Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Classical Musicians in Tamil Cinema


When asked by a fan about the raga of a film song, Maharajapuram Santhanam would sport his impish smile and quip, ‘Cinema Raagam’.  Cinema music is freewheeling in its approach to melody, the only rule being that it must be evocative.  Carnatic music is bound by a long tradition, and any creativity is within the confines of accumulated wisdom.
Prof Sambamurthy

But despite this diametrical difference of approach, Carnatic musicians have had a shot at film music. Some have even had an innings. Certain periods in Tamil cinema have been easier for this two-timing, but versatile artistes have found it possible all the while!  In recent times, artistes have additionally to double as judges in reality shows shot late into the night and live media events with a lot of razzle dazzle.

Maharajapuram Santhanam himself sang a snatch of song in the 1974 film Roshakkaari, but it did not involve any foray into a new genre as he only sang an Alwar pasuram with which he used to woo his concert audiences. He had not reached the peak then, and it is possible the song added a wee bit to his rising popularity. Later, he would return the compliment to the music director (M. S. Viswanathan), performing jugalbandhis with the latter’s orchestra.

Santhanam’s father Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer had done one better, taking up an important acting role in the much hyped Nandanar (1935). Having come into his own in the early twenties, he became the first charismatic Carnatic musician to essay a celluloid role. But Viswanatha Iyer knew that Carnatic music was his métier and but for a single deflection of course would stick to it. His younger contemporary, G. N. Balasubramaniam was of the same ilk, but used films as a parallel career for more than a decade and acted in five films. He was unlike most Carnatic performers, being well educated, urbane and groomed outside the gurukula system, and needed the new gramophone and celluloid mediums to survive the hostile ambience. But except GNB’s single film with M. S. Subbulakshmi, there is not trace, not even a gramophone record of his celluloid phase. Apart from other things, it also shows that he never took his film music seriously. In the case of MS, however, her film work dovetailed beautifully into her persona as a classical singer with a yen for the spiritual.  

Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer
Roshakari film titles
The Carnatic element was so pronounced in the first decade Tamil talkie that it drew musicians and artistes of all hues towards it. Musiri Subramania Iyer unwillingly donned the title role in ‘Tukaram’ (1938), only for the dough, and a young  K. V. Narayanaswami, later to be known for his sensitive and sublime Carnatic singing,  portrayed the young Kannappa Nayanar  in a film of the same title (1938). Professor P. Sambamurthy, famous for his array of works on Carnatic music, had his all-woman orchestra play the background score for the film Rajabhakti (1937). Rukmini Devi, who later refused a presidential candidature, mimed to an erotic padam in Rajadesingu (1936) for a clip tagged on as an added attraction. V.V. Sadagopan, Carnatic musician and first actor in Tamil cinema to shoot in London (Navayuvan 1937), acted in four films before embarking on a concert career and then preferring to teach music and launch a movement for an alternative pedagogy for music.
T. N. Rajarathinam, both by personal and public estimation the Nagaswara Chakravarthi, acquiesced in playing the title role in ‘Kalamegam’ (1940). Neither the film nor the celebrated piper’s singing cut much ice and that was the end of his pipe dream of cinema.
G.N. Balasubramaniam

GNB’s star disciples MLV and (Radha) Jayalakshmi had, in contrast, an eventful record as playback singers in the fifties in addition to their concert careers. P. Leela, after a great stint as a playback singer, began a concert career with the comment that she was basically a classical singer who became famous in cinema. Balamuralikrishna, a Carnatic legend in his lifetime, has been the film world’s bridge to classical music. His singing for films has been selective, but always successful.  

 Sirkali Govindarajan, with his rigorous training in classical music was successful as a playback, Tamil Isai performer and devotional singer. Yesudas did the same with great success and in more than one language. In the next generation, P. Unnikrishnan has balanced his Carnatic concerts with playback singing admirably.

The trend in film music is eclectic and looks at the classical idiom as additional colour. There will always be opportunites for Carnatic artistes in such a scenario. But making a mark requires versatility as well as application and imagination. The challenge of singing both classical and film songs has been met before and can be done again.

