When Producer N. Krishnaswami informed Sivaji Ganesan, the star of his film Padikkaadha Medhai that he was signing K. V. Mahadevan to score the music of the film, Sivaji immediately responded with, ‘‘Latch on to him..We are sure to get beautiful melodies’’.
And true to the star’s estimation, Mahadeven went on to give unforgettable melodies in the film like ‘Oru Oru Oorile’ and ‘Engirundho Vandhaan’. While the former song encapsulates a heartwarming story about gratitude, the latter, based on Mahakavi Bharati’s famous Kannan poems (Kannan is a Tamil equivalent of Krishna), scales great heights as ecstatic poetry set to evergreen melody.
Mahadevan, hailing from the remote village of Krishnankoil in present-day Nagercoil district (but part of the Travancore princely state when Mahadeven was born in 1918), started out as a boy actor and went on to become a prolific composer of popular melodies both in Tamil and Telugu cinema. His musical range from folk to light music and classical melody is wide and stunning as is the length of his career from the early forties to the late eighties.
Mahadevan’s light melodies like ‘Poayum Poayum’ and ‘Sirithu Sirithu’ were on my lips when as a lad not even into the double digit, I used to return from the neighbourhood cinema in Mandaveli after seeing MGR films like Thai Sollai Thattadhe and Thaayai Kaatha Thanayan. I can still remember the boy next door, when I lived with my grandma in a house on St Mary’s Road, grandiloquently belting out, ‘Iravinil Aattam’, Sivaji Ganesan’s song in his nine-role tour de force, Navarathri.
Mahadevan’s melodies thus reached even the young and untutored in music on the one hand, while on the other, in the grand Tamil hit, Tiruvilaiyaadal, his stirring melodies brought out the best from veteran artistes soaked in the classical and dramatic idiom like K.B. Sundarambal and T. R. Mahalingam. His music for the Telugu film, Sankarabharanam, which received nation-wide acclaim represented the apogee of his career.
It would be putting it mildly to say that Mahadevan was a man of few words. He was more than spartan in speech. I have met him while I covered films when I was in the Indian Express but he was not the type to keep journalists happy with roundly packaged dollops of the past Attending his recordings, one understood his unassuming style of getting work done with minimum effort…Most of the toiling was done by Mahadevan’s Man Friday Pugalendhi.
The latter became a friend and well-wisher, and wrote the foreward to my works like Thirai Isai Alaigal, and even composed the music for a title song that I had written for a TV serial. He attended the book release function of Thirai Isai Alagal II and also opened up his heart to me. I renewed my acquaintance with KVM because of Pugalendhi, and received the master composer’s blessings.
I had collected material from a variety of sources for a life of Mahadevan, of course with greater emphasis on his music and those connected with it directly. Professor Sharma of Nagercoil, a family friend of Mahadevan, had requested me to write Mahadevan’s biography. I had also met Mahadevan’s son Venkatachallam and his good wife. But somehow things didn’t take off.
But it happened in the end of 2015. I put together the bagful of details I had collected from various people. I reached 300 pages narrating Mahadevan’s life and career up to 1960, and as I wanted the book to be easy on the pocket of book lovers decided to end the first part there. I am working on Volume II.
The printed copy of ‘Mannavan Vandhaanadi’ reached me through the publishers, Manivachagar Padhippagam (044-25361039), when I was at the Rajah Annamalai Mandram, where I was trying to gather information I needed for a series I am doing for Dinamalar.
Going through my book as a third person, even as the participants on stage discussed Thevaram music vis-à-vis tradition and modernity, I found that the book brings hitherto unknown facts about Mahadevan. As is my wont, I have narrated the life like a story, while also dwelling on the songs of his films in the forties and fifties. I have also strived to present the narrative with interesting visuals appropriate to the text.