Director Bhagyaraj and Music director M.S. Viswanathan (left and middle of the photo respectively) in the process of composing a song.
Bhagyaraj and M.S. Viswanathan had great success while collaborating with each other. Their second association Antha 7 Natkal was a great hit and was very well received by the public. It was remade into Telugu as Radha Kalyanam (1981) in Hindi as Woh Saat Din (1983),and in Kannada as Love Maadi Nodu (1989). It was Bhagyaraj’s 6th venture as a director and his biggest commercial hit when it was released, and was later surpassed by his Munthanai Mudichu. It was also his 2nd association with music legend M.S. Viswanathan after his2nd film Oru Kai Osai. The film is believed to be inspired by the real life story of J.P. Chandrababu. Bhagyaraj started his career as the assistant director for Barathiraja’s debut film 16 Vayathinile (1977), and wrote his first screenplay for Sigappu Rojakkal (1978). He also played a cameo in the film.
We cannot imagine a life without festivals. The customs, colours, flavours, aromas, warmth, joy and whatnot that they bring to cement family & friendly relationships and bond the community at large! It’s hard to overstate their importance in our lives and the life of a community. Festivals are the very spirit of mankind. Through them, we are made to spread happiness and share good times. They motivate us to be better people and to share our joy with the world.
Every country has their own festivals, dependent on their culture & civilizations, such as The Beer Festival of Germany and The Tomato Festival of Spain. But when it comes to India, there are so many festivals as divergent of the various cultures & beliefs that our country is composed of. India can be easily called a Country of Festivals that is spread throughout the year. This brings colours, aroma, gaiety, bonding, culinary delights everything to the fore.
Our films, after all, represent the way we live here. As such, the screenplays of our Indian films do capture these festivities in some sequence or the other. We will look at some of the important Festivals as they were shown in our films.
Diwali, the most prominent & popular of all Hindu festivals, is celebrated with a lot of pomp and show. During this festival of lights, people wear new clothes, participate in family puja, burst crackers (now increasingly without it), and share sweets with friends & families. Sridhar’s Directorial debut was ‘Kalyana Parisu’ (1959) in which he also wrote the story & screenplay. It was a highly acclaimed film, which was later made in Hindi too as ‘Nazrana’. This triangular love story featured a song-sequence celebrating Deepavali as it is celebrated in the South.
Song book of Kalyana Parisu with the page containing the song UNNAI KANDU NAAN PC: From the archives of TCRC
Mid-January is an important time in the Tamil calendar as it marks the Harvest Festival, Pongal, which is the quintessential ‘Tamil Festival’. Pongal marks the traditional occasion for thanks giving to Mother Nature, for celebrating the life cycles that give us grain. This is the height of any culture, so to say. They say ‘Thai pirandhaal vazhi pirakkum’, and believe that knotty family problems will be solved with the advent of the Tamil month Thai that begins on Pongal day. ‘Thai pongalum vanthathu’ from the film ‘Mahanadhi’ showcases the important visual aspects of this great Festival.
Navrathri festival is celebrated throughout India though in different ways. In Gujarat, it is a nine-day celebration with rejuvenating Garbha nights and highly energetic Dandiya Raas dances, when People dress in beautiful, colorful traditional clothes bringing youthful environment. Basically, this festival denotes the celebration of the Goddess Amba or Sakthi as sheer Power in nine different forms. The South of India celebrates it with the households making a colorful Expo of dolls, known as ‘Kolu’. It is believed, kolu dolls represent the assembly of Goddess Durga. Best-dressed womenfolk exchange visits to each other’s Kolu where they sing devotionals & are given haldi, kum kum & prasadam. Durga Puja & Dusserah are variants of celebrating the Goddess!
Catch Nadigaiyar Thilakam Savithri in a Navarathiri Kolu sequence song from he film ‘Navarathiri’ in which Doyen Sivaji Ganesan donned nine different characters.
Song book of Navarathri with the page containing the song NAVARATHIRI SUBHARATHIRI PC: From the archives of TCRC
Holi, known as the festival of colors, too is one of the important festivals, celebrated mostly in North India, with a lot of fervor. On the eve of Holi, people make huge Holika bonfires and sing and dance around it. On the day of Holi, people gather in open areas and apply dry and wet colors of multiple hues to each other, with some carrying water guns and colored water filled balloons. Holi signifies the victory of good (Prince Prahlad) over evil (Holika) and the arrival of spring. Holi falls on Full moon of March of the Gregorian calendar. There are many Hindi film songs on Holi but this song ‘Anthi mazahai megam’ from Nayakan (Tamil), filmed in the erstwhile Venus Studios, stands out as capturing the spirit of Holi. Why Holi in a Tamil fim? Well, the ‘Nayakan’ character played by Kamal was based on the Tamil Don of erstwhile Bombay, Velu Naicker of Dharavi!
Krishna Janmashtami or Gokulashtami is again a beautiful one among the most important religious festivals of India. its celebrations in Mathura and Vrindavan are notable. Visiting temples, praying, dancing, and singing bhajans (hymns) at midnight is a part of the celebrations of the birth of Lord Krishna with kids, often, dressing up as Lord Krishna this day. As part of Janmashtami festivities, breaking pots hung from lofty heights by revelers forming a human pyramid, is common sight. The Shammi Kapoor starred Hindi film Bluff Master featured the song ‘Govind Aalaa re’ showing the revelry of ‘handi’ breaking, which in Tamil is known as ‘Uri adi’.
Ganesh Chaturthi, another important Hindu religious festivals, is a ten-day affair of colorful festivities, in places like Mumbai. Huge handcrafted Ganesh idols are installed in homes or public pandals and Pujas are performed, before the deity is taken with grand fan fare on the last day for immersion. Cultural activities of singing, dancing and theater go hand in hand on this occasion of great celebration of the elephant faced God. The film Agnipath featured a typical street procession atmosphere during Ganpathi festival, normally witnessed in Maharashtra, charged with devotion & celebration. The song ‘Sree Ganesha Deva’ from the film is an all time favourite of Ganesh devotees.
Onam is the most important festival of the state of Kerala. It is also a harvest festival and is celebrated with joy and enthusiasm by people of all communities. According to a popular legend, the festival is celebrated to welcome King Mahabali, whose spirit is said to visit Kerala at the time of Onam. Carnival of Onam lasts from four to ten days. Elaborate feasts, folk songs, elegant dances, energetic games, caparisoned elephant, Snake Boat races and flower decorations (PookaLam) all are a part of the dynamic festival called Onam. We feature ‘Thiruvavani Ravu’ bringing the essence of Onam from the Malayalam movie ‘Jacobinte Swarga Rajyam’.
Raksha Bandhan festival, aka Rakhee, is one of the important festivals in the North. Celebrated each year in the month of August, this ceremony takes place on the full moon day of Shravan. The festival highlights the bondage between siblings. On this propitious day, a sister ties the sacred thread of Rakhi to her brother’s wrist for his prosperity & long life, even as the brother promises to protect his sister from all hardships of life. Rakhi is an emblem of love and protection. This festival of sibling bondage between sisters & brothers was showcased in the film ‘Chotti Behen’ in the song ‘Bhaiya mere Rakhi ka bandhan’.
Christmas is an annual festival commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ, observed most commonly on December 25, though in some parts of the world like Russia it is observed in January. Christmas, religiously celebrated by the vast majority of Christians, is celebrated by other communities as well, as a cultural festival. There was a song & dance featured celebration of Christmas in the Tamil film ‘Kanne Pappa’, which we bring in here.
Song book of Kanne Pappa with the page containing the song Merry Merry Christmas PC: From the archives of TCRC
In the Islamic Faith, Eid al-Fitr (Feast of breaking the fast) is an important celebration by Muslims worldwide that marks the end of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of religious fasting. During the holy month of Ramadan, muslims fast from dawn to dusk when they refrain from consuming food & liquids, smoking, and engaging in any pleasures. They are supposed to carefully abstain from sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting, such as false speech (insulting, backbiting, cursing, lying, etc.) and fighting. Chand Raat is an important day in the month of Ramadan which marks the end of Ramzan fasting as the moon (Eid ka Chand) sighting is done.
Here is a song on the happy sighting of Eid Moon in the Hindi Film ‘Barsaat ki Raat’
It is generally said, however, a pathos scene is difficult to naturally enact, it is even more difficult to be successful as a comedian as timing & body language have to contribute to its success. Pure, vulgar-free comedy that stands out is a real tough job and all were not cut to deliver that.
