Archive for the ‘Tamil cinema’ Category

Vamanan

Like the ascending and descending notes of ragas and scales Ilaiyaraja uses to compose his tunes, his relationship with his song tracks has seen many ups and downs through the decades. The maestro known for moving fans with his music has been forced in recent times to move courts to protect his copyright.

For a few years after making a redoubtable debut with Annakili (1976), when Ilaiyaraja was just another composer, albeit brilliant and promising, he made no claim of ownership on his tracks and music labels like Inreco and HMV purchased the audio rights from the producers.

This is why the tracks of such all-time classics like the Rajinikanth-Shobha starrer, Mullum Malarum,  the blockbuster Kalyanaraman featuring Kamalhasan in two roles, the musically vibrant Rosappu Ravikkaikaari and Annakili are with HMV. And Inreco has the tracks of the nationally awarded Nenjathai Killaadhe featuring some truly memorable hits, Sigappu Rojakkal in which Kamalahasan played a psychopathic killer and Priya, the first Tamil film with stereophonic recording.

Such films signalled a bright new cinema of fresh faces, talented directors and a newer approach to cinema. Ilaiyaraja’s scintillating music proved to be the anthem of this breed of films. By the early eighties, Ilaiyaraja was on the way to achieving a status that no music composer had attained in Tamil cinema, the name above the title.

The start of the eighties saw a greater democratization of film music through the proliferation of cassettes. Film production too peaked from around 60 in the mid seventies to well above a hundred. Ilaiyaraja had about forty films a year – a huge vindication for a composer who had been challenged in the field about his capacity to arrange music!

It was then that Ilaiyaraja took charge of his audio tracks, propping up the Echo label through his Pannaippuram boyhood friend Subramaniam. It was a business that could not go wrong. Ilaiyaraja got his audio rights as part of his payment for composing music for films and there was a huge demand for his songs.

Yet, the enterprise did not do very well as it could not meet the huge demand, and pirates made a killing. Echo was then made over in 1988 to ‘New York’ Parthasarathi, an erstwhile music director who had moved over to the US and made a mark with his music company there.  Parthasarathi and Ilaiyaraja released the latter’s first compact disc of hits in Singapore but the celebration lasted for a few years only till the producer of the mega pic Thalapathy (1991) sold the audio rights to a another label (Lahiri) at a huge price. This opened Ilaiyaraja’s eyes to the commercial potential of his work yet again and he stopped giving films to Echo. He started his own company, ‘Raja Cassettes’, but as Ilaiyaraja’s elder brother R. D. Bhaskar put it then, ‘We should not have entered a business we had no idea about’!

By this time there was a halo round Ilayaraja, and he was being hailed as Ragadevan, a musical god. Eknath, a prominent video library owner was drawn into the circle of devotees and given the audio rights for a price. He gave up after a score of films saying the money he paid for the tracks could not be recouped from cassette sales. AVM came in on the 61st year of its audio business but let go after a crop of releases as the humungous hype was not converting into profits. These tracks, which had been given for five years were then transferred to Pyramid Audio which has about 150 Ilaiyaraja films now.

In the new millennium, when audio rights include a spectrum of digital rights like downloads through mobile networks, rings tones, caller tunes, internet streaming and the like, Ilaiyaraja had sounded the warning bugle against piracy and named some companies as copyright holders. Now, he has restrained a few of them from infringing his copyright. The problem in this muddle is that even law-abiding retailers have no foolproof means of ascertaining a legal Ilaiyaraja track! A high end retailer in Chennai, who was chagrined at being raided for selling illegal Ilaiyaraja CDs wanted to know of some foolproof method of doing just that!

But despite all the discordant notes that have attended its sales, Ilaiyaraja’s music is still a sought after product by his fans. The sad note is that rather than scoring music, a  composer has to spend his time scoring out those selling his music without his permission.

The latest in the series of issues over use of Ilaiyaraja’s film songs is old friend and colleaugue SPB, who himself sang scores and scores of the maestro’s songs being served a lawyer’s notice for performing Ilaiyaraja’s songs without his permission.

