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- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 3

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this third part on exotic music instruments used in film music in India, we would see few more instruments in this write up.

An unique instrument you used to hear in some songs was ‘Clip Clop’ which essentially had a pair of coconut shells, racing horse-shoe sound when used against a wooden block. In many songs this provided rhythm to the song mimicking the sound by a galloping horse. Listen to ‘Azhagukkum Malarukkum’ from Nenjam Marappathillai in the composition of MSV-TKR.

Then we have the African Drum known as Conga, a tall standing single-headed drum from Cuba, traditionally used in Afro-Cuban genres & Latin music. The film music has routinely used this percussion, to give examples “Vellai pura onru” (Pudhu Kavithai), & “Paadava unthan padalai” (Naan paadum padal), both by Ilayaraja.

Double Bass, an uprightly held huge instrument resembling a giant violin, is played either with a bow or just by plucking the strings. In old Tamil songs these were routinely deployed providing backdrop rhythms as you get to hear in songs such as ‘Envazhvil pudu pathai’ (Bagyalakshmi), ‘Kannale pesi pesi’ (Adutha veettu Penn), ‘Rock n Roll’ (Pathi Bakthi),  ‘Padatha pattellam’ (Veera Thirumagan). But you cant hear this instrument distinctly unless you have a quality speaker set to base amplification. However, Double Bass usage in Tamil film music became rare on the advent of the modern Base Guitar.

‘Ek Tara’ (literally meaning ‘Sole string’ is a rhythm instrument, that used to be carried by sadhus to accompany their renderings, but also used in film music. You can catch the plucking sounds of Ek Tara in ‘Pachai maram onru’ (Ramu), & ‘Kasikku pogum sanyasi’ (Chandrodayam), both by MSV-TKR.

Ramu

Song book of Ramu with the page containing the song PACHAI MARAM ONRU PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

Harmonica (mouth organ) used to be in some songs like ‘Kalangalil aval vasantham’ (Pava Mannippu) & ‘Pirakkum pothum azhuginraay’ (Kavalai illatha manithan), by MSV-TKR.

Their ensemble had Mr. Sadhan who used to play harmonica.

Harp is a stringed musical instrument that has a number of individual strings running at an angle to its soundboard & the strings are plucked with the fingers. The instrument had great popularity in Europe. In terms of size, while there are smaller harps which can be played on the lap, the larger harps are quite huge & heavy and rest on the floor. The usage of Harp is subtle & is not a main instrument in Tamil songs. You can get the sound bites of a Harp in the opening BGM of  ‘Kodi asainthathum’ (Parthal Pasi Theerum)  by MSV-TKR . Similarly in A.R.Rahman’s ‘Pudhu Vellai mazhai’

Paarthal Pasi Theerum

Song book of Parthal Pasi Theerum with the pages containing the song KODI ASAINTHATHUM PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

‘Gangai nadhi oram’ (Varaprasadam) is another example of Harp usage by Govardhanam.

The young Maegan Pandian is a classical Pedal Harp player & here is a video to get an idea of the instrument.

Kanjira is a hand held percussion instrument used in Carnatic Music & played with the palm and fingers of the right hand, while the left hand supports the drum. The fingertips of the left hand is used to bend the pitch by applying pressure near the outer rim.

There are very few film songs, which have used Kanjira. Two songs come to my mind when we talk of Kanjira. One is, ‘Madhar thammai’ (PeNN) in the voice of T.A.Mothi & music of R.Sudarshanam the other is ‘Jeevan ke har mod pe’ (Joota kahin ka) by R.D.Burman.

 

Morsing (aka Jaw Harp), used as a percussion in Carnatic besides in Rajasthani folk music, is also prevalent in many world cultures. It consists of a metal ring with two parallel forks which form the frame, and a metal tongue in the middle, between the forks, fixed to the ring at one end and free to vibrate at the other. It is held between teeth & played.

MSV had used in many of his compositions to name a few, ‘Ennai yaar enru’ (Palum Pazhamum), ‘Kadhal kadhal enru’ (Utharavinri Ulee Vaa).