In the very early talkie films, there was nothing like a separate comedian. It was only later, as part of the evolutionary process of cinema, comedians came into being in Indian films to provide a relief from the main story line, which, often, was heavy with emotions.
The early cinema (we are talking about pre-Nagesh period) had a bunch of good comedians such as T.S.Dorairaj, Kali N Rathinam, T.R.Ramachandran,
But the Monarch of the Tamil film comedians, undoubtedly, was N.S.Krishnan (NSK).
Tamil cine goers laughed their guts out at NSK’s thought provoking jokes. NSK has often been compared to the legendary comedian, Charlie Chaplin. But, while Chaplin scored with his slapstick comedy and body language, NSK relied more on his verbal humour, one-liners and subtle messages to the audience. His comedy, which also had its share of puns, was always wholesome at its best with no double entendre or misogyny involved.
As we cannot justifiably cover all the stalwart comedians who tickled our funny bones in a single Article, we hereby restrict our current write up to the Monarch of them all – N.S.Krishnan.
N.S.Krishnan was born as Nagerkovil Sudalamuthu Krishnan in 1908 in a poor family. His childhood years were spent selling snacks in a theatre in his hometown & working as a ball picker in a Tennis Club. His lack of formal education was amply made up by his native genius & curiosity.
Later, in his formative years he joined the celebrated drama company run by TKS Brothers. He was also proficient in a rural art form known as ‘Villu Paattu’.
Later he formed his own touring theatre group and traversed the length and breadth of erstwhile Madras Presidency with his plays, which always drew packed houses.
NSK’s entry into the celluloid world was through S.S.Vasan produced and Ellis Dungan directed film ‘Sathi Leelavathy’, where he was introduced as a comedian. Though this was his debut film, his second movie ‘Menaka’ got released before ‘Sathi Leelavathy’ could hit the screen. However ‘Menaka’ was adjudged the best movie of the year in 1935.
An Advertisement of the Film MENAKA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1935 PC: From the archives of TCRC
It was during the shooting of ‘Vasantha Sena’ (1936), directed by Raja Sandow, NSK ‘met’ co-star T. A. Mathuram and both fell in love. Their marriage was held in a simple manner, while the shooting schedule moved to Pune, with Raja Sandow presiding over the ‘wedding’. The couple got the honor of being the first real-life couple acting as couple of reel life too, between 1936 and 1957, when they did a whopping 122 films, as a pair!
An Advertisement of the Film VASANTHA SENA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1936 PC: From the archives of TCRC
N S Krishnan, who popularly goes by his popular title, ‘Kalaivanar’, rose from humble beginnings as a ‘villu paatu’ artiste who became a master in the art of repartee. In tandem with his wife TA Mathuram, he regaled audiences, often stealing the spotlight from the lead stars. NSK was known to pen his comedy tracks himself and always ensured that he was never repetitive. Noted lyricist Udumalai Narayana Kavi usually wrote the lyrics for Krishnan.
In the early timeframe of his career, he worked with comedians like TS Durairaj, Pulimootai Ramaswamy, CS Pandian and Kali M Rathinam and later worked in most of the films of MK Thiagaraja Bhagavathar as Hero. Krishnan was also a gifted singer and his numbers in ‘Sivakavi’, ‘Raja Rani’ and ‘Manamagal’ became immensely popular.
He also produced the hit film ‘Nallathambi’, directed by C.N Annadurai. He directed films such as ‘Panam’ and ‘Manamagal’ penned by Karunanidhi. SS Vasan’s magnum opus ‘Chandralekha’ too featured Krishnan in comedy tracks. There was a time in Tamil cinema when no film was complete without NSK!
He also shared screen space in many films of the leading heroes, MGR and Sivaji Ganesan, and despite the presence of these Titans always stood out with his comedy.
NSK went on to work as unparalleled comedian in as many as 150 films, MGR starred ‘Raja Desingu’ being the last one, released after his death.
On 8 November 1944, Lakshmikanthan the gossip columnist & Editor of ‘Indu Nesan’ was knifed by some unknown persons in Purasawalkam and was admitted to the General Hospital, Madras as an outpatient. But the next day, Lakshmikanthan was murdered mysteriously while still in the hospital. The police arrested eight persons as accused for the murder including M.K.Tyagaraja Bhagavathar and NSK. This came as a rude shock to their fans and the cine world.
After thirty long months of jail term they were acquitted for want of proof by the London Privy Council, thanks to the eminent lawyer V. L. Ethiraj who argued for them at Privy Council at London. (The same illustrious lawyer founded Ethiraj College for women).
Though N.S.Krishnan did manage to pick up the threads of his life again as an actor post his release from prison, things were not quite the same & he was financially drained and his fortunes plummeted rapidly.
When Krishnan was first sentenced to jail, Mathuram took a break from her acting career. Later she came out her self-imposed exile to generate revenues for financing her husband’s appeal to the Privy Council.
When NSK was in prison, T. A. Mathuram started a drama troupe called N. S. K Nataka Sabha, which staged plays written by and starring S.V.Sahasranamam. ‘Paithiyakaran’ (1947) was one of those plays. Later Mathuram converted the troupe into a film production company and made a film based on the play. While the film, being directed by Krishnan-Panju Duo, was in production, Krishnan was acquitted released from prison. A new role was written for him in the film. NSK made fun of his stint in prison through the song jailukku poi vantha in which he described in prison life, his fellow inmates and the types of prisoners he met. MGR played a supporting role in the film.
In 1947, after his release from the prison, Nataraja Educational Society, Triplicane awarded him the title of ‘Kalaivanar’ to NSK through the ‘Father of Stage’, Pammal.K.Sambanda Mudaliyar. He is, to-date, known by this Title even without his name!
‘Manamagal’ (1951), produced & directed by NSK, saw the debut of Padmini as a lead actress. In this movie, A.Bhimsingh, who later became a big Director, was an Assistant Director to NSK. He also generously gifted his own expensive car to Baliah for his stellar performance in Manamagal.
MSV-TKR duo was formed as Music Directors by NSK for his Film ‘Panam’ (1952).
In his times, NSK was instrumental in bringing a number of leading Tamil stage and film personalities to the fore; he was also a Gandhian, patriot and philanthropist who became an active member of the Dravidian Movement. On the assassination of Gandhi, NSK raised a Memorial for the Father of the Nation at his own expense in the Municipal Park his hometown.
NSK was one of the founding fathers of South Indian Actors Association. He is reported to have even gifted his own land for its premises.
NSK passed away at his 49 on 30th August 1957, after bringing a lot of joy and cheer to his audience through his film roles.
Some of his well known films included Sathi Leelavathi, Ambikapathi, Madurai Veeran, Kala Megham, Uthama Puthiran, Sakunthalai, Arya Mala, Mangamma Sabatham, Harischandira, Haridas, Pavalakodi, Paithiyakkaran, Chandrakantha, Chandralekha, NallaThambi, Managaiyarkkarasi, Rathnakumar, Vana Sundari, Panam, Amara Kavi, Kaveri, Dr. Savithri, Mudhal Thethi, Rangin Radha, Raja Rani, Manamagal & Raja Desingu.
An Advertisement of the Film CHANDRAKANTHA in the magazine ANANDHA VIKATAN DEEPAVALI MALAR 1936 PC: From the archives of TCRC
In his personal life, he had three wives, Nagammai, T.A.Mathuram & T.A.Vembammal (T.A.Mathuram’s sister).
Stills from a short Interview of NSK in the magazine KALKI DEEPAVALI MALAR 1942 PC: From the archives of TCRC
The Tamil Nadu Government dedicated the Children’s Theatre on Wallaja Road, Madras as a memorial building in 1979, named it ‘Kalaivanar Kalai Arangam’ in his honour . His revered public statue adorns a major junction in T.Nagar in Chennai.
If NSK were to be alive today he would have been 108 years old!
The human society has inherited drinking from time immemorial. But when a person drinks considerably over a long time period & has difficulty cutting down, such condition could result in shirking from responsibilities, social problems, health issues & risky situations. Alcoholism, in short, implies alcohol abuse having to do with mental or physical health problems. Therefore, the society is by and large shy of acknowledging drinking, even as people go unabated in taking to drinks. This is in real life.
Our films too routinely deal with story subjects involving alcohol, with a message in some. Thus Tamil cinemas have had their heroes drinking like a fish – owing to the character’s trouble ridden life – in typical situations such as love failure, encountering bad economic situations and so on. Most of our cine heroes have had to grab a bottle on screen before the whirring camera, on some pretext or other, dependent upon the script and the director.