(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music with many acclaimed works to his credit)

(Most part of this article was originally published in the Times of India, Chennai)

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Vamanan

With the Vietnam war tearing up not only Vietnam but also public opinion in the US, it was to be expected that Vietnam became a synonym for discord and strife. But back in the late sixties, it was left to school drop out K. Sundaram to immediately tap the symbolism by naming his play on a family divided against itself as ‘Vietnam Veedu’! His audience in the amateur drama circuit in Madras consisted of the urban middle class who were avid newspaper readers bombarded by headlines of  the war in the Southeast Asian country.  In the event, the play and the film that followed were so successful that Sundaram came to be known as ‘Vietnam Veedu’ Sundaram!

There was something of the then smouldering Vietnam in Sundaram himself. Son of a lawyer in Tiruchi, Sundaram’s turbulent adolescence was marred by a disastrous academic record and dismally low self esteem. He once remarked that he had the appearance of a figure in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. Sundaram’s anxious mother took him to Reverend Lourdes Xavier of the Immaculate Conception church at Poondi, near Thanjavur. The latter’s assurance that the boy would make good though without any formal education came as some reassurance to both mother and son. Sundaram later returned the favour to the kind Padre with Gnana Oli, a stage play based loosely on Les Miserables and featuring Major Sundarrajan. Sivaji Ganesan played the protagonist in the celluloid version shot prominently in and around the Poondi church.

Sundaram’s chance entry upon his arrival at Mambalam, into Clubhouse, iconic haven of film world aspirants like Nagesh, Vali and Srikanth, was providential. His meeting with thespian Y.G.Parthasarathy, whose association stirred up his passion for the stage was equally serendipitous. After being asked to push Parthasarathy’s broken down car to his house, Sundaram returned on invitation in the evening only to become a junior member of his dramatic troupe!

Initially Sundaram had wanted to be an actor….perhaps a comedian in keeping with the mocking and dismissive disdain everybody treated him with. It was the veteran comedian T.S.Durairaj who identified Sundaram’s métier and asked him to concentrate on writing. Working night shifts as a tyre inspector in an industrial unit, Sundaram did the dramatic rounds in the day and soon caught the eye of none other than ‘Puratchi Nadigar’ MGR. Sundaram had written the play for the factory’s first anniversary which was presided over by MGR. The impressed star wanted the playwright to come on stage and not only predicted that he would go places but also recommended him to topnotch film companies like Devar Films and Padmini Pictures. Sundaram’s participation in the story department of such production companies improved his rock-bottom finances apart from teaching him how to write for films.

There is some fortuitousness again in the manner in which Sundaram’s Vietnam Veedu-tale based on his own father’s fixation for family prestige, reached the portals of Sivaji Ganesan, then a shining star whose name had become synonymous with histrionics. When Sundaram did really reach the Presence, Sivaji glanced at the youth and remarked, ‘Your shirt is bigger than your frame’.  Sundaram responded with, ‘’I am not the master of my own shirt, Sir’’ referring to the fact that the shirt in question was borrowed.

The scope for melodrama that Vietnam Veedu provided tickled Sivaji’s fancy as did the fact that he would be using the Brahmin lingo in a big way for the first time. The dollops of dramatic English lines that Sundaram had larded the dialogues with were an added attraction. Sivaji luxuriated in the glow of Prestige Padmanabhan, and his powerful, if mannered and quirky essay mesmerized stage audiences before holding cinema goers in thrall.

Sundaram’s Gnana Oli and then Gowravam,  part of whose storyline Sundaram had gleaned from Agatha Christie’s ‘Witness for the Prosecution’, gave ample scope for Sivaji to indulge his sweet tooth for grandiose melodrama provided by a megalomaniacal character whose tragedy could have been avoided with a little wisdom. Though he was more at home as a script writer than as a director,  Sundaram wielded the megaphone himself in Gowravam, fortified by Sivaji’s own preference as well as the guidance of ace camera director A. Vincent. Hugely effective songs from the MSV,Kannadasan,TMS combination (Devane in Gnana Oli; Neeyum Naanuma and Palootti Valartha Kili in Gowravam) heightened the tragic dimensions unfolded in Sundaram’s films. He wrote scripts and dialogues for many Sivaji starrers. Even as Sundaram basked in the limelight with his successes for Sivaji, he wrote for MGR in ‘Naan Yen Pirandhaen’ and ‘Naalai Namadhe’, a remake of Yadon ki Baarat.

Realising that he was caught in the image trap of the two titans of Tamil cinema, Sundaram sought some way out. He claimed to have begun the genre of ‘social mytholology’ by showing the workings of divinity in contemporary individuals and situations (Namma Veettu Deivam). Sundaram had a strong religious streak which came out in many films (Devi Sri Karumariamman, Aayiram Kannudaiyal and Navagraha Nayaki among others). But the cake goes to films like Payanam, with its interesting directorial touches, as wells as turns of dialogue and plot in etching the character of a motley assemblage of train passengers.

