Filmy Ripples – When the vendors lipped a song

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

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!

Pavalakodi

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.

Anbu

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.

Yaar Payyan

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!

 

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Filmy Ripples :Ghost voices of bygone era (Part 1)

By P.V.Gopalakrishnan

You cannot accept or even imagine Indian Films without songs. Whether it is a romantic duet or a parody number or song with some philosophy engrained in it or even an off screen rendering in the backdrop of a visual, songs have thrived,to the enchantment of the movie goer. There are instances where the songs have outlived the memory of a film in which they featured. In contrast, western films had limited number of musicals like My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, South Pacific where songs featured, as they were based on Broadway Musicals.

In the bygone days, the music came from those fragile vinyl records as they revolved under that magical pin! The success of Indian Cinemas’ music was amplified by the music companies such as HMV, Odeon, Columbia that published music, then. Out of these HMV fascinated me the most as a child, with its dog peering into the phonograph player, with inscriptions “His Master’s Voice”. In later adult years, I learnt that this logo was based on a painting by Francis Barraud, a Liverpudlian painter, with the same caption. Francis painted his late brother’s pet dog Nipper, as Nipper would run over to the phonograph and listen intently to the voice of his late master. In India, HMV became RPG when bought out by RP.Goenka Group and later came to be known as ‘Sa Re Ga Ma’.

In my childhood in the village, around late forties, I used to sprint to one of the neighbouring houses where a ‘thatha’ lived, to see & listen to his gramophone, as he played ‘oridam thannile’ song. Here is the video of the very song from the 1949 fim ‘Velaikkari’, sung by P.Leela & V.N.Janaki (wife of MGR) in the music of C.R.Subburaman & S.M.Subbiah Naidu.

In the initial days of Talkie Cinemas, it was a prerequisite that the main artistes had singing ability. Personalities such as M.K.Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, S.G.Kittappa, P.U.Chinnappa, Honnappa Bhagavathar, K.B.Sundarambal, M.S.Subbulakshmi, G.N.B, T.R.Rajakumari , T.R.Mahalingam, N.C.Vasanthakokilam were all singing stars. Most of them could travel to high altitude octave levels with ease. They had to be mostly loud in rendering as was the need of the recording technology available.

Somewhere, the play back artistes, who lent the actors their ghost voices, took avtar as a professional tribe in cinemas. That has a background too.

When AVM was making ‘Nandakumar’ he found a song rendered by the actress playing Krishna’s mother, Devaki was far from satisfactory. So he got an innovative spark of replacing the sound track of the song recorded by the actress with an external voice and shooting the song with the actress lips ‘sync’ing.  And he got cracking with that idea which finally worked. AVM commissioned a then prominent Carnatic musician of Bombay, Lalitha Venkataraman, to render the song. It worked, as the song was re-shot with the actress moving her lips to Lalitha Venkatraman’s singing. This is the origin of the playback system in Tamil cinema. Necessity, sure, is the mother of invention! It was a major breakthrough in those times, which practice is continuing with great tradition & aplomb even into these days of state of the art sound engineering.

nandakumar

A still from a scene in the film Nandakumar published in the 1937 issue of Cine Art Review Magazine. PC: From the archives of TCRC

The current generation or even the immediately preceding one might not have had the opportunity of listening to the old Tamil film songs of fifties & prior, leave alone knowing the names of playback singers of those times? This writer has catalogued nearly seventy Tamil Film play back singers (some of them actors too) of sixties and the prior period extending back to thirties. These names, alphabetically, are: A.G.Ratnamala, A.L.Raghavan, A.M.Raja, A.P.Komala, A.S.Mahadevan, Balamurali Krishna, C.R.Subbaraman, C.S.Jayaraman, Chandrababu, D.K.Pattammal, G.N.Balasubramanyam, Gajalakshmi, Ganasaraswathi, Ghantasala, Hemant Kumar, Honnappa Bhagavathar, Jamunarani, Jesudas, Jikki, K.A.Chokkalinga Bhagavathar, K.B.Sundarambal, K.R.Ramasami, K.Rani, K.V.Janaki, K.Vijaya, Kanaka, Kothamangalam Seenu, L.R.Easwari, M.H.Hussain, M.L.Vasanthakumari, M.M.Dandapani Desikar, M.R.Santhanalakshmi, M.S.Rajeswari, N.S.Krishnan, Nagerkoil Mahadevan,  P.A.Periyanayaki, P.B.Srinivas, P.Bhanumathi, P.Leela, P.Suseela, P.U.Chinnappa, Pazhani Baghirathi, R.Balasaraswathi Devi, Radha Jayalakshmi, Raghunath Panigrahi, S.C.Krishnan, S.M.Subbiah Naidu, S.Varalakshmi, Sarangapani, Sirkazhi Govindarajan, Srinivasan, Sulamangalam Jayalakshmi, Sulamangalam Rajalakshmi, Sundari Bhai,T.A.Madhuram, T.A.Mothi, T.M.Soundararajan, T.R.Mahalingam, T.R.Rajakumari, T.R.Ramachandran, T.S.Bagaavathi, T.V Ratnam, Thavamani Devi, Thyagaraja Bhagavathar, Tiruchi Loganathan, U.R.Jeevarathinam, Udutha Sarojini, V.J.Varma, Vasundara Devi, V.N.Sundaram, V.Nagaiah, V.T.Rajagopalan, V.V.Sadagopan. Huff….even reading this long enumeration of singers of yesteryears makes one pant!

