Posts Tagged ‘M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’

 It was a sight that T.M.Sounderarajan should have been alive to see. As his profusely garlanded body lay in the courtyard of his bungalow on Chennai’s West Circular Road lined with avenue trees, the road facing his balcony was spontaneously transformed into an impromptu stage and enthusiasts of his music belted out his hits all through the day. ‘Ulagam Pirandhadhu Enakkaaga’ , ‘Idho Endhan Deivam Munnale’, and a host of TMS hits mingled seamlessly in the air.

 When the final journey began , the flower-bedecked carriage slowly wending its away amidst thronging admirers and bystanders, a band of diehard fans again broke out into blissful TMS song – it might as well have been the standard that they were fluttering in the evening breeze for the whole world to see. There was in their song the feeling of elation and exhilaration that TMS’s songs like ‘Adho Andha Paravai Poala Vaazha Vendum’ and ‘Pudhiya Vaanam, Pudhiya Bhoomi’ give his fans. And if it was one of the hottest days in Chennai’s summer calendar, nobody was even aware to complain. The final send-off left no doubt about whom the Tamil people considered as the people’s singer.

 Thoguluva (T) Meenakshi Ayyangar (M) Sounderarajan (1922-2013), did not reach that pinnacle in a day, and not without a tough, extended competition from other singers. And it is an astonishing fact of Tamil popular history that he had almost no godfathers in the cinema world to help him win. Son of a lowly Sourashtrian temple priest in the city of Madurai, Sounderarajan’s teenage enthusiasm for music began with Tamil film songs of the thirties. The reigning star Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and others like V.A. Chellappa were his role models. His musical tutelage under Karaikkudi Rajamani Ayyangar, a nephew and disciple of the legendary Carnatic musician, Poochi Srinivasa Ayyangar was short but definitive.

 Sounderarajan’s capacity to mimic Thyagaraja Bhagavathar’s voice brought him his break (Krishna Vijayam,1950), but soon he had not only begun singing successfully for MGR (Malaikallan, 1954)  and Sivaji (Thookku Thookki, 1954), but was also being honed by the auteur music composer, G. Ramanathan. This was the decade when TMS was only one of the pre-eminent playbacks of Tamil cinema. But lovely Carnatic ragas shone in TMS’s rendering of a hit parade (Vasantha Mullai in Chaarukesi, Mullai Malar Mele in Kaanada, Naan Petra Selvam in Jonpuri  and so on). TMS’s resonant voice, his facility in the upper octave and his capacity to powerfully articulate both lyric and feeling stood out in song after song.

 A whole new dimension of lighter melodies with greater emphasis on orchestral colours arose in the early sixties. But TMS could quickly rise up to the challenge and gave such a brilliant account of himself that he became the single most influential voice of the sixties.

His voice expressed both masculine power as well as melody. His Tamil diction was unequalled in Tamil cinema, and such was the uncanny identification of his voice with reigning stars Sivaji and MGR, that the latter seemed to be singing in their original voices! With the awesome force that TMS brought to their songs (Ponaal Poagattum Poada, Andha Naal Gnaanbagam, Deivame, and Paattum Naane for Sivaji, and Naan Aaanai Ittaal and Poomazhai Thoovi for MGR), the actors were left wondering how to act to their wonderful playback! TMS fulfilled Sivaji’s need for an almost King Lear-like melodrama and MGR’s pitch as a colourful romantic eternally in love with the poor and downtrodden.

 With changing times and scenarios (rise of Ilayaraja and a more visually oriented cinema), and of course age, TMS faded off in the eighties, but not before suggesting a comeback or two.

From the fifties, TMS tuned and sang many devotional songs (Ullam Urugudhaiyya, Karpakavalliyin Porpadhangal  etc) which are heard even today in many temples of Tamil Nadu. Till late in his life, TMS was a continuous fixture in live stage shows and made a success of live singing too. Even if he goes to rest at a ripe 91, no Tamil can help feeling a sense of personal loss. But there are countless others spread over South India who cross the language barrier and value his spirited singing and treasure his great songs.

(The author is a film historian and author of ‘TMS – Oru Pann-Paattu Charithiram’, a biography of the singer)


The above is the English version of an that appeared in India Today Telugu and India Today Malayalam.






Singer V. T. Rajagopalan

‘VTR Speaking’

Music Composer's Man Friday

V. T.Rajagopalan

For a few years before his illness made him retreat into his shell, V. T. Rajagopalan’s spirited voice used to greet me over the phone with the signature entry, ‘VTR speaking’.

I had been on the trail of the yesteryear composer G. Ramanathan, and VTR, one-time Man Friday was a living channel of information for me. I came to know that he was in Coimbatore, and immediately wrote to him. Our decade old association started with that. I had written saying that I yearned to meet him. He wrote back to say that his desire too was strong. Ramanathan had been dead for about thirty years when I first met VTR…and to somebody who wanted to relive his times, VTR was a heaven-send.

