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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Sendu malli malaiyo - Manthiri Kumaran

Saravanan Natarajan writes:
Rajan-Nagendra Part 1:

Reminded of the talented M.K. Atmanathan by Kumaraswamy Sundar’s post, I dug up some of my old collections over the weekend. Began with listening to the Edhaiyam Thangum Idhayam album for which Athmanthan had written some songs. Lulled by the lilting compositions of T.R. Papa (9 of them in all), I was shaken out of my reverie when Seergazhi Govindarajan began on a high note with ‘Vidiyum varai kaathiruppen’. Filled with joy at listening anew to this forgotten treasure, I realized that besides Edhayam Thangum Idhayam, the CD also had songs from the obscure ‘Ellorum Vaazha Vendum’.

I sat back with rapturous anticipation of the treat that was to follow, for I remembered that this album had some magnificent compositions that have sadly remained unnoticed…and my thoughts went naturally to the immensely talented brothers Rajan-Nagendra who had worked with passion to create a memorable score for their first Tamil venture…
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Rajan & Nagendra were brothers and were prolific composers in Kannada. They remained an enduring and endearing musical duo, composing music for reportedly 375 movies over 4 decades. No compilation of evergreen Kannada hits would be complete without the melodious compositions of R-N.

Rajan (born 1933) and Nagendrappa (1935- 2000) were born into a musically rich family in Shivarampet, Mysore. Their father Rajappa was a musician who had worked in live orchestras for silent movies and was known for his skills on the harmonium. Renowned musicians were frequent visitors at their house. Thus the children grew up in a household that reverberated with music all day long. After learning the rudiments of music from their father, the brothers underwent formal training under a reputed vocalist called Bidaram Krishnappa.

Therafter, Rajan learned to play the violin from vidwan R. R. Keshavamurthy and later enrolled as a student under the great Chowdiah. Nagendra continued his vocal training and also learned to play the Jaladharangam. In an interview, Rajan recalled, “I worked for some time as a typist in the education department and found it similar to the harmonium keys, so I also learnt to play the harmonium. A person was selling his veena for Rs. 25. I bought it and learnt to play the veena. I also used to play the flute.” The brothers performed as musicians in stage concerts of Jai Maruthi Orchestra in Mysore.

Even as children they astounded many trained musicians with their prodigious mastery- Nagendra would create magic on the Jalatharangam, while Rajan’s adroit playing of the violin was legendary.
Seeking greater opportunities, they went to Madras and worked under the pioneering composer H.R. Padmanabha Shastri. This was a great platform for the brothers to observe first-hand the art of composing and recording music for movies. Nagendra then returned to Mysore to complete his schooling and later worked with the innovative Kannada Bhavageethe singer and composer Pandeshwara Kalinga Rao (Remember the haunting Kalinga Rao- Jamunarani duet ‘Ennai ariyaamale’ from Manaiviye Manithanin Manickam?)

It was Nagendra who first made his debut in film music…he sang a duet in the movie 1952 movie ‘Sri Srinivasa Kalyana’ with the famed singer Amirbai Karnataki under the baton of veteran P. Shyamanna. Impressed by the talents of the young Nagendra, B. Vittalacharya, who was one of the producers of Sri Srinivasa Kalyana, commissioned Rajan- Nagendra to compose music for his richly-mounted ‘Sowbhagyalakshmi’ (1953) and there was no looking back ever since.

The brothers took up permanent residence in Madras where movies in all the four southern languages were being made. Their work throughout the 50s in Kannada movies such as Chanchalakumari, Kanyadana, Rajalakshmi, Muthaide Bhagya, Mangalyayoga, Maane Thumbida Hennu and Manege Bandha Mahalakshmi won them critical notice and a huge fan following.

Reminiscing on those heady years when there were no sound-proof recording rooms, Rajan said in an interview “We would record songs only at night, with two mikes – one for the singer and one for orchestra. And we would do it in an asbestos-covered shooting shed; no fan or AC! The music would be routed to a generator van with a recordist sitting inside.” It would then be printed on a negative (there was no way to instantly playback what they had recorded), and they would wait for movie theatres to finish their last show for the night before they could go in and listen to the tracks. And then, edit. And to ensure that shrutis of all instruments matched, Rajan recalled going to Bombay to get a tuning meter; all the musicians would tune up on that before performing live in the orchestra.

“We would record several takes but the tempo of each one would be different because of voltage problems. So we used a rhythm box to create a click track to maintain tempo. Now its common practise to create a click track, but when we introduced it, there was a lot of opposition from musicians.” It was only in the 60s that Madras got its recording studios with three-channel tracks to record singer, rhythm and orchestra, Rajan said in the interview.
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Despite notching a string of hits in Kannada, Tamil cinema did not deign to encourage their timid overtures. Ellorum Vaazha Vendum (1962/ SRS Pictures), the title may have proclaimed righteously, but Rajan-Nagendra’s compositions therein found few takers. And this was grossly unfair, for every song in the album was crafted with painstaking care. Rajan- Nagendra worked with a bevy of the talented singers to come up with one stunner after another…

Andhi saayum velai (happy & pathos versions)- Jikki
Nalla thamizh vilakke- A.M. Raja & Jikki
Mayil vizhugum thanniyile- Tiruchi Loganathan
Ponnu ponnu ponnu- S. Janaki
Podhuma innum venuma- Jikki
Vichitirame manithan sarithirame- C. S. Jayaraman
Vidiyum varai kaathiruppen- Seergazhi Govindarajan
Aarambame inikkum- C.S. Jayaraman & Leela

It is a matter of wonder that the leading singers in Tamil film music of the time did not feature in this album, and R-N brought back singers who were beginning to be forgotten. And perhaps this was one of the reasons why the songs did not become popular…

Yet that doesn’t take away from each of the compositions the innate beauty that R-N invested into them.

Listen here to ‘Vidiyum varai kaathiruppen’, where Seergazhi Govindarajan sounds so achingly forlorn.


Listen here to the dainty duet by A.M. Raja & Jikki- Nalla thamizh vilakke:


Ellorum Vaazha Vendum, with Balaji, Malini & M.R. Radha in its cast, was consigned to the cans within no time, and the songs that R-N so eagerly worked on did not elicit any notice.
* * * * *

Filmmaker B. Vittalacharya kept reminding us of the duo, as his many fairy-tale ventures dubbed into Tamil came with R-N’s music- Mandhirikumaran (1963), Veeradhi Veeran (1964) and Madurai Mannan (1966) to name a few.

At the insistence of Vittalacharya, R-N agreed to adapt the tune of Ravi’s immortal ‘Chaudhvin ka chand’ for Mandhirikumaran and bade TMS render this gentle number ‘Sendu malli maalaiyo’ as a solo and then again as a duet with P. Susheela. Watch the duet here:


Another charming TMS- P. Susheela duet ‘Thendral poongavil nindraadum thogai’ from the movie was also popular in its time

Ebullient and enticing as always, L.R. Eswari makes merry in this number from Veerathi Veeran:

Innum innum idhu, a lovely TMS- S. Janaki duet from Veerathi Veeran was a favourite of Radio Ceylon. TMS in one of his rare mellow outings and a young Janaki add infinite allure to this caressing number:


* * R-N in the 70s: To be covered in Part 2 * *

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