G. Ramanathan belonged to the first generation of music directors of Tamil cinema. Along with S. V. Venkataraman, who made waves with Kannagi (1942), he shares the status of star music director of the forties.
GR could be said to be the most significant music composer of the fifties. He scored music for about 90 films in all, among which are Mandhiri Kumari (1950), Veerapandia Kattabomman (1959), Uthamaputhiran (1940 and 1958) and Kappalottiya Thamizhan (1961).
In the forties, he was the music director of films like Aryamala, Sivakavi, Jagathalaprathapan and Haridas (Manmatha Leelaiyai in Charukesi being his evergreen melody). He is known for the artistry with which he brought Bharati's songs to musical life.
GR died in 1963. Though his reputation is skyhigh as the composer who made hit tunes in Carnatic ragas, not much is known about him. As a writer, it was a challenge for me to dredge up the details about his life and eventful career. But as always, I attempted to go beyond mere documenting, tough as that was, to the recreation of the life and creative vision of the artiste involved.
I was lucky to meet some musicians who had worked closely with him and also gained the confidence of a few intimate friends. Of course I had met many of the singers who worked under him for my Thirai Isai Alaigal (till now four volumes have been published; the fifth volume is in the making). Also, GR's oeuvre is more or less intact, and I was all set to voyage into the heart of the great composer. I was also privileged to get some rare photographs of GR as well as rare stills from forgotten films.
The result was 'Sangeetha Chakravarthy G. Ramanathan' published by Manivasagar Pathippagam, Chennai 108 (phone 044 - 25361039). In a function at TAG auditorium Chennai, former supreme court judge S. Mohan released the book with R. M. Veerappan, the former minister and film producer as well as T. M. Sounderarajan receiving the copies.
TMS was bowled over when he saw the book, and exclaiming 'Anna' clasped it to his heart. He had not expected the long dead composer to have an avatar through a biography, I suppose. TMS was moulded into a bold singer by Ramanathan. (The vicissitudes of TMS's relationship with G.Ramanathan are set forth in detail in my book, 'TMS - Oru-Pann-Paattu Charithiram').
Though TMS has great respect for GR as the first music director who shaped his incipient career, there was some professional jealousy also because the composer encouraged other singers. It has been my good fortune to research and write the biographies both of TMS and G. Ramanathan, as both are musicians loved by Tamil film music lovers.
In the latter's case, the biography comes about 45 years after his untimely demise. I did it in a hurry because already it is very late in the day. After a few more decades, even the handful of people who knew about his life and times would have passed away. The passage of time was indeed difficult to bridge, but there was some mercy in the horizon.
Shri V. T. Rajagopalan, man friday and manager to GR, became my friend in the late nineties, and I was in constant touch with him before writing the book. VTR was very close to the composer. GR would wake up with VTR's name in his lips (Only VTR knew his day's schedule!). 'There you are...you are his first wife', GR's wife Jaya would exclaim.
Recently VTR passed away. How enthusiastic and highspirited he was even in his seventies! I would not have embarked into 'Sangeetha Chakravarthi G. Ramanathan' without VTR. He was the medium that connected me to the great man. I still hear his voice calling me from whichever city he happened to be. 'VTR speaking', he would announce with elan. He was a man whose one great passion in life was GR and his music. He also sang some songs under GR's baton.
After Thuglak magazine and Dinamalar reviewed the book, I kept getting calls from film music lovers all over the world. Actor Delhi Ganesh wrote to say that he found the book unputdownable and when he finally came to GR's death in the book, he felt tears gushing out of his eyes.
It is a fine feeling to have kept company with a great genius like G. Ramanathan, and to find that I have had success in kindling interest in the life and work of the man, who has become a vague memory these days, though some of his songs are still loved and heard.
Years ago, even as I was researching the book on GR, but was involved more directly in writing other books, I returned to Central station after a working visit to Calcutta. On the Chennai horizon, I saw G. Ramanathan with his harmonium. He seemed to ask me, ''When are you going to take up my story?''
Well... I have taken it up and done my best. I am not one of the bright sorts who has a plum packet from office as well as itchy fingers to cut and paste from internet or wherever. Mine has been original work as always. It has involved a lot of leg work...and burning of the midnight oil in the attempt to get into the skin of a man I had never seen. I was seven when he died, and lived in Calcutta then. But I have always felt the helping hand of the spirits of the singers and composers about whom I have been writing about. You see, I don't think that they are alive in their songs alone. I believe they are journeying along, perhaps in newer embodiments...Perhaps, I will meet them again, and together we will make a song that will drive away all the sadness of the world.
'Sangita Chakravarthi G. Ramanathan' - By Vamanan ; (in Tamil) - Pages 304 - Published in 2006 to commemorate the 75th year of Tamil film music - Manivasagar Pathippagam, 31 Singer Street, Parry's corner, Chennai 108 ; Price Rs. 100/. Phone - + 91 44 2536 1039