As lyricist and composer, M.K. Atmanathan enchanted Tamil lovers
Tamil cinema has been suffering losses with the demise of illustrious personalities such as PBS, TMS, TKR and Vaalee. The latest has been M.K. Atmanathan (1928-2013), lyricist, who delighted listeners with his songs soaked in chaste Tamil. He passed away last month in Theni.
Atmanathan belonged to the period that respected content in songs. In other words, melody was important but the lyrics always came under the scanner. This was especially true in the case of MGR, without whose approval the songs did not go for composing. An interesting aspect is that Atmanathan wrote lyrics for four Chief Ministers and managed to please all of them. Atmanathan wrote the lyrics when C.N. Annadurai’s novels such as ‘Rangoon Radha,’ ‘Edhaiyum Thaangum Idhayam,’ ‘Nallavan Vazhuvaan,’ etc. When he had finished writing the pallavi “Kuttralam Aruviyilae,’ director P. Neelakantan asked him to change the pallavi on the grounds that it opened with a shortened syllable (kuril) and hence was not auspicious. Anna, however, brushed aside the objection and approved the lyric, which went on to become a huge hit.
The majority in the unit of ‘Pudhaiyal’ felt that ‘Vinnodum Mugilodum’ was of a high literary order and might not touch the masses. Krishnan-Panchu, directors, and M. Karunanidi, who penned the story, retained the lyric, which has proved immortal.
Atmanathan had his baptism as a theatre artist managing to impress T.K. Shanmugam, who visited Karaikkudi with his troupe. There was no looking back as the boy went on to write songs that became famous. The song, “Vaanampaadigal Pole Prema Ganam Paadi Magizhvome,’ he wrote for ‘Kalvanin Kadhali’ was so powerful that M.S. Subbulakshmi, who was present when the play was staged (1953) said that the lyric was so moving that she would have loved to sing it.
Lyrics for MGR
MGR, who scanned at least 10 versions of a lyric before choosing one, approved to everyone’s surprise, the song ‘Paadupatta Thannale…’ that Atmanathan had written for ‘Nadodi Mannan.’ “Thadukkathe Ennai Thadukkathe’ that Chandrababu sang again has remained a super hit classic, Some of the other films of MGR for which Atmanathan wrote the lyrics are ‘Vikramadhithan’ and ‘Thirudathe.’ In 1978 the lyricist received Kalaimamani from MGR, who was Chief Minister.
When the TKS Brothers decided to make their popular play ‘Ratha Paasam’ into a film, they chose Atmanathan as the composer, ruling out suggestions of famous names. Atmanathan did not disappoint his mentor and all the songs, sung by P. Leela, MLV, A.M. Raja, Jikki, Tiruchi Loganathan and S.C. Krishnan, were super hits, especially the song ‘Dallu Dallu…’ sung by Lokanathan catching the imagination of young and old. Atmanathan was pleasantly surprised when Sivaji Ganesan visited his house after the film was released and hugged him in appreciation.
Atmanathan was lyricist-composer for all of S.V. Sahasranamams stage plays that starred Sivaji, Pandari bai, Mynavathy, M.N. Rajam, etc. When Sivaji Ganesan, assisted by S.A. Kannan, continued Sivaji Nataka Mandram, Atmanathan was the troupe’s lyricist and music composer. The plays include ‘Kattabomman,’ ‘Then Koodu’, ‘Vietnam Veedu,’ ‘Pagal Nila,’ and ‘Thanga Padakkam.’ Atmanathan wrote lyrics and composed music for about 250 plays, staged by famous troupes.
It was only apt that in the centenary year of TKS, Atmanathan should be conferred the Hamsadhwani R. Ramachandran Drama Award. The award carried a scroll of honour, a cash award of Rs.15,000 and a shawl. He was happy that his songs are played daily at the Tirumalai Naicker Mahal, Madurai.
Atmanathan considered the Tamil Conference held in Madurai in 1981 a highlight of his career. He had to compose music for Maduranayaki, dance-drama, for which Kannadasan had written the lyrics. The production saw J. Jayalalitha taking the stage as a dancer after a long hiatus. Jayalalitha had choreographed the dance-drama and shown special interest in the sets and costume.
Generously appreciating his contribution, Jayalalitha presented him a wrist watch. Atmanathan preserved the watch and the newspaper clipping that carried a detailed report of the event. His wish to meet her after she became the Chief Minister, however, remained unfulfilled.
Atmanathan gave equal importance to cinema and stage. He wrote lyrics and composed music for over 250 stage plays including S.V. Sahasranamam’s ‘Theroti Magan,’ and ‘Kavi Chakravarthi Kambar.'
S.S. Rajendran’s ‘Thenpandi Veeran,’ and ‘Muthumandapam’; Komal Swaminathan’s ‘Vazhvil Inbam,’ ‘Minnal Kolam,’ and ‘Sultan Ekadasi’; A.S.A. Swamy’s Christian subjects such as ‘Fathimavil Suriyan Suzhalgiradhu’; V.K. Ramaswamy’s ‘Rudra Thandavam,’and ‘Bombay Mail’; K.R. Ramaswamy’s ‘Jamin Maligai’; G. Sakunthala’s for M. Karunanidhi’s subjects including ‘Vellikizhamai,’ ‘Silambu Malaivasal’ and ‘Silapathigaram; M. Karunanidhi’s ‘Naane Arivali’ - election drama.