The small screen provided ample acting opportunities to Sundaram in the evening of his life. But he was also toying with a film based on his mother’s life. He had debuted with his father’s story and  would have come full circle if he had had his way.

(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music and author of several books on Tamil cinema) 

(The above article appeared in Times of India, Chennai edition)

Tamizh Cinemavil Samskrita Ilakkiyam

Published in Dinamalai, Nellai 

Vamanan

He stood a hefty and towering six feet three and was better educated than four Tamil stars put together! But A.C. Thirulokchander M.A. carried himself with such ease – he had imbibed the deportmA.C.Thirulokchanderent by observing his role model  L.V.Prasad – that film stars looked upon him with favour. Even the usually interfering MGR allowed himself to be moulded in a completely different light under his baton in Anbe Vaa (1966).  Sivaji Ganesan, who addressed Thirulokchander as Mudaliar, considered him a close friend. In the event, he gave the latter the privilege of directing him in 25 films, the largest for any director in his stable of filmmakers.

Named after a Punjabi gentleman whom his father admired, Thirulokchander might have well become a bureaucrat if a year had not stood between him and the eligibililty to take the  IAS examination as his father desired. In the interregnum, he joined the veteran filmmaker R. Padmanabhan, a temperamental character whose capricious ways had become the talk of film circles, as his third assistant. Thirulok realized even at this stage that his physical stature and academic qualifications might put off film folk and learnt how to play them down! He struck it off well with MGR,  Padmanabhan’s sulking hero brought by court injunction to complete his Kumari (1952). MGR vibed with the young and well educated intern,  discussing politics with him at length.

Thirulok gleaned his knowledge and appreciation of film technique and grammar in Jupiter Pictures, watching directors like L.V.Prasad and working under S. Balachander. He would describe with awe how the ace cameraman Jiten Banerjee once unfolded 20 different opening shots for a scene. Banerjee had emphasized that the shot should be integral to story telling and have a close bearing to narration and character, and also taught Thirulok the importance of finding the best angle for a shot.

Inheriting his yen for voracious reading and story telling from his mother, Thirulok succeeded in selling his folklore stunt yarn (Vijayapuri Veeran 1960) to Joseph Thaliath of Citadel Studios and assisted him in making the film.  This was his ticket to AVM Studios where his instant rapport with AVM Saravanan, one the rising sons of Meiyyappa Chettiar found him scoring a double whammy.

First, Thirulok’s sensitive family drama based on the vicissitudes in the relationship of two men who had fought shoulder to shoulder in the army was picturised under Bhimsingh’s direction as Paarthaal Pasi Theerum (1962). Then,  another folklore stunt film, Veera Thirumagan (1962) was slotted for his own direction. The film which had beautiful music by Viswanathan Ramamurthy was not a success, but Thirulok’s meaningful camera angles can be seen in such evergreen hits as ‘Roja Malare Raaja Kumari’.  As the commomer hero   (Anandan) queries in song whether he can yearn for the hand of a princess, He is shown in a tell tale high angle shot, while the princess is picturised from a low angle shot as she answers in the affirmative from the vantage point of her royal status.

With the full backing of AVM (in Thirulok’s case this was Saravanan), Thirulok’s story telling and cine techniques found a place in a number of AVM films. Naanum Oru Penn, based on a Bengali story, and Ramu, re-crafted from Kishore Kumar’s Dhoor Gagan ki Chaao Mein not only met with success, but also earned silver medals as national awards for best regional film. The director’s mettle in the thriller genre was seen in  Adhey Kangal.

But it was Thirulok’s breezy romantic comedy for MGR, Anbe Vaa (1966) which marked the high point of his innings in AVM.  It was an uncommon triumph for MGR too, who had been figuring in a series of scrappily made cops and robbers flicks with a dash of ‘mother sentiment’ and romance thrown in.  Set in Shimla and shot richly in glorious colour, Anbe Vaa is an atypical MGR film structured as a Roman Holiday in reverse, being about a rich and overworked business magnate who finds love when he gets away to Shimla incognito. Thirulok’s versatile gifts as a film director which include fresh story telling, intelligent lines, good song positioning, and extracting creditable performances were at play in Anbe Vaa. The extraordinary finesse he brought to takings and editing was at its height in the evergreen hit song, Pudhiya Vaanam Pudhiya Bhoomi.

