One exhorted him to write more on a particular subject, another eulogised him, and some almost deified him. Though the luminaries on the dais at the release of Vaalee’s two works – ‘Ninaivu Naadaakal’ (by Muktha Srinivasan with Balakumaran receiving the first copy) and ‘Pattaththu Yaanaiyin Bavani’ (Mahendran and S. Thanu) – organised by Brahma Gana Sabha at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai, extolled the writer, poet and lyricist for his incredible staying power in cinema, his philological expertise and literary forays, it was the octogenarian’s razor-sharp memory that came to the fore that evening, as he remembered to touch upon the observations of those on stage and the prowess of many seated off it, in his acceptance speech! Age hasn’t withered Vaalee’s ingenuity, only whetted it!

Witty repartees are his forte, as Bharathi Baskar mentioned. The example was his exchange with MGR just before he began to make ‘Ulagam Sutrum Vaaliban.’ “You won’t be a part of this film,” said MGR. “Try as you may, you can’t keep me out of it,” was Vaalee’s reply. MGR looked at him puzzled, and Vaalee continued, “Then your film would be, ‘Ulagam Sutrum …ban!’” Such swift responses are the prerogative of the quick-witted. “He writes lustful verses for directors who want them. Yet high thinking is also part of many a song – who can forget his ‘Amma Endrazhaikkaadha …’” Bharathi noted. “She’s a great speaker, isn’t she,” asked actor V.S. Raghavan, who was seated beside me. I nodded.

“It’s a record. Unless you are up to date with the happenings around you, you can’t be in demand for five decades and more,” observed Poet Nellai Jayantha, the effervescent emcee of the evening. A sentiment echoed by Nalli Kuppuswamy Chetti, the chief guest. True, love notes or raunchy numbers, philosophy or facts of life Vaalee lends topicality to his lyrics. “Otherwise, can you expect ‘Ich Ich Kodu’ from a man, who brings out admirable religious treatises such as ‘Krishna Vijayam’ and ‘Avathara Purushan,’ asked Kavignar Muthulingam. “It isn’t surprising, because film work is for survival, while literary writings are the outlet of a spiritual mind,” said Vaalee.

Candour marks ‘Ninaivu Naadaakal,’ serialised inAnanda Vikatan, not so long ago. The nostalgic trip to his past is more a tribute to those who’ve helped him carve an unshakeable niche for himself in Tamil cinema. “When I took up the assignment I knew I would be criticised because I’ve laid bare my follies, weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. But I don’t believe in shamming. No educated person should,” Vaalee commented. ‘Pattathu Yaanaiyin Bavani’ a compilation of Vaalee’s poems was hailed in equal measure by the litterateurs on stage. “The title is a metaphor that Kalaignar had used to describe me and my work,” Vaalee informed.

“My wife passed away at 7.30 in the evening and it was Kanimozhi who first rushed to my house, at eight! I’ve known the family for 60 years. Her literary pursuits could have continued …I’ve mentioned her in my book,” he sighed.

“Four pages each for the DMK chief and the AIADMK Supremo, but five for Vai Ko,” needled journalist Sudhangan. “The book is a personal take. Don’t try this mischief, I follow Kanndasan’s advice sincerely – politics is not for me,” the poet shot back.

Kalaipuli S. Thanu expressed wonder at the wordsmith’s skill, which saw firsthand when Vaalee came over to write for his maiden production, ‘Yaar?’ “Do you know that Thanu is musically inclined? Above all he’s a great friend. We are neighbours who meet up frequently,” said Vaalee.

When director Mahendran mentioned, “It’s redundant to talk at length about this multi-faceted achiever. Like the names of Shakespeare, Michael Angelo and Beethoven, Vaalee too spells power,” the star of the evening returned the compliment, “Mahendran may have made very few films but they’ve attained cult status.”

Vaalee’s face evinced genuine joy when he feted doyens in the field, including Pulamaipithan. The presence of young filmmaker Karu Pazhaniappan on the stage was slightly intriguing, particularly because the poet has never written lyrics for him! But Vaalee explained that he’s been an ardent admirer of Pazhaniappan’s creative skills, “and when I pen lines for his next film, as he just said, let me assure him, I won’t charge him for it.”

With utter disregard for the occasion, mobiles kept tingling. Only Pazhaniappan’s light yet brusque tone lessened the level of disturbance caused, to an extent. It would have been even better if he had sent a similar admonition to the ‘fan’ in the third row who was clapping continuously, and that too at the most uncalled for moments!

More In: Books