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From: bb on: Thu May 04, 2006 11:54 pm
Song of the Day: pozhuthu vidiya pOi sEraNum from Kaithi.
Listen to the song
- Saravanan writes:
Among my most cherished memories of childhood are of ‘going out’ with my parents and brother in the two-door Herald that my father had at that time. I can even now recall vividly kneeling on the back seat and peering at the passing images with wonder. The beautiful veeNai engraved at the gatepost filled me with fascination each time I passed the house at the corner of Sullivan Garden Road. At times there would be a middle-aged man, dressed in spotless white, leaning on the railings in the balcony and watching the passers by. At other times he would be sitting there engrossed in some book. And each time I crossed the corner, I remember craning my neck to catch a glimpse of the veeNai at the gate and the gentleman in the balcony.
And I have seen him outside too, always in spotless white; striding along the bustling Royapettah High Road, strolling near the Thaneerthurai Market, and many times deep in prayer in the Anjaneyar Temple.
And sometime in the late 70s, when I was in the beginning stages of a life-long passion for tfm, imagine my pleasurable surprise when I saw my ‘ veeNai veettu mama’ on TV, talking at length about his films! My uncle told me that the gentleman was a great genius called S. Balachander. And soon afterwards, I tagged along as part of a large group to a concert at the Parthasarathi Swami Sabha; and there again was the genius, this time letting his veeNai do the talking. Oh, what a musical feast it was! Even despite my complete ignorance of the nuances of classical music, I could sense that we were in the presence of greatness…
* * * *
Time, place, and action-
may with pains be wrought;
But Genius must be born-
and never can be taught.
- John Dryden
And this is certainly true of a genius like Sundaram Balachander (1927-1990). He was ‘an enlightened interpreter of Indian music and a multi-dimensional personality of vast parts, deep penetration and quick peers’. Among many other accomplishments, he was a ‘percussionist, string artiste, mock dancer, singer, poet, man of letters, humourist, album collector, cine actor, playback singer, music composer, director, photographer, chess player, art addict and above all, a firm believer in the sacredness of music..’ And almost all of this was self-taught…SB mastered all this and more untutoured and unaided!
SB’s ancestors hailed from Srivaanjiyam, a fertile village in Thanjavur District. His grandfather was a familiar name in our college course- Rao Saheb Vaidyanatha Iyer, considered the Indian version of the Italian monk Luca Pacioli who was the father of Bookkeeping and Accountancy. Indeed Vaidyanatha Iyer’s pioneering books on Auditing, Accountancy and Bookkeeping are revered to this day as the first detailed works on the subject in modern India. SB’s parents were V. Sundaram Iyer and Parvathi alias Chellamma. Sundaram Iyer was an advocate who rarely went to court; the cutchery that he took a liking to was of quite another kind, far removed from the legal one. Being a fervent patron of arts, particularly classical music, he honoured veteran performers of the day regularly, even while actively encouraging and supporting aspiring and budding musicians. And in the house he had bought in Mylapore in 1924, at the suggestion of Pudukkottai Dakshinamoorthi Pillai he even added a hall in the first floor exclusively to entertain and be entertained. Stalwarts like Ariyakudi Ramanujam Iyengar, Madurai Mani, Ambi Deekshithar, Muthiah Bagavathar, Karaikudi Sambasivam and Papanasam Sivan have all performed in that hall. In fact, it was Sundaram Iyer who took Papanasam Sivan under his fold when Sivan relocated to Madras to earn a livelihood.
Thus it was in that famous house at 41, Nadu Street which echoed night and day not only with the delineation of classical notes but also with animated discussions and debates on their finer nuances, that SB was born on 18th January 1927. His elder brother S.Rajam is a well-known singer and teacher, and a gifted artist as well - his paintings of the “Music Trinity” adorn the walls of most music-loving houses in the South. Jayalakshmi (who later acted as MKT’s pair in sivakavi) was SB’s elder sister; Saraswathi was his younger sister, followed by the twins Kalpagam and Gopalaswami.
Sundaram Iyer engaged Papanasam Sivan to train Rajam and Jayalakshmi. When the venerable teacher was tutoring his young disciples, the precocious SB used to lurk around, grasping with nonchalant ease the finer points of classical music. Even as a child, SB taught himself to play the kanjira, tabla, mridangam, harmonium, bulbuldara, dilruba, and shehnai!
Those were the early, momentous years of Indian cinema. The first South Indian talkie- kaaLidas (Imperial Movietone), made in Bombay, had been released in 1931. 1932 saw the release of 4 Tamil movies; 3 of them- kaalava (Sagar Film Co.), harichandra (Sagar Film Co.) and paarijatha pushpaharaNam (Imperial Movietone) were produced in Bombay, and ramayaNam (East India Co.) was made in Calcutta.
