘Ramane Arul Nemane’ in the raga Behag, ‘Balarama Peyar Thagumaa’ in the raga Thodi, and the sloka, ‘Maata Ramaha…’ in the raga Chenchurutti. The famous actor Serukalathur Sama played Krishna while another good singer Vidwan Srinivasan acted as Narada.
Parthasarathi reprised the role in ‘Sethubandhanam’ (1936), with Oriental films, which made ‘Garuda Garva Bhangam’, shifting the focus from the Mahabharata to the Ramayana. The scene was Lanka with Sita languishing in the Ashokavana under Ravana , played by the imposing actor P.B.Rangachari. As Hanuman, Parthasarathi takes the crest jewel of Sita and presents it to Rama (‘Nott’ Annaji Rao — father of the devotional singer and exponent Swami Haridoss Giri), singing ‘Ananda Sevai Seidhaen…Paramaananda Seivai Seidhaen’. In another song, he is more in the Sanskritic vein – ‘Saarasa nayana Sarojaanana’. Both ‘Garva bhangam’ and ‘Sethubandanam’ were directed by R. Padmanabhan, the veteran of some silent films and talkies.
Annaji Rao, who was Rama in Sethubandanam, played a prominent role in the film ‘Dharmapuri Rahasiyam’ (or ‘Raja Drohi’ – alternative titles were a fad of those times), which was released in 1938. Parthasarathi potrayed the roles of a court jester and a wise minister in the film, which told the story of a deceitful minister who was carrying on with the queen. It was banned in the Travancore Samasthanam. (A latter-day article in the Tamil film journal ‘Pesum Padam’ says that Parthasarathi established his histrionic capacity in the film).
Parthasarathi tried to produce a film at this juncture, but nothing came out of his efforts. He is also said to have been involved in the music direction of ‘Abala’ (1940), written and directed by PSV Iyer. (There are some who attribute the music to the Sarma brothers, who were perhaps the first to run a free-lance orchestra for the film industry in Madras. But just as sometimes film people go unpaid for their labours, they are also cheated of due credit for their work).
Just when his cinematic career seemed to have hit a dead-end, Parthasarathi found work with Tiruchi Radio as a staff artiste. He is said to have been very popular as an actor in radio plays. After a few years in radio, the film world beckoned him again. It was S.S.Vasan calling him to be in-house music director for the Gemini banner which would become a household name in a few years.
‘Nandanar’ (1942), featuring Dandapani Desigar in the lead role proved to be a resounding success for Gemini studios. The songs proved to be major hits, with Papanasam Sivan playing a major role in writing them and teaching Desigar (as noted by Desigar himself in an article). Gemini S.S.Vasan even conducted a ‘choose the best song’ contest – most probably the first ever for Tamil film songs. The film’s titles feature M.D.Parthasarathi and S. Rajeswara Rao as the music directors, in that order. That the film became a classic of Tamil cinema does add to the credit of its creative team.
Parthasarathi then scored the music for the film, Madanakamarajan (1943), a folklore story starring the singing star V.V. Sadagopan and K.L.V. Vasantha. The film was a big hit and featured short and pithy songs with able instrumental support. The music is credited to M.D.Parthasarathi and S. Rajeswara Rao, making it difficult to apportion credit. One can perhaps assume that the Carnatic oriented songs were Parthasarathi’s work, as he was known to be in charge of the Carnatic section in the studio. There is a beautiful song by Sadagopan in Mohanam, a song of love and pining: ‘Prema, Nee Illaamal Uranguvadhenge’ (Darling Prema, No sleep without you!). There are other good songs like ‘Amma, Un Paadham Panindhaen’ (In Naattai, rendered by the latter day ‘mother of all stars’ M.V.Rajamma), ‘Kekai Vanna Thogai Minna’ (Kalyani, Sadagopan), ‘Thunai Neeye Arul Thaaraay’ (based on Kanada, rendered in unison by Sadagopan and supporting actor Krishnamurthy) and Oru Naalum’ (in Saraswathi, KLV Vasantha). A virutham in Bhairavi and Kambodhi by Sadagopan (Minthirameni) is a stirring piece. The lyrics of Madanakamarajan (1941) were written by Papanasam Sivan and Kothamangalam Subbu. As everyone knows, Sivan used to give the lyrics and the tunes for them too. But we cannot say, how much of it flowed over to the screen, and how much the music directors whetted it and wove it to their ends. Such was the nature of film music composition in the initial decades of Tamil cinema.
