Archive for the ‘Tamil film music’ Category


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)


Na. Muthukumar 1Vamanan

‘Here lies one who sought to rescue Tamil cinema song from the clutches of cliché by embracing lyricism’ might as well be the epitaph to Na.Muthukumar. There was something in the song and personality of this utterly unpretentious song writer that seemed to bring a redemptive touch to film songs. Whether it was a father’s ecstatic outburst (‘Ananda Yaazhai Meettugiraay’) for his young daughter in Ram’s Thanga Meengal (2013), or a young girl’s dainty ode to beauty (‘Azhage Azhage Ellaam Azhage’) in A.L. Vijay’s Saivam (2014), Muthukumar’s sensitive lines seemed to be the silver lining to the ominous clouds of the Kolaveri season! Both ‘Ananda Yaazhai’ and ‘Azhage Azhage’ had fetched national awards for the poet, but his shockingly premature passing at the height of his creativity seems to have set the clock back decisively.

There was little of the grasping cinema upstart or social climber in Muthukumar’s rise. Despite  initial heartaches, his soaring career in the film world was informed by camaraderie. He had celebrated the warmth of family and friends in a series of articles titled ‘Anilaadum Munril’ (Squirrels in the Courtyard) in a popular weekly.  He hailed from a village near Kancheepuram and had fond memories of the bonds and affections of rural life and joint families despite having lost his mother as an infant.

Glued to books from childhood by the influence of his teacher father, Muthukumar completed his post graduation in Tamil in Chennai and even took up doctoral research into Tamil film songs. He later joined Balu Mahendra as assistant director.  As the Tamil tradition of keeping every occasion with song was ingrained in him, Muthukumar soon found his poesy getting the better of his love of film technique! He thought of himself as a sensitive poet who must keep the flag of creativity flying despite commercial cinema’s weakness for kitsch.

Not that Muthukumar didn’t have his moments of superficiality. He could sometimes lapse into juvenile joustings as in ‘Mutham Kodutha Maayakkaari, Un Lippu Enakku Paani Puri’ (Adhik Ravichandran’s Trisha Illainna Nayanthara), but could  add  fizz to a catchy bar song like ‘Vaada Va Machi’ (DeMonte Colony for composer Keba Jeremiah) with Omar Khayyam-like intimations of the desi variety. ‘As life is like a match stick that doesn’t gets lit when wet, make the most of every moment!’

In his first song for Yuvan Shanker Raja with whom he struck his most significant and prolific partnership, Muthukumar would plumb his knowledge of Tamil literary genres in ‘Oar Aayiram Yaanai Kondraal Parani’ (Nandha 2001), referring to the criterion of a king having to kill a thousand elephants in war for a war panegyric  (‘Parani’) to be written about him. Bala’s Nandha was a trenchantly tragic tale of crime and punishment, and one wonders how much of Muthukumar’s lines and their musical and vocal mounting measure up to it, but the lyricist’s distinctive approach is discernable.  A decade later, Bala had Muthukumar write all the songs for his quirky comedy, ‘Avan Ivan’.

In Selvaraghavan’s ‘Kaadhal Konden’ (2003), a love story teetering on the psychopathic, Muthukumar’s ‘Devadhaiyai Kanden’, again for Yuvan, imaginatively fleshed out the romantic fixation growing in the mind of a challenged introvert. In the same director’s 7G Rainbow Colony (2004), the visual of the tragic hero being a marginalised and devastated entity in his dead sweetheart’s funeral is matched by Muthukumar’s oxymoron ‘Nerungi Vilagi’ (close but apart) in ‘Ninaithu Ninaithu Paarthaen, Nerungi Vilagi Nadanthaen’. It is this uncanny ability to sum up life’s bitter ironies in simple day-to-day words that made Muthukumar a director’s song writer.  In his 16 year career of a reckoned 1500 songs, he found friends who would give him the opportunity to write freely. His ability to parse the ubiquitous and almost hackneyed used of romance in Tamil films with interesting colours and shades was one of the reasons for his success.

