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From: bb on: Tue Jul 19, 2005 10:24 pm
Song of the Day: thoongaayO duraiyE from raji en kaNmaNi.
Listen to the song
- Saravanan writes:
Sung by Ravu Balasaraswathi
Lyrics by ‘sangu’ Subramaniam
Music by Gemini Music Party, headed by Saaluri Hanumantha Rao.
* * * *
Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie City Lights was released in 1931, 3 years after the advent of talking movies. The film was a poignant portrayal of the love that a good-hearted tramp (Charlie) cherishes for a blind flower seller (Virginia Cherill) and the travails he undergoes to prevent her from being evicted from her tenement and then the efforts he takes to restore her eyesight. The film is considered a classic to this day, for its sheer brilliance in a heartwarming study of the lives of the lowly in a big, brutal city.
Gemini Vasan perceived the intrinsic worth of the tale, and bade his crew to work on an adaptation set in an Indian milieu. Raji en kaNmaNi (1954) had an imaginatively reworked screenplay and dialogues by the Gemini kadhai ilaaka, headed by ‘sangu’ Subramaniam. Directed by K.J. Mahadevan, the film starred T.R.Ramachandran, Sriranjini, Sriram, T.P.Muthulakshmi & others.
T.R.Ramachadran played the vagabond Ramu, while Sriranjini was the blind flower seller Raji. Ramu’s pity for Raji soon develops into love. And he arranges for her eyes to be operated by a kind doctor (Sriram), and makes frantic efforts to get the required funds. But in the process, he gets into some trouble and is imprisoned. The good-natured doctor then performs the surgery free and Raji is now able to see. When she realizes that her wait for Ramu is futile, she accepts the doctor’s proposal and married him. Years roll by, and they have a son now. Ramu is finally released, and by chance rescues Raji’s kid from being hit by a car. Seeing him injured, Raji takes him to her house. When she touches his face, she is filled with suspicion- for she had touched Ramu’s face long ago. Ramu doesn’t want to disturb the tranquility of her marriage, and though the doctor recognizes him, moves out, merging into the shadows of the city.
I heard from an old-timer who I met in a recording store that the movie was well crafted, and the performances, especially that of T.R.Ramachandran, riveting. But sadly, the movie was a commercial failure. What makes the film immortal though is the classic ‘malligaippoo jaathi rOja’. In City Lights, Chaplin had featured Jose Sancho Padilla's haunting 'La Violetera', (which itself, I believe, seeks inspiration from ‘La Paloma’- most us would have learned this at school :) ) as the BGM in some of the sequences. And taking the cue, the talented Master Dhanraj and R. Parthasarathi, who were working as part of the ‘Gemini Music Troupe’ at that time under Hanumantha Rao (brother of Saaluri Rajeswara Rao) created a classic with rich western interludes. The song (and its Telugu version ‘malle poolu molla poolu’ /raaji naa praaNam) was a raging hit in its time. Even as the gentleman in the recording store was talking about it, his face lit up, and his eyes crinkled in nostalgic delight with memories of another day. And for a magic moment, I too caught a glimpse of the bygone 50s through his reverie!
‘ amma vaareerO, anbOdu paareerO…vanguveerO malarndha poovellaam kalandha maalaiyE’ is another version of ‘malligai poo jaathi rOja’ ; another equally enticing call of the florist. The mood is sadder here though, fretting at the gathering clouds that threaten her serene sky, wondering if she would ever set her eyes on her benefactor…the song closes with a plaintive call ‘o ramu..aah ramu!’ ‘sundara malarE solliduvaayE en anbar vandhaal ennidam neeyE’ is the other song in the movie. Set, again, in a western backdrop, the song is a stunner, sung by the same velvet voice that wrought magic with the other songs. And the short SOTD is the last song that I know from the album, again by the same singer, this time singing what tfm celebrated as her forte, a lilting lullaby. As though to make up for straying westwards in the other songs, the composer(s) return home in this one, and what a homecoming it is!
* * * *
He thinks of his morn of life,
his hale, strong years;
And braves as he may the night
of darkness and tears…
- Robert Bridges (Winter Nightfall)
A week back Ravu Balsaraswathi was in the news. The singer who had held an entire generation of listeners in her sway has been struggling valiantly with abject penury in recent times. She was presented with a purse of Rs. 2 Lakhs by Mr. C.C.Reddy, an industrialist in August 2003. But apparently, she was in dire straits again, and this time, she petitioned the Tamilnadu CM for assistance. Moved by Balasaraswathi’s plea for succour, Jayalalitha has allotted a house for the legendary chanteuse and also ensured that an amount of Rs. 6000 is made over to her every month.