It was at this juncture that the legendary V.Shantaram, who was making movies under his ‘Prabhat Film Co.’ banner in Kolhapur, wrote to the editor of a Madras based film magazine called ‘Sound and Shadow’, requesting their help in making a Tamil movie called seetha kalyaNam, utilizing the sets and props of his Hindi movie ‘sairandhiri’. The men behind the magazine- Muthusami Iyer alias Murugadasa, A.K.Sekar and K.Ramnoth, together with their patron G.K.Seshagiri, readily acquiesced, and set forth to Kolhapur with a hand-picked cast and crew.
‘Hindu High School’ T.V.Seetharama Iyer played Dasaratha, P.Venkata Rao played Viswamitra, Rajam played Kowsalya, Kamala played Kaikeyi, Master Kunjitham played Lakshmana and so on. But the movie was more or less a family affair of Sundaram Iyer- he himself played Janaka, his son Rajam played Rama, daughter Jayalakshmi played Seetha, another daughter Saraswathi played Urmila and SB played a child musician in Ravana’s court. The producers paid Sundaram Iyer and his family a lump sum of Rs. 1000/, perhaps a princely sum at the time. Papanasam Sivan too made his entry to cinema with seetha kalyaNam; he wrote all the songs in the movie.
The child SB soon became the darling of the crew, endearing himself to everyone with his remarkable talents. I remember reading an article by Randor Guy where he mentions that SB would become oblivious to his surroundings while performing his part, and playing his kanjeera, he would walk even out of the frames. So much so that director Baburao Pendarkar had to draw a circle on the floor and commanded SB to stay within the circle! It was during the shooting of the movie that not having many scenes, SB spent his time observing the musicians at work; it was here that he learned to play the sitar, an instrument over which he soon attained mastery.
Rajam and SB soon started performing all over the Indian subcontinent under the name ‘Prabhat Prodigy Stars’. Shantaram presented SB with a tabla in Kolhapur, and Krishna Bai presented him with an antique sitar in Karachi. SB soon became an accomplished player of the sitar; however he chose to play Carnatic music on this Hindustani instrument! At the age of 15, for nearly 3 years, he worked as a staff artiste in All India Radio, Madras, where he had the unique opportunity of “playing on all the instruments mentioned above, during broadcasts almost daily, rivaling in solo recitals, participating in orchestral ensembles, accompanying several artistes, deliberating on ‘Rhythm’ as a weekly program on percussion instruments alone, and composing and conducting musical pieces of his own.” And the age of 18, SB discovered the veeNai….
But we are today trying to trace his chequered career in cinema, so let us restrict ourselves to SB’s forays therein…
SB’s next movie was rishyasringar (1941/ Tamilnadu Talkies). It was produced by S. Soundararaja Iyengar and directed by Acharya (T.G.Ragavachari) The film starred Ranjan, Vasundra Devi, G.Pattu Iyer, Rukmimi and others. Sarma Brothers and Chitoor V.Nagiah set the tunes to Papanasam Rajagopala Iyer’s lyrics. The 13 year-old SB played the young Rishyasringar growing up in the forest, and sang songs like ‘ ennarumai maanE, unnudanE naanE viLaiyaaduvEnE’, ‘idhuvum en puNNiyamE’, ‘paapahaari durithaari’ and ‘suprajOthi sooriyan idhO’. The songs that SB sang are remembered to this day despite the movie boasting of many classic numbers sung by Ranjan and Vasundra Devi.
The following year, SB acted in aaraichi maNi alladhu manuneethi chOzhan (1942/ Kandan & Co.) The film starred P.B.Rangachari, M.R.Santhanalakshmi, NSK, T.A.Madhuram, Sandow Chinnappa Devar and others. A few days after the shooting commenced, the producers replaced director Raghuveera Ramiah with Raja Sandow. Music was by an obscure Srinivasa Rao. SB acted as the young son of Manuneedhi Chozhan who is put to death to make justice prevail. His pair was S. Varalakshmi. I believe SB sang a few songs in the movie, including a duet with S. Varalakshmi.
Sundaram Iyer did not want SB to act up any more film offers for a few years so that he could focus on his schooling in the hoary Pennathur Subramaniam (P.S.) High School. SB also spent many hours in the Gemini Studios, where he observed excitedly the famed ‘Gemini Music Party’ at work. The sequences and schemes structured in perfect coordination by talented musicians like Saluri Rajeswarara Rao, Saluri Hanumantha Rao, Emani Shankara Shaastri, Anantaraman, ‘Rima’ Vaidyanathan (Ranjan’s brother) and Parthasarathi were keenly observed by SB at close quarters, and he got a hang of what composing music for films was all about.
