Centenary of lyricist Maruthakasi ignored

Updated by admin on Monday, July 27, 2020 05:25 PM IST

Chennai: A Maruthakasi (1920-1989)

On the banks of the Kollidam river, an old lady would sing folk songs for her grand-children. One of them was so influenced by these songs, that though he came from an agricultural family, he  wanted to write poems. The passion led to A Maruthakasi, born to Ayyamperumal Udayar and Milagayi Ammal in Melakudikadu, Trichy district of Tamil Nadu, going on to write over 4,000 lyrics for 250 Tamil films, working with all-time great music directors and actors like MGR, Sivaji Ganesan, SSR and Gemini Ganesan, and heroines like Savithri, Bhanumathi and Padmini. It is unfortunate that the Tamil film industry has not cared to celebrate his Centenary this year.

Maruthakasi was born on 13th February, at Melakudikadu in Tiruchirappalli district in an agricultural family. He had his primary education in the local village school, and studied upto Intermediate at Government College, Kumbakonam. He could not continue his studies due to the family situation, and had to return to agriculture to help his family.
Yet, from a young age, he had a love for Tamil literature, and liked writing poems. Rajagopala Aiyer, brother of famous Tamil film lyricist and music composer, Papanasam Sivan, had a great impact on the life of Maruthakasi. He wrote lyrics for the dramas staged by Devi Nadaga Sabha, for poet Ka Mu Sheriff's drama company with which noted singer Trichy Loganathan was also associated when he composed many of its songs. He also wrote songs for 'Orae Muthham' a drama by M Karunanidhi.  Trichy Loganathan recommended Maruthakasi to T R Sundaram of Modern Theatres, Salem, to write for films. Maruthakasi got to write his first song in the film Mayavathi called Penn Enum Maaya Peyaam, in 1949. His songs for Ponmudi in 1950 and Mandhirikumari  (music director G Ramanathan) became big hits, especially, Vaaraay Nee Vaaraay, Ulavarum Thenral sung by his friend and singer Trichy Loganathan.

He soon became a much sought after film lyricist. He and Ka Mu Sheriff worked together for many films. He also came into contact with Kannadasan who was then working for Modern Theatres in its Story department, not getting opportunities to write songs. They became good friends.

Maruthakasi also earned the respect of the leading film lyricist in those days, Udumalai Narayana Kavi. Maruthakasi soon acquired a reputation for writing lyrics in accordance with the tune. This particularly came in handy while writing songs for films dubbed or  remade from other languages, especially Hindi.
His son Maruthabarani, who seemed to have imbibed the art of writing especially for re-makes from other languages into Tamil), recalling his father's phenomenal talent in writing Tamil songs for tunes of other languages, pointed out that when a line in a song in Tamil had to be fitted for the Malayalam words Malayalam Ende Malayalam, Maruthakasi came up with the line ' Malaiyaagumae Thiru Malaiyaagumae', to go with the lip-synch. The production unit greeted the line with all-round cheer !
Among his evergreen songs was Neela Vanna Kannaa Vaadaa sung by R Balasaraswathi in Mangaiyar Thilakam. The song was a re-make from a Marathi composition in Vahinchiya Paandiya, tuned by Sudhir Phadke. Initially, Kannadasan was to write the song but in those days he was in a depressed mood. A casual song that he wrote did not impress L V Prasad, who then approached Maruthakasi. Neela Vanna Kanna Vaadaa became an all-time hit. Maruthakasi went on write many lullabies and songs for children. 
Later too, when K S Gopalakrishnan wanted to make a big-budget film Dasavathaaram, he asked Udumalai to write the songs but the latter said Maruthakasi would be a better choice.

Once there was a difference of opinion between Modern Theatres and Marthakasi at a time when T R Sundaram had gone abroad. Maruthakasi had kept away from Modern Theatres work.  On return, Sundaram wanted Udumalai to write the songs for Alaibabavum  40 Thirudargalum based on the tunes of the Hindi original, Udumalai got Sundaram to entrust the work to Maruthakasi. Udumalai pointed out that he would write only fresh songs (Udumalai had a distaste for the black, round-shaped Hindi LP records which he called 'karuppu Dosai kal').

The songs for the MGR-Bhanumathi starrer Alibabavum became big hits, and Maruthakasi's stock went sky-high. Azhagaana Ponnu Naan Adhukaetha Kannudhaan, Ullasa Ulagam Unakke Sondham, Maasilaa Unmai Kaadhalae were among the popular songs of this film.

