There was a period in Tamil cinema where music to people was nothing else, but Carnatic. Film music, though however modern it might have been considered, it was, but a non-purist’s version of Carnatic music. Some of the greatest Prayogams of the ragas were handled by these non-purists of those ages! These days, kids attending music classes are taught tamil songs of Papanasam Sivan. The kids learn them too. But for them, Papanasam Sivam is another photo on the wall alongside the Musical Trinities- Thyagaraja, Dhikshathar and Shayamashastri. But very few people of our generation, have someone at their home telling them about Papanasam Sivan, as a phenomenon in the Film Music of those days. He handled Carnatic music in such a fashion, that it ceased to remain the music of the elite and spread across the general audience taking a wholesome effect. It was infact this music of Papanasam Sivan, that immortalized tamil cinema’s greatest superstar of those ages, M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. They were made for each other.
Ofcourse, Sivan’s creations extended beyond the film world- to the concert platform also. I was brought up in a family, where MKT songs were played to make me sleep. Back then, I had no idea about his icon status, till I read a short story in Tamil, “Irulil Oru Thunai” by Jeyakanthan. “Sivakavi” is one of the finest examples of Sivan’s music and the highly effective Prayogams of ragas he had used in Film music. One such song from Sivakavi, is “Vasantha Ruthu mana mohanamey”, that not only has the raga names coming in the lyrics of the songs (Vasantha/Kunthala Varali/Yathukula Kambodhi/Surutti), but also have done stunning justice to the ragas employed.
There are so many remixes, these days of the that one song that remains till now, to be Charukesi at it’s best- “Manmadha leelai vendraar undo” from “Haridas”. Few people know that before the Sivaji Ganesan/Bhanumathy version of “Ambikapathy” was made, MKT/MS Santhanalakshmi had already immortalized the South Indian version of Romeo and Juliet on the silver screens of yester years! But it was the music in the Sivaji starrer that completely blacked-out the fame of MKT version of the movie, and thus was born another phenomenon in Tamil Film music- G. Ramanatha Iyer!
It was G. Ramanatha Iyer who lightened the heavy aura of film music, yet made it quite delectable. He brought into our music the magic of western notes and made it so Indian. Some such songs are- “Chinna Pennaana pothiley” from “Aravalli” (Que Sera Sera) and “Malligai Poo jaathi roja” from “Raji En Kanmani” (A Tune that haunts our minds, as the blind flower girl’s theme in Charlie Chaplin’s “City Lights”). Yet, in “Ambikapathy”, there is complete make-over in him. The Carnatic Prayogams he had brought out in this movie in the various songs have not ceased to haunt the listener, even now. “Masila Nilave” with it’s beautiful Maund in the beginning and the transition of the Nadai in the song, when it glides on to “Anbe, Inbam” and the Punnagavarali of “Vaanam Engey”! Evoke a spontaneous awe! But for me, “Ambikapathy” is for the song- “Kanniley iruppathenna Kanni ilam maaney”! Bhanumathy or GR- who steals the show- I have still not been able to settle!
Kalyani, until then was employed predominantly as an Uchchasthayee raga, when it came to film music. It was GR, who brought about a beautiful Madhyasthayee Prayogams of Kalyani in “Chindanai Sei Manamey” in “Ambikapathy”. Though this Kalyani is only second to “Thuninthapin manamey” in the movie “Devadas”(Gantasala).
There are still a lot many numbers by GR, such as “Inbam pongum Vennila” from Veerapandiya Kattabomman and “Kaatru Veliyidai Kannama” from “Kappalottiya thamizhan”, which are also songs of such brilliance and cannot miss a mention. GR will always remain nonpareil in the field of tamil film music. It would not be an exaggeration to say that GR is the pioneer to the modern tamil film music. He would always remain in the soul of his music and also in the hearts of Degree coffee Lovers, such as me…