There’s a point in every composer’s career where the baton is passed on to the next generation. There’s a new king, so to speak. In MS Viswanathan’s case, the dethroning happened in the late 1970s, but he continued to keep making music. Wiki lists 21 films in 1980 — by which time the great composer’s successor was well and truly entrenched. Here are 10 of my favourite songs from the “Ilaiyaraaja era”.
Amman Alangaram (Oru Varisu Uruvagiradhu, 1982)
Signature rhythm work (a drums-tabla combo-percussion), singers (SPB/Vani Jairam) in top form, and melodic phrasings to die for. The three opening lines in the pallavi are flat, each one descending a note from the earlier one, and then, there’s an unexpected climb at “artha jaama naeram”. The second and fourth lines of the charanam-s, too, are breathtaking, with minor notes casually being strewn.
Pacha Vayal Pakkathile (Enga Ooru Kannagi, 1980)
A folk song that flows like a gentle stream, lulled by what sound like the bells on the bullocks pulling a cart. But the second stanza is scored to a tabla. Then, when we return to the pallavi, the percussion is now a mridangam. S Janaki puts over the song’s philosophies beautifully. Aatha kadakka venum (Sugamana Raagangal, 1985) is this song’s kinda-sorta twin.
Kanaa Kaanum Kangal Mella (Agni Saatchi, 1982)
MSV’s classic trope, if you will, is the four-line pallavi with four different melodic casings for each line. This is a song (part lullaby, part destruction dance, and voiced with godlike emotion by SPB) that can stand with classics from the composer’s greatest phase.
Idhayam Pesinal (Amara Kaaviyam, 1981)
The entire pallavi sounds like a single sentence with five simple words: Idhayam pesinal unnidam aayiram pesumo. But the tune breaks each word into syllables and makes the pallavi sound like it has five (mini) lines, instead. Also, Vani Jairam’s sangati-s for “vennila” in the first (short) charanam…
Vekkapadavo (Lorry Driver Rajakannu, 1981)
A super-fun duet with SPB and S Janaki and a chugging-train percussion. The trademark MSV phrases range from the teasing staccato of “poovagi pinjaagi kayaagi kaniyaagi” (where will the tune go from there?) to the sine-curve sinuousness of “naan pushpanjali ondru seyya”…
Nedunaal Aasai Ondru (Saranalayam, 1983)
Yes, this is MSV doing a ‘Mike’ Mohan number. The composer’s greatest female singer, P Sushila, sounds as sweet as she did in their 1960s heydays: just listen to the sugar-dissolving tune-drops in the last two lines of the pallavi. The tinny synth-sound was a regular feature of the pre-Rahman era, but it’s hard to be hard on these lapses when SPB goes “adhu neridaiyaaga cholla…”
Vaanavillai Polirukkum (Dharma Raja, 1980)
I was a bit hesitant to include this one as TMS isn’t what he used to be (the sonorousness, by this time, had been sandpapered away). But imagine an SPB singing, and you’ll see how foot-tapping the tune and the rhythm changes are.
Oru Osai Indri Mounamaaga (Paritchaikku Neramaachu, 1982)
Jayachandran’s is a unique voice, one that doesn’t fit every kind of song. But when that fit happens, it’s bliss. MSV used the singer marvellously for this minimally orchestrated pathos-riddled number (you can almost imagine the composer himself singing this song), and also, in Yen Mana Kootukkule (Manakanakku, 1986).
Subbanna Sonnarunna (Thee, 1981)
A bloody catchy Malaysia Vasudevan track (the co-singers are SN Surendar and Kovai Soundararajan), backed by the dafli and that sweet extra note at the end of every charanam line. With an update in orchestration, I think this will fit right into a Vijay starrer. (Yes, the political lyrics will help. Is this the first time “socialism” was used in a Tamil film song?)
Nitham Nitham En Kannodu (Kootu Puzhukkal, 1987)
It’s a magnificent ghazal-like tune, but I think my affection for the number is also because it’s the last great MSV-SPB collaboration. MSV was the composer who moulded SPB’s voice into what it would become, and this Eighties’ answer to evergreens like ‘Enakkoru Kadhali Irukkindral’ is a fitting farewell.
Ten extra numbers
Raasathi Rosapoove (Sirai, 1984).
Abinaya Sundari Aadugiral (Miruthanga Chakravarthi, 1983).
Kannana Poomagane (Thanneer Thanneer, 1981).
Maargazhi Pookkale (Avan Aval Adhu, 1980).
Thendraladhu Unnidathil (Andha 7 Naatkal, 1981).
Vendum Vendum Ungal Uravu (Vasanthathil Orr Naal, 1982).
Thennilangai Mangai (Mohana Punnagai, 1981).
Paavai Nee Malligai (Deiveega Raagangal, 1980).
Soppanathil Sindhu Padithen (Theerpu, 1982).
Andhi Neram (Thillu Mullu, 1981).