Conversations with M.S.V - Part I
By Sriram Lakshman
M.S.Viswanathan, about whom your’s truly has sung many a paean in the vast corridors of the web world, is a remarkable genius of a composer whose compositions seem to traverse a hitherto unchartered pathway into the interiors of our hearts with minimum of fuss. Often, the sensitive listener is at a loss for words when attempts are made to express the effect. ‘There is a great charm in his compositions’ says our ‘resident’ composer Srikanth. The word ‘charm’ , I suspect conceals a great deal of irritatingly elusive adjectives or expressions yet to be coined in the language world.
There seems to be this air of inevitability to the flow of music here where the compositions seem to have just ‘happened’….and with a lot of underlying passion. This observation by a common listener is further bolstered by testimonies by Visveswaran (yes, Chitra Visveswaran’s husband who worked with MSV and has witnessed several recordings during the composer’s halcyon days, notably ‘kAthalikka nEramillai’ and ‘Karnan’), and several other legendary musical talents of yore. It was this very facet of his composing skills that spurred me on to take a closer look at MSV’s career path right since his ‘Jenovah’ days, which happened even before he had teamed up with TKR. The curiosity was about ‘when it all started happening’ or ‘when the blossoming took place’.
This eventually saw me calling him up during one of my visits to India and requesting him to set aside some time for a casual conversation about his music. A time was agreed upon and the meeting did happen.
I have met him on a few other occasions at his residence to gain a deeper insight into the composer in MSV. An entity that expressed itself through many voices but did not have a voice of its own and pitiably so. Yes, the lack of intent to articulate the nuances of composing or plain and simple……forgetfulness. A frustration laden ‘Oh! Come on give me some pointers atleast’ is the usual response from my inner fretful self. ‘ellAm kadavuL kripai’ is a cliché often thrown at the gleefully accepting TV interviewers.
I was going to have nothing of that and flaunted my exposure to his numbers that lay buried under the sands of the merciless time, only to get past his subtle veneer.
The number I had spoken about first was ‘varavENdum oru pozhuthu in ‘kalaikkOyil’. That seemed to have done the trick , he got up with a start and yelled out to his assistant Guna, ‘pottiya koNdu vA’. The harmonium was promptly ushered in and chords that were not in the track flowed out in cascades as he sang the song (with incorrect lyrics ofcourse :)….’varavENdum oru nilavu’ ….it went. ‘You said you were from America. Where did you hear this number?’ was another surprise laden response. I had this ‘you ain’t seen nothin’ yet’ look on my face and let loose another number from the same movie….’muLLil rOjA’ sung by LRE with PBS interjecting with his humming , a most exhilarating exhibition of humming. This seemed to have floored him, he did rake his memory and quite a bit and said “ ‘ kaNmaNI sarOjA’ appadi varum illE “.
He seemed to have lost himself in the endearing nostalgic memories of the past after my affirmative nod. Goodness !!! It required somebody half his age to remind him of a composition for his own home production. PBS told me that so intoxicated was MSV with the humming bit, that he was requested to sing through it for all the musicians again after the recording.
‘unga compostions-il santhangaL romba vithhiyAsamA irukkE’….I quoted ‘angam puthu vitham azhaginil oru vitham’ , ‘azhagiya thamizh magaL ivaL’ as examples (to which the ‘bolt out of the blue’ question was ‘neenga Kannadasan abimAnI thAnE?’. Even a hardended KD critic would have nodded his head in agreement as a reflex action, (considering the great sense of seriousness)).
My question to him was ‘what came first the tune or the words?’. MSV’s reply was not unpredictable. “‘meter-ukku matter-a illa matter-ukku meter-a?’ enbathu kavignarum nAnum mun koottiyE discuss seyyAthathu. It all depended upon who arrived at the studio first.”
I am reminded now of an incident narrated to me in one of the conversations. The movie was ‘pOlice kAran magaL’. MSV arrived first for Sridhar to present him with the ‘song situation’. The melody tuned was ‘ponnenbEn siru poovenbEn. Kannadasan was his usual nonchalant self when asked to do his bit for the song. ‘kAthal duet-a? athAn athhAn pothhAn mayiru mattai ezhuthiyAchhE. innumA ?’. Sridhar’s response ‘ithu different situation aNNE….’ seemed to satisfy the kavignar. He continued with ‘ennadA ViswanathA …thathhagAram thariyA illai nAn sollattumA?’. MSV it seems sang the tune for the kavignar only for the audience to get bamboozled as words incessantly flowed for the meters dished out, at times even taking the lead. The tune was modified a wee bit to accommodate the words that ‘happened’.
Now, back to the conversation, ‘azhagiya thamizh magaL ivaL……tune mothalla pOttathu’. Much against the relentlessly stubborn MGR’s wishes had the song been squeezed in . The resultant ‘hit’ status of the song was used by MSV in his future assignments to have his way with MGR. An instance where Sivaji did a MGR was narrated to me. The song was ‘ponmagaL vanthAL except the reason for the rejection was different… ‘The charanams sound like thiruppugazh to me’. How glad now are we that the composer and the director looked past the imposing presence of Sivaji !!!!
‘PBS oru sagAptham’ is the reflex answer that comes out when the crooner’s name is mentioned. He continues “Listen to PBS’ songs for every composer including me. The melody that he sings becomes his, ceases to be the composer’s.” Afterall, MSV overwhelmed by emotions after PBS ‘rolled’ his way through ‘udalukku uyir kAval’, is supposed to have stated ‘aNNE ithukku appuram unga rate Ethhareenga’. PBS till date recollects the incident and cherishes the memory. Well, what about the extra bits that singers like PBS and SPB seemed to be adding ? That does not seem to be in sync with his ‘avar ninaithhathu vara varaikkum vida mAttAr’ image. He nods in total agreement to the second statement and further adds ‘en manasula irukkarathai avargaL (singers) kodukkara varaikkum vida mAttEn. ithukku thAn nAnE singers-ai train paNNuvEn. No assistants here.’ . He goes on to add that when the singer’s improvs bettered his own ideas, he did accommodate them. ‘Balu-virrku swara gnyanam kidaiyAthu, kELvI gnyanam romba jAsthI. sila vAttI avanE pOttuduvAn (the sangathis). Oru vAttI pAdi kAmithhAl appadiyE pAdi viduvArgAL…..athu thAn Balu, athu thAn LR Easwari’. Well, praises galore for these singers.
His penchant for usage of wind instruments has always stood out, be it Shehnai, trumpet or sax. The supremely soothing, apt Shehnai piece in ‘AlayamaNiyin Osayai nAn kEttEn’ is a case of Shehnai not sounding like its depressing,dampening self. Yes, couldn’t resist broaching on that. ‘athai vAsithhathu Satyam. nAn ‘OK’ solluvathu varaikkum sAppida mAttAn’. MSV’s recollection was coated with a light-hearted grin. Sathyam is a MSV favourite. He had played along with Bismillah Khan in the movie Karnan (note the double Shehnai in ‘iravum nilavum vaLarattumE’ and Bismillah Khan’s piece in Hamsanandi before PBS sings ‘enna koduppAn’ set to the same raga). The assessment (by MSV) at the end of the recording was ‘en Sathyam avarai (guess who?:) vida siranthavan’.
I have presented only a synopsis of what transpired during our conversations. I will try my level best to keep chipping in with what my memory serves me, when it does. Oh yeah….did I achieve what I set out to achieve ? Well, ‘how’ is the word puts true artistes in a nonplussed state. I confess, I did get tempted into putting it across to MSV and yes, what did I tell you ? Nonplussed state ? Yes, I was right.
(To be continued).
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Part - II