I am sure many music lovers would have been overcome with sorrow at the pitiable plight of Ravu Balasaraswathi, the voice that serenaded serenity in the portals of tfm.
The little girl who sang for HMV when she was barely six years old…the child star who acted and sang her own songs…the singer who created records with her non-film, light song albums…the first playback singer of Telugu cinema…the Music Director of a Sinhalese film (Laila Majnu) …the wife of the Raja of Kolanka… the righteous woman who commanded the right to change the lyrics if she found them unsuitable…the singer who glittered amongst the galaxy of gifted artistes who were her contemporaries in the 50s…Indeed, Balasaraswathi reflects a rich and vibrant legacy…
Born on 29th August 1928 at Venkatagiri, Balasaraswathi learned music from Allathuru Subbayya. She was spotted as a child prodigy and HMV got her to sing when she was six years old. Film offers poured in soon enough. ‘Baby’ Balasaraswathi made her debut playing the celestial Ganga in the Telugu film sati anusuya & bhaktha druva (1936/ East India Film Co.) Director Chitajalu Pulliah made this ‘two mythologicals in one’ with a wholly child cast. The Tamil films that she acted in the following years were bhaktha kuchEla (1936), balayOgini (1937), thiruneelakantar (1939).
Balasaraswathi made a mark playing Tukaram’s little daughter in the bilingual of the same name. Tukaram (1938/ Central Studios) had the famed Musiri Subramaniya Iyer in the title role, and in the Telugu version, CSR Anjaneyulu played the lead role.
In 1940, Balasaraswathi acted with Rajeswara Rao in illalu (Indira Devi Films), directed by Gudavalli Ramabrahmam. Incidentally, it was with illallu that Rajeswara Rao made a mark as music director. Impressed with Bala’s voice and singing, Rajeswara Rao paired with her to record those signature non-film Telugu songs that are revered to this day as trendsetters of light music. ‘aatotalonokati aardhanalayamu’ written by Rajeswara Rao’s father Sanyasi Raju and sung by Balasaraswathi has an appeal that transcends barriers of time and language. ‘paata paadu maa krishna’ , with its mesmerising flute backdrop, is a caressing duet by Rajeswara Rao and Balasaraswathi.
And in Bhagyalakshmi (1943/ Sri Renuka Films), Balasaraswathi made history when she sang for Kamala Kotnis on screen- I believe this was the first instance of playback singing in Telugu cinema. The song ‘thinnE meedha sinnOda’, composed by Bhimavarapu Narasimha Rao became hugely popular.
After her marriage to the Raja of Kolanka, Balasaraswathi gradually reduced her screen appearances- radhika (1947/Sri Chatrapathi Pictures/Telugu) and bilhaNa (1948/Mubarak/Tamil) were perhaps the last such instances. After a brief hiatus, she resumed her career as a playback singer, and in the decade that followed, got to sing many memorable songs in Telugu and Tamil.
Her enviable repertoire includes songs of every genre, every mood. Perhaps her earlier stunt as an actress helped, for her songs are rich in expression. Some years back when I was in Chennai, a journalist friend wanted to write on Balasaraswathi and I lent him my collection of her songs. And as we sat listening to some of them, we were amazed anew at the sheer variety of her numbers. “So why was she branded a mere lullaby singer?’ was our collective puzzled muse.
Want to lose yourself in religious fervour? Listen to Balasarswathi sing ‘sri jaya saraswathi dEvi thaayE’ (bilhaNa) or the non-film devotional songs that she sang like ‘kaaNa Oraayiram kaN vENdum’ and ‘aaduthu paar mayil aaduthu paar’..
