FIlmy Ripples- Inspired plagiarism in early music

By P V Gopalakrishnan

Music in a movie has so many sectionalized areas such as composing, arranging, conducting, re-recording etc. which are all attended to by different dedicated professionals in Hollywood. Whereas, largely, it is a one-man show, in the context of our movies where it is the responsibility of one individual, called “Music Director”, who is usually a brand name by himself, though he might have umpteen musicians specialized in some aspect or other, ably supporting him informally!

Often the Music Directors have strong lieutenants who are well versed in trained classical music to assist them, such as the late Pugazhenthi (of late K.V.Mahadevan).

We have, in the present days, a huge flock of Music Directors with their own creative talents. In stark contrast to this there were relatively few Music Directors in the past. However, those times, most of them were very strong in classical base, particularly in Carnatic Music. People like, Papanasam Sivan, C.R.Subburaman, G.Ramanathan, T.R.Pappa, S.M.Subbiah Naidu, Sudarsanam, M.D.Parthasarathi, Emani Sankara Sastri, Rajeswara Rao, Master Venu, S.V.Venkatraman and many more stood tall amongst the film music makers. Most of them have spent long internships with senior music directors of their times, worked alongside with them under their supervision and had learnt the ropes. They gave us outstanding music, which have withstood the efflux of time! In this context of comparison, the current music scenario seems a large departure.

There have been Tamil films with countless number of songs per movie. But you also had the AVM produced, S.Balachandar directed, thriller movie “Andha NaaL” devoid of any songs whatsoever, but with only background score.

Even in those days, with abundantly talented Music Directors around, there were films, which openly plagiarized western tunes or Hindi film music. These could have been plainly due to compulsion from the Producers or Directors. Or even introducing a new genre to cine goers as a marketing tool. After all, mimicking is a form of compliment to the original!

For instance, the AVM film ‘Oar Iravu’ (1951) had a hit song rendered by MLV, “Ayya Sami” under the baton of Music Director Sudarsanam. This song was based on the Hindi song “Gore Gore” from the film ‘Samadhi’, which was in turn based on the Latin American song “Chico Chico”, from the film “Cuban Pete”!

‘Kalyana Samayal Sadam’song from “Maya Bazaar” was inspired by the laugh tracks of the song “Laughing Samba”.

Maya Bazaar

Song Book of Maya Bazaar PC: From the archives of TCRC

I have read somewhere that some moviemakers in that era handed down a bunch of Western/Hindi film records to the prospective Music Director and advised them to adopt or at least adapt the tunes.

If a Hindi film was dubbed in Tamil, then there was the need to keep the orchestration & tune of original Hindi song, to be sung in Tamil by a local play back artiste. There were many Hindi films dubbed in Tamil where senior Tamil playback artistes were used to sing.

For instance, Vikki (G.Krishnaveni), wife of A.M.Raja, who had a long innings lasting over four decades & rendering thousands of songs in Telugu, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi, and Sinhalese too, had sung in Raj Kapoor’s dubbed versions of  “Aah” in Telugu and Tamil. “Raja ke aayegi bharaat” (Shankar-Jaikishen) became “Kalyana oorvalam varum”.

Other than such dubbed versions, we have umpteen carbon copies of Hindi tunes.

Modern Theatres produced ‘Digambara Samiyar’ (1950) (Music: S.M.Subbiah Naidu – G.Ramanathan) had two popular songs based entirely on Hindi tunes. The run away hit song, ‘Oosi pattase vedikkaiyaka’ was lifted from the Hindi song “ Oh…dilwale” and “parudappa parudappa’ was a straight lift from Hindi ‘Laralappa laralappa’ from “ek thi ladki”.

In  ‘Avan Amaran’ (1958), Music Director T.M.Ibrahim set tune to the song sung by Sirgazhi & A.P.Komala, “Kalana minjathayya”, which was a carbon copy of from a popular Hindi tune “Ramayya Vastavayya” from Raj Kapoor’s Shri.420.