SB made a grand reentry in cinema with idhu nijama (1948/ K.G.Productions). The film was based on the English classic ‘Wonder Man’ (1945/ Samuel Goldwyn Co.) Wonder Man had Arthur Sheekman’s story reworked to a riveting screenplay by Jack Jevne and Eddie Moran. Directed by Bruce Humberstone, ‘Wonder Man’ had Danny Kaye playing the double roles of Edwin Dingle and his twin Buzzy Bellew. idhu nijama was financed by S. Soundararaja Iyengar and directed by Krishna Gopal, who was acclaimed as a technical wizard of those days. SB watched ‘Wonder Man’ repeatedly and observed all the finer points of the film. He came up with a brilliant screenplay suiting an Indian milieu, and acted in the two roles of the twins Madhavan (Madhu) and Gopal. He also composed the music for M.S.Subramaniam’s lyrics and was of immense assistance to Krishna Gopal in directing the movie. V. Seetharaman wrote the dialogues. The story was that of the ghost of Madhu, who was killed in London, entering the body of Gopal who is having a music-instruments shop in Madras. And how Gopal goes about avenging the murder of Madhu fills the rest of the reels. Kumari Rajam played Madhu’s pair Nirmala, while Sarojini played Gopal’s sweetheart Nalini. V.Seetharaman, A.S.Nagarajan, Manuel, Pattammal and others were in the cast. Decades later, Kamalhasan’a kalyaNaraman was heavily inspired by Wonder Man and idhu nijama.
The songs that the 20-year-old SB composed for the movie showcase an innovative thinker and arranger in his youthful creative elements. To suit the story, some of the songs have nonchalant western flourishes that must have raised many a prudish eyebrow at the time. ‘aahahaa anandam adaindhEnE pEranandam’, having only a pallavi, sung by an ebullient female voice, and having startling operatic passages must have been filmed on the London based Nirmala, while ‘varuvaar vandhiduvaar paingkiLiyE, vazhipaarthu, kaikOrthu edhirpaarkkum gOpalan’ with its traditional beats, must be have had Nalini waiting for Gopal to turn up. The other songs are sung by SB himself. ‘aa naanE magizhvEn…maaRa malarum maNam pOla’ is a great western-style duet for Madhu and Nirmala crooned by SB and a female voice I am unable to place. The lilting interludes show SB’s knowledge of the intricacies of Western Classical music. The pick of the lot is ‘jaarachOra’ that begins as a sedate Thyagaraja krithi that Gopal hums carelessly a bored afternoon in his music shop, when Madhu’s “London-Returned” ghost makes him break into lines like ‘Maami…how I love you…baby!’ The song is a riot with lines like ‘ee paaradi lakshmi paatti….electricity’ and ‘aaa…eeee…ooooo…yEEEEE….O…how’ and ‘rOmeO, antOniO, bassaniO, petruciO….thayirvadaiyO…radio…!’ SB sprinkles hilarious gibberish in between the lines for good measure. The highpoint is Gopal clearing his throat and trying to reassert himself by a humming a classical strain, but Madhu’s ghost overcomes him again, and that humming transforms into a falsetto singing a western operatic piece! SB alternating his voice swiftly is a rare treat! ‘neela mayil vaagananO, nee thoonga maattaayO…I will make you sleep, Gopal’ is another fine number sung by SB (the irrepressible Madhu’s ghost trying to make Gopal sleep), lines alternating from a chaste Tamil lullaby to English lines (‘afterwards, you can meet Nalini!’), progressing to a comic take-off on Saigal’s ‘sO jaa rajkumari’ , and Telugu phrases adding to the fun. The song ends with a caressing veeNai and piano postlude, and a soft SB humming. ‘anbenum amudhaLithu en uLLam koNdaayO, un adimai aanEn naLini’ has SB (for Gopal) pining for Nalini in qawwali-ish verses, ending with SB (for Madhu’s ghost) singing the reassuring lines ‘kavalai yEdhu gOpal, naLini unnai maNappaaL, she will marry unnai and you will marry avaLai!!’ Listening to the songs, I get the feeling that these brilliant numbers, far ahead of their times, might not have found many takers in 1948.
SB’s next movie was en kaNavar (1948/ Ajit Pictures). The film was based on a story by Chaturbhuj Doshi and had dialogues by V.Seetharaman. SB was in charge of the music, editing and direction, besides playing the hero. S.Nandini, V.Seetharaman, Guruswami and Chellam were his co-actors in the movie. SB sings a blatantly male chauvinist song ‘aaNgaL illaiyendRaal..’. With adroit changes in tempo and style, this song is supposed to have been a popular number at the time. SB is also said to have included the title music in the record, which was probably another first!