But in earlier films such characters were far too few when compared to the intoxicated characters in later movies.
‘Devadas’ (1953) had a subject of the Hero taking heavily to drinking alcohol after his ex-love deserts him owing to certain circumstances. This was one of the early Tamil films where alcoholic hero was perhaps prominently featured.
‘Kalathur Kannamma’ (1959), produced by AVM, had a song ‘Arugil vanthaal’ in the voice of A.M.Raja as Gemini Ganesan, enacted as a drunken man post his skirmishes with her lady love.
Modern Theater’s Vanna Kili (1959) had a very popular song sequence ‘Adikkira kai thaan anaikkum’ (voices: Tiruchi Loganathan & P.Susheela), excellently picturised by Director T.R.Ragunath. It featured ‘Poochie’, a habitual wife beating drunkard village toughie played by R.S.Manohar & his screen wife played by B.S.Saroja. Of course, the song had some deep meaning lines.
Song book of Vannakili with the page containing the song ADIKKIRA KAI THAAN ANAIKKUM PC: From the archives of TCRC
In Pana Thottam (1963), starred by MGR & Saroja Devi too there was a scene where the hero & heroine mimic as drunk in a popular duet song sequence ‘Javvadu medai ittu’. However, MGR never played any screen character with vices in his meticulously orchestrated path of portraying himself as ‘Unga veettu pillai’ which went a long way in his carefully projected image as people’s Hero.
Song book of Pana Thottam with the page containing the song JAVVADU MEDAI ITTU PC: From the archives of TCRC
The movie ‘Vasantha Maligai’ (1972), which was later remade as ‘Prem Nagar’ (1974) with Rajesh Khanna, also had its hero Anand a rich, alcoholic playboy character donned by the late legend Sivaji Ganesan.
In Salangai Oli (1983), Kamal Hassan played a classical dancer cum critic who becomes an alcoholic owing to a broken love affair. In Kaakki Sattai (1985), the song “Namma Singaari sarakku nalla sarakku, summa gummunu erudhu kicku enakku” was too picturised on Kamal Hassan. Another alcoholic hero was featured in Uyarntha Ullam (1985), by Kamal Hassan, as a spoilt young man with a huge inheritance, boozing away his awake hours and gambling with his peers. The ‘club’ songs such as ‘Elamai idho idho’ (Sakalakala Vallavan, 1982); & ‘Aasai nooru vagai’ (Adyta Varese, 1983) became instant hits.
Working Still from the Film SAKALAKALA VALLAVAN for the song ELAMAI IDHO IDHO PC: From the archives of TCRC
In contrast to all the above characters, he advocated prohibition in Unnal Mudiyum Thambi (1988).
Sivakumar, in the role of an upright classical musician turned alcoholic in the cult movie Sindhu Bhairavi (1985) had this song, ‘Thanni thotti thedi vantha’ rendered by Yesudas, depicting how a person degenerates as an addict.
‘Padikkathavan’ (1985) too had the character played by Rajnikant often visiting liquor shop, reeling out empathy seeking songs like ‘Oorai therinju kitten’
In earlier cinemas, the drunk hero was afforded ample opportunities in displaying various emotions and were designed to draw audience empathy to him, despite his drinking habit, as the script embedded logic in the story, to justify their intoxication. The hero visiting a ‘club’ or the sinister looking villains in his den with his female sidekicks – took to drinks. Almost all the heroes had played such roles in our films.
But as the society outgrew the old morals & gradually shed its taboo against drinking & smoking, such urbane ideas slowly seeped into films too. And soon, the acceptance levels of a drinking and smoking hero drastically went up. They did not bother whether the script overtly needed such scenes or not! It just started looking okay to drink on screen. So this trend clearly established less demarcation between good and bad screen characters. Thus, every leading hero was shown with the booze bottle or a cigarette in some sequences, even as heroes.
Down the years, there have been too many such film characters that routinely consumed liquor on screen, either to drown their worries or to acquire enough courage to do things they would otherwise abstain from when sober! Audience took no serious objection to this.
Prabhu Deva and his cronies sang as to how it never mattered if they drank and then ate, in Ninaivirukkum Varai (1999). Simbu and associates had drinks on the roadside in Silambattam, 2008. Vikram as the stern cop drank even on duty as an undercover (Saamy, 2003). Surya in Vaaranam Aayiram (2008) pined for his dead lover (Sameera Reddy) by appearing before his father utterly intoxicated. The most controversial of them all was a song sequence ‘kadhal en kadhai’ by Dhanush in Mayakkam Enna (2011), as he sang about love and loss, amidst intoxication.
As such, songs that appeared to uphold drinks, as the ultimate solution to every hero’s problems, have been firmly in place for quite some time now.
As per Film historian Theodore Baskaran, “The traditional attitude in Tamil cinema is to consider liquor as an anti- depressant to life’s problems, which is misleading. Very few films like Dikkatra Parvathi  espouse an anti-drinking message”.
Working Still from the Film DIKKATRA PARVATHI PC: From the archives of TCRC
While the earlier cinemas were very permissive in allowing men to take to drinking, as for a female character with their own issues, it depicted them on screen as simply settling for sulking or scurrying to their bed to sob eternally, but not resorting to bottle. The Hindi films started showing inebriated young women with their wine glasses or beer bottles while their counterparts in Tamil Cinema were largely depicted as refraining from liquor, as it is believed that women and ‘thanni’ simply did not go hand in hand.
But this trend too slowly changed and there were umpteen exceptions, to this belief.
Kanavane kan kanda Deivam (1955) had a popular song & dance sequence, ‘Unnai kaN theduthe’ sung by P. Suseela, where the character in the movie is shown in a inebriated state, complete with hiccups, while cleverly avoiding any other suggestive props such as bottles and bars. (P.Bhanumathi is said to have rendered & acted originally this song. Later, on her ceasing to be part of the film, the song was re-recorded in the voice of the then new comer P. Susheela. As per Randor Guy, the hiccup sounds made by Bhanumathi was, however, retained in the version by Susheela.)
Working Still from the Film KANAVANE KAN KANDA DEIVAM for the song UNNAI KAN THEDUTHE PC: From the archives of TCRC
There were also other occasional women characters that were not chastised for on screen drinking. Of the few women’s drinking scenes, In Puthiya Paravai (1964), Sowcar Janaki was shown coming home drunk to her husband, along with her boyfriend.
There have been, since, more instances of women & drinks in Tamil movies, few of which are cited below.
Revathi’s character in Marupadiyum (1993), where she drinks at a party to drown her sorrow over the affair of her spouse; Then there was Sneha’s role in Pammal K. Sambandam (2002), where she informs her spouse that she is his “better half” and so could claim half share of his whisky; Reema Sen and Andrea Jeremiah getting kinky along with Karthi, as they explore to find out the missing Chola empire, in the movie Aayirathil Oruvan (2010); Vasundhara who downs plenty of beer in a pub purges on the hero, in Sonna Puriyathu (2013); In ‘Jeeva’ (2014) two school going girls are caught red handed by their neighbor boy for consuming drinks and confronts them with a dialogue ‘pombalaiya irunthuttu wine sapidalama?’ (SIC) and more recently, Nithya Menon, in Oh Kadhal Kanmani (2015), who consumes liberal vodka despite Dulquer warning her to go slow.
We are not trying to be judgmental here about the morality of such ‘spirited’ scenes in our films. Some times they are apt to screen play & its character but some times they are not. But then filmmakers always claim that they reflect the real life. On the other hand, it may also be that the society often draws reference from films.
I thought, the audience pays as little attention, to the statutory warning about these vices appearing briefly at the bottom of the screen, as they would to the Safety Demo on board a flight!
Ultimately, it is all about changes brought out by the new generation, as Vairamuthu wrote in the film Pudhu Kavithai, “Thalai muRaigalum maaRumpothu nadaimuRaigalum maaRume”!
Film lyrics could be anything these days, for the lyrics are ever drowned in the racy BGM that appeals to the foot-tapping dance, resulting in the loss of intrinsic value of the songwriter. Even a decade or so back the situation was not this pathetic.
But the old movie lyrics stood out as the music was conducive to the words of the lyricist. In fact, many songs of the yesteryears are remembered to date by their evergreen lyrics.
Old songs often carried messages, useful to the community at large; And when these songs were delivered by the larger than life Stars of those times, they had an immaculate impact on the cine goers.
In this edition we would strive to look at some of such songs that carried good messages. In fact, there were too many such old songs that carried messages. However, we cherry picked some of them from different time frames, for our feature here.
