When I read recently once again Saravanan’s Malarum Ninaivugal series on V Kumar I was so impressed by his narrative (as always). As I felt the time is appropriate on SOTD 1000 celebrations, incidentally with a VK song, I thought it fit to share with you my meetings with VK.
The human side of VK is also as fascinating as his melodies from my personal experiences with the distinguished composer of merit. I was indeed among the fortunate few who had met and discussed the songs composed by him on three occasions.
The first one, when I was in late teens, quite precisely the time Nadagamey ulagam was released and the songs became hits , some time in 1979. I had seen VK in many DD Mellisai programmes waving his hands conducting the orchestra. Probably VK was the only MD who was actively working for films and simultaneously conducting light music programmes for Doordarshan and this had aroused my curiosity to meet him one day. I got his address from the telephone directory and confirmed it . VK family was in Saravana (Mudali) street , (the Saravana connections had started then itself), T Nagar. Out of curiosity to see a music director and talk to him for the first time, I just gatecrashed his residence. It was Mrs. Swarna who received me first. I introduced me as … ‘avarudaiya rasigan, avarkitta konjam pEsanum “. Swarna must have had some misgivings in admitting a boy inside but somehow conveyed the matter to VK who was inside. Ah! First time in my life I was meeting a music director! VK called me inside - his face showing no signs of curiosity or his apprehensions about the intentions of a stranger – “sollunga thambhi” . I started talking about just the sweetness of his songs in Neerkumizhi, Naanal, Edhirneechal, Major Chandrakant, Bommalattam (particularly Nee aada aada azhagu), Noottrukku nooru, Arangetram, Thaen sindhudhey vaanam, Annapoorani and finally about Naadagamey Ulagam. I was too young to talk the nuances in his compositions or the intricacies of orchestral arrangements in his songs but simply said very good melodies. When I mentioned about the shades of raag Maru Bihag in Sapthaswaram punnagaiyil kandEn, VK showed little interest and dismissed ..”enna pottu enna, padam odalaiye!”. I could not discuss further and I casually mentioned that I wanted to see one of his song recordings… how kind he was! …he called Prasad studios ….”namba friend (!) oruthar varuvaar …konjam ulla vittudunga”. He directed me to Prasad Studios. The noteworthy aspect here is that VK did not even check my credentials.
All alone, I went to Prasad Studios….and there ..aaha! I was in for a big surprise! the song recording was not his ….but it turned out to be that of IR! The song recording of Karaiyellam shenbagapoo…for the song Kalyan Raman Cuckoo raman…I had the opportunity to witness an IR recording unexpectedly though the song was of a very mediocre variety. But seeing IR’s orchestra, his composing, his way of dictating notes, the awe that his presence permeated in the ambience…the pin-drop silence in IR’s presence …I was dumb-struck throughout. SPB and SJ entering the studios, the song lyricist Gangai Amaran clad in black dhoti (on his pilgrimage trip to Sabharimala), SPB and GA engaging in banter, GA retorting back …(can one witness these scenes now?)…and all these I enjoyed thanks to the kind VK. Above all, I could engage in a small chat with that energetic but a serious assistant MD andha sivagami magan R Govardhan! RG showed a little surprise when I spoke about his songs. He told me, of all the songs he had worked with MSV-TKR he would cherish only ‘Oru naaL iravil kann urakkam pidikkavillai…(PS/Panathottam)... sweet memories.
Perhaps VK did not have his song recording that day but he did not even ask me to come another day for this. Throughout my conversation with VK, he remained a gentle, calm and a very soft-spoken person. A well-composed composer!