SB then acted in dEvaki (1951/ Ganapathi Pictures) along with Madhuri Devi, V.N.Janaki, N.N.Kannappa, Nambiar and others. Dialogues were by Karunanidhi and the film was directed by R.S.Mani. SB didn’t get to sing any songs in this movie that had music by G.Ramanathan. The two songs I remember from the album are a TL/PL duet ‘pErinbamE vaazhvilE’ and a TMS solo ‘ippO theeratha thuyaraalE’ (with TMS singing it on screen as well).
kaithi (1951/ Jupiter Pictures) came next.
Another film in which SB acted in 1951 was rajambaaL (Aruna Films). J.R.Rangaraju’s crime novel that had earlier been filmed in 1935 was now again taken up for filming by R.M.Krishnaswami. Newcomer R.S. Manohar made his debut in this movie, playing the hero. P.K. Saraswathi was the heroine and Madhuri Devi played the vamp. Playing the surprise villain, SB appeared as a debauched magistrate. Though M.S.Gnanamani scored the music for the film, SB scored the BGM, and also music for a duet that he sang with P.Leela. ‘maathar maNiyE vaa, maNam veesum malarE vaa’. ‘amaithi kaaNbOm vaa, beach-il amarndhE, thendRalilE’ he invites her. When she declines citing the cold, he then tempts her with ‘pozhuthai kazhithidavE Minerva Theater pOi varuvOm, English cinema paarthiduvOm’, but she puts it off to the morrow. The song was said to have been inspired by the popular English number, ‘Baby, it’s cold outside’, originally composed by Frank Loesser in 1948, with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. SB was also a great admirer of Maurice Chevalier (1888- 1972), and some times adopted the conversational style of that legendary Frenchman to suit the context.
raaNi (1952/ Jupiter Pictures) starred SB as the hero with P.Bhanumathi as the heroine. The film was directed by L.V.Prasad. Rajawahab Kashmiri, M.Saroja, and Mustfa were the others in the cast. raaNi was among the last films for which C.R.Subburaman composed music. I have 6 songs from the movie in my collection, but none of them have been sung by SB. Three of them, ‘ini endRum inbam thaan’, ‘thaalElO kaNNE’ and ‘laali laali laali laali’ are by Jikki. And the other three, ‘seeppu simizhi bommaigaL’, ‘madhimayangum malarvadhanam’ and ‘uNmai illaadha ulagilE unnai aRiyaa nilaiyilE’ are by Bhanumathi.
SB acted in well-conceived cameos in movies like inspector (1953/ Jupiter Pictures) and peNN (1954 /AVM). AVM’s peNN made simultaneously in Hindi as ‘ladki’ and Telugu as ‘sangam’, had Vyjayanthimala playing the heroine in all 3 languages. Based on a story by raa. vE (R. Venkatachalam), the film was directed by M.V.Raman. Gemini Ganesh, Anjali Devi, Nagiah, Sahasranamam and Sarangapani were the other actors in the Tamil version. SB played Gemini Ganesh’s friend who helps Gemini marry Anjali Devi.
Interestingly, when asked by Music Director R.Sudarsanam to render a breezy song for a comic sequence, SB did not hesitate to express his opinion that Chandrababu would do better justice to the composition, and thus we can see SB merrily lip-synching to Chandrababu’s unforgettable ‘kalyaaNam..kalyaaNam…ullasamaagavE ulagathil vaazhavE!’
In the same year, SB created history of sorts by directing the first songless movie in Tamil- andha naaL (AVM). ‘Javer’ Seetharaman had written a suspenseful whodunit inspired from the English movie ‘The Woman in Question’ (1950/ Javelin Films / American Title: Five Angles on Murder). Based on a story by John Cresswell and directed by Anthony Asquith, ‘The Woman in Question’ begins with the murder of a fortune-teller, and examines the five different perspectives of the victim and the murder from the five suspects. SB took the story and tailored it in the narrative style of Akira Kurosawa’s classic Roshoman (1951). A taut presentation that moved cleverly between the past and the present, the events in the aftermath of the murder of a radio engineer Rajan (Sivaji Ganesan), and the CID Sivanandham (Jaaver Seetharaman)’s investigations throwing a plethora of possibilities, with each suspect coming out with a plausible flash-back. Each knot is unraveled as the reels roll on, and the denouement, when it comes catches the viewer by complete surprise. But on retrospect, we would realize that this could have been the only answer to the puzzle! SB’s inventive shots, innovative camera angles, subtle and under-played performances- especially by Sivaji as Rajan and Pandaribai as his wife Usha, and the proceedings moving at a brisk, riveting pace unhindered by any song and dance routine (in fact SB kept even the bgm (by R.Sudarsanam) to the barest minimum… all go to ensure a place of pride for andha naaL among all time classics of Tamil Cinema. P.D.Sambandham, Suryakala, T.K.Balachandran and Menaka were the other actors.
