T. Vijayaraj, a fan of T.M. Sounderarajan, has devoted 10 years of his life to make a tele-serial on the legendary singer, writes K. Jeshi

T.M. Sounderarajan (TMS) and Anita Ratnam stroll inside Central Studios in Coimbatore. Looking back at the distance they have covered from the gate, TMS says, “It took us hardly a few minutes. But, there was a time when I waited for months to enter the compound.” He recorded his first song ‘Radhey Nee Ennai Vittu Pogathadi’ for Krishna Vijayam in 1946 here. He reminisces his life’s beginnings in the 150-episode tele-serial Imayauthudan Oru Isai Payanam, directed by T. Vijayaraj.

For Vijayaraj, the teleserial has been a tapas. He has invested 10 years to document the legend’s journey till when he became the voice of MGR and Sivaji Ganesan. Says Vijayaraj: “From my school days, I have admired his singing. If I got a first rank in class, my treat would be watching a movie. I remember the loud claps and cheers that greeted TMS’ songs.”

Recalls Vijayaraj: “Initially, TMS was reluctant. But I convinced him over eight months.” He shot the first episode in Madurai, at TMS’ house in Thaerkku Krishnan Koil Street, where the singer was born. Singer S.N. Surendar interviewed TMS as he narrated his youth.

TMS was happy with the way the Madurai episode was shot and gave permission for the series. There were many delays during shooting. Vijayaraj waited for over a year to get permission to shoot at Central Studios. Another episode was shot at Pakshiraja Studios where TMS recorded ‘Eththani Kaalam Thaan Aemaatruvaar’ for the MGR blockbuster Malai Kallan. “I was pleasantly surprised when owner Thirugnanam of Vignesh Mahal (which was once Pakshiraja Studios) got the logo of the studio repainted for shooting. He is also a TMS fan. Vaishali Kannadasan did this episode for us.”

Vijayaraj has shot at Bharathiar House in Triplicane too, where TMS interacted with Bharathiar’s grandson. “This episode highlights the Bharathiar songs he sang. In another episode, K. Veeramani of Dravidar Kazhagam interviews the singer at Periyar Samadhi to say how the singer, a believer, rendered those revolutionary songs for Dravidian leaders.”

Not many know that TMS was also an actor. He played the roles of siththars such as Pattinathaar, Aruna Girinathar and Kaviraja Kalamegam. Actor Rajesh spoke of acting with the singer at the jeeva samathi of Pattinathar in Chennai.

“In the series, TMS discusses voice modulation techniques, breath control and versatility in singing. He modulated his voice to even suit the gruffy voice of M.R. Vasu. His MGR songs are played even today at political meetings. His voice was a treasure,” says Vijayaraj.

Vijayaraj says most TV channels air just a handful of his popular songs, but there are many hidden gems. Through Christopher of Coloumbia Films in Malaysia, he also sourced some rare audio tapes and film clippings of the singer. “When TMS saw the visuals of Krishna Vijayam song, his eyes became moist,” he remembers.

The final episode was shot at Adyar Film Institute. “TMS sang the popular title song ‘Unnai Dhinam Thaedum Thalaivan’ for Vijaykanth in the film Uzhavar Magan, made by Aabaavaanan, an alumnus of the institute. Even in 1989, he sang six songs for actor Sathyaraj in Thaai Naadu.”

In the series, singer K.J. Yesudas remembers how AVM studios reverberated with TMS’ voice as he came out after recording the song ‘Pudhiya Vaanam Pudhiya Bhoomi’ for MGR. TMS won K.J. Yesudas’ Gaana Gandharvan Award on his 91st birthday in March 24, 2013. He died on May 25.

Says Vijayaraj: “TMS has sung for over six generations. A number of friends such as P. Balasubramaniam, C. Swaminathan and V. Jeevananthan of Chitrakala Academy stood by me through this journey. It’s been a soulful and fulfilling experience.”

Origin of an idea

Vijayaraj completed his acting course at Adyar Film Institute and worked with Tamil Nadu Films Division for the theatre news reel section. That was when it occurred to him that there was no visual record of personalities such as TMS, Mohammed Rafi, Kannadasan or Bharathiar. “We remember famous people only after their death. I wanted to do something during the lifetime of TMS as a tribute,” he says.

The man and his voice

TMS’ versatility comes through in songs such as ‘Naan Aanai Ittal’, ‘Engey Nimmadhi’, ‘Manappara Maadukatti’ and ‘Veedu Varai Uravu’. He sang over 10,000 songs in Tamil. He also composed and sang many devotional songs that are still popular.

Special moments

Episodes with Lata Mangeshkar where she shares with TMS about how she’s a big fan of Sivaji Ganesan

Interviews with maestro Ilaiyaraaja (TMS sang ‘Annakili Unnai Thaeduthu’ for his first film Annakili), A.R. Rahman, P. Susheela, S. Janaki, S.P. Balasubhramanyam, K.J. Yesudas and actors Saroja Devi, Manorama, Sivakumar, Kamal Hassan and Rajnikanth.

Interaction with Roshan Begum of Coimbatore — she wrote the lyrics for the MGR song ‘Kungumapottin Mangalam’

A visit to Kuzhal Mannam in Kerala to MGR’s House Chandranthi Nilayam. “TMS became very emotional there. He shared a special bond with MGR.

Episodes at Modern Theatre in Salem, where he recorded many songs for actor Jaishankar. It’s a dilapidated building now, but brought back fond memories.