Paalum Pazhamum

Song book of Palum Pazhamum with the page containing the song ENNAI YAAR ENRU PC: From the archives of TCRC

 

More in my next on Exotic music instruments used in Indian film music.

Filmy Ripples – Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 2

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

In this second part on ‘Exotic Instruments’ that have been used in our film music, we would cover some more instruments.

Mandolin, a 17th century evolved Italian instrument, with traditionally four courses of double strings, had featured prominently in almost all film music compositions till late sixties.

Among the multitude of songs using Mandolin here is the popular song ‘Neela vanna kannane’ from the film Mallika (1957), in the music of T.R.Paapa.

Mandolin used to be in most of MSV-TKR compositions, having been played by the Legend M.S.Raju. M.S.Raju was a dominant & very senior member of MSV’s orchestra as the man of many parts as he played Mandolin & Santoor besides whistling & doing konnakol.

Listen to ‘Thangathile oru kurai irunthalum’ (Bagapirivinai – 1959) in the beautiful mukhda of the song, in M.S.Raju’s Mandolin.

Bagapirivinai

Song book of Bagapirivinai with the page containing the song THANGATHILE ORU KURAI    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Santoor: is a Kashmiri instrument with seventy two strings and M.S.Raju as well as R.Visweswaran used to play Santoor for MSV.

It was Music Director Naushad, who made people to sit back & take note of this scintillating instrument in the song ‘Mere mehboob thuje’ from the film ‘Mere Mehboob’ (1963), when this instrument attracted attention of many.

The beautiful, reflective santoor used to be common in the BGM of many films, often as a gentle romantic hint in the score during the maiden romantic encounter.

Here is Santoor played by M.S.Raju in the song ‘Aaru maname aaru’ from ‘Andavan Kattalai’ (1964), in MSV-TKR composition.

You can also catch Santoor notes even in Ilayaraja’s ‘Chinna kannan azhaikkiran’ (Kavi Kuyil) in the opening BGM.

Sarangi, a bowed short-neck stringed instrument famed for its close imitation of the human voice, was rarely used in Tamil film songs. But wherever exceptionally used, they lent brilliant emotive grains to the song, as in ‘Ullathil nalla ullam’ from ‘Karnan’ (1964) in the composition of MSV-TKR. For this film MSV had brought musicians from the North.

There is an Instrument called Dilruba/Esraj, from Punjab, which sounds similar to the melancholic strains of Sarangi. The most famous exponent on Dilrupa in Tamil film industry was Dilruba Shanmugham who has played in-numerous scores for legends like MSV and Ilayaraja.

The lilting song, ‘Chinna thai aval’ from Thalapathi by Ilayaraja had Dilruba bits in it.

Sarod, a lute-like instrument from Afghanistan that rose to prominence in the Mughal courts too have featured in films, but exceptionally in Tamil films. The Sarod is highly versatile–when played quickly it can denote excitement and movement, and when plucked slowly it can touch your heart.

Here is a Tamil film song ‘Devan kovil maniyosai’ from the film ‘Mani osai’ (1963) in the music of MSV-TKR where Sarod appears twice in the song, post anthra, just after the flute.

The mesmerizing jugal bandhi between Sitar, Jaltarang and Sarod could be heard in the last portions “Madhuban Mein Radhika” (Kohinoor- 1960), composed by the legend Naushad.

Sitar, a multi-string plucked instrument that influenced the Western pop world in the 1960s (thanks to Pandit Ravi Shankar), when The Beatles and Rolling Stones adopted it. Tamil film music too has used it in songs & BGM.

Mr. Janardhan is a well known Sitar player who had played for film music too.

Sridhar’s ‘Nenjil oar Aalayam’ (1961) featured Sitar in its songs, in the composition of MSV-TKR.

Other notable songs in Tamil with Sitar notes included ‘Kettadhum koduppavane Krishna’ from Deiva Magan (1969) composed by MSV & ‘ennathan ragasiyamo’ from Idhaya Kamalam (1965) composed by K.V.Mahadevan.