It’s ironical that despite Anbe Vaa’s extraordinary success, Thirulok never got to make another MGR film but became Sivaji’s favoured director and lavished his cinematic skills on the thespian, as for example in the latter’s triple role tour de force, Deiva Magan.  Sivaji’s forte in portraying tragic heros stood out in Thirulok’s Babu (remade from Malayalam Odayil Ninnu) and Avanthaan Manidhan (from Kannada).  The director’s skill in portraying national integration stood out in Bharata Vilas, while his yen for comedy was seen in Anbe Aaruyire. Thirulok’s Iru Malargal, a love triangle comprising Sivaji, Padmini and K.R. Vijaya that he directed for veteran sound engineer and studio owner Dinshaw Tehrani was eminently successful.

If Thirulok’s film career lasted more than three decades and spanned over sixty films, it is because he was swift to get inspired and swifter to execute.  Do Raha’s sensational success provoked him to come out with its Tamil version, Aval (1972).  As a producer himself (Cine Bharath), he was quick to realize Ilayaraja’s talent and employed his musical score fruitfully in his Bhadrakali (1976) which is chockfull with hits. After the tragic death of the film’s heroine Rani Chandra, he successfully used a dupe to complete the film.

Thirulok realized Rajinikanth’s promise soon enough by casting him in ‘Vanakkathukkuriya Kaadhaliye’, a film about a girl with ESP  His last film, Anbulla Appa (1987), which came a full 37 years after his entry as an apprentice in cinema, sank without a trace. After that he engaged himself in directing TV serials, and authored his rambling reminiscences apart from keeping in touch with old friends like Saravanan and under study S.P.Muthuraman.

(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music and has authored many books on the subject)

(A version of this article appeared in Times of India, Chennai)

Vamanan 

Susheela is in high spirits. A musical finale not easily replicable has been played out as a culmination of her eventful caP.Susheela with awardreer. Her prolific musical output has been documented in a way that has got her into the Guinness Book of World Records. The event has warmed the cockles of the hearts of her myriad admirers. Heroines of yesteryear have flocked to her residence to express their joy.

A cultural icon of the Tamils and the Telugus, Susheela is also appreciated for her contribution to Malayalam and Kannada film song. Though she is a Telugu and her film songs in her mother tongue handsomely outnumber her Tamil songs, she is undoubtedly the main female figure of the golden age of Tamil film music. The most prolific lyric writer Vali made his debut writing for her (Nilavum thaaraiyum in Azhagar Malaikalvan)  while SPB of a thousand duets sang his first with her (Aayiram Nilave Vaa).

But it’s more the quality of her numbers than the quantity that has earned her the love of music lovers. The sheer melody, lyrical significance, musical excellence and popularity of many of her songs have made an iconic singer of South India. Many of the jewels of Kannadasan, Tamil cinema’s lyricist par excellence, are framed in Susheela’s inimitable voice. While carving a niche for herself in the film world dominated by men, she retained her dignity and self-respect as a tremendously gifted and resourceful songstress. A winner of many national and regional awards, she is also the recipient of the Padma Bhushan.

Hailing from a musically inclined family in the princely state of Vizianagaram,  Susheela acquired a diploma from the music college in her home town and came to Chennai for further studies.  Her got her first singing chance easily enough with Pendyala Nageswara Rao choosing her for a duet with A.M.Raja in Petrathaai (Kannathalli).

Initially Susheela was a staff singer of AVM studios. The positive side of her years in AVM was the honing of her Tamil diction as well as the professionalism she brought to her career. Though she speaks Tamil with a strong Telugu accent despite her 63 years in Chennai, her Tamil singing sets the benchmark for excellence in Tamil pronunciation. That’s why Susheela was chosen along with T.M. Sounderarajan to render the State song of the Tamil Nadu government in 1970 (Neeraarum Kadaluduthu). Earlier, she had rendered Bharatidasan’s paean to Tamil, ‘Tamizhukkum Amudhendru Paer’ in the sweetest of strains.