SB’s ingenious efforts did not send the cash counters ringing though. AVM Chettiar, who had seen Roshoman while on a visit to Japan in 1953, was excited by SB’s narration and had high hopes on the film’s success. He was a trifle wary of completely eschewing songs though, and suggested to SB that they include at least one song. SB is said to have asked him if one song could make a marked difference in improving the film’s prospects. In the end AVM came around to SB’s views. The film elicited good reviews, won the Certificate for Best Feature Film and the Award for the Best Film of 1954 from Madras Film Fans Association. In his ‘enathu vaazhkkai anubavangaL’, AVM has this to say of andha naaL: ‘higher-class audience-kku indha padam migavum pidithuvittadhu. adhaavadhu saadhraNamaaga adikkadi padam paarkiRavargaLaiyandRi uyarndha padam paarkkum manappaanmai uLLa ellOrum migavum paaraattiya padam.’
SB went on to act in few movies like kOdeeswaran (1955/ Sri Ganesh Movietone)- I believe Music-Director S.V.Venkataraman sang a song for SB in this film; Doctor Savitri (1955/ Aruna Films) and maragatham (alladhu karungkuyil kundRathu kolai/1959/ Pakshiraja Studios). Though SB appeared on the screen for only a brief while playing the role of Marthanda Prabhu in maragatham, he made his cameo memorable by his arresting presence.
SB stepped in to help complete K.Ramnoth’s bhoolOga rambai (1958/ Ashoka Pictures). K.Ramnoth had scripted the movie, but due to his untimely demise, D. Yoganand and SB were called to direct parts of the film. The film’s titles refer to Yoganand as the director and remain content offering thanks to SB for ‘directing many scenes’. The film starred Gemini Ganesh, Anjali Devi, Nambiar and Rajasulochana.
Another offbeat movie that SB directed was avan amaran (1958/ The People Films). Scripted and produced by Nagerkoyil S,Nagarajan, who was a diehard follower of Comrade Jeevanandam and the Communist Movement, the film starred K.R.Ramasami, Rajasulochana, S.V.Subbiah, Kannamba, T.S.Baliah and others. The film told the story of a Labour Union movement in a mill. Nimai Ghosh handled the cinematography.
In the 60s, SB formed his own production company called ‘S.B.Creations’ to make the movies of his choice. All the 3 movie he made under this banner were of his favorite kind- thrillers that brought a whiff of film noir into the tried and tired avenues of Tamil cinema. The first film to roll out from his banner was avanaa ivan (1962). This time SB sought inspiration from the Oscar winning ‘A Place in the Sun’ (1951/ Paramount Pictures) starring Montgomery Cliff, Elizabeth Taylor and Shelley Winters. Directed by George Stevens, screenplay of ‘A Place in the Sun’ was adapted by Harry Brown and Michael Wilson from the novel ‘An American Tragedy’ by Theodore Dreiser and the play by Patrick Kearney. The story itself was based on a real murder of Grace Brown by her lover Chester Gillette in New York in 1906.
SB played the unscrupulous anti-hero of avanaa ivan, and Vasanthi was the heroine. I tuned in late and could watch only the concluding sequences of the movie on some TV channel the last time I was in Chennai. Kutti Padmini and another child artiste are responsible for bringing SB to justice, as he is led handcuffed to the Police Jeep, SB winks and waves a cheery ‘Ta Ta’ at the kids!
SB is said to have handed out blank cheques to the cast and crew of avanaa ivan, urging them to fill in the amounts that they thought they deserved, and then inform his secretary of the amount thus filled in, so that he could square up his accounts!
SB composed the music for Vidwan Lakshmanan’s lyrics. ‘manam vittu manam vittu sirichittu’ is an enjoyable kids chorus song, with LRE joining in the fun midway. ‘kalyaaNa thirunaaL, kanni vaazhvil oru naaL’, is a melodious PS solo, with SB providing an alluring sitar backdrop. (Radha) Jayalakshmi sings the aandaaL paasuram ‘vaaraNam aayiram’ set to a high-pitched melancholic strain by SB. ‘vaL vaL vaL vaLLi, I love you truly’ (I am unable to identify the voices) has the buoyant SB back to his pranks. ‘kalyaaNa poNNu kalangaathE kaNNu’ has LRE & co singing for the kids, reassuring Vasanthi that her unwelcome wedding to SB has been called off. SB made the renowned pianist and composer Handel Manuel play the ‘manam vittu’ tune on piano and used it as the theme music of the movie, and released it on the record as well.