Idhaya Kamalam

Song book of Idhaya Kamalam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN RAGASIYAMO PC: From the archives of TCRC

In Hindi, there are many songs featuring Sitar, one of which is the beautiful composition of Salil Chowdhri ‘Oh Sajna’ from the film Parakh.

Another classical based film song in Hindi featuring Sitar was ‘Tere bina zindagi main’ from Andhi composed by R.D.Burman.

Violin, a highly popular bowed four stringed Italian instrument with roots in 16th century Italy, has had global impact, including in orchestral performances of Indian film music, in a big way.

Violins are an integral part of film music orchestration. I’ve listed several songs that highlight its use as a solo instrument, or more commonly as part of a large orchestra seen in numerous Indian film songs.

In each cinema orchestra there will be a ‘First Violinist’ who leads the song along with the vocalist, without over powering the singer. Henry Daniels & V.S.Narasimhan were with MSV-TKR & Ilayaraja, respectively as First Violinists.

Then, of course, the cine orchestra would have a big collection of violinists.

Here are samples of how collective violin players contribute to the compositions. Here is ‘Poga poga theriyum’ from Server Sundaram where violin score has been very briskly & beautifully contrived by the music arrangers.

Shehnai, a double reeded wind instrument made out of wood with wooden flared bell at the other end, has been commonly used in Indian film music.

MSV-TKR had in their orchestra, Satyam whose delectable Shehnai notes could be heard in some of their compositions such as ‘Malai pozhuthin mayakkathile’ (Bagyalakshmi), ‘Avalukkum Thamizh enru paer’ (Panchavarnakili), “Alaya maniyin osaiyai naan’, ‘Ennai yar enru’ (Palum Pazhamum) ‘Kuthu vilakkeriya’ (Pachai Vilakku) & ‘Oru naal iravu’ (Kaviya Thalaivi).

Satyam was an asset to MSV-TKR. There was an episode when recording for Kaviya Thalaivi since MSV could not get what he wanted out of Satyam, resulting in multi takes, Satyam when he retired home after the work denied food from his wife & MSV had to call him up and cajole him!

Oboe, a double reed wood instrument like clarinet, but of treble range of musical notes, has also been used on & off in Tamil Film music.

A classic example is ‘Kanna karumai nira kanna’ from Naanum Oru Penn, in the composition of Sudarsanam in which oboe features.

Flute, an ancient instrument comes in different octaves as well as different pipe construction such as bamboo, metal etc. The traditional bamboo flutes of different sruthis (tonal variations) along with Piccolo Flutes (used in Symphonies) & Shakuhachi (Japanese Flutes) have been associated with pastoral compositions in Indian films.

MSV-TKR had an important orchestra member in Nanjundappa, the flautist. Listen to one of his chirpy works in the very beautifully composed melody ‘Indha manrathil oadi varum’ (Policekaran Magal).

In ‘Chingari Koi Bhadke’ – Amar Prem, composed by R.D.Burman, one can hear the rich & moving notes of a Bansuri flute of bamboo make usually used to signify a tragic or devotional flavours, transporting the listener to a different world.

Who can forget the beautiful flute piece in ‘Chinna kannan azhaikkiran’ (Kavi Kuyil) composed by Ilayaraja, as it seamlessly takes over from the Santoor bit & vioilin serande in the song.

‘Naan manthoppil’ by L.R.Easwari in the film ‘Enga veettu pillai’ (1965) features the shrill Picollo flute which has very high registry.

There are innumerable Tamil film songs embodying delectable flute notes, which are very pleasurable to listen but it would be impractical to mention all of them.

We will continue discussing more of the exotic musical instruments used in our films in our next posting too.

 

Filmy Ripples- Exotic Instruments in Film music – Part 1

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

If you have found yourself listening to old Tamil film music and felt like you attain absolute ecstasy from the mosaic of sounds that the blend of various musical instruments produced, pleasing your eardrums, we know exactly how you felt!