N.S.Krishnan used to convey messages for the society through his comic coated songs always in the lyrics of Udumalai Narayana Kavi. One such was ‘Vatham vambu panna koodathu’ from the film “Dr.Savithri” (1955). The song, composed by Music Director G.Ramanathan, was directed as advice to married women, though not very relevant to the current generation, manifesting Bharathiyar’s ‘pudumai penn’!
In the bygone days, children had reverence for parents almost bordering on a fringe of fear about them. They were taught too that parents & teachers were equivalent to almighty. The values were different then. Generations have since changed when most parents now have a single child or two to whom they afford the best in life & the children too, in turn, move with them more like a demanding friend. That reverential gap has since evaporated. Here is an old time’s song ‘Matha pitha guru deivam’ from ‘Naan petra selvam’ (1956), in the voice of A.P.Komala, the music being by G.Ramanathan.”
‘Aadi paadi velai senja’ from ‘Enga Veettu Mahalakshmi’ (1957), in the music of Master Venu, brings out the sterling fact that work done without pressure becomes a pleasure. The same has been recognized by mighty organizations that even play piped music to increase the productivity of its workers in shop floors as well as offices. The humble agrarian workers, labourers drawing mighty loads & hard sailing fisher folk – all of them – resort to singing in order to lighten their work strain. The modern housewives, whenever they have to cook in the kitchen or drive to work naturally resort to their favourite FM! The singers of the subject were Ghantasala & P.Suseela and the lyricist was Udumalai Narayanakavi.
Song book of Enga Veettu Mahalakshmi with the pages containing the song AADI PAADI VELAI SENJA PC: From the archives of TCRC
‘Sinthanai sei maname’ was an iconic song advising minds to have balanced views to get rid of evils. Sung by TMS, it was from ‘Ambikapathi’ (1957), produced by ALS Productions. The musical treatise was by G.Ramanathan’ & the lyricist was K.D.santhanam.
The innumerable instances where the alcoholics bring misery to their household, especially to the wives, have been the subjects of many films with a social cause. The film ‘Anbu Engey’ (1958) had a beautiful song with such a message ‘Ethanai kodi panam irunthalum’ in the pristine voice of P.Suseela. The music was by Vedha on the lines of Kannadasan.
‘Aathile thanni vara’ by Sirgazhi featured in modern Theatre’s ‘Vanna Kili’ (1959) in the lyrics of Maruthakasi & set to music by K.V.Mahadevan.’ Life has plentiful surprises both pleasant and otherwise. These have no explanations, which makes life unique. This has been the subject of this song.
Song book of Vannakili with the page containing the song AATHILE THANNI VARA PC: From the archives of TCRC
The songs in MGR starred movies used to carry lot of messages. One such was ‘Chinna payale’ from the Jupiter’s film ‘Arasilamkumari’ (1961) in the lyrics of the inimitable Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, who died very young. He was an understudy of Poet Bharathi Dasan. The song gives Do’s & Don’ts to the child to whom it is addressed. The music was by G.Ramanathan.
Another character building song directed at kids was ‘Thirudathe papa thirudathe’ from the MGR film ‘Thirudathe’ (1961) in the voice of TMS, while S.M.Subbiah Naidu scored the music on the lyrics of Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram.
‘Engalukkum kalam varum’ was an inspirational duet song, by P.Suseela & TMS, etched in Positive Thinking from the iconic movie ‘Pasa Malar’ (1961), Kannadasan holding the fort for its lyrics. MSV-TKR composed the music.
‘Budhiulla manithar ellam’ rendered by Chandrababu from the AVM produced film ‘Annai’ (1962) had the music of Sudarsanam. The song illustrates the vagaries of life where cohesive things always do not exist.
Often film makers used to have off-screen songs which practice has dwindled over the time. One such song ‘Mayakkama kalakkama’, was very touchingly rendered by P.B.Srinivas in Sridhar directed ‘Sumai Thangi’ (1962) in the lyrics of Kannadasan. The lyrics are just beautiful and about resolving mind games by lateral thoughts.
‘Dharmam thalai kakkum’, written by Kannadasan & sung by TMS, was the Title Song of the Sandow Chinnappa Devar produced film of the same name, starred by MGR, who doles out a message with a song even as he drives. This movie of 1963 was given music by K.V.Mahadevan. The nobility associated with charity is highlighted to the masses by the song.
Money has overtaken the principles of life in today’s life. It is only increasing its velocity of such rate of overtaking over the years. ‘Kurangu varum thottamadi’ in the voice of TMS from the G.N.Velumani produced film ‘Panathottam’ (1963) vividly portrays this status. Music composed by MSV-TKR, this song has the golden words of lyricist Kannadasan.
Though all such songs as featured above must be appealing to listen even now, such genre has lost connect in today’s terms, with the current mass scale departure from what were routinely advocated & accepted things in the past. Thanks to cultural change!
This edition is dedicated to Madras City as Madras Day is celebrated every year to commemorate August 22, 1639, the founding day of Madras City. It was then
East India Co who bought the land parcel, where Fort St. George stands today, from the local Nayak rulers. Settlements grew out of the fort slowly bringing together the villages around it marking the geographical expansion into a city called Madras.
This writer moved as a five year old, amidst great excitement, to this city in 1950, travelling in one of those old railway rakes with wooden seats on a South Indian Railway train (no reservation system in vogue then) , hauled by a pre-war work horse steam engine that made the entire Central Station messy with its noise, smoke & steam! Yes, our family migrated looking for greener economic pastures, shortly after Indian Independence. So, this writer holds fond memories as a child in the then laid back city of Madras with its heritage buildings, slow moving trams which then signified affordable urban mass mobility, few imported American and British automobiles that sparsely populated the streets & massive cinema hoardings.
In this Article we strive to look at Madras over the decades through the medium of cinema, in our humble respect to the city of Madras.
Madras was just not a city, but was a whole experience of its sights, sounds, smells, culture, cinema, music, beaches, temples, churches, mosques, heritage buildings, festivals, practices, heat, humidity & what not. If one were to compile sights & sounds of old Madras city, the clip should have obviously included the classical music concerts, Margazhi Bajanais. Black & white taxis, house sparrows known as chittukuruvis, omnipresent crows, the person rolling on the streets with the call of Govinda, Kudukuduppaikaran announcing good times, Boom boom mattukaran, Tirupathi kudais, blind school bands, street procession of local deities, Janvasam processions, political rallies, Funeral processions, Cone speakers, Kili josyam, mobile idiyappam seller, flower sellers near temples, ‘Saanai’ pidippavan (sharpening knives), mobile cotton ginner, door step butter vendor, personal goldsmiths and many more.
In late forties & early fifties, the pride of becoming an Independent Nation was all pervasive amongst all & the one big medium of those days’ cinemas celebrated it with reverence to the Father of the Nation! Films like ‘Naam Iruvar’ (1947) exuded National fervor emanating fresh from the self-pride & sense of gratuity to Mahatma Gandhi. Here is an old song set to the dance of a young ‘Kumari’ Kamala from the film.
Song book of Naam Iruvar with the page containing the song KARUNA MOORTHY PC: From the archives of TCRC
Those were the days when the fledgling Nation was struggling to take maiden steps having spent centuries under foreign rule. Those times commanded limited facilities, with post war famine induced ration shops & inflation. Here is a song, which was popular in those days, from the film ‘Andhaman Kaidhi’ rendered by T.V.Rathinam, which portrayed the subsisting inflation of those days through a housewife’s view. Please note a Five Rupee Note represented a big value in those days.
In those early days of post independence, ration & scarcity overwhelming plagued Madras City, as unscrupulous distributors & traders doing mass scale adulteration to make fast bucks. Those were the days prior to the State owned Food Corporations.
There was a satirical song “kalappadam kalappadam” rendered by S.C.Krishnan in Modern Theatres’ movie “Thirumbi paar” (1953) starring Sivaji Ganesan. The lines of this song are truly representative of adulteration spree in today’s context as well.
Mylapore, the cultural seat of the then Madras, was also synonymous with its population of leading legal luminaries from the pre independence days particularly concentrated in a small area called Palathope. This is a small street turning left from R.K. Mutt Road as it leads towards Mylapore Tank from Luz Corner, more or less opposite Thiru Mayilai Station. The reputation of Palathope being a powerhouse of prestigious lawyers is anything but presumptuous, as a number of luminaries from this street had graced court-rooms across India, right up to Supreme Court. As such Palathope earned Mylapore this famous epithet of being a ‘Lawyers’ Enclave’.