Maruthakasi songs for M K Tyagaraja Bhagavagthar's Amarakavi, and the Sivaji Ganesan starrer Thookku Thookki turned out to be chart-busters. He began writing songs for all the leading music directors like S V Venkataraman, G Ramanathan, K V Mahadevan, S Dakshinamurthy, Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy. 

Maruthakasi was among the foremost to change Tamil film lyrics from a Sanskrit-dominated, mythology-oriented period to a format that was closer to Tamil people, incorporating modern thoughts, while at the same time stressing the cultural roots of the State, especially with relation to traditional crafts and agriculture. Many of his songs were rooted to the Tamil Nadu soil, thus bearing the stamp of nativity. 

As many films began to be made in Kodambakkam, Maruthakasi settled down in Chennai.

All the Marthakasi songs for the epic Sampoorna Ramayanam starring N T Rama Rao, Sivaji Ganesan, Padmini and T K Bhagavathy, tuned by K V Mahadevan were hits especially  'Inru Poy Naalai Vaaraay' (CS Jayaraman), and Sangeetha Sowbhagyamae featuring a Ravanan ragamalika (CS Jayaraman). Similarly, Maruthakasi lyrics for Lava Kusa (NT Rama Rao-Anjali Devi) were also popular, especially the song Jagam Pugazhum Punnaiya Kadhai Ramanin Kadhaiyae.
Maruthakasi was a favourite of MGR, he having written songs for Sarvaadhikaari, Alibaabaavum, Baghdad Thirudan, Thaaykku in Dhaaram, Thaay Magalukku Kattiya Thaali, Maadapuraa, Ninaithadhaii Mudaippavan,  Mannaadhi Mannan, Mahadevi, Vivasaayi and so on.

Like a few other illustrious colleagues in the film industry who fell into bad ways after entering film production. Maruthakasi decided to produce a film along with music director K V Mahadevan -- Alli Petra Pillai --, a re-make of a successful Hindi movie, Tangewala. However, the film bombed at the box-office. When Mahadevan rued the fact that they faced a huge debt burden, Maruthakasi shrugged his shoulders and said, Aanaakka Andha Madam, Aagaatti Sandhe Madam", which became a pallavi for the film Aayiram Roobaay sung by P Susheela for Savithri -- "Aanaakka Andha Madam, Aagaatti Sandhe Madam, Adhuvum Kooda Illaati, Platform Sondha Idam" indicating that they can either reach the skies or descend to the level of a platform ! 

On the other hand, Maruthakasi turned down a good offer from friend K S Gopalakrishnan when he provided his story to Maruthakasi. The film was called Thoonda Manivilakku, a pooja was held to launch the film with Sivaji Ganesan, Savithri, Ranga Rao, Ashokan and Tambaram Lalitha as artistes for whom advance too was paid. However, for some reason, the film was dropped. Later, K S Gopalakrishnan made the film as Karpagam which went on to one of the biggest grossers in the Tamil film industry. Gopalakrishnan went on to buy a studio called Karpagam, using profits from the movie.  Had Maruthakasi made the film, he would have come out of the debt burden, and it would have been a game-changer for the lyricist. 

Maruthakasi's brother Muthaiyan had then described the financial stress undergone by Maruthakasi. "With one film, my brother became a Kuchelar. He had bought a cow but unfortunately decided to gift it to K V Mahadevan on the occasion of the latter celebrating the Grahapravesam of his new house. Ignoring the counsel of director K Somu and a few others that donating one's cow would be a bad omen and bring bad tidings, Maruthakasi went ahead with the gift. As things turned out, the failure of Alli Petra Pillai, landed him in deep debts".

Meanwhile, Kannadasan had risen to dizzy heights, and Maruthakasi, already facing a huge debt burden due to the losses from film production, found film opportunities shrinking. He decided to quit and move back to his village and resume agriculture. Maruthakasi went into hibernation from 1963 to 1967.
In 1967, after MGR recovered from the shooting incident involving M R Radha, and decided to resume film work, he sent word for Maruthakasi to return to Chennai, and write songs for his films.  Devar wrote toMaruthakasi, requesting his return to Chennai. Maruthakasi came to Chennai, met MGR and Devar, and a song was recorded. However, the film was suddenly shelved. Howver, Devar asked Maruthakasi to write songs for Thaerthiruvzha. MGR continued to help Maruthakasi, even supporting him during marriage functions of his sons. Maruthakasi's songs, like Kadavul Enum Mudhalali Kandedutha Thozhilaali Vivasaayi, for the MGR starrer Vivasaayi, with a rustic favour, provided MGR a pro-farmer, image-building exercise. Devar Films continued to support him. 