Here is another  popular song, in the lighter vein, “Oosi pattase” from the film ‘Digambara Samiyar’. (1950), in the voices of Gajalakshmi & V.T.Rajagopalan. The tune of this duet, between a young girl and her grandfather,  was inspired by a popular Hindi tune ‘O…..dilwalo!’. The music directors G.Ramanathan & S.M.Subbiah Naidu.

From the early talkie Tamil films and up till the fifties the film songs followed the classical Carnatic genre and there are gems among such compositions. Those days many senior music directors were employees of big Studios which owned orchestras.

music-director-md-parthasarathi

Music Director MD Parthasarathi with his orchestra at Gemini Studios. PC: unknown

AVM’s orchestra was known as Saraswathi Stores Orchestra. Even though these orchestras had many Western instruments like Trumpets, Clarinets & French Horns, besides typical desi instruments like Jaltharangam, Veena, Morsing, Hormonium, they all played Carnatic tunes. To say it all, in those days even the Madras Corporation had a Band consisting of Western Instruments playing songs like Chakkani Raja or Nagumo! There was also a famous private Brass Band in the old Madras known as Nadhamuni Bros. Band, which was, out and out, a Carnatic music band. This shows how strong the classical music had influence on general public.

It was only at the advent of MSV-TKR in the early fifties the cine music assumed a light music genre, which is why they were called Mellisai Mannargal. In fact, MSV-TKR duo stepped into main stream music direction when C.R.Subburaman died abruptly leaving unfinished music assignments. The era of MSV-TKR heralded a new chapter in Tamil film music. It was also the induction of musical instruments like Accordion, Dilruba, Bongos, Grand Piano, Spanish Guitar, Mandolin and the like into orchestration. They experimented with numerous genre of music. You could spot jazz, blues, samba, rock, cha cha cha and what not in some of their compositions. Their music never drowned the lyrics. Together they created magic through the voices of living legends for decades well into seventies. You need a dedicated write up to discuss their music.

In the early days they used the lyrics of celebrated personalities like Bharathiyar , Gopalakrishna Bharathi, Thayumanavar et al. Then there were composers of the tall order of Papanasam Sivan, Bharathi Dasan, Kalki Krishnamurthy. There were other well known lyricists such as Udumalai Narayana Kavi, Aroordas, Maruthakasi, Kamatchi sundaram, Thanjai Ramaiahdas, Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram much before the later lyricists such as Kannadasan & Vaali.

Papanasam Sivan wrote many beautiful songs for films which are greatly remembered & revered. Mostly these were set to Carnatic tunes. Some of these, like ‘Maa Ramanan’ which was a cinema song, has come to be sung on Carnatic Stages even today. Papanasam Sivan’s Carnatic compositions were largely popularised by D.K.Pattammal & D.K.Jayaraman. Another interesting thing about Papanasam Sivan is, neither his name was Sivan nor was he from Papanasam. He was, in fact, born Polagam Ramaiah. His ‘mudra’ name in his compositions was ‘Ramadas’. He spent a lot of time in Papanasam, thereby adopting the “Papanasam” tag. Also, it was a tradition to address men of respect as Sivan in those days, this explains the suffix to his name. It is also said that there was lot of influence of Mahavaidyanatha Sivan, during his tenure at Trivandrum, on his compositions, thereby making Sivan as his second part of the name.

AVM used many songs of Mahakavi Subramanya Bharathi in their films such as Naam Iruvar, Vethala Ulagam, Ore Iravu, Vazhkai. The rights to Bharathiyar’s works were held by a gramaphone company owned by Surajmal & Sons which bought the rights for Six Hundred Rupees. Later AVM bought the rights from them for Ten Grand. It was at the instance of Omandur Ramasamy Reddy , who was the then Chief Minister of Madras Presidency between 1947 & 1949, AVM relinquished their rights.

Bharathidasan’s ‘Thunbam nergaiyil’ written by Bharathi Dasan as expression addressed to a child was used in AVM’s ‘Oar Iravu’ (1951) in the voices of M.S.Rajeswari & V.J.Varma and filmed in a situation of romance between lovers, played by Lalitha & Nageswara Rao

                                                                                                                                                              (to be continued)

Centenary Birthday of M.S.Subbulakshmi

On 16th September The Hindu Metro plus paid a tribute to M.S.Subbulakshmi , the actor to commemorate her centenary birthday. The article written by Srinivasa Ramanujam states : ‘ Madurai Shanmukhavadivu Subbulakshmi, or MS, as she is popularly known, was a musical genius. But there was another side to her; she was also an actor, having essayed fine performances in the films she was part of. Today, on her birth anniversary, we take a look at those projects… ‘

Have a look at the full article with the pictures here.

Meanwhile we have been busy at our archives and we found an advertisement of the film Savitri where MS played Naradar, A male character. The ad was found in the supplement of the Tamil Magazine Ananda Vikatan dated 12-10-41.

savitri