To commemorate Palathope’s such position, there was a well remembered song in Gemini’s ‘Miss Malini’ (1947), ‘’Mylapore vakkil athu mattu pon avaen’, sung by T.V.Rathinam, truly depicting the coveted status symbol that a girl is yearning to achieve in marriage, viz., becoming a daughter in law in a Mylapore vakil’s household of those times. S.Rajeswara Rao and Parur Anantharaman jointly composed this film’s score.
The film was based on a story titled “Mr. Sampath” written by the famous R.K.Narayan. This movie was also the debut film of Gemini Ganesan & Javert Seetharaman.
In the same movie there was another song, ‘Paadum Radio’ which outlines the comfort of Madras City life with its electric power, radio et al. There was counter in the same song which emphasizes what city life is devoid of.
Song book of Miss Malini with the page containing the songs MYLAPORE VAKKIL and PAADUM RADIO PC: From the archives of TCRC
The old-timers who grew up in the good old Madras, immediately before & soon after Indian Independence, would have fond memories of the city then. Of such nostalgic memories the pristine, unspoilt Beaches of the then Madras always beckon them. Right from 1937, when the All India Radio was established, public radio spots were a familiar feature of old Madras right through the forties and early fifties. In fact, the Historic broadcast of Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous midnight speech on August 15, 1947, was intently listened to by the Madras residents on the public address radio on the Beach.
In fact, when private radio sets were a luxury to the commoner, people met every evening at the beach to listen to the radio, which became a regular social event for the residents of Old Madras. These radio speakers were set up at various points across Old Madras then, like Santhome Beach & Panagal Park. But the most popular one was at the high court beach near the War Memorial, which disappeared in 1950 owing to the expansion of the Chennai Port Trust.
There was a film song, “Pattanathe parka parkka” from ‘En Manaivi’ (1942), as sequenced as sung by a rural girl. The song referred to the radio event as one of the marvels of science, and the lyrics read, ‘Sayangala nerathiley samudrakarai orathiley maayamana kambam onnu manushan pola paduthaiah!’ (The magic pole by the seashore, that sings like an entity). After all, simple rustic folks did wonder as to from where the music was flowing, then!
The actor in the clipping, R.Padma (then the Brand Ambassador for Lux Beauty Soap) had sung this song in her own voice. The lyrics were by T. K. Sundara Vaadhiyar and the music composer was R. Sudharsanam.
This song vividly portrays the ‘Awe’ factor that Madras City created with great fascination in the minds of rural populace. This also signified the advent of urbanization by migration of people from smaller cities & villages to Madras City.
Another song. which brought out the urge of rural folks to migrate to Madras City, in the wake of its ‘modern’ life & opportunities it offered, was ‘Pattanam thaan pokalamadi’ rendered by Sirgazhi & P.Suseela from the film ‘Engal veettu Mahalakshmi’ (1957), composed by Master Venu.
Song book of Engal Veettu Mahalakshmi with the pages containing the song PATTANAM THAAN POKALAMADI PC: From the archives of TCRC
However, the increasing urbanization with more migrating to Madras City only made people find the city less humane. Look at this street scene from the film ‘Parasakthi’ supporting this state of affairs, which the urban life had to offer to the commoner.
The set in which the sequence has been filmed has all the typical visuals that the old Madras street has had, viz, a Beat Madras Policeman in his uniform that prevailed then, a hand drawn Rickshaw, street vendors, a fire hydrant, a huge roadside post box, roadside ‘petti kadai’ etc.
‘Mappillai doay’ was a popular duet by A.M.Raja & P.Leela in the film ‘Manampola Mangalyam’ (1953) in the music of A.Rama Rao. Here the special reference is about the son in law from ‘Madras’ as a special reference. That shows the reverence this city earned then!
The song ‘Madras nalla Madras’ from the film ‘Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi’ too describes the ugly underbelly of Madras City through its funny lyrics & visuals , as Nagesh enacts the song.
‘Parappa Palaniyappa’ too takes a dig at the Madras City life through the eyes of a rustic bullock cart man, donned by MGR in ‘Periya Idathu PeNN’. Though most part of the song has been filmed in the backdrop of back projected visuals, in some shots you could see how the sixties’ Madras was so less crowded with clean streets.
Madras City was home to many News Papers & Periodicals both in English & Tamil. Madras had newspaper boys who used to hawk these publications on the pavements & streets, with an ever eager customer around to buy them. There was an interesting song from the “Samaya Sanjeevi” (1957), rife with nostalgia, sung by J.P.Chandrababu, ‘Paper…Paper’. It is very interesting to note the number of dailies & weeklies that were in circulation in the early Madras. Some of them like, The Mail, Swadesamithran, Kalkandu, Gundoosi, and Kadhir etc are no more today.
The song ‘Nenjirukkum engalukkum’ from the film ‘Nenjirukkum varai’ features a happy go lucky trio of Sivaji, Muthuraman & Gopalakrishnan dancing on the then traffic free Marina Beach Road, right from the Madras University till Gandhi Statue. In fact, if you observe, in the beginning of the song, you can even notice in the backdrop the wreckage of the Greek ship S.S.Stamatis that had run aground behind the Labour Statue in the ravaging storm of November 1966, which threw Madras out of gear!
Song book of Nenjirukkum Varai with the page containing the song NENJIRUKKUM ENGALUKKUM PC: From the archives of TCRC
Talking of Madras, one cannot overlook its lingo called ‘Madras Baashai’. This has been developed as an amalgam of borrowed words from Urdu & Hindi over the period. It has a generic name called ‘rickshawkaran baashai’ in the lighter sense and has been popularized by Chandrababu in films such as “Sabash Meena’ & ‘Sahodari’, besides Cho as a car mechanic in ‘Paar Magale Paar’.
Song book of Sagothari having the image of Chandrababu as Milkman and also the page containing synopsis through the Milkman’s perspective (Chandrababu with his Photo). PC: From the archives of TCRC
But it was V.Kumar composed ‘Vaa vadhyare vootande’ in the film ‘Bommalattam’, rendered by versatile Manorama that made the Madras Lingo indelible.
Song book of Miss Bommalattam with the page containing the song VAA VATHYARE VOOTANDE PC: From the archives of TCRC
In the early colonial days, there was only non-mechanised forms of transportation in Madras City such as hand pulled rickshaws, bullock carts & horse drawn jutkas. It was in 1894 Madras Electric Tramways Company first laid tracks in the city for Trams. The trams network served the Egmore, Customs House, Royapuram, Chindatharipet, Mount Road, Royapettah, Triplicane, Mylapore, Santhome, Purasawakkam & Washermanpet localities of Madras, till April 1953 when the government decided to call off tram service in Madras owing to technical feasibilities, after its 67 years of service in the city. While Trams operated in Madras, it had encountered many a hiccup, but when the service was finally called off it catered to 125000 passengers per day over the 26 km net work it operated in Madras. The trams were too slow at 7 km per hour, with the tram driver making a bell sound by his foot to alert those who cam by its tracks!
Motor bus services first appeared in Madras in 1920. In the early days, Post Independence, the government buses that plied in Madras City were all blur coloured & the fleet included the old buses from Ford & Chvrolet stable. In fact, during the Congress Meet at Avadi in 1955, many trucks were temporarily converted & ran as public transportation. Then came the Red buses (then popularly referred as ‘Red Lady’) from Leyland, U.K & Daimler Benz, and Germany. They all bore the inscription “Govt. Transport, Madras”. Later in due course, it became “State Transport, Madras”. Only during the DMK regime they were all formed as Transport Corporations & christened as Palawan, Azhagiri etc. There were Tiger Leyland buses with their majestic appearance & comfort seating. But soon they were sent to Delhi as the Madras roads were too small to operate them.
There were metered taxi services from the early post independent days in Madras. The smaller taxis, mostly constituting Morris Minors, Baby Hindustan, Standard Ten, Herald were called ‘Baby Taxis’ offering a lesser tariff. The roomier Fords, Chevrolets and the like were normal taxis that cost a little extra. Later Ambassadors & Fiats monopolized the taxis.
Here is a clip from ‘Sadhu Mirandal’ featuring Nagesh as a taxi driver.
An advertisement of the Film Sathu Mirandal from the magazine NARADHAR Dec 1965 depicting Nagesh as Taxi driver with his Taxi PC: From the archives of TCRC
The old Madras had its own charm. There were no food courts but there were famous eateries such as Ambls Cafe, Modern Cafe, Ramakrishna Lunch Home, Ratna Cafe, Rayar’s Café & Woodlands. None can forget the Peach Melba at Buharis where jukeboxes played your favourite film music.