In fact one more song “Vaan mathi nee arivay” in the same film was also carbon copy of “Jaye to Jaye kahaan” rendered by Talat mehmood for Devanand in film Taxi Driver.

Another Tamil number sung by Jikki in the music of G.Ramanathan from ‘Komathiyin kadhalan’ (1955), produced by T.R.Ramachandran,“anaganai nikartha azhagan”, which was a straight lift of the very popular Hindi song of Music Director C.Ramchandra’s composition “dekh tere sansar kitna badal gaya Insaan” from the movie “Nastik” (1954).

G.Ramanathan was otherwise a very respected Music Director of repute, for his very popularly melodic carnatic based tunes.

Our highlighting such outright adoption of the then existing Hindi tunes is not to put down the concerned Music Director. This is simply to highlight a timeframe, in the anthology of Tamil film music, when such plagiarism was sometime routinely in vogue. If the Producer & Director insisted on copying an already popular tune those poor Music Directors never had a way out!

“Konjum Purave” by MLV was a clone of ‘Thandi Hawaain’ by Lata Mangeshkar, set to music by the legend S.D.Burman in the film ‘Naujawan’ (1951). The very same tune was lifted in Tamil film “Thai Ullam” (1952) as “Konjuum Purave”. Nevertheless the Tamil version became a huge hit, owing to the lovely tune as well as the silky voice of MLV. I remember having heard this song, as a child, being played all over in Madras, in the fifties. The music score was duo V.Nagaiah & Ramachandra Rao. Coming to the song, the “Konjum Purave” opens with the First violinst to the slow humming of MLV to the backdrop of vibrafone, but quickly transforms into a quick-beated foot tapper with its Dholak percussion . The intermittent BGM brings back the first Violinist’s melancholic strains before MLV goes on to her fast pace. Whereas S.D.Burman’s BGM arrangement is uniquely different, with Hawain Guitar for interludes in place of the Tamil version’s Violin. The young Lataji’s voice is more delicate than that of MLV.

M.S.Rajeswari rendered “Enni Enni Parkum Manam Inbam Kondaduthae”, composed by R. Sudarsanam. The identical tune was used in the song “Chup Chup Khade Ho Tho” sung by Lata under the baton of the duo Husnlal-Bhagatram, in the Hindi Film Badi Behen released in the same year. While Vazhkai was remade in Hindi only in 1951 as Bahaar, in which Vyjayanthimala made her debut Hindi films, it is not clear as to which version of the tune was the original.

Another interesting info: The Jewish Music Research Centre, Israel has published a CD containing the rare Jewish songs in Malayalam language representing the Jewish tradition that was in Kochi from where a lot of Malayali Jews migrated to Israel. One of the Malayalam songs in such CD “Enni enni tirttu dinam”  a Zionist song celebrating the Israeli independence from British, has been set to the tune of “Enni enni parkkum manam”.

Much later, Music Director Vedha was known in using popular Hindi tunes in his songs. His song “Oho ethanai azhagu irubathu vayathinile’ from Athey Kangal reminded you of ‘Pedal Pushers’ by Ventures.  Occasionally you could see even MSV using tunes from overseas in his songs. “Anubavam pudumai’ in Kathalikka Neramillai was based on Italian melody “Besame Mucho”. Puthiya Paravai’s ‘Partha gnabagam illaiyo’ reminded the American tune ”Sway with me”.

Even R.D.Burman’s ‘ Mil Gaya’ was a total lift from ABBA’s  “Mama Mia”. Shankar-Ganesh’s ‘Megame Megame’ too was a replay of the tune from a Ghazal by Jagjit Singh.

The list could be long.

For change there was also reverse copying, the popular American Hip Hop Band, “Black eyed Peas” took portions of Ilayaraja’s  “Unakkum enakkum anandam” by S.Janaki from ‘Sri Raghavendra’ and mixed it with one of their songs.