(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music) (A version of this article appeared in the Times of India)

Monday, January 19, 2015

MDP - Best Music Director for Gemini's Avvaiyar

‘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 nastry 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 :
‘Music by
Gemini Orchestra
Headed by
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.

Can people of Abrahamic religions have respect for Hinduism?

I had a chance meeting with a Muslim gentleman in a bus.

Walking together for some distance after alighting, we exchanged some thoughts about our respective religions with utmost friendliness and calm.

He was a gracious gentleman, but had this to say about people of other religions, especially Hindus.

He quoted the Quran saying, People who worship other gods don’t have sight, they have no hearing.

The implication was that at best, the sentiment that the Muslim can have regarding Hindus is pity!

The irony of the matter is that the Muslim gentleman is a tourist guide and had, just a day to two earlier, guided a Russian couple around a Hindu temple!

He also agreed that it is Hindus alone who have respect for other religions.

This is exactly the reason why we must protect Hinduism and while not coming in the way of religious freedom, take strong action against campaigns for religious conversion of Hindus to faiths like Christianity and Islam that that frown upon other religions.

While the mainstream media and English educated Hindus frown upon Hinduism because of their shortsightedness, it is only the Hindu religion that is a guarantee for religious pluralism.

We must not allow this respect for other religions to be misused, while at the same time ensuring that inequalities in the Hindu fold are done away with.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

RUDRAIAH: HIS ONE FILM was wonderful enough

Nov 20 2014 : The Times of India (Chennai)


Director of just two movies, inspiration to hundreds of film makers; gave a deeper cinematic experience

C. Rudraiah, maker of the offbeat milestone film, Aval Appadithaan (She’s like that) is dead and the slogan surely is going to be, ‘Long live Rudraiah’. It would be fitting, for it would be an exact re-run of what happened to his film after it was released in 1978.

‘Aval Appadithaan’ could not find proper theatres then and was released in Chennai (then Madras) in Blue Diamond (now demolished), and Kamadhenu, known more for screening re-runs then and now defunct. The film barely managed a run of two weeks, by which time the elite crowd had apparently seen enough of the ‘Adults only’ film to be all agog about its bold theme and creative cinematic style.

As Vannanilavan, noted novelist and co-script writer of Aval Appadithaan says, ‘‘The film quickly disappeared without much fanfare when it was first released. But after three or four years, the appreciation and applause began to grow’’. By this time, Rudraiah had made his second film, ‘Gramathu Adhyaayam’ (Village Chapter, 1980), which sunk without a trace and took him along. We later heard of some valiant efforts to resurrect his career, but nothing came of them.

Aval Appadithaan focuses on an independent-minded misandric woman (Sripriya) who works in advertising under a male chauvinist boss (Rajinikanth) and is attracted to a sensitive documentary film maker (Kamalahasan). It was spoken of as a feminist film later but its makers did not have such notions when they set about writing the screenplay. Credited to Vannanilavan, Somasundareshwar and Rudraiah himself (in that order), the script simply sticks to its plan of highlighting the individual and societal forces and contradictions faced by its characters. A sense of realism in not veering away from contradictions that a plot has to unravel has given Aval Appadithaan and Rudraiah a distinctive place in making Tamil cinema a meaningful medium.

Aval Appadithaan signalled the new visually oriented cinema and its bright new sound (Ilayaraja) that emerged in the latter half of the seventies. Rudraiah, fresh from the Adyar film institute then, made the film with technicians who had also graduated from the same institution. It was a time when the products of the Institute were looked down upon by mainstream cinema-wallahs as bookworms who made boring ‘art’ cinema that would fall flat in the theatres. Such institute kids had Ananthu, K. Balachander’s script man for a father figure, and Aval Appadithaan is significantly dedicated to Ananthu.