There were no Malls but there appeared seasonal Exhibitions at Teynampet Grounds & Island Grounds.
The city boasted of many heritage structures including Iron Bridge, War Memorial, University Bldgs., Police HQ Bldg near A.I.R. Vivekananda House, Museum Theatre.
There were no Corporate Hospitals like Apollo or even Poly Clinics but there were small neighborhood doctors who knew personally your family members. There was even a 24×7 Pharmacy at Agurchand Mansions on Mount Road called ‘Sahib Singh’s which dispensed medicines at wee hours too.
There were fewer vehicles on the road & there was just one subway near RBI and no flyovers. Ranganathan Street was never crowded.
With all that the old Madras had its own bewitching aspects.
Roadside vendors, particularly those shouting out their signature calls to attract customers is a common sight in our towns & cities, though in some of the Metros this is decreasingly seen in this era of Mega Consumerism & Malls.
Our Films never failed to capture such vendors, even including a bit of music on their lips, as the characters happily musically vended their ware. Even big heroes & heroines of those times have had to carry such roles as vendors in some sequence or other, contrived by the directors.
Here we are seeing some instances of the cinematic vendors as they were featured in various films, chronologically.
The rare song ‘Annam vangaleeyo’ rendered by T.R.Mahalingam featured in ‘Pavalakodi’ (1949), composed by C.R.Subbaraman, where TRM was seen hawking a live Swan. Thank god, perhaps, the Wildlife Act was not in vogue those times!
Song book of Pavalakodi with the page containing the song ANNAM VANGALEEYO PC: From the archives of TCRC
A doorstep milk vendor used to be a common sight till a decade or two ago in our lives. Here is a girl hawking cow’s milk with a song, ‘Pasumpal’ The singer was P.A.Periyanayaki from the film Singari (1951), in the music of T.K.Kalyanam. Periyanayaki was a much sought after singer even prior to MLV’s stint as a play back singer on Tamil screen.
There was a song ‘Ayya mudalali vanga’ sung by A.M.Raja for Sivaji Ganesan in the movie Anbu (1953) in the composition of Veteran T.R.Paappa. It is strangely novel that a young man becomes self-employed by selling ‘No Vacancy’ boards in times of acute job losses.
Song book of Anbu with the page containing the song AYYA MUDALALI VANGA PC: From the archives of TCRC
Here is Gemini Ganesan pranking around dancing & singing as he sells flowers to the folks around with the song ‘Ayy ammadi namma arakku pachai’ from the film ‘Athisaya Thirudan’ (1958). The singer was TMS & the Music Director was S.Dakshinamurthy.
Another flower seller, this time by a blind female character enacted by Sriranjani in Gemini produced film ‘Raji En Kanmani’ (1954). The song is ‘Malligai poo jathi malli Roja’ rendered by R.Balasaraswathi Devi in the music composition of S.Hanumantha Rao, brother of the noted Film Composer S. Rajeswara Rao.
Jose Sancho Padilla’s haunting Western number “La Violetera” has largely inspired the song. To enable you to listen & compare with the original tune, a piece from the original is also being featured in between the subject song. The talented Master Dhanraj and R. Parthasarathi, who were part of the ‘Gemini Music Troupe’ at that time under Hanumantha Rao created this classic with western interludes, as inspired by “La Violetera”. The well-known Master Dhanraj was the guitar & piano guru to various celebrity music directors such as Ilayaraja, A.R.Rahman & Vidyasagar, in his music school at Luz corner, located above the landmark Nehru News Mart, in those days.
As to the singer R. Balasaraswathi, she was a child prodigy having started recording for HMV at her six & she was the first playback singer of Telugu cinema too. She had also acted in Tamil films Baktha Kuchela (1936), Balayogini (1937), Tukaram (1938), Thiruneelakantar (1939) etc. After her marriage with the Raja of Kolanka, she gradually faded out in her screen career & went into oblivion.
A seller of tantric talisman? Yes, here he is, singing, ‘Thayathu’. Catch MGR in the ghost voice of TMS in the film ‘Mahadevi’ (1955) in the music of MSV-TKR.
In the bygone days of old Madras, there used to be candy sellers on the streets hawking elongated candy strings as wound on a pole. Here is K.R.Ramaswami singing & enacting the song ‘Jilu jiluvena jolikkum mittai’ from the film Neethipathi (1955). MSV-TKR composed he music.
‘Elanthai pazham’ was made famous by a song of L.R.easwari in her song on that humble fruit, picturised on Vijaya Nirmala in ‘Panama Pasama’. But here we are bringing an older song ‘Aazhakku oar ana’ sung by Thankappan & Kamala in the film ‘Yaar Paiyan’ (1957) in the music of S.Dakshinamurthy.
Song book of Yaar Paiyan with the page containing the song AAZHAKKU OAR ANA PC: From the archives of TCRC
Navrathri Kolu Festival used to have a major seasonal market for colourfully painted clay figures in South India. Besides, they had a market in Temple festivals. There was a sequence where Anjali Devi sold these clay Dolls with P.Suseela rendered song ‘Jorana bommai parunga’ in the film ‘Manalane mangaiyin Bakkiyam’ (1957) as composed by Adhi Narayana Rao.
In the good old film Samaya Sanjeevi (1957), J.P.Chandrababu rendered the song ‘Paper Paper’ composed by the doyen G.Ramanathan, in a sequence selling local newspapers & magazines. An interesting song, which enlists all the magazines, those were popular then.
We are familiar with Sirgazhi Govindarajan’s voice being associated with songs of divinity, philosophical or even comical flavors. But he has sung rarely for a tea seller, enacted by K.A.Thangavelu in Sridhar’s film ‘Kalyana Parisu’ (1959) composed by A.M.Raja.
Baloon sellers are a common place anywhere in the world. You could spot them even at venues such as Disneyworld! Here is a local balloon seller with a song on his lips, ‘Paisavai pottu naisaka vaangi’ filmed on V.K.Ramasami, who has several messages to deliver in the song. The film was ‘Alli Petra Pillai’ (1959) & the singer was S.C.Krishnan for Music Director K.V.Mahadevan.
Bangle sellers were traditionally allowed to catch hold of any woman in their selling effort of bangles. Catch MGR in his funny make over as a fat bangle seller singing ‘Kalyana ponnu’ in the voice of TMS in the film ‘Padagotti’ (1964) in the lilting music of MSV-TKR.
The vast beaches of old Madras city first what was called ‘High Court Beach’ (then turned into part of Madras Port, reaching upto War Memorial) & the Marina used to be sprinkled with humble ‘Sundal’ sellers. Here is a song dedicated to one such, in the song ‘Thenga manga sundal’ of TMS in the ‘Neeyum Naanum’ (1968). The Music was of MSV.
Before we wind up, I would like to cite a vendor’s song from a Hindi movie too. This time, it’s a ‘malishwallah’ offering oil massage services. Listen to ‘Tel Malish’ rendered joyfully by the veteran Mohd.Rafi in ‘Pyassa’ (1957) as composed by S.D.Burman. It is picturised on the late comedian Johnny Walker.
The street vendors are still omnipresent in India, despite the paradigm shift in the way people shop. May be the coming generations miss out on them as they become slowly irrelevant & disappear gradually. But their recognition on our screens of the past is indelible!
The Great Poet Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathiyar lived his times in utter poverty & died unsung in his times. When one reads his poems the reader is sure to experience goose bumps! Such a spirited Poet that he was, his untimely death in 1921 at a very young age of thirty nine, drew only a handful of mourners in his funeral procession!
He is, perhaps, the first ever Poet to have has the honour of being named a ‘National Poet’, that too posthumously! This happened in 1949 after our Indian Independence.
Sequel to the death of Bharathi, his widow Chellammal along with Bharathi’s two daughters, Thangammal & Sakunthala, compelled by their utter poverty, were constrained to relinquish the rights over Bharathi’s works by selling them to AVM for a sum of Rupees Nine thousand five hundred (then a princely sum). AVM have used many of the Bharathi poems in their Tamil films, which became very widely popular.
However, over a process that lasted over five years from 1944 to 1949, the then Government of Madras nationalized the works of Bharathi in 1949, through the offices of four Chief Ministers. Prior to that though there were many notable voices that strongly demanded such nationalization of Bharath’s works, it was during the term of Omandur Ramasamy Reddiyar as Chief Minister it materialized finally. However, it was only by 1955, the works of Bharathi reached public domain when the then Finance Minister C. Subramaniam announced the decision of allowing all to publish Bharathi’s works.
