When he was struggling to get a toehold in the film world, late comedian N.S. Krishnan advised lyricist ‘Pattukottai’ Kalayanasundaram to leave the city instead of languishing in poverty.

Everyone probably has their own unique reason to be in Chennai. But a poet’s mind clearly explains the city’s charm.

When he was struggling to get a toehold in the film world, late comedian N.S. Krishnan advised lyricist ‘Pattukottai’ Kalayanasundaram to leave the city instead of languishing in poverty.

The lyricist rejected the comedian’s advice in a song, with the lyrics Puzhal eri neer irukka, poga vara car irukka, Ponnusamy soru irukka, poveyno Chennaiai vittu thangamey thangam. (There is water from Puzhal Lake. There is adequate bus service. Food can be taken care of by Ponnusamy hotel. Will I ever leave Chennai?)

A documentary, ‘Makkal Kavignar Pattukottai Kalyansundaram’, by P. Saron, former assistant professor of Media Art at Loyola College, has powerfully, and poignantly, portrayed a life that withered away when it was in full bloom. Kalayanasundaram, who dominated the film world between 1955 and 1959, was only 29 when he died.

The prospect of becoming a lyricist would have been the last thing on the mind of Pattukottaiyar (as he was known later) when he arrived in Chennai in 1952, seeking a livelihood as a theatre actor. He had pursued 16 professions — he was a farmer and farm labourer, coconut-tree climber, vendor of mangoes and idlis — before joining a theatre company.

Adept at playing silambam, he was a tall, powerful man who once chased away a group of people single-handedly when they tried to attack poet Bharathidasan.  

Even though ‘Paditha Pen’ was the first film for which he wrote songs, another film, ‘Maheswari’ pre-empted it in release. ‘Paasavalai’, for which the music was scored by M.S. Viswanathan-Ramamurthy, heralded the arrival of Pattukottaiyar in the tinsel world in a big way.

“I was not too keen when the manager told me about a new person since many established song-writers had already failed in their attempt. But he proved me wrong. One night I cried for humiliating a great talent,” Mr. Viswanathan had recalled in the film. 

It was DMK leader M. Karunanidhi who got him Rs. 1,000 per song in the film ‘Rangoon Radha’, probably the highest any lyricist was paid at that time. Mr. Saron said most of the songs were written by him on different occasions and were later suitably used in films. ‘Summa Kidanatha Nilathai Kotthi’, depicting the plight of agricultural labourers and espousing communism, was adopted in the film ‘Naadodi Mannan’.

“The MGR-Pattukottaiyar combination proved powerful and MGR made him pen the song ‘Thoongathey Thambi Thoongathey’ after no less a person than Kannadasan failed,” said former minister R.M. Veerappan.

Nothing could capture Pattukottaiyar’s contribution better than MGR’s words. He said: “I do not know what the three legs of the Chief Minister’s chair are. But the fourth leg, I am certain, is Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram.” 

Saron said Pattukottaiyar lived in Chennai and was cremated in the city. The house in Royapettah, where he lived, should be converted into a memorial, he added.

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