The sound track of the titles of the film (mostly in Kamalahasan’s voice) bears eloquent testimony to the challenges faced by the film’s makers and their ambition to break the barriers in Tamil cinema towards celluloid significance. ‘‘I can bear it no further…I am fed up..I have to say something..’’… the offscreen voice says with feeling. It anticipates the resistance. ‘‘Puriyaadhu…they won’t understand. The villagers won’t understand. There is a communication gap…’’ says the disembodied voice. We are then told, ‘’This is cinema. This is ‘take one’. You know, this is not the full picture. It’s only the rush print.’’ .

A percipient critic of Tamil cinema speaks of the rebellious voices in Tamil cinema. that made bold to break away from escapist entertainment and melodramatic fare. Back in 1960, leftists came together to expose the manipulations of the stock market with ‘Paadhai Theriyudhu Paar’. Despite it lovely songs which are heard to this day, the film bombed and disappeared for ever. Singitham Srinivasa Rao made Dhikkatra Parvathi (1972) based on Rajaji’s story on the evils of alcoholism. The film was released in a little theatre (Little Anand!) before vanishing! Maverick writer Jayakanthan directed his own novel, ‘Unnai Poal Oruvan’ on a shoestring budget. The film won him a national award but the box office kept clear of it. The nationalist filmmaker B. R. Panthulu made a feature film on freedom fighter V.O. Chidambaram (Kappalottiya Tamilan 1961). Despite Sivaji Ganesan’s charisma and an array of bright Bharati songs and superb performances, audiences did not take kindly to a biographical film, so much was their aversion to ‘realism’.

Jayakanthan’s novel treatment of the aftermath of rape on a young college girl in Sila Nerangalil Sila Manidhargal (1976) succeeded in its celluloid version because the integrity of the story was backed by the excellent treatment and sensitive performances. Durai’s Pasi, a realistic take on slum dwellers in Chennai succeeded bigtime because of a sterling award-winning performance from Shobha,

Balu Mahendra (Veedu 1987, Sandhya Ragam 1989, Thalaimuraigal 2013), Jayabharati (Kudisai 1979, Uchi Veyil 1989) and K. S. Sethu Madhavan (Marupakkam 1990), among others have achieved varying degrees of success in presenting a more sensitive cinema..

In recent times, directors are tackling offbeat storylines and emerging real-life issues to make cinema more evocative, though they are not entirely ‘realistic’ in their narrative and style. Films with novel subjects – Haridas (autism), Dhoni (leaving children to pursue their aptitude) and Thanga Meengal (father’s love for girl child) for example – need to become a trend.

But it requires more than good intent and risk-taking to make celluloid tick…and even if with a single success Rudraiah was a one-film wonder, the tag line is that he made one wonderful film.

(The author is a historian of Tamil film music and an author of many books on Tamil cinema)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

When Modi was made to spread the gospel!

A news item today (September 26, 2014) says that Modi was in the US in the early nineties out to spread the Sangh Parivar’s gospel! Was it the Parivar’s claim that it held the sole monopoly for ‘salvation’ and that its god was the only true god while others worshipped demons (which, by the way, is the doctrine of evangelical Christianity)? The easy conflation of the Sangh Parivar’s ideology – which includes respect for all religions – with the gospels and all that they have been made to stand for comes out of the superficial use of English as well as it’s Christian underpinnings.  

When Gandhi came to meet Nehru in Allahabad in 1916, peasants came along to share their tales of oppression with him. Nehru describes them thus – ‘‘They looked on us with loving and hopeful eyes, as if we were the bearers of good tidings, the guides who would lead them to the promised land’’.

Ah, the promised land which Moses supposedly promised to the hundreds of thousands of Israelites as he led them out of Egypt! The poor Indian farmers, who might have thought of Ram Rajya while approaching Gandhi are transformed into members of a desert clan seeking the Promised Land! But how else could an Anglophile who spent most of his formative years studying at Harrow, Trinity college, Cambridge and the Inner Temple, look upon them?  He described himself as a  ‘queer mixture of East and West, out of place everywhere, at home nowhere’. No wonder he imposed the charter myth of Israel on unsuspecting Indian peasants!