However, unintentional of the Great Poet Bharathi, some of his beautiful poems later turned into film songs, set to mellifluous music compositions by noted Music Directors & rendered by top Artistes in various time frames.
The most recent songs that captured our attention was in the Tamil Film ‘Bharathi’ (2000), wherein Sayaji Shinde portrayed Bharathi. This biographical film on Bharathi had the lilting music of Isai Gnani ILayaraja & delivered few of his poems.
But, going back in time travel, very many films have had Bharathiyar written songs used in various filmy sequences. It all started with AVM who pioneered the way to copiously use Bharathi songs in his films (as he held recording rights for the songs) such as Naam Iruvar (1947), Vedhala Ulagam (1948) & Vazhkkai (1949), all in the amazing music compositions of Sudarsanam. In fact even today, these songs are known in these very tunes that Sudarsanam composed them in.
An advertisement of the Film Naam Iruvar from the magazine PESUM PADAM July 1946 PC: From the archives of TCRC
In ‘Kappalottiya Thamizhan’ some of Bharathiyar’s compositions were featured, in various voices.
To my knowledge, nearly forty songs have been featured in Tamil films, in various situations, which I have enlisted below. However, there could be few more in addition to my list.
Chinna kuzhandaigal pol
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Cooli Miga ketpar
Enru thaniyum intha
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Kaani nilam vendum
Kannan mana nilaiyai
Ezhai pdum paadu
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Manadhil urudhi vendum
Nenjil uramum inri
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Oadi vilayadu papa
Oadi vilayadu papa
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Sirgazhi, Jamuna Rani
Parukkulle Nalla Naadu
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Sindhu nadiyin misai
Kai Kodutha Deivam
Solai malar oliyo
Solla Vallayo Kiliye
Thaneer vittom valarthom
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Thayin manikodi pareer
Theeradha vilayattu pillai
Thoondir puzhuvinai pol
Vande matharam enbom
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
V.Nagaiah, A.Rama Rao
Velli pani malai
Kappal ottiya Thamizhan
Sirgazhi, Tiruchi Loiganathan, L.R.Easwari
Vetri ettu thikkum etta
Kavimani Desiya Vinyagam Pillai had composed a song, ‘Paattukkoru pulavan Bharathiyada’, in honour of Bharathi which too had featured in the film ‘Paithiyakkaran’ (1947), composed by C.R.Subbaraman & M.S.Gnanamani.
Here below we are giving links to some of the videos containing Bharathiyar songs in films.
Chinnam chiru kiliye:
Katru veliyidai Kannamma:
Song book of Thirumanam with the page containing the song MANGIYATHOR NILAVINILE PC: From the archives of TCRC
Parukkulle nalla nadu:
Theeratha vilayattu pillai:
Sindhu nadhiyin isai:
Song book of Kai Kodutha Deivam with the page containing the song SINDHU NADHIYIN PC: From the archives of TCRC
Aaduvome pallu paduvome:
Song book of Naam Iruvar with the page containing the song AADUVOME PALLU PC: From the archives of TCRC
Oadi vilaiyadu papa:
Suttum vizhi sudar thaan Kannamma:
These days, you hardly get to hear Bharathi’s lyrics in Tamil films. For that matter, you hardly even make out what the lyrics are, in most songs. Those were the times when lyrical beauty held a song close to your heart. This is the reason as to why we can still remember the words of the old film music. Gone are those days, now rhythm & tune override lyrics and if at all one could make them out in the whole din, they cannot live in your memory.
In this concluding part on Exotic Instruments in Film Music I wish to share some of my thoughts on our classic numbers in Tamil Film Music from the bygone era, listening to which we get transported back to relive the past!
They make us visualize the mammoth orchestra that went with the recording of many of the classic songs. This in turn trigger our thoughts on those times when these melodies were made. By any count, people mostly agree that these oldies from the world of Indian Film music are indeed a treasure. The melodies of these songs are as fresh as the morning breeze to us forever. Added to them, the fine lyrics & clear diction of the singers make them so memorable.
This writer has had, during his prime days, the opportunity of witnessing few song recordings, thanks to a peer with connections! Those days were prior to the advent of stereo. The musicians were so cramped in a small recording room. Often the instruments they played on, per se, were hugely cumbersome, whether it is Univox, Double Base, Vibraphone, Piano, Cello, Kettle Drum or Harp. The air-conditioning was mostly absent as they wanted to be free from the noise of room air-conditioners & the central cooling system was not in vogue then. Imagine these very classic melodies, that were made in such less friendly environs, are being crooned out over stereophonic mikes with mixing facilities by today’s participants of TV Reality & stage shows, in the air-conditioned comfort. Whereas those men who played this music in perfect harmony, recorded them so truly sweating them out.
Those were the days, not blessed with digital sound technology. Nor were sound files & bytes known. The recordings were done the hard way. Thanks to the non-advent of track recording, the singers were in full human form & feeling the real music emanating from physically played instruments by a swarm of musicians. This meant a lot of understanding, respect & harmony between the singers & the players. The real human side of the collective music, if you like.
The music so generated also had passion in its roots having been delivered by talented musicians in real time recording situations. These unplugged sounds of the music were pure & original from each instrument, whether wind, brass, string or percussion. These great melodies were captured by “shure” mikes of mono format & made captive in vinyl record discs of those times, in the avatar of LPs & EPs. There were no computer generated beats, no octopus pads & no synthesizers, which today form, at best, poor imitations of the reverberations of the original instruments.
Some of the legends of sixties in the Tamil film music world included doyens like Sabesan (pianist), Raju (mandolin), Henry Daniel (trumpetist), Sudarsanam (flute), Philip (guitarist), Mangalamurthy (accordian), Hanumanthayya (tabla), who were all over the immortal compositions of the duo Viswanathan – Ramamoorthy. These guys were behind each of the old time melodies & many of them have left this world since leaving a huge vacuum!
With limited medium of entertainment (TVs, other recorded devices made advent much later) all ears were glued to those radio sets listening to Radio Ceylon and these musicians lived up to the responsibility of delivering the sole audio entertainment of those days. And they did it with aplomb, in unmatched quality!
Listening to these old melodies bring you nostalgia, laced with a tint of sadness of having lost those days forever in one’s life! A sadness of a like which is as soothing as weeping!!
But, it is unfortunate that these classic film musicians did not directly see themselves in limelight & withered away unacknowledged largely, though Groups like MSV Times bring honor to some of them either live or posthumously.
Now on to discuss the individual musical instruments that played in well known songs.
Dholak is a double sided folk drum, usually played with both hands while positioned on the player’s lap while an iron thumb ring is used to produce a distinctive rim sound as rhythm.
In many old Tamil songs, one used to hear Dholak beats and here is ‘Ullathile uram vendumada’ rendered by A.M.Raja from Vijayapuri Veeran, composed by T.R.Paappa, for your listening pleasure. (1960)
The beautiful duet, ‘Anbu manam kanindha pinne’ (Aalukkoru veedu -1960 Film) too has Dholak percussion through the song.
‘Dafli’, as it is called in Hindi, is a Tambourine, denoting an instrument with a large circular drumhead, on which skin membrane is stretched over the playing area. In Tamil, it is colloquially known as ‘Tape’. In Hindi a full film called ‘Sargam’ was dedicated to it, with Rishi Kapoor as a Dafli player. Here is a popular Tamil song, ‘Ellorum kondaduvom’ by TMS from ‘Pava Mannippu’, composed by MSV-TKR.
The Western Drum Set has also been often used in Indian film music. Here is an instance of its deployment in ‘Kannirendum minna minna’ from ‘Andavan Kattalai’, rendered by P.B.Srinivas & L.R.Easwari. The composers MSV-TKR have used it along with Piano Chords through the song. Mr. Noel Grant was the ace drummer who worked in the orchestra of MSV-TKR.
Snare Drum, which is part of the main Drum Set, is played by striking it with either a drum stick or any other form of beater, including brushes which produce a softer-sounding vibration from the snare wires. Our composers have used Snare Drums in many songs. Here we can hear it in the song ‘Sugam…sugam’ from the film ‘Thangai’ (1967) composed by MSV.
Ghatam is an instrument used in carnatic stream of music & is one of the most ancient percussion instruments of South India. It is a clay pot with a narrow mouth. From where, it slants outwards to form a ridge. Made mainly in Manamadurai (Tamil Nadu) & Devanahalli (Karnataka), of clay with with brass or copper filings along with a small amount of iron filings, it’s a fixed pitched instrument. It has been made international by the Ghatam Wizard ‘Vikku’ Vinayakaram, who holds even a Grammy Award.