The fifties were competitive times with many female singers in the field and Susheela had to fight her way up. That she progressed steadily can be seen from the fact that a musical genius like G.Ramanathan trusted her with great numbers like ‘Mullai Malar Mele’ and ‘Inbam Pongum Vennila’.  She was often fancied for dulcet duets with A.M.Raja with the latter himself opting to sing with her in the enormously successful Kalyana Parisu (Vaadikkai Marandhadhu Yeno, Aasaiyinaale Manam). Viswanathan-Ramamurthy came up with ‘Thangathile Oru Kurai Irandhaalum’ which lit up a million hearts.

Paava Mannippu (March 1961) set the stage for a new musical phase that would crown Susheela as the queen of Tamil film song.   There was an upsurge of innovation, melody, meaning and orchestral colour. As Susheela’s art shone in dainty songs like ‘Paalirukkum Pazhamirukkum’, it was clear that the golden key to the kingdom was in her voice. Master composers like Viswanathan Ramamurthy and K.V.Mahadevan would henceforth make it the measure of their melodies. V. Kumar and others would follow suit.

It’s significant that Chief Minister Jayalalitha has recalled that Susheela sang for her mother Sandhya.  The classic images of some of the most charismatic heroines like Devika (Sonnadhu Nee Dhaana), Saroja Devi (Unnai Ondru Kaetpaen), Savithri (Malarndhu Malaraadha), Sowcar Janaki (Maalai Pozhudhin Mayakkathile), Padmini (Mannavan Vandhaanadi), Kanchana (Enna Paarvai), K.R. Vijaya (Athai Madi Methaiyadi) and Jayalalitha (Unnai naan sandhithaen) mirror a greater charisma because of Susheela’s song. The actresses knew that the fragile moments of their fleeting beauty were sculpted for life in the evergreen melodies that flowed from Susheela.

Musical instruments acquired their signature passages in her songs. Mangalamurthy’s superb accordion accompaniment in Susheela’s entrancing melody ‘Athaan En Athaan’ drew attention to the instrument.  Satyam’s soaring notes on the Shehnai in ‘Aalayamaniyin Osaiyai’ masterfully underscored the serene atmosphere of the song. Hanumatha Rao’s consummate tabla playing lent ‘Maalai soodum mananaal’ an ineffable grace.   ‘Enna Enna Vaarthaigalo’ in which Susheela’s voice and the keys of the piano frolic together shed light on Joseph Krishna’s mastery over the instrument. Nanjappa’s honeyed phrases on the bamboo shimmered in ecstatic hues around Susheela’s vocals in ‘Kannukku Kulamedhu’.

Susheela was extremely receptive to musical ideas and fast in grasping them. She was also uncannily sensitive to microphone positions and the needs of sound engineers to get a recording right. The later decades of her career saw a great deal of competition emerging and singer-music composer politics playing out to her detriment, but she kept on doggedly. She wisely patched up with Ilaiyaraja after some initial misunderstanding. She is a woman of much poise and reserve but can be scorchingly sarcastic in private. She has a piquant sense of humour too. She once remarked about raagas in the general run of film songs – ‘’One can say they represent an all-India raaga. Even if you search all over India, you won’t be able to find the raaga!’’  At eighty plus, Susheela  still rocks

(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music and has authored many books on the subject).

Vamanan

V.S.Raghavan

He stepped into the dad mode in Tamil cinema when just 29 and might have continued as grand dad till 92 if he hadn’t had to call it a day after a short illness a year ago. Playing daddy to a range of worthies including Sivaji, MGR, Rajinikanth and Kamalahasan, not to speak of heavy weight heroines (no pun intended) like K. R. Vijaya, he proved that he was cut out for the job – a Very Sure of himself Raghavan. One can see this for example, in his portrayal of Banker Masilamani in the full length comedy, Galatta Kalyanam. Glowering menacingly at his son (Sivaji), he fumes, ‘‘I don’t like your activities. If you come to me finally relating some tale of your romance, I will simply kill you.’’ Playing Vijaya’s father in ‘Enna Mudalaali Sowkiyama’, he exudes a parental affection that’s almost tangible.

He liked to expand his initials V(embakkam) S(rinivasan) variously as Very Strict Raghavan in that he expected conformity to discipline, Very Simple Raghavan in not standing by formalities, and even ‘Vengaaya Sambar’ Raghavan to indicate his love for tasty food. It is another matter that in the initial years of his film career in the fifties, (and sometimes even later), he was merely Raghavan even in film titles, without the possibility of any foothold on slippery celluloid.