Well, the Mani Shanker Aiyar types may jump up from their Macaulayan holes and claim that a turn of phrase is being made much of. But, ultimately,  turns of phrase may signify turns of history; when non-resistance to evil is seen only in terms of the Biblical turning of the other cheek rather than the Hindu experience of the immanence of god or the Buddha’s humanism.

With English, almost everything gets a Christian turn. Somebody is not given a name, he is christened though he may have nothing to do with the Saviour and the agenda of being saved!  Re-christening too follows, sometimes. And when somebody is taught the ropes of a subject or an art, he is not just initiated into it, or just taught, he is baptized into it.

Rajiv Gandhi championed the Panchayati Raj system but ultimately it scarcely did much good, the Economic Time says. This is how it puts it -- ‘’Almost a quarter of a century after the late Rajiv Gandhi EVANGELISED (capitalization mine) a decentralised government and gave the institution of Panchayati Raj his personal imprimatur, a report commissioned by Congress-led UPA government has all but declared it a failure’’. So from the cauldrons of politics and governance right into the pulpit of the preacher, thanks, of course, to English!

A person who helps somebody in trouble, well, he is not just a goodhearted and helpful person, he has to be a Good Samaritan if you seek good English effect. When a person does something purposefully and with a lot of enthusiasm, he does so with missionary zeal…as if he were a person with a mission! He had better do it this way if he wants to succeed!

If one is born, say in 1989.. it is in 1989 A.D….Anno domini…and in the words of a  pompous anchor, 1989 in the year of the Lord, though it’s not very much clear when the Lord himself was born!  Forget the Common Era introduced by historians trying to be truly secular!

A book is not just the final word on a subject. It is the Bible, say, for historians. If something is true, or true to fact, it rather be the gospel truth though historians and Bible scholars are discussing how much truth there is in the gospel, and what kind of truth, historical, mythical, religious (?).

Somebody who happens to be victimised unjustly…well, he must have been crucified, calling attention to the one crucifixion that was made famous despite there having been millions of such punishments carried out by the Roman Empire.

 And every man has not just got to shoulder his own burden…he has to carry his cross! That he might, but when he is indeed vindicated and rises like a Phoenix from defeat,  it’s not just a comeback that he has had, but a resurrection!

When a person goes to the succour of another, and that in a crucial situation, he is more than a kind, compassionate or even ‘good’ friend, not even a friend in need, he is a Saviour! A player who manages to stave off defeat for his team, or even pull off a victory, may be declared the man of the match, but he is sure to be touted as its Saviour of the moment and the match!

Again, somebody who turns up to make a terribly bad situation look up is more than the man of the hour….he is the Messiah! If one finds one’s deliverance from a poignant situation, one has found one’s Redemption, which finally means Salvation from sin by Jesus’s sacrifice!

When news about someone or something spreads, it is the Word that spreads. Which word, the word that was with god, the word that was god and all that Greek philosophy take on the lowly artisan of Nazareth?

If there are ten rules for getting rich, they are not maxims that will bring prosperity, They are Ten Commandments for getting rich, though they were discovered nowhere near Sinai and by no one named Moses!

Such is the hegemony of English, and through it of Christianity, that a Hindu saint writing on Hinduism in English begins by defining religion from its Latin root, religare, not bothering to ponder that Indian traditions of dharma are totally different from the Western take on dogmatic religion!

Sunday, August 17, 2014

S. Balachander biography - book review in Tamil by Vamanan in India Today Tamil

Kannadasan - THE greatest Tamil film lyricist


Kannadasan would have completed 87 years today, and given life expectancies in our times he may well have been alive and ticking. However, he has been gone more than thirty years. But has he? Numerous TV channels which survive on Tamil film songs resound to Kannadasan’s evergreen hits – you can even see him on screen grandly proclaimin,  ‘I am Eternal, I never die’ in his famous song, ‘Oru Koappaiyile En Kudiyiruppu’ ( I live in a wine glass, I sport with a beautiful lass)!

