The nagaswaram always had a pivotal role on auspicious occasions in real life, featuring it in films was the obvious next step.
Since times immemorial, the nagasawaram, a wind–instrument, has been seen as a harbinger of happiness and peace and played at weddings, family functions and temple festivals. Expectedly, it has also been featured in Tamil Cinema. Here are some important movies…
Thiruvavaduthurai N. Rajaratnam Pillai, considered one of the great exponents of this wind instrument played the hero in this film, directed by the American Ellis R. Dungan.
It was about the famous Kalamegha Pulavar. The producers persuaded Rajaratnam to play the nagaswaram, even though the celebrated Tamil poet had nothing to do with the instrument! In one sequence, TNR as Kalamegam went around the village playing the nagaswaram! N.S. Krishnan played the accompanying drone, ‘Otthu,' to make the scene interesting and a box office attraction.
NSK did his job so well that he never put the instrument downduring the entire sequence. This made Rajaratnam tell him, tongue-in-cheek, that at any time in the future if NSK had no roles in hand he would be delighted to employ the comedian for the rest of his life to play the ‘otthu' on NSK's terms! (S. V. Sahasranamam who handled NSK's affairs narrated this incident to this writer.)
Dungan invested the film with excellent technical devices such as creating sand storm near the sea using churners (something which had not been attempted before in Tamil Cinema). However, the film did not do as well as expected.
Miss Kamala (1936)
It was written, produced, and directed by the first star-heroine T. P. Rajalakshmi, who played the title role too.
In it she made an accompanying short film –‘side reel' - in which Rajaratnam Pillai on the nagasawaram performed a ragam, tanam, pallavi in raga Thodi, and a kirtanam ‘Nannu Vidichi…' in Ritigowla. Unfortunately, no prints of this movie or the short film have survived. In the advertisements and the songbook, Rajaratnam had the prefix ‘Thiruvavaduthurai Inthiya Sangeetha Vidwan' which he richly deserved.
Thillana Mohanambal (1968)
This classic had a nagaswaram-vocal duet. ‘Nalanthaana…' became one of the memorable song sequences with Sivaji Ganesan and AVM Rajan, playing the nagaswaram on screen. Off screen, the instrument was played by the noted vidwans M.P.N. Sethuraman and M.P.N. Ponnusami.
Konjum Salangai (1962)
Made by M. V. Raman, another vocal-nagaswaram duet was featured here. ‘Singaravelaney…' created history. It was S. Janaki's voice against the legend Karukurichi Arunachalam Pillai's instrument. And S. Janaki became a celebrity.
Interestingly, Janaki's song was recorded in Bombay where Raman had his film studio at that time. However, Karukurichi's part was recorded in a Madras studio because he was unable to go to Bombay. Later the two independent soundtracks were mixed to produce this masterpiece. In many wedding scenes, few notes of the nagaswaram are heard after the ‘thali' is tied, which today has become a cliché!