Conversations with M.S.V - Part II

By Sriram Lakshman

Recollecting details of all past meetings with the composer……

MSV’s attempts at taking a stab at the past, went into the Golden age of Hindi Film Music on that occasion. “
Naushad enakku deivam mAthiri” is an admiration laden starting point. Naushad’s music in “anmOl ghadi (HFM buffs will remember “Awaz de kahan hai”, set to pahadi, sung by Noorjehan and Surendra), Ratan, Udan Khatola, Baiju Bawra, aan”, he says, elevated him to ecstatic states. He fondly recollects the days of waiting on tenterhooks for the release of a Naushad Album. Interesting to note that he included “Aan” which had “Muhabbat jhoomE jinkE sAth”, rendered by Rafi, the pallavi of which, though set to a slightly different meter, was applied to kick-start the hugely famous “senthamizh thEn mozhiyAL” in mAlayitta mangai (1957). The fact that Naushad re-used the same meter for his “huE hum jinkE liyE barbAd” again by Rafi in Deedar is a different matter altogether. As an aside, this song endeared itself to PBS, enough for him to use it during his audition test.

Have you heard ‘poomAlayil Or malligai’?“ is the question he interrupts the flow with. Oh of course !!! He goes onto sing the pallavi of “thoo mErA chAnd main thErI chAndnI” again, composed by Naushad. He follows this by singing the swarams for the flute interlude. There seems to be this familiar twist to this phrase and it reminds one of…..the “shake” in the pallavi of “poomAlayil Or malligai”… the word “poomAlayil”. He goes on, “ithu thAn composing” with a mischevious glint in his eyes. I marveled at how a simple twist could lay the foundation for a “melody” strong duet that would warm the bosoms of even the greatest music haters.

What about the story behind the other classic in the same movie (Ooty varai uravu), “thEdinEn vanthathu” ? It is well known that the song, much like what happens with every Sridhar movie, was squeezed in at the very last minute, in a hurry. MSV reflects, “
There is a slight twist to that tale. Actually the tune and the BGMs had been approved by Sridhar. P. Susheela had been brought in and the rehearsels had also been completed but a nervous Sridhar, unconsciously biting his nails, appeared less than pleased all of a sudden. His peeve was that the tune could have a different flavour. So out went the tune.” The tune and the orchestral embellishments had to be done all over again, except that MSV preferred to compose the tune on a piano. The whole process, I was told, was over in 20 minutes flat. A great number with the sangathi at “vAsalil” reflecting the composer’s sense of improvisation and placement of musical phrases. The start of the charanam is not predictable and the charanams loop back to the pallavi with a humming for rendering the “seamless” feel.

He flips back to the Bollywood mode and cannot stop talking about his closeness to composers Jaikishen and R.D. Burman, the latter, especially. I interject with citing an example of composing style of Naushad creeping in, in the song “thanga mOgana thAmarayE” in puthayal. Interesting to note that Naushad composed a similar sounding number, after the release of puthayal…can't seem to recollect it now. Will furnish details later. Hastening to add that Naushad finds a place in my musical heart as well and my intentions are farthest from besmirching Naushad’s reputation as one of the very important building blocks of Indian Film Music. An affirmative nod is the response followed by “
irukkum. Quite naturally”.

OK, then…how did the MSV idiom of music evolve? FYI, CR Subburaman had been confined to the hospital wards for a long time and the onus of composing for Devadas and Chandi Rani had fallen on MSV. In a way, MSV inherited CR Subburaman’s troupe, in which, TK Ramamurthy was the lead violinist. “Moving away from the composing styles of mama (KV Mahadevan) and G Ramanatha Iyer was foremost in my mind when I was pitchforked in, as an independent composer. This is the reason why, when you listen to title music of a movie, you can brand it as a KVM, GR or a MSV-TKR movie. We had distinct styles and different perspectives on music”. He gesticulates a lot when he says that. Was that the reason he chose atAna for ‘varugirAr unnaithhEdI’ in thangapathumai? This raga had not been used much (or not at all used) by his fellow composers until then. KVM’s atAnA ‘yAr tharuvAr intha ariyAsanam’ came in much later. Hmmm….not much of a response, he shocked himself by recollecting the song. The song had been forgotten totally !!!

Melody is the soul for music” is his motto. Gives me an opportunity to sneak in the cheeky “What about your ‘attitude’ towards raga based melody ? I for sure cannot discern any intentions of your consciously incorporating a raga, except in a few cases”. MSV answers “The bhAvam of the lyrics will need to be brought out in a musical/melodic form. This may nor may not result in a raga. For instance, if you notice traces of Desh in ‘sinthu nathiyinmisai’ it is purely coincidental. Many vidwans have confronted me on this issue and I have always maintained that infusing something ‘new’ had been my central/core theme.

He says he was told that Bharathi muttered the words while putting them across on paper and MSV only mimicked him, introducing pauses after the word nilavinilE merely for taking breath. KS Gopalakrishnan ‘froze’ on what he thought could make it as a tune. Thus was born the tune for ‘sinthu nathiyin misai’. Couldn’t help flaunting my accumulated knowledge on his compositions at this juncture and promptly interjected “‘androru nALilE nilavil’ (from nAdOdI ) is yet another more or less pure Desh composition”. Patted myself on the back following MSV’s gleeful acknowledgement.