Two years later SB came with another thriller bommai (1964). This time he told the story of a doll inside which a fiendish scientist Prabhakar inserts a bomb. He gives it to a scoundrel Jagdish who plans to kill the rich Somasundaram with the doll. How the dangerous doll passes through various people in 8 hours formed the crux of the spine-tingling tale. The actors were SB, L.Vijayalakshmi, V.S.Raghavan, Ramesh, P.G.Lakshmirajam, V.Gopalakrishnan, Shanthini, Maali, Sadhan, P.D.Sambandham, Shobha and S.N.Lakshmi. SB’s assistant directors were N.C. Chakaravarthi and C.N.Shanmugam. D.B.Ramachandran scored the BGM. Vidwan V.Lakshman wrote the dialogues and lyrics. SB began his innovative touches from the titles- each member of the crew appears and is introduced as his/her name comes up.
SB composed 6 songs for the movie, and all the 6 are absolute treasures. ‘engO piRandhavaraam, engO vaLarndhavaraam’ is a wondrous sahaana piece immortalized by the dulcet PS. PS has another gentle winner in ‘nee thaan selvam, nee thaan amudham.’ K. Hariharasubramaniam, K.Veeramani & chorus sing the jaunty ditty ‘kaNNe iruttudhu kaadhe adaikkuthu kaalam sariyillE’ Renuka (mother of Anuradha Sriram) sings the seductive ‘kaiyarugE kaniyirukka, kaniyathilE suvaiyirukka.’ LRE lends her characteristic vivacity to the memorable ‘thaththi thaththi nadandhu varum thanga papa’ for the child Neelu (Baby Mangala) who plays with the doll for a brief while.
The most famous song is of course the slow, philosophical ‘neeyum bommai naanum bommai’ . A dog catches hold of the doll. Wagging his tail, he runs to his master and drops the doll proudly on his master’s lap. The master is but a blind beggar, and perhaps in a premonition of his own impending end, sings a melancholic song of the transitory illusion that is life. The astute SB picked the upcoming KJY to render this song, and this song goes down in history as the first song that KJY recorded for a Tamil film. However, konjum kumari (1963/ Modern Theaters) having the KJY/ B.Vasantha duet ‘aasai vandha pinnE’ got released earlier than bommai.
In an interview many years later, KJY amusedly recalled his experiences while singing this song. He said that he was very excited at getting an opportunity to sing a Tamil song. Viswanthan and Ramamoorthi were at the pinnacle of fame at the time, and KJY had heard of their grand ensemble having 50 members. Hence he went to the studio with dreams of singing with a magnificent orchestra. Here is what transpired, in KJY’s words: ‘konja nEram kazhichi tabElakaarar oruththar vandhaaru. appuram bulbuldaara vaasikkiRa oruththar vandhaaru. appuram director ‘veeNai’ balachandar vandhaaru. Recording Theater-ukuLLa poREn. reNdu tabElavula oNNai vechikkittu orutharum, bulbuldaara vechikkittu orutharum moththam reNdE reNdu vaathiyam thaan irukku. manasukkuLLa yEmaatRathOdu thaan ‘neeyum bommai naanum bommai’nkiRa andha slow-aana paattai paadinEn. aanaal theater-la andha paattu padamaakkappatirundhadhai paarkkum pOdhu biramippa irundhadhu. oru pichchaikkaaran paaduRa maathiri miga siRappa eduthirundhaaru ‘veeNai’ balachandar!’
The third and last movie that SB produced under the ‘S.B Creations’ was nadu iravil.
Most of Agatha Christie’s works feature either Hercule Poirot or Miss. Marple. But some of her best books have neither of them- the delightful Tommy-Tuppence series, for instance. And one of her masterful works having neither of her favourite characters is ‘Ten Little Niggers’. First published in 1939, the book was renamed ‘Ten Little Indians’ and later ‘And Then There Were None’ for the American editions. Agatha Christie adapted the novel for stage, and then came the film in 1945. It was remade in 1965, and again in 1974. It was adapted for TV as well. It was a chilling story of ten strangers who find themselves marooned in a lonely island mansion off the Devon coast. They die, one by one…
SB chose to attempt an adaptation of the story, by making deft alterations to suit the Indian context. A wealthy man loves and marries a poor girl, but she is subjected to continued mental harassment by his jealous relatives. At length, she is driven to insanity. The heartbroken man cuts himself off from all his people, and buying a remote uninhabited island, relocates therein with his deranged wife and two trusted helpers. Fate strikes another cruel blow, he is diagnosed with a fatal illness and his days are numbered. Like vultures sweeping upon their prey, his avaricious relatives arrive to ensure that they get a share of his wealth. But tragedy strikes when each of them is killed one after the other…the mystery deepens… SB cast V.S.Raghavan in a role of a lifetime…
I recall only two songs from the movie…the heart-rending ‘kaN kaattum jaadaiyilE kaaviyam kaNden, andha kaavithathil sOgamenum Oviyam kaNdEn…’ beginning with the high-pitched lament ‘oru kOdi ezhil sErthu uruvathai padaithaan..’ P.Suseela’s rendition cannot but evoke the deepest emotions of the heart, and in this song she surpasses herself! The piano’s notes accompanying her usher in an eerie backdrop, almost like a funeral march; the muted violins raise the suspense to an incredible crescendo in this slow, sepulchral song. The more popular number from the film is however the irrepressible LRE having a blast in ‘naalu pakkkam yEri, yERiyilE theevu, theevukku oru raaNi, raaNikku oru raaja’ .