In ‘Papanasam’ (2015), Ghibran’s bouncy western projection notwithstanding, Muthukumar’s ‘Yeya En Kottikaara’, recalls Kannadasan’s hit, ‘Muthukulikka Vaariala’, if only in the use of regional dialect. In Kaakaa Muttai (2015), in ‘Po Po Vaazhve Kaakka Muttaithaan’, Muthukumar’s lines for G. V. Prakash’s chirpy number paint the triumph of the human spirit in the squalor of a Chennai slum. His nostalgic celebration of a rustic childhood spent playing in the sun, in Vasanthabalan’s Veyil, ( ‘Veyilodu Vilaiyaadi’, 2006) is a marvellous montage brilliantly marshalled. This is a facet that we see in his collections of poetry too.

Muthukumar would categorise songs and poetry as either emotional or intellectual saying that he always aimed at the former. And in keeping with the art of his role model Kannadasan, Muthukumar sought to express himself vulnerably in the most childlike words he could dredge into his consciousness. How Muthukumar longed to spread his lyrical wings like Kannadasan, whose ‘Ninaikkadherindha Maname’ and ‘Kanne Kalaimane’ brought warm tears of joy in his crystalline moments of inebriation! But though as a lyric writer Muthukumar had the sensitivity both to ideas and music to write memorably, he was functioning at a time when the lyric was only one more element in the musical ensemble, not the queen as in earlier musical dispensations. But despite that, Muthukumar managed to leave his individual stamp.

Muthukumar, who had the uncanny ability of dipping his poetic brush in the palette of life’s living moments, wrote in ‘Azhage Azhage’, that not only a blossoming flower but also a falling leaf has beauty. Leaves can fall in autumn, but why would life’s blossoming flower wither in springtime, and that at 41?

(An edited version of this article appeared in the Times of India, Chennai)


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).

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.

Not resting on his laurels, MSV always looked ahead


Unlike most music directors of his time and age, M.S. Viswanathan (MSV) was a public figure and a musical icon. He might have slowed down in his eighties, but the magic of his muse hadn’t worn off, while the media’s hunger for celebrities had sharpened. He was on TV in reality shows, he was in a handful of films as an actor, he was in live music shows, and he was on rap remixes of his own numbers, crooning and cavorting Thillu Mullu with contemporary worthies. And all along, as the illustrious music composer whose evergreen numbers set the benchmark for melody and lyrical excellence in Tamil cinema in the by-now legendary era of MGR and Sivaji, he was the last shining vestige of a classic age of music that had all but vanished. He will therefore be profoundly missed.

As he lay in intensive care, a pale shadow of his usual self, his face behind an oxygen mask, he seemed to have given up the will to survive. In the last few years since the passing of his wife, the warm, open-hearted and generous Janaki Amma, his zest for life had been slowly waning. She had known he would be like a babe in the woods without her –why, he couldn’t even button his shirt himself – and ironically for a Hindu wife, despaired when told by an astrologer that she would pre-decease him.

Admirers MSV met would speak warmly about the beauty and melody of his music, and the composer would make formal noises of his gratefulness. But his one specially remarkable trait was that his gaze was fixed ahead, never on the laurels of the past. He itched to do more music, to exercise his musical faculties further. But of late the sound of music was going mute, the bellows in his harmonium seemed bereft of bounce. And this was the man whose energy and dynamism in the recording studio one would have to see to believe. Folding his eight-yards dhoti, the number of times he would whirl round the studio, instructing singers or chastising trailing players! In his formative years, he had even tried learning dance from Vazhuvur Ramiah Pillai!

Born in the nondescript Palghat village of Elapulli to Manayangathu Subramanian and Narayani Ammal, he had lost his father before he was four. The poignant conditions of his father’s demise as well as the unsettled circumstances in the family – he would recount an aborted bid by his mother to drown him as part of a suicide attempt – must have been traumatic.  As a truant school boy in Cannanore (Kannur), where his maternal grandparent Krishnan Nair was a jail warden, MSV frequented touring cinemas selling snacks. That was when the magical melodies of the likes of Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Aswathamma and V.A. Chellappa, cast their spell on him.

