Composer Reghu Kumar created a brand of music that remains fresh and innovative.
The early Eighties was a period of transition in Malayalam film music. From the golden era of simple, straightforward music, there were definite shades of other influences such as jazz and rock. Malayalam film music was moving into the age of powerful noise, heavy percussion and quavering guitars.
Ringing in the change was a group of music directors who had cut their teeth with some of the great masters accompanying them in their orchestra. Among them was Reghu Kumar who broke new ground with his brand of unforgettable and melodious music, imbued with flavours of classical and folk music. He put his stamp on Malayalam film music with some memorable songs, faded out, and made a brief comeback, before bidding a final goodbye.
Composing music was not something Reghu Kumar had planned. And when this writer met him a few years ago, he laughed heartily when he went down memory lane tracking some of those milestones in his musical career that happened by chance.
Loads of talent and a little bit of basic training were enough for Reghu Kumar to bloom into a brilliant tabla player. Trained by T.R. Balasubramaniam, Reghu Kumar began playing the tabla for musical groups, which led him to accompany some of the great names in the music industry. “I was hardly 15 when I played for playback singer P. Jayachandran in a stage programme. Soon I was associated with Sukumaran’s orchestra group in Kozhikode and went on to play in many stage shows. The tabla led me to films,” said Reghu Kumar. Incidentally, he was also trained to play the sitar by Vincent Master and Carnatic classical by G.S. Krishnan.
A chance meeting and introduction to R.K. Sekhar was the turning point in Reghu Kumar’s career. It opened a world of opportunities and for the first time Reghu Kumar began thinking seriously about creating his own songs. “Sekhar Sir, an amazing conductor. He was sought after by almost every music director. Getting that chance to assist him was a huge learning experience. I must have played and assisted in almost every film in which Sekhar Sir was involved.”
Reghu Kumar made his debut as music director in the 1979 film Iswara Jagadeeswara. Though the gramophone records for this film came out, the film did not come out of the cans. The film had lyrics by Jayaraj and songs were sung by P. Jayachandran and Kalyani Menon. Two years later Reghu Kumar made his mark with his songs in the film Visham.
However, Reghu Kumar's association with cinema began much before his avatar as a musician. He ventured into film production along with his brother and two friends. “We set up Dhanya Enterprises in 1976. The first film we produced was Shankupushpam (1977). This film did well, music by M.K. Arjunan was superb and all the songs turned hits.”
They went on to do a series of films such as Lisa, Sarpam, Anupallavi, Shakti, Pappu, Visham, and Dheera. “One thing we insisted on in all these films was good songs.” Interestingly, Reghu Kumar used other music directors in their home productions. “That was another decision we took. I did not want to push myself into this just because it was our own production. So, for most of the films, till Dheera, it was either Arjunan Master or K.J. Joy. Ironically, it was Dheera that gave me that much-needed break as music director.” Two of the songs in this film, ‘Mele nee mele vaaru…’ and ‘Mridule etha oru bhavageetham etha…’ have stood the test of time.
Reghu Kumar became the chosen composer for most of the top directors like Priyadarsan. And Reghu Kumar did not disappoint.
“I can never forget those Priyadarsan films. It was a pleasure working for him. He had a knack in picturisation of song sequences. The success of a film song hinges heavily on how it is portrayed on screen. And some of my popular songs were from Priyan’s films. I worked with Onnanam Kunnil Oradi Kunnil to Aryan, around seven films.”
Reghu Kumar also forged a strong bond with lyricist Poovachal Khader, with whom he worked in nearly 10 of his 30 films. “Right from Visham we shared a special bond. I always thought he was able to read my mind. The moment I sang a snatch of a tune, Khader was ready with the apt words. The other two lyricists with whom I shared a similar bond was Thirumeni (Kaithapram Damodaran Namboodiri) and the immensely gifted Gireesh Puthenchery with whom I worked in a few films like Mayamayooram (1993).”
Apart from films Reghu Kumar composed music for numerous albums. “Fortunately, most of them did well. Songs from albums like ‘Ganopaharam,’ Tharangini’s Sweet Melodies Vol. 3, one with Onam songs, a Tamil album ‘Love Birds,’ a devotional ‘Hari Narayanana’, and K.S. Chitra’s ‘Chitra Thumpi’ are some of my favourites.”
Towards the late 90s Reghu Kumar faded from the scene and his music was not heard. “This happened when Malayalam music moved from Chennai. I had by then settled down there. Perhaps my timing was bad. These days you need to be visible, once out of sight, you turn to be out of the minds of people concerned.” And for one who was never known to curry favour Reghu Kumar was quickly forgotten. He made a brief comeback in the film Subhadram (2007) but unfortunately this film did not do well. His last film was Collector (2011).
What then makes Reghu Kumar special? He was one of those composers who knew exactly what the film demanded. For him the whole film was a musical composition and he an integral part of it. Time will tell that though he may not have been able to bring many films back to life, his music certainly made them look and sound better.
Best of Reghu Kumar
‘Ninne en swantham akkum…’ (Visham)
‘Mridule itha oru…’ (Dheera)
‘Kanna Guruvayurappa…’ (Ponthooval)
‘Vasantham vanoo…’ (Onnum Mindatha Bharya)
‘Thozhukai…’ (Boeing Boeing)
‘Chembarathipoove chollu…’ (Shyama)
‘Kaikudanna niraye…’ (Mayamayooram)
‘Madhumasa chandran…’ (Kanakkinavu)
‘Iniyoru gaanam paadaan’ (K. J. Yesudas-K.S. Chitra)
‘Oru mazha megham pole’ (Sujatha)
‘Mizhikalil ninte’ (Yesudas)
‘Gananaayakane’ (Kalyani Menon)
‘Bharatha puzhayude’ (P. Jayachandran)
‘Aadhyam thammil’ (Jayachandran-Chitra)
‘Panineer poove’ (Sunanda Raja)
‘Moovanthi penne’ (Jayachandran-Chitra)