Lyricist Poovachal Khader talks about his memorable sojourn in tinsel town. His songs continue to make him a name to reckon with in Malayalam film music.
Poovachal Khader has been writing songs for Malayalam films for more than three decades. The prolific but unsung wordsmith has written for nearly 400 films.
Khader entered the field when great masters of the golden era of Malayalam film music were slowly giving way to a young breed of lyricists and music composers. The biggest challenge for lyricists was to write according to set tunes, within a given structure. And Khader was one of those successful writers.
“Writing songs for tunes composed earlier was not very difficult. This was essential when we had music directors such as Salil Choudhary and others from the North making songs for us. Shyam, who used to assist Salil Da, continued with this trend and others followed. Given a choice, I still prefer to write the lyrics first and then have a music director to tune them,” admits Khader.
Foray into writing
Khader's foray into writing was fortuitous. His teacher in Poovachal was bringing out a manuscript magazine and wanted material to fill up the pages. “He knew that I used to read a lot and so asked me to contribute something. I wrote around 24 lines of what could be called my first poem. It was used in the magazine.”
A noted poet of the time K.C. Kattakada, who had also written for the magazine, read Khader's work. He asked the boy to meet him. " He introduced me to new writers, new books. On his insistence, I read the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Krishnagadha and so on.”
But Khader never thought writing poems would be his vocation. “I lost my father early and I had to share part of the responsibility of looking after my family.” Khader did his polytechnic and later his AIME from College of Engineering, Thiruvananthapuram, and got a job with the Public Works Department.
His first posting was in Kozhikode and this proved to be the turning pointing of his life. “The city had a rich history and a vibrant culture. I could feel it in the lanes, in the houses, in the songs that wafted through the many music clubs.”
Among Khader's Kozhikode friends was Kanish Poonur, editor of a Malayalam weekly that had published some of Khader's poems. “Kanish introduced me to I.V. Sasi, who did illustrations for the weekly. Sasi used to narrate the stories that he had in mind, I recited my poems. Most of the stories he told me were made into films by him, later.”
It was Sasi who introduced Khader to films. Actor Vijayanirmala was producing and directing a film ‘Kavitha' (1973) in which Sasi was art director. “P. Bhaskaran was contracted to write the songs. Music was by K. Raghavan. The central character was a poet and I was asked to write a few poems. The film came out but the poems rendered by P. Susheela and K.J. Yesudas were forgotten as they did not figure in the gramophone records.”
The same year saw Khader writing songs for another film, ‘Kaatuvithachavan' - a film that made people sit up and note of this new lyricist.
“This film was by Christian Arts and Communication Centre, Chennai. It was directed by Rev. Suvisheshamuthu (Rev. Suvi). Vijayanirmala and Sasi were also there. I had an association with this institution as I used to write devotionals for one of their regular programmes that were broadcast on Radio Ceylon.”
Khader's songs in the film such ‘Mazhavillin ajnaathavasam…' (Yesudas) and ‘Neeyente prarthana kettu…' (Mary Shaila) were his first film songs and they created a huge impact.
The film that made him think seriously of a writing career was ‘Kayalum Kayarum.' The film had music by K.V. Mahadevan and the songs – ‘Sararaanthal thirithaanu…' and ‘Chithirathoniyil…' – were super hits. "Prior to this, I had worked in Sasi's debut film ‘Ulsavam.' The songs came out well. But it was ‘Kayalum Kayarum' that made me decide to take leave from service and shift base to Chennai.” For the next 15 years Khader penned some memorable songs.
Sadly, this gifted lyricist has not won a State award so far. Many of his songs have been wrongly attributed to others, and a huge chunk of the films he wrote for did not do well at the box office.
“There were many compulsions that made me accept films. Often it was because the people who made the films happened to be my friends. I thought I must do something to help them. I was not bothered about the fate of the film or its quality.”
Khader has the unique distinction of having worked with more music directors than any other lyricist. This achievement showcases the versatility of the writer and his ability to get along with people. “I think I was lucky to have worked with so many generations of music directors.”
Some of them like P.S. Divakar, who composed music for early films like ‘Nirmala,' worked in his last Malayalam film with Khader. He has also worked with composers who worked in a single film, and in a film (‘Aarambam') that had six music directors.
Memorable songs for AIR
Apart from the innumerable film hits Khader has penned some memorable songs for All India Radio, such as ‘Ramayanakili shaarikapainkili…' and ‘Jayadevakaviyude…,' and non-film albums. An anthology of Khader's poems ‘Kaliveena' was published in (1974), a collection of children's poems ‘Paduvaan Padikkuvaan' in (2006), and a collection of his songs ‘Chithirathoni' is due for release soon.
Looking back, Khader feels that though there have been moments of despair, it has been a fulfilling journey so far. “Singers and music directors have won awards for my songs. There have been many like K.S. Chitra and Raveendran, who made their film debut with my songs. A lot of friends, my family, and my books are my wealth. People do come once in a while asking me to write songs, which keep me going,” says Khader.
Best of Poovachal Khader
‘Mazhavillin ajnaathavaasam…' ‘Kaatuvithachavan'
‘Hridayathil nirayunna…' ‘Chuzhi'
‘Shararanthal thirithannu…' ‘Kayalum Kayarum'
‘Mouname nirayum…' ‘Thakara'
‘Anuragini etha…' ‘Oru Kudakeezhil'
‘Rajeevam vidarum…' ‘Belt Mathai'
‘Ponveene ninullil…' ‘Thalavattam'