What finally gave him an edge was his dignified presence as well as his strong voice and excellent Tamil diction. Curiously, he had made his acting debut in short Hindi plays staged as part of the language courses of the Hindi Prachaar Sabha. He was cued to the printed word, having worked as a sub editor for three years in the Tamil journal Malathi, under noted humourist Thumilan (Ramasamy), and as supervisor in a busy press for six years.

When he formed his own theatre group, Indian National Artistes (INA), in the mid fifties, one of his noted plays was Chathurangam, based on ‘Someone Waiting’, a gripping whodunnit of the prolific Welsh author Emlyn Williams. Mounted on a single set, the play was a theatrical feat of the time. Raghavan is reputed to have run his troupe like a headmaster, meticulously planning every move and placement of light and mike. Sometimes, the dramatic sparks that flew when recalcitrant staff in certain theatre halls failed to meet his standards, proved as interesting as the staged play itself, if not more!

His notable film breaks came from director Sridhar. Whether as a bearded patient bringing a sliver of optimism amidst the enshrouding gloom of a nursing home in Nenjil Oar Aalayam or as the businessman father of one of the protagonists in the musical comedy Kadhalikka Neramillai, Raghavan came across with ringing clarity. As the gruff if goodhearted house owner and father of the heroine in Nenjirukkum Varai, he cuts an unforgettable cameo finally eliciting, ‘Appa, Appa, Appa’ from Sivaji’s Raghuraman. It’s a rare scene which has the latter exclaiming, ‘‘Many may live life with majesty. But nobody can die with such majesty as your father’’. Uncanny how the lines fitted Raghavan’s life and passing!

Balachander, a younger contemporary of Raghavan in the latter’s plays, successfully sought to add detail, dimension and nuance to Raghavan’s father roles in his films as in Iru Kodugal (vengeful father), Nootrukku Nooru (angry old Anglo Indian parent) and Punnagai (alcoholic father who demeans his own daughter).  K.S. Gopalakrishnan, another prolific director, set much store on dialogue and used Raghavan’s oral proficiency to the hilt. KSG was given to changing and honing his copious lines on the floor and needed artistes who could weather the verbal storm. Raghavan was one of those who fitted the bill with ease in enormously successful films like Panama Pasama. MGR handpicked Raghavan for supporting roles, however minor, in his films in the seventies right up to Maduraiyai Meetta Sundarapandian, released after he became Chief Minister. (He also extended patronage to Raghavan in little ways during his regime).

All this made Raghavan eminently busy in the 60s and 70s. The prominent TV and stage actor Delhi Kumar who acted with Raghavan in ‘Onne Onnu Kanne Kannu’ in 1974, recalls finding the latter catching up on sleep quietly curled up in one corner of the shooting spot. Raghavan had married Thangam just about a decade back in 1964 and his sons Sreenivasan and Krishna grew up when he was the busiest.

During these times, and later in the evening of his life, Raghavan found a chum in Nagesh, who like him had risen in the sixties, and unlike him, struck gold as a star. In the nineties and after, they were war-worn veterans looking nostalgically at their shared past. Nagesh would turn up at Raghavan’s home nearby, thirsty for the steaming coffee that Raghavan’s daughter-in-law Janaki served with relish.  It might even have come to the old-timers sometimes crying over each other’s shoulder over the issues they had with an insensitive world though it did occasionally laud their eventful innings with awards and evenings.

Raghavan switched over easily to the small screen when the need arose. He figured in friend KB’s popular serials and produced a few himself. The new millennium also tended, amidst maelstromic changes, to cast occasional glances at the past. Raghavan then figured in a handful of films, providing for example the preamble that led to the iconic ‘Prayer’ song in Idhurkku thaane Aasaipattaay Balakumara as well as the ‘historic’ underpinnings of Cowboypatti in Irumbukottai Murattu Singam. The parody has Raghavan tracing Irumbukottai’s hoary roots to John Wayne and Clint Eastwood!

He mingled freely with New Age directors as with his grandson Satish Kumar, taking him to tennis classes and reciting the Vishnu Sahasranamam with him during devout evenings. When Satish studied aerospace engineering in Dubai, he sent his daughter- in-law packing to look after him, bravely ploughing a lonely furrow in his late eighties. He was a long distance runner and could take loneliness in his stride, even if Nagesh too had left by then. He was Very Smart Raghavan who knew how to look after himself all by himself.

(A version of this article appeared in Times of India, Chennai)

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 becoMannavan Vandhanadi Wrapper JPGme 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.