For a glimpse of her soft romantic flourishes, listen to ‘O malaya maaruthamE’, a fabulous duet with the renowned vocalist S. Rajam in the bilingual manavathi (Music by Balantrapu Rajinikantha Rao). The song, like its Telugu equivalent (O malaya pavanama where Balasaraswathi teams up with M.S. Ramarao) is a mesmerizing Malayamarutham. Or catch Balasaraswathi stealing a treasured moment with Ghantasala in ‘ malarOdu madhuramEvum manam kaaNum mOhana ragam’ in jayasimhan (T.V.raju). How dreamy she sounds in ‘kalaiyaadha aasai kanavE’ (rajarajan/KVM), and a what a stark contrast she paints in the pathos version of the same song! Also remember the exquisite ‘maalai nila vara vENdum’ (thaai uLLam/ V.Nagiah-A.Rama Rao), and the gently caressing ‘kaNdukoNdEn naanE’ (kaNNin maNigaL/SVV)
Balasaraswathi has excelled in dance songs too. Take two such songs in dEvadas (CRS/MSV), for instance. ‘sandhOsham vENdumendRaal ingE konjam ennai paaru kaNNaal ’ and ‘paaramugam yEnayya en swami’ – diverse delights! My favourite ‘thangam pongum mEni undhan sondham ini’ (tEnali raman / V-R) is a ceaseless wonder – hark at her hit a highpoint in ‘thangam’ each time! (I bought the DVD just to see this song, but to my disappointment, the song didn’t find place in the DVD version :( ) ‘kaNNai thaan paRikkuthu kaipaadatha mullaipoo’ (aasai aNNa arumai thambi/KVM) is another bewitching dance number, with the mullaipoo changing to rOjappoo and then to sevvandhi in each repetition of the pallavi. ‘thudikkum vaalibamE nodikkuL pOividumE’ (marma veeran) , with its baila-ish interludes is a feet-tapping Veda composition.
Sorrow, of course, seems to have been Balasaraswathi’s strong point. Listen to her plaintive cry ‘dhayavillaiyO annaiyE’ (naan vaNangum deivam/KVM). No heart-rending sobbing here, only hushed, dignified suffering. ‘anbE paavama, adhilEdhum bEdhama’ (dEvadas/CRS-MSV), ‘vidhi seitha sathiyO aththaan’ (sumangali/ M.Ranga Rao), ‘veeN pazhi thanE prabhO en mEl’ (laila majnu/CRS), ‘eLiyOrai thaazhthi valiyOrai vaazhthum’ (thai piRanthaal vazhi piRakkum/ KVM), ‘manamE un vaazhvil nee’ (nalla kaalam/ KVM), ‘sudar thaarai sabhaiyil unai kaaNEn naanE’ (vaanaratham/ Naushad), ‘Oraam maadham udaladhu thaLarndhu’ (harichandra/ KVM), ‘sollu nee raja’ (anbu engE/Veda)…the list goes on….
And so we come upon what is touted as Balasaraswathi’s métier : lullabies- from ‘innisaiyE ganarasa innamudhE ennuriyE’ (bilhaNa/ 1948) to ‘seeraarum paingkiLiyE’ (thaayilla piLLai/1961), Balasaraswathi has been flooded with a surfeit of cradle songs. A sample: ‘vaada malarthEnE’ (thOzhan/GR), ‘singara punnagai kaNNara kaNdaalE’ (mahadEvi/V-R), ‘ellOrum unnai nallavan endRE’ (bhakiavathi/ S.Dakshinamoorthi), ‘kaNNE vaada kaniyE vaada’ (iru manam kalandhaal thirumaNam/ S.Dakshinamoorthi), ‘aaLa piRandha en kaNmaNiyE’ (uthamaputhiran/GR), ‘kaNNamoochi aattam’ (yaar paiyan/ S.Dakshinamoorthi), ‘piLLai kaniyamudhE pEdhai endhan pudhu vaazhvE’ (peN kulathin pon viLakku/ Master Venu), and the mother of them all: the immortal ‘neela vaNNa kaNNa vaada’ (mangaiyar thilakam/ S.Dakshinamoorthi). Balasaraswathi’s caressing voice did have the magic ingredients of motherhood… the selfless love that only a mother is capable of, the warmth of her bosom, the protection of her proximity, the pride of her possessiveness….and all these lent pulsating life and authenticity to these songs.
Except for few stray instances, Balasaraswathi did not sing much in the 60s, and was soon forgotten as the years passed by. She lived for some years in Mysore, and then shifted to Hyderabad. After her husband’s demise, she fell upon bad times. Deprivation tortured the family whose riches were legendary in the distant past. And as a mark of respect to the remarkable artiste that she was, she has now been given Government assistance and shelter.
Let us hope her days pass in comfort and peace now, filled with happy memories, with the affection of her family, friends and fans, and yes, with music too… ‘vaazhvu malardhu maNam veesiduthE’ as the lines of her song go…