The romance with music took a significant turn when music teacher Neelakanda Bhagavathar took him as a disciple. The tutelage climaxed in a cutcheri by 12-year-old MSV in Cannanore town hall. One would have a rare glimpse of that past with a sliver of life slipping in through his otherwise selective memory – the young student perched on the shoulders of the guru as they bathed together in a stream, MSV reeling out the swaras as Bhagavathar belted out a Carnatic kriti. Reckoning music, even all sound, as pitch and part of some vast music of existence was a lifelong preoccupation with MSV, though only rarely he gave an inkling of the workings of his mind.

Running away from home in his early teens, MSV went to Tiruppur and finally found his way into Jupiter Pictures in Madras, but missed being cast as the young Kovalan in ‘Kannagi’. He had a minor role and a few singing lines in ‘Kubera Kuchela’, but the itch for recognition as an actor took him to drama troupes exposing him to the stage music of the times as well as to some very unpleasant and heartbreaking experiences. He returned to Jupiter cringing, but his tenure as a boy attendant in the production house’s music hall, brought him close to music directors like Subbiah Naidu and paved the way for his emergence as a music director. The final leg of MSV’s internship was under the musical genius C. R. Subbaraman, whose premature demise at 28 set the stage for the emergence of his chelas, MSV and Ramamurthy as a the first musical duo of Tamil cinema in N. S. Krishnan’s ‘Panam’.

MSV, at 24 was the younger partner, dynamic and raring to exercise his prodigious creativity. Ramamurthi was 31, a respected violinist in film music circles with a special touch of melody, stern in temperament and more knowledgeable in Carnatic music. Together they made a swell team, and struggling through the fifties when opportunities were scarce, they burst out into their own in the early sixties with a new wave of light music in Tamil cinema. Taking a cue from the western orchestration of Hindi film songs, they brought an orchestral richness to Tamil film song combining it with lyrical significance and melodic richness. Kannadasan, who backed the duo from the start, played a pivotal role in this transformation in the ‘Paa’ series of films through his lyrical wizardry and was later joined by Vali, among others. The Viswanathan-Ramamurthy scored music together for just under 100 films before the poignant 1965 split. But by then, they had made the change, and even the competition (K.V. Mahadevan) could not afford to ignore the new trend. Singers like T. M.  Sounderarajan, P. Sushila, P. B. Srinivas, L. R. Eswari and to a lesser extent Sirkali Govindarajan and S. Janaki figured promimently in this transfiguration of film music.

MSV worked his magic in times when music directors were expected to offer an array of tunes for producers and directors to choose from.  It was the time of live recordings when the logistic challenges of making a song were manifold. A single mistake by a singer or instrumentalist would entail doing a song all over again. The recording studios weren’t air-conditioned yet and the ceiling fans would have to be switched off during takes. The number of films produced was increasing, and unlike the previous era, songs could not be rehearsed for months, but would have to be mostly taught in the studio during the recording. Some music directors left the scoring of orchestral music to their associates, but MSV composed the interlude music of his songs himself, and preferred to do it at the spur of the moment, during the recording. Individual singers could notate the tunes for their reference and individual players could write down their parts, but he preferred performance by the ear.  His own education had been entirely by the ear.

