When Sreekumaran Thampi won his first State award for best lyricist, C. Achutha Menon was Kerala’s Chief Minister; Prem Nazir was the reigning superstar in Malayalam cinema; Mammootty was a student at Maharaja’s College, planning to be a lawyer; and Shwetha Menon was a toddler.
Malayalam cinema may have changed beyond recognition by the time he won his second, but beautiful lines continue to flow from his ageless pen. Like they did, for Nayika, which fetched him the best lyricist award of 2011, 41 years after the first.
“Yes, 41 years is a pretty long time. To be honest, I was hurt when I was overlooked for the State awards all these years because certain individuals in power had some personal problems with me. I am happy that the jury of this year’s State Awards recognised merit,” says Thampi. He won the award for the song, ‘Nanayum nin mizhiyoram…’, composed by M.K. Arjunan, with whom he had formed a formidable combination about four decades ago that gave us timeless melodies like ‘Yadukula rathidevanevide…’ (Rest House), ‘Nin maniyarayile…’ (CID Nazir) and ‘Chandrakkala manathu…’ (Picnic).
“It felt great to work with Arjunan once again. It would have been nice if he too got the award for Nayika. He has never won the State Award for the best music director, though he has been one of the best ever in Malayalam cinema. It is a pity, really,” he says.
Thampi says the State Awards do matter. “That is why I felt disappointed when some of my finest works, in films like Chandrakantham, Nruthashala and Ithu Manushyano, were overlooked, deliberately,” says the man who has written more than a thousand songs in a career that began with Kattumallika in 1966. A year later, the songs in Chithramela, such as ‘Akashadeepame…’ and ‘Neeyevide…’, became a rage; Thampi had arrived.
It must not have been easy for a young man to make a mark at a time when Vayalar, P. Bhaskaran and ONV were all there. “No, it wasn’t, especially when Vayalar and Bhaskaran had created hugely popular combinations with G. Devarajan and Baburaj, respectively. But I too created hit songs with several composers. And I had my own combinations too, with V. Dakshinamoorthy and M.S. Viswanathan. I had great regard for Vayalar, Bhaskaran and ONV,” he says. Although Yesudas has sung most of the songs he has written, P. Jayachandran too has rendered some of his biggest hits, like ‘Rajeevanayane neeyurangoo…’ (Chandrakantham) and ‘Karpooradeepathin kanthiyil…’ (Divyadarshanam).
Few could rival Thampi in writing romantic songs. And he could write about love using the simplest of words. “Yes, I like writing about romance through my songs, but I also like writing philosophical songs, such as ‘Sukhamoru bindu…’ (Ithu Manushyano) and ‘Chirikkumbol koode…’ (Kadal),” he says.
Thampi is also a director, producer and scriptwriter. “I have worked with our biggest stars, from Nazir to Mammootty. I was very close to Nazir; he was not just a great actor, but a very kind man as well. And he remains our handsomest actor ever. I was the first director to cast Mammootty as a hero, in Munnettam, in 1981. But I am primarily a lyricist; I always knew my gift was in poetry,” he says.
Among the best
1. ‘Hrudayasarassile…’ (Padunna Puzha)
2. ‘Ponveyil manikkacha…’ (Nruthashala)
3. ‘Easwaranorikkal…’ (Lankadahanam)
4. ‘Malayala bhashathan…’ (Prethangalude Thazhavara)
5. ‘Yadukula rathidevanevide…’ (Rest House)
6. ‘Kasthuri manakkunnallo…’ (Picnic)
7. ‘Swarnagopura narthakishilpam…’ (Divyadarshanam)
8. ‘Akaleyakale neelakasham…’ (Midumidukki)
9. ‘Vaikkathashtami naalil…’ (Bharyamar Sookshikkuka)
10. ‘Chandanathil kadanjeduthoru…’ (Shasthram Jayichu Manushyan Thottu)