I do not yet have answers for those songs where tunes made it first, or for that matter, cases where Kannadasan’s pre-written pallavis enthused the composer to create the tunes for the charanams…to be written by Kannadasan !!! “
Neenga sollunga. pattathhu rANI pArkkum pArvai….mettukku kavithaiyA, kavithaikku mettA ?” ..that was a question thrown at me for which I promptly chose the latter. This was primarily because of MSV’s proven ability to obliterate the inherent santhams within a poetry and imposing his own. I thought that this song was yet another instance of ‘meter demolition’. I was incorrect here, I was told, much to my surprise. Pride was evident when he said “enga pAttula (songs composed with Kannadasan) meter-ukku matter-A matter-ukku meter-A endru solla mudiyAthu”.

What about songs like ‘oru nAL iravu’ set to Rasikapriya (72nd Mela) to some and Sumanesa Ranjini to a few others ? More or less the same sequence of notes were used for the peppy ‘indru vantha intha mayakkam’. He appeared quite clueless about Sumanesa Ranjini, he had not heard about it at all !! He did not know the raga the 2 songs were set to !! But I had one last ace up my sleeve. Karnan !!! All songs were set to ragas, I thought, consciously. Ragas like Hamsanandi, Ananda Bhairavi, Gambeera Nattai, Sahana, Pilu, suthha Saveri/Arabi, Behag, Saranga Tharangini, Pure Neelambari and Karaharapriya,Chakravakam had been used to infuse ‘musical’ life into the ‘never to be forgotten’ lyrics by Kannadasan. Certainly, some amount of thinking must have gone into the compositions. I promise the readers, I will get a convincing answer from the composer very soon on this, as the response was, I thought, not ‘weighty’ enough then. It was “T
he Hindustani style of presenting a melody has always captivated me. Karnan was one movie where I could take the plunge headlong and hence you had ‘Pahadi’ (kaNNukku kulamEthu) as Northies would like to hear. I had to bring in Hidustani music instrumentalists from Bombay, like Bismillah Khan (Shehnai) and (I forgot) Seth (Sarangi)”. Actually, an expected luke warm answer from a composer who forgets his own creations and cannot realize his own worth. This accusation of mine, with overtones of frustration was communicated to him for which a hearty laugh was the answer !!!

“Now for a quiz” I continued , “ ‘anubavam puthumai’ padathhil varum PBS-PS duet enna pallavi” . Eventually, I had to sing out the pallavi to him for which he remarked “
neenga pAda pAdathhAn gyabagam varuthu” !!! .

Interviewing this gentleman involves bringing in his assistants who could help him reconstruct the scenario(s) during song compositions. This is what I intend to do. A friend and I did contact Mr. Visweswaran (Chitra Visweswaran’s husband), (he had functioned as an assistant to MSV and had witnessed songs of Karnan and kAthalikka nEramillai being recorded ) as a prelude to what I had in mind. Imagine Lalgudi Jayaraman’s frustration when he tried determining the raga for ‘malligai en mannan mayangum’, failed and had to put it through to Subbudu !!!

Mention of PBS’ and PS’ names veered the conversation towards singers yet again. MSV is quite grateful as he acknowledges the contribution of singers. He recalls, ‘Dandapani Desikar had a superb voice but he was not quite comfortable with complex sangathis. TMS’ strength was his clear diction, voice and his ability to relate to the situation. Oru kOdi rupees koduthhAlum TMS’-ukku abaswaram varAthu. (wah! Wah! What a certificate)). Susheela, Janaki, Balu, Easwari , PBS have all played their parts well. Sometimes I keep a singer in mind while composing for an actor but most of the time, I will need to go by the dictates of the tune. surukkamA sonnA, ‘kuruvi thalayil panaga vekka koodAthu’ (I am sure he said this during another interview). This was the situation I was faced with, because of which I had to make PBS sing for MGR in ‘neeyO nAnO yAr nilavE’ in mannAthi mannan”.

A discerning listener will certainly concur with MSV on this. Please give this song a hear and enjoy the lucid ‘PBS birkas’ that the tune yearns for. TMS had been MGR’s choice for this song as the other MGR songs ‘achham enbathu madamayadA’ , ‘AdAtha manamum uNdO’ and ‘kaniya kaniya mazhalai pEsum’ had had TMS at his very best voice. But are we glad that MGR did relent in this case !!! He had tried out KJ Yesudoss in the mid sixties as well….’nenjathhai aLLi konjam thA thA’, ‘enna pArvai’, ‘alangAram kalaiyAtha’, ‘suvai ethilE’ etc. ‘
Balu, without notating can sing with precision what singers with swara gyanam cannot. I have seen singers parsing tunes into swarams and fumbling but with Balu…never has that happened ‘ , ‘ with Dr. BMK and Vani Jeyaram I can stretch into the reserves of my composing repertoire while carving out a tune and feel confident that justice will be done to it. I was the first one to suggest to KJY to learn music formally. Same was the case with Mandolin Srinivas as well” are some miscellaneous remarks punctuating our conversation. MSV had noted that U.Srinivas was too good to play for movies and felt that he could be South’s answer to the Mandolin genius of the North, Sajjad Husain. Sajjad was an ace film music composer as well, who, but for his uncompromising nature and sharp tongue could have exposed us to new paradigms in composing. He breathed his last a some years back, an unsung hero, whose best compositions remained unsung.

A few more, like “CS Jayaraman, Tiruchy Loganathan, Seerkazhi, TMS etc had what you call as a Tamil voice. Powerful!!! Even Naushad in an event in Shanmukananda hall wanted ‘Odam nathiyinilE’ to be sung and stated often that he relished the song. I was really surprised to find that Naushad had great collection of film songs from all South Indian languages
“ added life to the conversation.

A few more to follow…….
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Part - I