In later years, he wrote lyrics for a few films starring Jaishankar, Rajinikanth and Sivakumar. His song Naeram Vandhachu in the Rajinikanth-starrer for Devar Films, Thaay Meedhu Sathiyam, was extremely popular.

He was conferred the title Thiraikkavi Thilakam. His works were nationalised by the Government of Tamil Nadu.

The humane qualities of Maruthakasi came into the fore on several occasions. He was one of those who recommended T M Sounderarajan for Thookku Thookki, though initially actor Sivaji Ganesan wanted only C S Jayaraman to sing for him. After Thookku Thooki,  TMS was the regular fixture for Sivaji Ganesan.
Maruthakasi also played a vital role in the career of Vali in his early days. Vali's song Sirikkinraal Inru Sirikkinraal for Nallavan Vaazhvaan was not accepted by the film crew, and Maruthakasi was invited to write the song instead. However, Maruthakasi, on going through Vali's song, said it was fine and there was no need to change it. Vali's was appreciated by C N Annadurai (dialogue writer for the film), MGR (the hero)  among others. 

When Modern Theatres wanted Maruthakasi to write for Paasa Valai, he couldn't journey to Salem as he was busy in Chennai. He asked them to use Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, promising a visit to Salem after four days. Accordingly, Pattukottai provided some excellent songs including Kutti Aadu Thappi Vandhaa, and Maruthakasi wrote one song which also became popular -- Anbinaalee Undaagum Inba Nilai. On another occasion, when director Bhim Singh was not happy with his song for Pathi Bhakti, Maruthakasi and said he could not come up with a better Pallavi. He suggested that Bhim Singh could get a better song from Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, and politely withdrew from the scene.

Once when Kannadasan was sought to be short-changed by a producer who wanted Maruthakasi to write for a lesser amount, Kannadasan met Maruthakasi and requested him to stand by his colleague. Maruthakasi refused the producer's offer, and the songs went to Kannadasan. They remained good friends till the end. In the latter part of his career, Kannadasan would often invite him for dinner and cheer him up.

Maruthakasi never compromised on his self-respect. Once, during recording of a song for Vidivelli, produced by a company of Sivaji Ganesan, Prabhuram Pictures, differences arose between the production unit and music director A M Raja. Maruthakasi Maruthakasi vowed not to work with Raja any more. He also walked out of the film Thaen Nilavu (MD A M Raja), produced by director Sridhar, and asked the producers not to use the three songs already written by him for Thaen Nilavu.

Only a few of Maruthakasi hit songs are listed here:

Vaaraay Nee Vaaraay, Neelavanna Kannaa Vaadaa, Sathiyamae Latchiyamaay Kolladaa, Mullai Malar Mele, Vasantha Mullaipole (Sarangadhara), Kaaviyamaa Nenjil Oviyamaa, Thai Pirandhaal Vazhi Pirakkum, Neeyae Gadhi Eswari, Sundari Soundari, Aadaadha Manamum Undo, Varuvaen Naan Unadhu Maaligaikku, Maamaa Maamaa Maamaa, Arivukkum Virundhaagum Thirukkuralae, Thanthai Solmikka Mandhiram Illai, Konji Konji Paesi, Radhe Unakku, Manappaarai Maadukatti , Kannai Nambaadhae,  Kannaale Naan Kanda, Vannathamizh Pennoruthi, Thenral Urangiya Pothum, Manushana Manushan,  Maattukaara Vaelaa, Adikkira Kaidhaan Anaikkum, Chithaadai Kattikittu, Naeram Vandhaachu, Vaaymaiyae Vellumada, Sirippu Idhan Sirappai, Samarasam Ulavum Idamae, Yer Munaikku Ner IngEe Edhuvumeyille.

A man, deeply moved by the Cauvery, agriculture and the traditions of the working class in Tamil Nadu, a true son of the soil returned to it on 29th November, 1989. 

By R. Rangaraj (the writer is President, Chennai 2000 Plus Trust)



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