And with nadu iravil, SB bid farewell to filmdom, never to return. True, he worked only in very few films, but he picked and chose what he wanted. Compromise on anything was unknown to him, and he never hesitated to do what he thought best, defying the prevalent trends and popular appeal. He declined gracefully the offer of playing the veeNai for Sridhar’s kalaikkOyil; he felt that it would not befit his stature. Save andha naaL, most of the movies he directed did not have any crowd-pulling stars. And even for andha naaL, I have read that Sivaji came into the picture only after Sahasranamam and Calcutta Viswanathan were tested and rejected.
After moving away from cinema, SB returned full-time to classical music where he scaled untouched heights as the greatest vaiNika of his time.
‘I have no ‘guru’ but God, and my music-making is an act of worship!’ declared SB. And this was true; SB never underwent any formal training. Within two years of first picking up a veeNai, SB gave his first solo veeNai concert at the Model Hall in Mylapore, accompanied by Ramnad Eswaran on the mridangam and Thiruvalangaadu Sundaresa Iyer on the violin. Even as a beginner, SB never felt the absence of a master as a handicap. Quite on the contrary, ‘by the grace of God, it gave him the unique opportunity to practice on his own, strive by himself, and ultimately bring credit to himself for his achievement of having evolved a new trend, and a new style, and a new school of veeNa-playing.’ SB developed what is now commonly called the Balachander baaNi, the ‘essence of which was to adhere to the spirit of vocal music.’ Indeed, it said that it was SB who secured for the veeNai a regular place as a solo concert instrument.
SB traveled all over the world, and won international fame as an instrumentalist of rare repute. The famous electric bassist Mark Egan cites SB as a major influence on his music. At one time, SB held the record for cutting the highest number of records (21 in India, and 6 outside India)! The 12 LP set encompassing the 72 melakartas is a piece of work that has no parallel. Magic Music of India (World Pacific), Sounds of the veeNa (WPS), VeeNa Virtuoso (World Music Library), Immortal Sounds on the VeeNa (Oriental Records), veeNa (EMI), The Music of the VeeNa (JVC, Japan), and The Music of India (Nonesuch Explorer) are some his releases that have been best-sellers world-wide.
Forthright and bold, SB courted controversies all his life. He was caustic and confrontational on issues that he firmly believed in, unmindful of making enemies on the way. In his last years, SB was engaged in a bitter war of words with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer to expose what SB claimed as the ‘Swathi Thirunaal Hoax’, which SB declared to be a greater shame than the Bofors Scandal that was hogging the headlines just then!
Awards, accolades and titles came SB’s way in abundance. Raaga Brahman, Kala Sikhamani, Veena Praveena, Veena Yogi, Vainika Kalanidhi, Naadha Brahman, Veena Yogi, Vainika Swayambhu, Veena Varaprasadi, Abhinava Narada,….the list seems endless. The Sangeet Natak Akademi Award was conferred upon him in 1977. He received a doctorate from the World Academy of Arts & Culture, Tirupathi. And the Government of India recognized this genius by conferring on SB the ‘Padmabhushan.’
SB passed away suddenly on April 15, 1990, in Bhilai, where he had gone on a concert tour. He left behind his wife Shantha (whom he had married in Tirupathi in 1953), and his advocate son Raman. He has also left behind an incomparable bequest of pristine music. SB’s life was a vibrant, varied tapestry, interwoven with exquisite accomplishments. He was truly one of a kind..
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As luck would have it, my college too was right opposite SB’s house. And as we friends spent more time outside the college at tea shop in the corner, over innumerable cups of tea and er….other sustenance, I would at times spot SB in his balcony, or entering or leaving his house. The years seemed to have altered him very little; he looked the same as he did when I was a child. I read of his death during the annual vacation after my second year. And in my final year, whenever I glanced at the house, I felt it looked empty and forlorn, robbed of its majestic inhabitant.
Many more years have gone by now, bringing about numerous changes in their wake. Sullivan Garden Road is now P.S. Sivasami Salai. Many of the gracious houses and ancient trees that lined the road have given way to commercial development. The house at the corner is still intact though, and the veeNai at the gatepost with the legend ‘S.Balachander’ inscribed on it remains unscathed, singing an eternal song of an illustrious history.