In our times, Director Mysskin celebrates Kannadasan’s famed love for the bottle in his catchy bar number ‘Kannadasan Karaikkudi, Perai Cholli Oothikudi’, and Ilayaraja’s music brackets Kannadasan with  Kalidasa (Kalidasan Kannadasan). Leading lyricists aspire for Kannadasan’s colossal reputation as the people’s poet who sang for every situation in their lives. He is to the world of Tamil song writers what his friend and patron MGR is to the world of stars  – the coveted peak!

When Kannadasan wrote his first song at Central Studios, Coimbatore in 1949 he was 22, a  class 8 dropout who had no experience either in cinema or song writing.  He made his debut more due to the kindness and magnanimity of director K. Ramnoth than his own competence. But the music of the early fifties showed less sympathy to lyric writers who had a frightful time fitting in words to wayward tunes. Kannadasan shrugged off the yoke by producing films himself so that he could write songs unfettered (Maalai Itta Mangai, Sivagangai Seemai and Kavalai Illaadha Manidhan). This pitched him into a sea of debt but opened the doors of endless opportunity.

Kannadasan penned all the songs for Paasa Malar, Paava Mannippu and Paalum Pazhamum, and changed the course of Tamil film music. With Sivaji Ganesan, Savithri, Saroja Devi, Devika and other such artistes at their emotive best, music composers Viswanathan Ramamurthy coming into their epoch-changing course and singers like TMS, P.Sushila and PBS in their heyday, the ‘Pa’ series brought an array of songs that has wowed fans all along. ‘Ponaal Pogattum Poadaa’ was a new kind of expression of bereavement, as if a King Lear was raging at Death.  ‘Naan Pesa Ninaippadhellaam’ brought a new sensitivity and dimension to romance.  ‘Athaan Ennathaan’ gave a new honeyed tone to a woman’s love. ‘Vandha Naal Mudhal’ , rather closely following Kavi Pradeep’s ‘Kitna Badal Gaya Insaan’ (Nasthik) but managing to retain its own stamp of individuality,  was shot through with great idealism and humanism.  ‘Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham’ effortlessly mirrored the exhilaration of falling in love.  ‘Malarndhu Malaraadha’ framed the bonds between brother and sister in poignant notes of unforgettable melody.

Kannadasan’s lyrics created a new idiom for the Tamil song and paved way for the only time in Tamil film history that a lyric writer stood taller (at six feet plus!) than the number one music director. For Kannadasan was more than a lyricist. He was a popular personality with a wide appeal. He was an author with an engaging style ;  his Vanavasam – a no-holds-barred account of his early years up to his exit from the DMK – has seen manifold re-prints. He was a delightful speaker with a great sense of humour. And after his switch from ‘rationalism’ to religion, he had a remarkable avatar in the seventies as a commentator on Hinduism (Arthamulla Hindu Madham), which did not prevent him from writing a commissioned ‘Yesu Kaviyam’. But though Kannadasan had many volumes of literary poems to his credit, he realized that the film song was his medium. When he combined with directors like Sridhar and K. Balachander, the result was magical. Who can forget the evergreen musical, Kaadhalikka Neramillai? Is there a film song that reflects both the angst of the human condition and the affirmation of hope as eloquently as ‘Yezhu Swarangalil’? And most of thespian Sivaji’s triumphant celluloid moments soar on the poet’s lyrics. When Kannadasan lay in Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago in a protracted coma towards the end of his life in 1981, it was film song composition that he was said to be incoherently acting out.

In their moments of diffidence, people lean on the numerous songs of encouragement penned by Kannadasan (Mayakkama Kalakkama, for example), while others see his songs as an invitation to literature because he effortlessly echoes Kamban, Andal, Pattinathar and Bharati in simple but stirring lines (Veedu Varai Uravu, for example). For others, he is one of the few lyricists who left his individual stamp on film songs – almost an impossible affair. Some marvel at the musicality of the limpid stream of verse and song that flowed from him and his capacity to follow an idea to its logical end in a single song, as in ‘Yaen Pirandhaai Magane’. For all of them, June 24 is not an anniversary to observe, but a birthday to celebrate.

(The author is a film music historian whose books include a volume on hundred lyricists of Tamil cinema from 1931 to 2000)