The 82-year-old ‘vaaliba kavignar’ penned more than 15,000 songs in a career that spanned more than half a century in the Tamil film industry

Lyricist and poet Vaali, who secured a place on a par with Kannadasan, at a time when the latter strode like a colossus in the Tamil film music world, died here on Thursday evening.

He was 82 and is survived by a son.

He was not well for quite some time and was in and out of hospital over the past month. The end came as one of his friends recited a few ‘pasurams’ — Ondrum marantharieyen and Oorilen kaaniyillai and Kulam tharum — from the ‘Nalayira Divyaprabandam’, a set of hymns sung by Vaishnavite minstrels.

Vaali, who had a five-decade-long association with the Tamil film industry, wrote over 15,000 songs — including 5,000 for music maestro Ilaiyaraja — for many a protagonist played by actors from M.G. Ramachandran to Dhanush.

On the one hand, he wrote songs like Madhavi ponmayilal, Ammavendrazhaikatha uyirillaye, Naanaga naan illai and Janani janani that transported the listener to a different plane, and on the other, he entertained the masses with songs such as Chikkupukku chikkupukku railay, Mukkala muqabla and Singari sarakku nalla sarakku.

Overwhelmed by the brilliant imagery of the lines in the song Pakkathu veetu paruva matchan in the film ‘Karpagam’, Kannadasan declared in a public meeting that Vaali would be his heir-apparent.

Though he wrote songs for many yesteryear and present-day heroes, his association with MGR songs is famous. The political image that MGR built for himself through his film songs stood him in good stead later when he embarked on a highly successful political career, with Vaali’s lines embodying his ideas.

Naan aanai ittal (‘Enga Veetu Pillai’), Moondrezhuthil yen moochirukkum (‘Theiva Thai’), Kan pona pokkiley kaal pogalama (‘Panam Padaithavan’), Puthiya vaanam, puthiya boomi (‘Anbe Vaa’), Thambi naan padichen kanchiyilay netru (‘Netru, Indru, Nalai’) and Tharaimel pirakka vaithan (‘Padakoti’) galvanised the masses.

Born S. Rangarajan in Thiruparaithurai near Tiruchi in 1931, he assumed the pen name Vaali as he was an ardent fan of famed artist Mali of Ananda Vikatan, now a Tamil weekly. Vaali was also known as ‘vaaliba kavignar’ (youthful lyricist).

A theatre enthusiast, he directed many plays in Tiruchi and Srirangam and worked for All India Radio as a part-time employee, before making a foray into the film world.

He also acted in ‘Paarthal Paravasam’, ‘Poikkal Kuthirai’ and ‘Hey Ram’. He had one directorial venture — ‘Vadaimaalai’. He also penned dialogues for some films including ‘Kaliyuga Kannan’.

Vaali was also a dramatist and story writer. ‘Ore Oru Gramathile’, a film for which he wrote the story and dialogues, was sought to be banned, but the Supreme Court overturned it. The film, produced by S. Rangarajan, late publisher of The Hindu, won a national award.

He landed in Chennai in search of opportunities in the film world and the break came in 1958. He wrote his first song for the film ‘Azhagarmalai Kallan’. The first film he wrote for MGR was ‘Nallavan Vaazhvaan’ and the dialogues were penned by DMK founder C.N. Annadurai. ‘Ithayathil Nee’ starring Gemini Ganesan gave him much-needed popularity.

MGR starrer ‘Padakotti’ took him to new heights as a lyricist. Subsequently, he wrote almost all films of MGR and shared a great relationship with M.S. Viswanathan.

“I was writing lines for a livelihood. I started paying taxes only after joining hands with MSV,” he had said in his memoir.

His devotional song Karpanai entralum, karchilai entralum on Lord Muruga continues to move generations of devout listeners.

Koovi azhaithal kural koduppan, set to raga ‘valaji’ has become an immortal Tamil krithi rendered in classical music concerts.

While he was a believer, he benefited immensely from his association with the leaders of the Dravidian movement including Anna, MGR and M. Karunanidhi.

A prolific writer, he had rendered in verse form the tales of Rama (‘Avathara Purushan’), Krishna (‘Krishna Vijayam’) and Ramanuja (‘Ramanuja Kaviyam’). ‘Pandavar Bhoomi’ was Mahabharatha in modern verse. His latest work was the biography of Srimad Azhagiyasingar, the 45th jeer of the Ahobila Mutt.