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One of the glorious names associated with the early years of Tamil cinema is ‘Jupiter Pictures’. Two friends S.K.Mohideen and M.Somasundaram were the partners of Jupiter Pictures. They had produced the first social movie in Tamil, the 1935 adaptation of Vaduvoor Duraisami Iyengar’s mEnaka. And from the profits that the landmark film secured for them, they established Jupiter Pictures and made many successful movies in the Central Studio in Coimbatore and later at Neptune Studio at Madras. NSK, MGR, Karunanidhi, S.D.Sundaram, ASA Sami, Kasilingam, Kannadasan, MSV….the list of stalwarts who owed their early recognition and success to Jupiter Pictures goes on.
It was ‘Jupiter’ Somu who perceived the spark of a genius in the young SB. He was particularly impressed with SB’s work in idhu nijama and en kaNavar, and in 1951, Somu invited SB to make a film for Jupiter Pictures. kaithi was the story that SB told Somu. It had all the ingredients of a successful entertainer. Vijayan is an unemployed graduate who comes to Madras in search of a job. Fate takes him to the Guindy Races where he is caught handling the knife by which a man called Karunakaran has just been fatally stabbed… unjustly accused of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to life imprisonment, Vijayan escapes from jail to prove his innocence and bring the real culprits to book. I have a vague memory of reading that the very first shot, that of a corpse lying on the Guindy Race Course, made the viewer sit up.
SB drafted the screenplay and directed the movie, besides playing the hero, and scoring the music. His Assistant Directors were V.Srinivasan (who later became famous as ‘Mukta’ Srinivasan) and K.S.Sethumadhavan. Dialogues were written by Kalaimani, T.S.Venkatasami and V.Seetharaman. Lyrics were by K.D.Santhanam. S.A.Natarajan, Mustafa, G.M.Basheer, Muthukrishnan, Meenakshi, Revathi and R.Malathi were the other actors in the movie.
There were 5 songs in the movie. The first is a prison song, ‘kodumai piRandhu vaLarum idam siRaikkoodamE’ sung by the inmates as they carry out their assigned chores. KD Santhanam writes of the indignities and cruelties that are heaped on the prisoners. ‘kadumaiyaana dhandanaiyaalE kaattu vilangaagiyE, kalludaithu, chekkizhuthu uLLam nondhu maaLavE’, he writes. SB sings the song with a great chorus accompaniment. He does away with instrumental interludes in this one; the ‘haiyya hOrihaa’ chorus refrain makes up the interludes. This surely would have been a novelty at the time.
‘Be happy, be cheerful, be jolly!’ is the next song in the album. Kamala, who gives shelter to the escaped convict Vijayan, sings this song, urging him to be optimistic. She tells that his disheveled state was so unbecoming and he ought to smarten himself. You might wonder why SB chose the sober (Radha) Jayalakshmi to render this jolly song, but the RJ that you get to listen here is a startling revelation. She sounds so playful and coy, even while unleashing her trademark dulcet magic. Only SB could have coaxed this dignified classical singer to mouth lines like ‘Vijayan, idhO paarum---soap, seepu, toothpaste, powder, safety razor, shaving set, Tomco Oil, toilet set, ellaam ungaLukku thaan! shoulder 16, body sutRaLavu 26, collar 18, neeLam…correct..38. Ok, thank you, Mr. Vijayan!’ and again ‘American bush coat, hat, Arrow Shirt, Crepe Sole boot, tweed suit, turkey towels..all for you, take it!’
A young Jikki sings the mournful ‘minnalai pOlE en kaathal vaanil Vijayan oru naaL vandhaan’ SB and an unidentifiable female voice sing the hilarious skit extolling the necessity of female education ‘aRivu perugavE aaNum peNNum sarisamamaaga pazhagaNum, kalvi iruvarum oNdRaai pazhagaNum’ .
My pick is however the simple, straight from the heart ‘pozhuthu vidiya pOi sEraNum’ sung by M.M.Muthu. I could find very little about this obscure singer. He seems to have worked as an assistant to Music Director C.N.Pandurangan in later years. One more song sung by M.M.Muthu that comes to mind is ‘bambaai mittai thambi’ in vaazhvinilE oru naaL.
SB keeps the tune and orchestration simple. A rustic simpleton sings the song as he drives his bullock-cart. He reminds the animals (and himself) that they had to move faster and sell their load of hay. He promises them new tethers if they would do his bidding. The animals pick up speed and run along with their bells jingling. He then laments on the sorry state of affairs of the land…the drought stricken land where the fields are wasted by the heat, and even drinking water has become scarce… the food shortage, the depressingly high rates of unemployment….he touches upon all these and more. He even wonders if there could be a way of getting food without depending on rain… He then ruminates on the approaching state elections, and the campaigns and slogans of the candidates. He vows to pick good candidates who would serve the society with sincerity.
More than 50 years have gone by since this song was written and sung. It is election time again…. ‘ullapadikki nalla manushanaa paarthu namba vote-a koduthu naatta kaakkaNum!’