Honouring Living Legends

by V N Seetharam - Jul 30, 2015 02:09 AM +05:30 IST
Honouring Living Legends

‘What explains the Indian tradition of not honouring our greats while they are still amongst us?’ And through that question, the author pays a tribute to the legendary duo of Viswanathan-Ramamurthi. 

The recent passing away of T.M.Soundararajan, who through the second half of the twentieth century was synonymous with Tamil film music has prompted me to turn reflective about the times which have, and the creative process which has enriched and enhanced the lives of listeners of popular music. I cannot recall a single day when the then Radio Ceylon did not broadcast some song or other of this versatile singer to entertain people of Tamil origin everywhere and driving them to hyperbolic levels of ecstatic listening pleasure.

He had an unforgettable voice which catapulted so many Tamil film actors to glory. MGR the film-star-turned-politician, owed his success in large measure to the voice of TMS and even today decades after his passing away, TV viewers are kept perennially entertained by clippings of MGR swaying the masses with the voice of Soundararajan.

TMS was to Tamil Cinema what the incomparable Mohammed Rafi was to Hindi Cinema in the north. Rafi’s melodies continue to grip the listeners with a mystic sway and a million emotions of love, pathos, joy and Bhakti in their minds. TMS too had evoked such lofty emotions in listeners. After having entertained the nation for decades, what these musicians got back was very little. Mohammed Rafi should have been conferred the “Dada Saheb Phalke” award for his prolific renderings. TMS, though falling short of Rafi’s versatility, was nevertheless a worthy contender for the same.

Let us introspect how these playback singers have embellished and enriched Indian cinema. It is always a teamwork on the part of the lyricist, the music director and the singer. These three combined, also infuse life into the actor say like Dilip Kumar or Shammi Kapoor while rendering a “Door se Musafir” or “Yeh Duniya Usiki” or in Dev Anand in the many incredible songs of a film like Guide.

The said actors have all been immortalized by the songs of playback singers like Rafi, who in turn sang to the melodies created by stalwarts like Naushad, O.P.Nayyar, Burman, Shankar Jaikishan, etc. In fact, some times film stars are remembered for their acted “renderings” of such songs.

Shammi Kapoor is always associated in our minds only with his songs of Rafi. It is a great symbiotic relationship between the actor and the playback singer. The role of the singer is great in inscribing the image of the actor though he remains in his humble unseen background along with the lyricist and the music director. Music directors like Naushad, Nayyar, Burman, Roshan, C.Ramachandra, Gulam Mohamed, Shankar-Jaikishan, Kalyanji-Anandji and a host of others, are thankfully being remembered strangely by the TV news channels like CNN-IBN, Headlines Today, Times Now etc with their “Affairs to Remember” types of programmes bringing back to life the versatility, vibrancy and beauty of the perennial melodies of the “team of three” — singer, lyricist and music director with grace and sophistication.

Now let us turn our attention to Tamil cinema. Tamil cinema music of the fifties and sixties was in many ways as glorious and impressive as its Hindi counterpart. Film songs were central to what is referred to as the ‘golden years’ of Tamil cinema. An unforgettable three decades of lilting and lingering music born out of the combined efforts of lyricists like Kannadasan, Vali, Marudakasi, Ku.Ma.Balasubramnyam, Pattukottai Kalyanasundarma, and many more. That period also saw the emergence of great music directors like S.M.Subbiah Naidu, G.Ramanathan.D.Sudhrshan, K.V.Mahadevan,Veda, A.M.Rajah (who was also one or our melodious singers) and above all Viswanathan-Ramamurthi.

Ramamurthi, who was in his nineties, passed away recently. Fortunately for all of us, Viswanathan is still in our midst. Viswanathan, whose career as a musician began in the late forties is perhaps the greatest of Tamil film music directors. Many of his hits were with the combination of his senior partner Ramamurthi.

But M.S.Vishwanathan, on his own, was extraordinarily prolific and is a living legend and an institution by himself. What Naushad was to Hindi cinema M.S.Vishwanathan is to Tamil films. Now reverting to TMS, who “sang” to the music and lyrics of all those mentioned above, is no more. One laments that this great singer got very little by way of state and national recognition.

Let not the same fate befall on the greatest living legend of Tamil Cinema M.S.Vishwanathan. He, who has singularly enriched Film Music and provided everlasting melodies to the Tamil people, should be rewarded with the highest of National Awards like Bharat Ratna and the Dada Saheb Phalke award. Let us show gratitude to people while they are alive. Persons like M.S.Viswanathan come once in a hundred years.It is my earnest appeal through this columns to awaken the public and the authorities to act quickly and reward a great music director like M.S.Vishwanathan.

Afterword

The above article was written almost two years ago. Now that he is gone there remains a nostalgic poignancy combined with a deep sense of sorrow that the honours due to such a magnificent music director had not been bestowed on him when he was alive. The same sentiments were also echoed by the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha who lamented the lack of recognition that was long overdue to Viswanathan.

Unlike public memory which is short when it comes to corruption, scams and political impropriety, film music is vibrant and has a perennially abiding quality in our collective memory. Almost a hundred songs from the forties to the sixties and seventies of the last century would be the never-to-be-forgotten epitaphs of the musicians, actors and the composers.

In this sense, the world of film music has a history and sanctity which will be remembered for generations to come. Political chicanery, corruption and many ugly episodes we witness in the Parliament and the brood of politicians will all fade away while the memory of a Viswanathan, Naushad and Mohamed Rafi will be inscribed forever as long as we have ears to listen and eyes to see.

M.S.Viswanathan had entertained the Tamil cinema world for almost five decades from the late forties till late nineties. His versatility was first noticed By S.M.Subbiah Naidu, who was the music director of the blockbuster film of the day Shakuntala starring M.S.Subbulakshmi and the inimitable G.N.Balasubramaniyam in the mid-forties.

For days on end, the great music director Subbiah Naidu just could not set one song to the tune of his satisfaction. It was by sheer accident he heard the young M.S.V, who was in his early teens playfully singing the lead song “Pudu Vasanthamame Vazhvile” with his harmonium with such ease and a freshness that it was a lightning jolt to the master. The story goes that Naidu extracted a promise from the young M.S.V. that he would never reveal that he was the real composer, a promise never betrayed. Later in life Naidu could not bear the folly of hiding such a monumental event in the life of an upcoming and struggling youngster of Viswanathan’s talent and proclaimed that it was indeed M.S.Viswanathan who deserved the credit for the lead song and this openness and frank admission by such a person of Naidu’s integrity earned the gratitude of M.S.V. and it was his magnanimity that had helped S.M.Subbiah Naidu in his last days.

M.S.V. was like R.D.Burman, a great singer. His rendering of Sabarimala Iyyappan songs are unique, and he was also a versatile actor who had played a few roles in films later on. It is indeed a great pity that a musician who had brought so much joy with his divine gift had not received any of the honours or awards set aside exclusively to perpetuate the memory of such great men.

For people of my generation, he will remain ever fresh and etched in our hearts for the sheer listening pleasure he had brought for us. Right from the days of one of the greatest and memorable Tamil movies “Devadas” till his last phase in life, his was a gentle and abiding presence. None of us can ever forget the combination of Kannadasan perhaps the greatest film lyricist of the century and the winsome duo Viswanathan-Ramamurthi, who had enriched and enhanced the lives of many. That he had lived during our times has added value to our lives.

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