Gemini’s hit film, Mangamma Sabatham (1943), the story of a village girl who manages to get even with a lecherous prince, was a great success for its heroine Vasundhara Devi as well as Ranjan, who played the villain. The orchestral elements are prominent in the background score, and lend the film a special charm. The songs too don’t let down the film (Papanasam Sivan and Kothamangalam Subbu). The preludes and interludes of some songs (Siridhum Kavalai Padaadhe…for instance) are beautiful. They complement the visuals of camera genius K. Ramnoth in a meaningful way. The titles spell out the music directors of the film like this :
S. Rajeswara Rao
‘Dasi Aparanji’ (1944) had Pushpavalli playing the lead role of a woman of pleasure who would tax even those who dreamt of her! Some songs were really great. Kothamangalam Seenu, for instance, has a resounding hit in ‘Aasai Kollaadhavar Aanapillaiyai’ ! The song is a raga malika (Shanmugapriya, Begada, Kanada and Chenchurutti) and is beautifully worded: ‘Kazhuttazhagam, Kondai Surukkazhagum, Mullai Sirippazhagam, Chandhira Mugathazhagum…Kattazhagum, Nettri Pottazhagum, Kangal Vettazhagum, Kachchai Kattazhagum…’ . A raasa leela in a raga malika! M.D.Parthasarathi had exclusive music direction credits for ‘Kannamma Enn Kadhali’ (1945), a film ostensibly supporting the British during World War II by showing the Japanese attack on Rangoon and the Indian exodus from there.
Chandralekha was of course Gemini’s blockbuster, the south’s entry into the Hindi market and its answer to the formula for filmi entertainment. The music director’s title in the film goes to S. Rajeswara Rao, while the background score, a winning one at that, is credited to M.D.Parthasarathi, R. Vaidyanathan ( or Rima in short: Ranjan’s brother, and a science researcher who gave up a scientific career in London for his love for music), and B.Dasgupta. Parthasarathi even sang in the film, teaming up with the petite Sundari Bai to sing the ‘Naattiya Kudhirai’ song. Parthasarathi’s baritone for clown ‘Pottai’ Krishnamurthi makes a curiously effective combo.
In Chakradhaari (1948), with Chittoor Nagiah acting as the devotee Gorakumbhar, there are a lot of soft and melodious songs in various Carnatic ragas like Useni, (Rangan Karunaiyaale), Mayamalavagaula (Unakkum Enakkum) and Kambodhi (Bhuvanapathe). Parthasarathi seems to have had a field day in the film.
‘Apoorva Sahodarargal’ (1949), modelled on Alexander Dumas’ novel, Corsican Brothers and its celluloid avatar featuring Douglas Fairbanks, had the subdued actor M. K. Radha in a double role. The songs in this film are in the romantic mould and are fashioned in the light and melodious genre. With T.A. Moti singing for the hero and Bhanumati singing her own songs, there was a bouquet of mellow tunes. ‘Aha Aaduvene’ is a Moti-Bhanumati song with a lilt and loveliness all its own. ‘Maanum Mayilum Aadum Solai’, sung by Bhanumathi is a beautiful song in Bhimplas. (The music direction is credited to S. Rajeswara Rao, M.D.Parthasarathi and R. Vaidyanathan, in that order).
Avvaiyar, of course, was a spectacle and a musical, making the most of the personality and voice of K.B.Sundarambal. The film is a regular in the TV channels and has also been well preserved. Its songs are not only a tribute to KBS but also to M.D. Parthasarathi, Anantaraman and Mayavaram Venu who are credited with the music direction.
I hear that Parthasarathi was involved in the music of Natyarani (1949) and ‘Soudamini’ (195i), but I wonder whether he was credited for his work. The song book of the latter film, gives S. V. Venkatraman’s name as the music director. Parthasarathi came out of Gemini studio when Vasan began shedding his permanent staff. He worked as the music director of the film ‘Nam Kuzhandhai’ (1955) as a free lance composer. One song by the singer M.S. Anuradha, who sang very rarely in films, is ‘Oviyakalai Therindhaal Poadhuma’ (is it enough to know the art of painting), a very beautiful and unforgettable song in Bhimplas. ‘Nam Kuzhandhai’ had a battery of redoubtable old timers singing for it : S. Varalakshmi (Ulagam Poara Thinusai), V. Nagiah (Deivame Unai Therindhavar Yaar), V. N. Sundaram (Valluvan Sonnadhellaam Poyyaagumaa) and U.R. Jeevaratnam (Jigu Jigu Jigu). I hear from the late Parthasarathi’s daughter Dr. Vijaya Parthasarathi that he was not only never paid for his work but also ended up paying musicians from his pocket. Parthasarathi then left the world of films for good and joined AIR Bangalore. What a way to lose a committed musician of class and conscience!
Parthasarathi passed away rather prematurely at the age of 53. But his daughters Dr. Vijaya Parthasarathi (a botanist), Dr. Ranganayaki Parthasarathi (a leather technologist), Padmini Ramaswamy (a nuclear scientist) and Rohini Krishnan ( a medical welfare officer), and his only son Dr. Naresh are celebrating the centenary of their great father 37 years after his passing. A rare privilege for a man who is not there to argue his case. May great memories live on.