Post-split, MSV came out in flying colours as the single-most influential music director of Tamil cinema. Sivaji and MGR had emerged as the pillars of Tamil cinema, and whether it was Sivaji’s melodramatic expression of angst (Gowravam’s Neeyum Naanuma, for instance) or MGR’s song connect with his fans through political and social messages coded in lyrics (Neenga Nalla Irukkanum Naadu Munnera in Idhayakkani), MSV was past master in creating chart busters. While wowing the lay cinema goer with peppy numbers, he would also woo the elite with tours de force of music for directors like K. Balachander, turning out a soaring song (Adhisaya Ragam) in a rare four note raga (Mahathi) in keeping with the film’s title of Apoorva Raagangal, or etching a deeply meaningful lyric in a forceful raga malika (Yezhu Swarangalil). MSV understood the vocal potential of younger singers like S.P. Balasubramaniam, Vani Jairam, K. J. Yesudas and P. Jayachandran and exploited them to the hilt to hone melodious numbers. He himself had a unusual singing voice full of feeling, and as the years went by, sang more frequently, mostly for off-screen song situations. A. R. Rahman too harnessed his voice in films like Sangamam and  Kannathil Muthamittaal.

The rise of a new generation of film makers in the mid seventies to the anthem of Ilayaraja’s music slowly tapered off MSV’s musical career, though some boys on the burning deck like director R.C. Sakthi persisted with the veteran unto the last.  A series of home productions in the early eighties landed MSV in financial hot waters. To bail him out, Ilayaraja teamed up with him in AVM’s Mella Thirandhadhu Kanavu. There were a few more films they did together, with MSV composing the tunes and Ilayaraja doing the orchestration. In the event, MSV also joined up again with his erstwhile partner, Ramamurthy for a few films. But it turned out to be only a token gesture. In all, MSV scored music for about 600 films, including about 65 films in Malayalam and 30 in Telugu. He was active in the cine musicians’ union as well as the performing rights society, once chaired by Naushad whom MSV considered his mentor.

MSV was a man of restless creativity, toying with new projects, ideas for new albums, live shows and TV serials that projected his musicality. It was when he found himself drained of his capacity to work, with the contours of his world shrinking fast, that he had decided that the song was over. He would tell close friends that he longed to be a wandering singer, with a song on his lips and gliding his fingers over the keys of his beloved harmonium. Freed of the dross of matter, the Mellisai Mannar could well have begun to indulge his deepest desires.

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

(A version of this article appeared in the Times of India)

MSV article

கதை முடிந்து போச்சென்று

கடற்கரையில் கிடக்கின்றான்

அலை எழுந்து தடுமாறி, அவன்

அருகில் வந்தழுகிறது – மக்கள்

அலை எழுந்து தடுமாறி, அவன்

அருகில் வந்தழுகிறது


பாலக்காட்டிலிருந்து- ஒரு

பாட்டு மன்னன் வந்தான்

ஏலக்காடாம் திரை உலகில்

இசை வெளிச்சம் தந்தான்

பாசத்தை மலரவைத்தான்

நேசத்தை குளிரவைத்தான்

பாசமும் நேசமும் இன்று

பரிதவித்து கிடக்கின்றன


தமிழதனை தேன் என்று

கவிஞர்கள் சொல்வார்கள் – அந்த

தமிழுக்கு தேன் தந்து – புது

முறை செய்துவைத்தான்

கருப்பு வெள்ளை கட்டைகளில்

நிறம் ஆயிரம் கண்டானே — இன்று

விருப்பின்றி மூலையிலே

கிடக்கிறது ஆர்மோனியம்


சொல்லோடு விளையாடும்

சுகம் ஒடிப்போச்சு – இன்று

சுருதியோடு லயம் யாவும்

ஏக்கமுறல் ஆச்சு


தவம் செய்து பெற்றுத்தந்தான்

இசைசெல்வங்களை எல்லாம் – இன்று

கண்மூடி, நம்மையும்

தவம் செய்ய சொல்கின்றான்


இசைமீண்டும் வாழ

தவம் செய்ய வேண்டும்

திசையெங்கும் விரிகின்ற

உயர் எண்ணம் வேண்டும்

எண்ணங்களின் உயர்வுகள் – இசை

வண்ணங்களில் தோய்ந்தால்

உயிர்கள் இன்பமுறும்

உயிர்கள் இன்பமுற்றால்

உலகமே சொர்க்கமாகும்