Filmy Ripples – Madras Day, in the eyes of an old movie buff

By P.V. Gopalakrishnan

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.

Naam Iruvar

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.

Miss Malini

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.

Engal Veettu Mahalakshmi

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!

Nenjirukkum Varai

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’.

Sagothari

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.

Bommalattam

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.

Sathu Mirandal

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.

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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”!