There have been Tamil film songs, which were kept as they were with little or no changes when the original Tamil movies were remade in Hindi. The instances are “Ilaya Nila” of Ilayaraja from Payanangal Mudivathillai was largely the same in Kalakar in the music of Kalyanji Anandji. “Muthu kulikka vaareegala” of MSV from “Anubhavi Raja Anubhavi” was retained by R.D.Burman in “Dho Phool”.

Adapting good musical notes from unknown cultures and blending it to our own music genres is after all is a creative service, I would personally opine. The outright lifting also perhaps served the same in times when Tamil films were not quite ‘connected’ with other languages and cultures, though within the country.

Ultimately, all songs have to be within the parameters of the seven musical notes, “Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Da Ni”!

 

 

 

 

 

From Book to Celluloid : Thaneer Thaneer

By Sugeeth Krishnamoorthy

The late 1800s saw a cultural renaissance in what is Tamil Nadu today. Several art forms, including traditional dances and performing arts  like Sathir, Poi Kaal Kuthirai, Thol Paavai Koothu, Bommalatam, and so on, saw a revival, that was not just culturally driven but also strongly driven by the nationalistic movement. Legends like U.V. Swaminatha Iyer discovered and published literature that sought to explain the culture, history and life of the ancient Tamils.

The origins of modern theatre began in the second half of the 19th century. Its success can largely be attributed to two doyens: Sankaradas Swamigal and Pammal Sammanda Mudaliar. These two dramatists strongly defined theatre, as it would be, in the years to come.

While most of early theatre was based on puranic themes, several of the plays Mudaliar was involved in writing had modern themes adapted or inspired from English plays or based on contemporary social commentary. Several of Mudaliar’s works like ‘Sabapathy’, ‘Manohara’, ‘NallaThangal’, ‘Yayati’ and ‘Dasi Penn’ were adapted to film formats. There were also nationalist’ plays attempted to be made into film, like Inbasagaran[1], based on Kovai Ayyamuthu’s stage play of the same name. The early actors of the Tamil talkies were also sourced from stage[2], as they had the ability to sing and thereby influence the audience through their melodious voice, although the initial acting during the first decade of Tamil cinema, was, at times, very rough and crude. The oldest surviving film today, is Pavalakkodi[3], which D.V.Balakrishnan, says was a filmed version of a stage drama.

‘Free India’ was reeling under immense poverty. This became a hot-bed for intellectuals and writers, who inspired by communist principles sought expression through literature and film. Subsequently, several films in the 60s, 70s and early 80s were made that were based on interlinking themes of unemployment, poverty and communist ideology.

Thanneer….. Thanneer is one such story. This story, penned by Komal Swaminathan,resulted from a discussion among a group of intellectuals in the late 70s, on what could possibly become a defining ‘Tamil stage drama’ in a global arena[4]. Interestingly, the writer rated this work as his best. The play, is based on the characters who live in a remote village, and their daily struggle to fetch water— a basic commodity, that eludes them.

It is their trials and tribulations that form the story. Using water as a metaphor, Swaminathan has woven a tale about the social injustices faced by marginalized sections of society. The writer challenges these inequities by asking, for instance, why villagers are allowed a ration of only 1kg of sugar, whereas urbanites are permitted 5kgs. More over, being denied the basic necessities of life existence like Water, The writer also, at various points in the story, points out how the ‘communist party’ targeted these groups, winning their allegiance through their overt challenges of authority using tools such as ‘unions’ and ‘boycotts’. The author also makes references, sarcastically at times, to the impending “River Integration” schemes’ and the presence of Seemai Karuvelam marams’ surrounding the village. For a state that has no natural river springs and that is dependent on three rivers from neighbouring states, these issues are only too relevant even today.

Another aspect that the writer brings in vote-bank politics. This divisive strategy used by politicians is as if not more relevant today as it was then. The writer speaks of the plight of these groups of people, exploited by politicians and left high and dry after they come to power.