‘Azhagana Ratchasiye’ composed by A.R.Rahmam for the film ‘Muthalvan’ has ample usage of Ghatam. Dr.Karthick has played ghatam for A.R.Rahman in some of his compositions.
Veena is an instrument that relates to historical past, which is used in Carnatic stream. However, artistes like Chittibabu, Parthasarathi & Rajesh Vaidya have done some excellent work, playing for various composers in Tamil films.
We cite here two Tamil film melodies featuring Veena, ‘Sonna sollai nee’ by M.S. Rajeswari, from ‘PeNN’ composed by Sudarsanam & ‘Deviyar iruvar’ from ‘Kalai Koil’ composed by MSV-TKR. The latter film featured copious Veena notes in its songs as well as BGM, as the Hero was shown as a Veena artiste. These were played by the late Veteran Chittibabu, whose disciple is Rajesh Vaidya.
Song book of Kalai Koil with the page containing the song DEVIYAR IRUVAR PC: From the archives of TCRC
Gottu Vadhyam aka Chithra Veena is another traditional string instrument of great antiquity, popular with Carnatic music. This stringed instrument which resembles a Veena, is played by a slide just like a Hawaiian Guitar. Dr. Ravikiran is a well known exponent of the same. There have been few songs using this instrument. The Malayalam song ‘Senthar mizhi’ from ‘Perumazhakalam’, composed by M.Jayachandran features Gottu Vadhyam strains along with Ghatam beats, very creatively.
Piano too has been abundantly used in our films, particularly in South by MSV-TKR. MSV himself was very good at playing Piano. ‘Brindavanamum Nandakumaranum’ (Missiyamma), ‘Pattunro kaetten’ (Pasamalar), ‘Paaduvor padinaal’ (Kannan en kadhalan), Unnai onru ketpen, (Puthiya Paravai) Kannirendum minna minna (Andavan Kattalai), Ellorum nalam vazha (Enga Mama), Enna enna varthaigalo (Vennira Aadai) , Manithan enbavan (Sumai Thangi) , Kannenna Kannenna kalanguthu (Periya idathu peNN).
Song book of Vennira Aadai with the page containing the song ENNA ENNA VARTHAIGALO PC: From the archives of TCRC
‘Glockenspiel’ aka ‘bells, as is commonly referred to, is an instrument of German origin, having metal plates or tubes as ‘keys’ and are played by striking upon with hard tippled mallets, thus making it a metallophone. Our South Indian Composers have often used it in their songs, especially MSV-TKR duo. Listen to ‘Muthukkalo kangal’ (Nenjirukkumvarai) or ‘Thookkam kangalai’ (Alayamani) where this instrument makes very delectable notes.
Here is Harry Potter theme played on a Glockenspiel.
Vibraphone is a larger version of a ‘bells’ and has deep resonance of the notes produced which have a tremolo effect. The following video gives an idea of this instruments & its way of playing.
There are plenty of Tamil film songs where they have used this instrument. Here is an instance where Vibraphone has been used, the song being ‘Varathiruppano’ (Pachai Vilakku), rendered by P.Suseela in the composition of MSV-TKR.
Song book of Pachai Vilakku with the page containing the song VARATHIRUPPANO PC: From the archives of TCRC
In this concluding part on the above caption, we would strive to feature & discuss about some more of the exotic musical instruments used in our film music.
Trumpet is another popular wind instrument to form a part of the Brass Section of an orchestra, which has been in use in Indian films for a long time.
MSV-TKR has used Trumpet bits in many of his compositions, notables of which include ‘Thulluvatho ilamai’, ‘Adho andha paravai pola’ & ‘Unnai onru ketpen’.
Kishore Sodha has been a reputed trumpet player in Bollywood since 1978 and had worked for composers such as R.D Burman, Kalyanji-Anandji, Bappi Lahiri, Anu Malik, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Anand-Milind, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and more. His first song on trumpet accompaniment was ‘Rote Hue Aate Hain Sab’ (Muqaddar Ka Sikandar).
The Trumpet is also used placing a ‘mute’ in its ‘bell’ portion so that the sound emanates from there in a muted form. If you hear ‘Maan kanda sorgangal’ from ‘47 Naatkal’, composed by MSV, there are notes from a muted trumpet throughout. The following video explains about a muted trumpet.
Saxophone is an amazing wind instrument, grouped again under Brass Section in Western Orchestra. It was invented in 1840 by the Belgian instrument maker Adolphe Sax, after whom it is named.
Sax, as it is called in short form, it has been used in many compositions such as ‘Unnai onru ketpen’ (Puthiya Paravai) composed by MSV-TKR, ‘Ammamma keladi thozhi’ (Karuppu panam) by MSV-TKR & ‘Vannam konda vennilave’ (Sigaram) composed & sung by SPB.
Song book of Puthiya Paravai with the page containing the song UNNAI ONRU KETPEN PC: From the archives of TCRC
When we talk of Sax in film music, we cannot but mention the late Manohari Singh, a Sax wizard of Nepali origin, who had played for leading Hindi composers in immortal songs such as ‘Gatha Rahe mera dil’ (Guide) by Sachin Dev Burman & Yeh Duniya usiki (Kashmir ki kali) by O.P.Nayyar.
Another beautiful composition of S.D.Burman featuring Sax was ‘Oh mere jeevan sathi’ from the movie ‘Guide’.
In the film ‘Duet’, A.R.Rahman had the classical sax player, Mr. Kadri Gopalnath, to play through the film. This film, in fact, popularized this instrument.
Trombone is a Brass wind Instrument, the sound of which is produced when the player’s vibrating lips cause the air column vibrate inside the instrument, having a telescoping slide mechanism that varies the length of the instrument to change the pitch.
While Trombone is usually played in Brass bands – accompanying the main theme by giving punching phrases, the potential of this instrument to perform as solo cannot be undermined.
Here is a piece on Trombone playing Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’.
In Indian films’ BGM scores, Trombone is usually played together with other brass instruments. They have had limited scope as a solo in the interludes of movie songs.
In songs such as ‘Ulagathil siranthathu edhu’ (Pattanathil Bhootham), ‘Atho antha paravai pola’ (Ayirathil oruvan) & ‘Kalyana naal parkka’ (Parakkum Pavai) you could hear Trombone bits. Here is the latter song in the composition of MSV-TKR.
Song book of Pattanathil Bhootham with the page containing the song ULAGATHIL SIRANTHATHU ETHU PC: From the archives of TCRC
Ilaya Raja’s ‘Ennamma Kannu’ too had Trombone predominantly.
Oud is a short-necked, pear-shaped multi-stringed musical instrument belonging to Lute family, used in Middle Eastern & North African music.
You can rarely hear Oud in Tamil film music. Ilayaraja’s ‘Matha un kovilil’ from ‘Achani’ (1978) had distinct Oud usage along with Bells in its BGM. Another good usage could be spotted in the A.R.Rahman composed song from ‘Ravanan’
Song book of Achani with the page containing the song MATHA UN KOVILIL PC: From the archives of TCRC
Maraca is a rhythm instrument of Mexican origin used in Latin American & Rumba music. It is a humble instrument originally made out of gourd shell.
We can spot the rhythmic sounds of Maraca in many film songs if we very carefully listen, but often it gets submerged in the BGM in most of the songs. Here we have selected a Hindi song, ‘Mujhe duniya wale’ by Mohd. Rafi from the film ‘Leader’ (1964) in the music composition of Naushad Ali, where one can make out the ‘chik-chik’ notes raised by Maraca in rhythmic pattern.
Mexican Scratcher is another humble but exotic rhythmic instrument used in Latin American music & Salsa.
R.D.Burman was the pioneering Music Composer to use it in Indian film music when he used it in the poular song ‘Samne wali kidki pe’ from ‘Padosan’. It features very prominently in the song when Keshto Mukherji enacts with a broom, in the early part of the song.
Another exotic but humble instrument called ‘Elathalam’ is a Clash Cymbal used in Temple Music in Kerala. It is a pair of heavy brass cymbals played with one held firmly & the other clashed with it rhythmically.
A.R.Rahman has creatively used it in the song, “Narumugaiye” in the movie ‘Iruvar’. You can hear this bit in the said song when the visual of the hero & heroine appear in the waterfalls sequence.
In our 5th & concluding part of ‘Exotic Instruments in Film music’ next week, we would look at few more of the instruments used in film music.