From traditional Indian instruments to the exotic instruments from various parts of the globe, the music composers of Tamil screen composed their lilting music. In fact, by virtue of music composers like A. R. Rahman having become a global player, such globalization in music has brought some very exotic musical instruments such as Balalaika, Cajon, Harpejji etc to our door step.

The track record of Tamil film music goes much beyond the music directors & playback artistes who literally lived them. The immaculate talents of extremely talented musicians, who never were known to the listeners at large, deserved the credit of the lively compositions we cherish even to-date. The fruits of their creativity is an ever lasting a gift to the current & future generations of music-lovers.

In order that we appreciate those highly talented music makers of the Tamil screen, we must know about the various musical instruments they used in their breezy compositions, under the direction of music directors.

Here in this Article, we will have a ringside view of the various musical cine-orchestral music instruments along with links to videos and songs wherein these were used, particularly in Tamil films till the early seventies. However, we will eschew Accordion since we have already devoted a special Article on that.

Univox organ:

In old Tamil films the organs used to produce musical notes similar to the mighty church organs. Since then the organs have gone through a long history of evolving & development resulting in today’s one-man orchestra provided by the modern electronic keyboards.

Listen to ‘Ennai alum Mary matha’ by P.Leela from Missiyamma (1955), in the composition of veteran S. Rajeswara Rao, where the beginning music is of the organ.

 Bagpipes:

These are wind instruments using enclosed reeds, fed from a ‘bag’, which acts as the reservoir of air. The player keeps pumping air orally into the ‘bag’ as he plays. So, the difference between any wind instrument & bagpipe is that unlike the other wind instruments which are blown into with air directly from the player’s lungs, bagpipes receive air first into its bag from where it goes to the pipes. Though Bagpipe is predominantly seen as a Scottish instrument, bagpipes have been played for over a millennium throughout other large parts of the West.

I have not come across a bagpipe being used in any Tamil film songs. Though someone said, it has been used by K.V.Mahadevan in the song ‘Thottu vida thottuvida thodarum’, on a careful listening, I find, the bits resembling Bagpipes are in fact produced by the Organ of those times known as Univox.

As far as my information goes, Bagpipes were used only in the Raj Kapoor film Sangam (Music by Shankar Jaikishen) in the song ‘Bol Radha Bol Sangam’.

Banjo:

A plucked stringed instrument, which originated in Africa & got adopted in the country music of USA.  Banjo had not been very widely used in Tamil film music but there are specific songs where this has been used. For instance, MSV-TKR had used Banjo in few of their compositions & the one we have here for citing is ‘Ennathan nadakkum nadakkattume’, from ‘Pana Thottam’ (1963), where the string instrument you hear is a Banjo.

Ennathan nadakkum(Panathottam)

Song book of Pana Thottam with the page containing the song ENNATHAN NADAKKUM NADAKATTUME    PC: From the archives of TCRC

Bongos:

These are Afro-Cuban percussion instruments consisting of a pair of small, open bottomed drums of different sizes & played by fingers & palm.

Indian films till the sixties used this percussion instrument very frequently in the compositions. In fact instruments such as Accordion, Bongos & Mandolin ruled the roost In Tamil film compositions prior to seventies but became slowly extinct as there was a paradigm shift to the music genre & compositions. MSV-TKR had used Bongos in very many memorable songs. Ganesh (of Shankar-Ganesh Duo) who was a formidable member of MSV’s orchestra played Bongos.

Some of the songs using Bongos for percussion that deeply rooted in my mind include ‘Ullam enbathu aamai’, ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’, ‘Poga poga theriyum’ & ‘Silai eduthan oru sinna ponnukku’.

Here is ‘Pesuvathu kiliya’ from Deiva Thai, composed by MSV-TKR with the Bongo beats.

In ‘Silai eduthan oru china pennukku’ (Server Sundaram) too you get to hear percussion beats of Bongos.