When Vellaisamy, a nomad with a murky past, comes across this tiny village and its people reeling from  drought, he tells the villagers, “If the State and the Administration will not help you, then you must take things into your own hands.”   He leads the villagers and is yet one among them, helping them launch a campaign to regain their rightful claim to that vital fluid, water. And when all seems lost, he provides the villagers, hope and the courage, to do the unthinkable—build a canal; break the hills and divert the water towards the village[5]. When the villagers attempt to do this, the State opposes, puts an end to an undertaking that will alleviate the suffering of the villagers, instead declaring it unlawful. What follows is the climax of this play.

Although the play seems most obviously influenced communist ideals, it is easy to see past it objectively to the dominant and apolitical issue of human rights violation. It makes one wonder what crime the poor villages committed to be denied, even the most basic necessities? The author concludes, adopting a communist stance that if these things continued to happen, social revolution will be inevitable.

hqdefault

K.Balachander, made this play into a movie with the same name -— “Thanneer…Thanneer’. Keeping the basic structure of the play intact, Balachander has made a few changes that have added value to the film. In stark contrast to other Kollywood directors of his time, K. Balachander was known to give a lot of importance and ‘central’ roles to his female leads. In this story, there is only one female character, Sevanthi. Balachander has altered her role significantly, to make her the mother of a new born, who is spending her early motherhood at the place of her birth. This enables Sevanthi[6] to be in the village ‘Athipatti’, the place where the story takes place, and thereby play a central role in the film.

At various points in the original play, one can observe a generational difference in thinking between the older men, who prefer being subservient to their boss and the younger rebellious group, lead by Goval. By introducing a female character, Sevulli, at the ‘cheri’, and creating a love interest for Goval, K.B has also tried to raise issues about caste-based geographical segregation, which was and is quite common in rural India. By making Sevulli, a victim of paralysis, Goval’s love interest ,K.B brings the issue of ‘poisoned flouride well’,  beside the cheri[7]into focus in a powerful way. Unlike in the movie, Swaminathan’s play does not dwell too much on this part of the story.

There are two other important characters in this film. Being the most educated person in the village, Vaidhyanathan, the school teacher represents the ‘experience of age’ and yet at the same time, has the power to command respect amongst the hasty youth. Originally a nomad, Vellaisamy, a run away convict, finds the village ‘Athipatti’ as his new home. He becomes one of the dynamic leaders of the village and offers solutions and plays a major role in the attempts of the villagers to bring water to them. His presence in the village grows to  a point where the villagers on coming to know of his past, offer to protect him rather than hand him to the police, inspite of a bounty on Vellaisamy’s head. Balachander has retained the essential elements of both these characters, right across the film.

Aligning with the theme of the film, K.B also introduces several dramatic elements that add more value to the story, as film is a visual medium. There are certain scenes—such as the one where the poosari tricks Sevanthi into fetching a pot of water, threatening to otherwise curse her; the man who opposes the village’s rules and enters the polling booth to drink as much water as he can; , the conversation between Sevanthi and the engineer who asks for water for his Jeep; and the one where the Nayakar in his thirst laps up the soda he brings with him in his vehicle—that are apt examples of the use of such elements to elevate the film.

Another invaluable aspect of this film is the music. Without wasting footage, several dialogues in the film, which were cut out at the editor’s table were, used in the title track, as audio fillers. There is also the clever use of silence to convey climactic emotion — such as when the rain clouds betray the expectant village-folk ( with the camera panning on Sevanthi), when the womenfolk with their mud pots block the passage of the politician, and when a battalion of police face-off against the shocked village-folk at the site where the mountain is to be broken. The film makes good use of natural sounds like baby-cries, breaking of wood and wooden pots, among others. The short folk songs, which were there in the original play itself, keep with the tone and mood of the film.

The end climax sees a couple of major changes. In the play, the teacher ‘Vaidhyanathan’ continues to take classes for the children in the evening, but in the film version, he volunteers to go to jail claiming he was responsible for hiding Vellaisamy. Another surprising element is that, in the climax, Sevanthi removes her thaali’ and throws it at her husband Alagiri, who threatens her. She tells him to put it around his neck, along with the several medals that he is going to receive after arresting Vellaisamy. This scene would have invariably added more value to the ‘characterization’ of Sevanthi. It would have added weight to K.B’s portrayal of ‘the independent woman’, but alas this scene was omitted.