VTR would be vibrant and happy on the phone, and whenever he came to Madras to attend some function, I would manage to meet him and spend time with him. Full of stories and reminiscences about the past, he would also recount incidents that exposed his personal life and could be misconstrued by others as improper conduct. Perhaps he knew that my respect for him transcended such little things that occur in the lives of most of us. He invited me to his son’s marriage in Ranipet, and was even more outgoing then. When he got into fine fettle, he narrated spicy tales of life in the ‘in’famous Krishna pictures at Pondy Bazaar.

As illness began to overtake VTR, he hung up quietly. My efforts to draw him out were fruitless. Not only was his memory failing him, but his hands shook visibly. Even then some phone calls did come…he could still enunciate his greetings. He had a fantastic wife, a petite Iyengar lady. His sons were very supportive …I knew Prabhu, in particular: a gem.

Rajagopalan was from Kumbakonam and was born in 1929. His mother Senkamalam was a musician, one of the early women who had taken to the violin (She was called ‘fiddle’ Senkamalam). Singing seemed to come naturally to Rajagopalan…but some training under Tirunageswaram station master Ramaswamy Bhagavathar steadied his voice and made it perfectly musical.

Rajagopalan grew up hearing the songs of the first decade of the Tamil talkie, and when he was in his early teens the songs of films like Uthamaputhiran (1940), Aryamala (1941), Sivakavi (1943) and Haridas (1944) became a passion. VTR, when he met me in the late nineties, used to reel out these songs with great enthusiasm. His voice was pitch perfect even in his seventies, and the modulations and inflections he brought to musical phrases were incredible. He would in turn be Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, composer Ramanathan, or Nagercoil Mahadeven, the Narada of the forties, or whoever else came on his musical antenna. He took obvious pleasure in singing. In fact, his song was the secret of his verve. For me too song was the only reason for being alive. In fact it was life itself.

VTR would recall his boyhood days near the Sarangapani temple in Kumbakonam. Outside the Diamond cinema nearby, he would often see the temple pipers congregate to hear some particular song for its rich Carnatic flavour. They would know at what time the song would occur, hear it and then disperse. It was a time when even the custodians of the richest traditional music were inspired by film music.

In 1944, VTR’s schooling ended without his securing a pass. He was a young handsome lad with a soaring musical voice. He set off to Madras with ambitions of making it in Tamil cinema. He did get a chance to enlist in the Gemini studios as an actor when he presented himself in response to an ad calling for actors. But when he was offered Rs. 25 a month, with free boarding and lodging and a two-year contract, he demurred. He had thought actors earned in the thousands. When he brushed aside the initial hesitation and tried for the job again, he found Gemini’s doors tightly shut : the studio was a jealous employer.

After a stint in Krishna pictures, T. Nagar, VTR was at a loose end. One day as he walked past a bungalow near Gowdia Math in Royapettah, he heard somebody singing. It was the famous music director G. Ramanathan composing for the film Ekambavanan.
In VTR’s view, it was celestial music seeking him out. That started off a more than 15 year romance of VTR with GR. It would be a relationship that would even make GR’s wife Jaya jealous. GR would wake up with ‘Rajagopala’ on his lips. The composer was always a late riser, and only VTR knew his itinerary for the day!

VTR was GR’s de facto manager, though he never got a single paisa from him for his work. His remuneration would have to be recovered from the producers. That was the tacit understanding. ‘GR never asked me whether I had been paid…and I never spoke about money even once’.

VTR mingled easily with all sorts of people. He was the right public face of GR in the film world, while being a dutiful personal assistant all the while. Actress Padmini and dance master Hiralal would pull his leg on his rushing to GR’s side whenever the latter called out for him.

VTR sang about a score songs in GR’s films…In Modern theatres Digambara Samiyar, it was Kannuvali Poove. In Jamindar, it was Nallavargal Vaazhvile Ennaalum Thunbama. ‘Megathirai Pilandhu’ in Sarangathara. In V. Kattabomman, he figured in three songs. In Rani Lalithangi, he sang with Ratnamala, ‘Bhajanaikku Nerum’.

But generally, VTR figured an one of the singers amid an array of voices. I don’t think he made an impression as an individual singer, despite being talented and being a great composer’s sidekick! In fact, GR was known to have come in the way of his singing many a time. VTR also acted on the stage with the great M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and has narrated many personal details to me about the latter.

I could gather from VTR that he was actuated by a real and magnificent passion for GR and his music. He was also a man who liked the good things of life and got on well with the front ranking producers and directors. For some time he was also involved in getting them finance for their projects. Filmmakers realised that he was a good man to have around and would do his job with a smile. But once GR died suddenly in 1963 due to cirrhosis of the liver, VTR quit the film world. He took up some business dealing with coke. He shunted between Calcutta and Coimbatore where he finally settled.

From the happy times I spent with him, I like to think of him as a ray of sunshine…or a cool breeze flowing past the greenery. I believe that life never ends…and wish him well wherever he is now. VTR Sir…I hear you speaking.