Here let me give you a brief account on the Light Music scene in Chennai in the 80s. With IR ruling the roost and churning out melody after melody in film after film that was released during the 80s, and with IR and SPB holding sway over both with the young and the old alike, and with actor Mohan seen in films holding a mike singing in orchestra, light music was a rage and there was this urge mainly with the youngsters to either start or join in an orchestra. The advent of Electronic key board synthesizer in the mid-80s with so many facilities within made conducting light music programmes much easier than before where conducting light music troupes was a very strenuous affair running after the instrument players, having repeated rehearsals, etc . The keyboard replaced the accordion, violins, flute, trumpet, saxophone and the shahnai and thus more than 50% of the orchestra it covered. What remained was mainly the rhythms section and and finding a few players was not all that difficult. Just a keyboard or two key boards, a lead guitar, drums and a tabla with just three singers constituted a light music troupe. The public address system was the only other essential accessory and several audio shops equipped themselves with the light music requirements and were in terrible demand. Many harmonium players started trying their hands at learning keyboard. And what started as college culturals by the Presidency college students Laxman and Mayilsamy, both mimicry artistes, by the overwhelming responses they received wherever they performed, formed a light music troupe under the name Laxman-Mayilsami sruti in 1987 and went on to become very popular within a year’s time. Enthused by the stupendous success of this duo within a short span of time every Tom, Dick and Harry started light music troupes and named Tom sruthi, Dick sruthi and Harry sruti a la L- M sruthi. To every aspirant who started a light music troupe, IR-SPB songs became the food and fodder that they consumed to their hearts’ content. Again, this gave rise to the proliferation of many light music troupes by amateurs then. But on the whole, the light music scene was very bright.
It was against this background that I wished to start a light music troupe but my idea right from the beginning was to present vintage melodies that I heard and enjoyed in Radio Ceylon to be alternated with IR’s latest hits and of course, raga-based. And this was in 1989. There was so much of encouragement from friends and well-wishers. Vidwan Madurai G S Mani introduced me to the audience during his programme on film music at Bharat Kalachar sabha run by the YGPs. Within the next few days the date for my inaugural programme was fixed. I attended some popular light music shows to gain first hand knowledge about the players and singers. Most troupes as already said had their repertoires filled with IR-SPB songs only. I engaged in small conversation with the troupe conductors in all the programmes I attended and sadly I found none to be very passionate about film music and lo! they looked at you a total stranger if you talked about songs of 50s. I was in a total fix then as to whom should I approach for regular professional instrument players as I did not know any one of them in close quarters. I felt I should consult a film music director. As I have already met him once, I thought of meeting VK and went to his house to consult him. VK was in the same Saravana Mudali Street house. This time also Mrs Swarna only received me. But how could she remember a boy who visited their house a decade back. Same reason I told…avarudaiya rasigan, avarai paarthu koncham pEsanum. I was indeed very lucky - each time I went to his house VK was available and no other visitor was also there. The same VK whom I met ten years back, no curiosity in his eyes. When I reminded him of our last meeting he just nodded recalling with a vague remembrance. I straightaway put before him…sir, I want to start a light music troupe, can you please allow your instrument players to come and play for my programmes also? He did not ask me any questions but immediately gave me a phone number to contact and assured me that this person would do the needful. I thanked him and returned. That, later I contacted the person, fixed up a grand orchestra, Ragapravaham was born,gave a grand inaugural programme on the 26th August 1989, is a different story. I sent an invitation to VK for my inaugural programme.
That was VK! Thinking back, how naïve I was to have approached an MD who had a glorious innings in tfm for help and how magnanimous he proved to be on both the occasions. Would any other MD have done this, I wonder.
The third time I met VK was in 1994.
This time as a consultant to a TV production unit which produced Parampariyathai Nokki for Sun TV. The same unit planned to produce a serial called Paalam. The concept behind ‘Paalam’ was to discuss the ragas handled by the MDs with the concerned MDs themselves as to what influenced them to compose in a particular raga for a particular song. I was very fortunate to be part of that team that I had a very close interaction with veterans like S V Venkataraman, S Rajeswara Rao, KVM, TKP, Vijayabhaskar (all were alive then), MSV, Shankar – Ganesh, Chandrabose, Gangai Amaran and even IR.
When it was VK’s turn, we took an appointment with him and went to his house (the same house). VK could not recognize me immediately as five years had passed since our last meeting. I reminded him the meetings and thanked him for all the help he did. My position in the team gave me the courage to ask VK this…why KB never called him after Arangetram when they both were very successful partners in many films….he wryly remarked, “he is a big businessman, he will be like that only”.
The team narrated him the concept. VK gave a patient hearing. He minced no words in giving his opinion on the concept…”indha conceptla enakku udanpaadu illai…ennai idhula sethukkaadheenga…idhai paththi naan onnum soldradhukku illai…mannichukkunga”…VK was very forthright in his views. I was taken aback but at the same time my admiration for VK grew up several times. The team did try to convince him but could not and returned.
That was VK!
Those whom Gods love die young!