The death of Vellaisamy is tragic, yet poetic. The man who started things with a ‘hiccup’ and went on to attempt to save the village, thanks to Sevvanthi’s act of kindness, did not get any water when he was chased by the police and died of thirst. Goval, who was shown to have a rebellious streak,joined similar groups. And in an unresolved pre-climax, several people leave the village while those that chose to live behind, lived in hope.

The film ends with a montage shots:government officials engaged in water conservation programmes’ and ‘River integration’ discussions;. Nayakar going to the village and pleading with his caste members (the same ones who boycotted him earlier) for votes and. Sevanthi laughing to his face; and finally a paddy field covered with flags of political parties.

The writer of the play must have had tremendous foresight and politico-social insight if the dominant themes of the film continue to be relevant 35 years later. The film “Thanneer…Thanneer” does the play justice by staying true to its content and spirit while adapting it to the medium and the ethos in an evocative and sensitive manner. The movie is sure to leave you with a lump in your throat!

Watch the screening of this film at Ashvita Bistro on the 17th April at 7.30pm

Notes:

[1] Inbasagaran’ was made into a film, as well. Unfortunately, it met with a tragic fire accident just before release. The reels were lost and the film was never released. The film was produced by Mahalakshmi Studios, a film production company.

[2] Successful actors like M.K.Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar, S.D.Subbulakshmi, N.S.Krishnan, S.V.Sahasranamam all came from the stage.

[3] Pavalakkodi (1934) and Sathi Sulochana(1934) are the oldest surviving Tamil Films. Both of them have been preserved at the N.F.A.I

[4] Komal Swaminathan’s own words : ‘Thaneer.. Thaneer’ – Vanathi Pathipagam.

[5]Such an event has happened for real in our History. The Mulla Periyar dam was built to divert water from Upper Kerala to Lower South Tamilnadu, a century ago. Less than a tenth of the water has been diverted, yet this water which reaches Tamilnadu takes care of the drinking and irrigation needs of 6 districts in Tamilnadu. The Dam was built by a British man, John Penny Cuik, who is revered in Theni District.

[6]In the original play, Sevanthi is married off to a policeman, Alagiri and leaves the village after marriage. She returns for Aadi, and plays a prominent role in the climax. She does not have any children in the play.

[7]The play tells us that the people of Athipatti did not use the water of the cheri, because the well was poisoned. Alternatively, we may speculate that they refused to do so, also because of caste- based differences. However, there is a scene in which Goval and his friend, drink water from this ‘fluoride well’ due to unbearable thirst, as no water sources existed in the vicinity.

 

End of an era: K.Balachander (1930-2014)

Indian Cinema lost one of its greatest contributors on December 23rd 2014, K.Balanchander or KB sir as he is fondly known to many. The recipient of the Dada Saheb Phalke award, his career spanned for over 45 years. Besides directing over 100 films, he has also donned the role as writer, producer and even an actor. Each of his films were ahead of its times with radical offbeat themes and with strong women characters. The same was true with the many serials that he had directed and produced for the small screen. He is known for launching and mentoring several top actors and technicians in Indian Cinema including Kamal Hassan, Rajnikanth and Sri Devi.

Here is what the national newspaper The Hindu  has to say about this great man.

http://http://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/he-took-tamil-cinema-beyond-herocentric-creations/article6719996.ece?homepage=true&theme=true

As our small tribute to KB sir we would like to share a lobby card from our collection. It is from the film Manadhil Uridhi Vendum (1987). The film revolves around the strong willed female protagonist Nandhini (played by Suhasini) who over comes many hurdles  and finally dedicates her life to her profession as a nurse.

The lobby card in itself is unique with the working still from the shoot as its image. We get to see the crew and the man himself directing the female lead Suhasini in this picture.

manadhi-urudhi-vendumTCRC