Silai eduthan(Server Sundaram)

Song book of Server Sundaram with the page containing the song SILAI EDUTHAN ORU CHINNA PENNUKKU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Castanets:

 These are rhythmic percussion instrument comprising of a pair of concave shells joined on one edge by a string, originating from Turkey. O.P.Nayyar had used it often in his compositions. It is a hand held instrument used to produce clicks for rhythmic accents or a ripping or rattling sound consisting of a rapid series of clicks.

Here is a Tamil composition by MSV-TKR in the song ‘Pillaikku thanthai oruvan’ from ‘ Parthal Pasi Theerum’ (1962)., where you can hear the rhythmic wooden clap sounds produced by Castanets.

You can spot castanets in few other Tamil songs too such as ‘Kelvi piranthathu anru’ (Pachai Vilakku), the music director being MSV-TKR.

Kelvi Piranthathu(Pachai Vilakku)

Song book of Pachai vilakku with the page containing the song KELVI PIRANTHATHU ANDRU     PC: From the archives of TCRC

 Cello:

It is a four stringed bass instrument originated from Italy in 17th century, looking like a giant violin (held while playing against the seated cellist and traditionally played with a horsehair bow), has been used routinely in many Tamil Film Songs. However, due to its ‘Bass’ tone structure it has a low tonal registry & may not be heard separately unless played singly in the songs.

In ‘Silar sirippar silar azhuvar’ song from ‘Pava Mannippu’ (1960), composed ny MSV-TKR you can hear Cello.

In ‘Enge nimmadhi’ song  (‘Puthiya Paravai’ – 1963) too, one can distinctly hear Cello in the opening music just prior to the vocal of TMS.

Guitar:

A typically six stringed instrument with European roots with a multitude of incarnations from acoustic to electric, has featured commonly in many film songs.

Tamil Cinema has had amazing Guitarists such as Dhanraj Master, Philip, Ilayaraja, Chandrasekhar, Gangai Amaran & R.Visweswaran.  Of these, the last named late Visweswaran (husband of danseuse Chithra Visweswaran) was a close friend & college-mate of this writer. Visweswaran himself was an expert Guitarist who could play Flamenco genre music & had played for R.D.Burman.

Veteran Guitarist Philip debuted in the M.K.Radha starred Gemini produced film “Apoorva Sahodarargal’ (1949), introduced by the legendary Music Director S. Rajeswara Rao. Since that Philip had played for K.V. Mahadevan, Viswanathan – Ramamurthy, Sathyam and V. Kumar. Hindi music directors from Bombay such as Hemant Kumar, Madan Mohan, Chitragupta and Ravi wanted Philips to migrate to Mumbai. Philip, an autodidact, now in his eighties, was considered a genius. His guitar pieces were predominant in many Tamil film hits including  ‘Aha mella nada mella nada (Pudiya paravai), ‘Vannakili sonna mozhi’ (Deiva Thai), ‘Malar enra mugam onru’ (Kathalikka neramillai),  “Aval paranthu ponale’ (Paar magale paar), ‘Avalukkenna Azhagiya mugam’ (Server Sundaram), ‘Anubhavam pudumai’ (Kathalikka neramillai), ‘Aada varalaam’’ (Karuppu Panam).

In an Article by V. Balasubramanian titled “Harmony with strings” in The Hindu dated 27.4.2014, the author wrote “MSV during his heydays was a hard taskmaster who would leave no stone unturned till he gets what he wanted. During a particular recording, that started at 7 a.m, the work went on till next day morning. Philips pleaded with MSV to let him go but in vain. Finally, when it was pack up, Philips had to rush directly from the recording studio to the church where his wedding was to take place.“ This writer has had the opportunity of meeting this genius along with R.Visweswaran in early sixties.

“Ilaiya nila pozhigirathu” (Payanangal Mudivathillai) composed by Ilayaraja & rendered by SPB has ample guitar bits, played by Guitarist Chandrasekhar. As per an Interview by SPB, Ilayaraja had well over twenty retakes to get the Guitarist play those difficult Flamenco Notes to his full satisfaction. The results were obvious in the song!

We will continue discussing more of the exotic musical instruments used in our films in our next posting.

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.

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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