Malathi Rangarajan recalls her association with legendary lyricist Vaalee

Best of Vaali: From 1964 - 2013

Rangarajan of Srirangam may have become the popular poet, dramatist, novelist, painter, lyricist, actor and even director Vaalee, but at heart this theist was a simple man. Besides being an ardent admirer of his prodigious talent, I have been in awe of the genuineness of the multi-faceted personality who treated all those who came his way with respect. I attended his functions because of the urge to listen to the litterateur and master orator. Casual and friendly, yet poignant and philosophical, his speeches were akin to taking a walk down literary lane. As I run the recording of my last interaction with him, I realise the void his passing away has created, both in cinema and the world of Tamil literature.

The inimitable wordsmith didn’t come to Chennai to eke out a livelihood in films but to study Commercial Painting at the School of Arts here! Then why did he quit midway? “Because I realised I wouldn’t go far in it,” he candidly told me. “I came from an affluent family. Yet if I decided to slog it out it was because I wished to. (Ishatapattu kashtapattaen). And, till a little later, I didn’t even know there was a poet and lyricist in me.”

Happy being a small-time playwright and bringing out a handwritten magazine, his initial idea was to try his hand at penning dialogue for films. Lyrics just happened and led to his writing more than 15,000 songs! “At a function Aaroordas told the audience, ‘I entered cinema to become a lyricist and became a dialogue writer while Vaalee came into it to write dialogue and ended up as a successful lyricist.’” True, like Kannadasan, who initially aspired to become a dialogue writer, it took Vaalee a while to realise his potential to pen verses. “See the paths life takes us through?”

Belief in karma

“Aren’t you forthright and fearless to a fault,” I had asked him. “That’s because the edifice of my life has been built on a strong foundation of antagonism from several quarters,” he had laughed. “Not that it deterred me.”

The staying power of this poet lay in his astounding ability to evolve with the times. From A.R. Rahman to Anirudh, all the composers went over to his place to get the lyrics for their films because the youthfulness and zest he brought to the songs were incomparable. I told him about the effervescent duet in Ajith’s Mankaatha which had a topical reference to Bin Laden. He smiled cheekily and said, “It’s not my power, as you say, but Providence that decides the course of one’s life. I believe in destiny and more than that I believe in karma. If you walk in the rain you are bound to catch a cold and if you roam in the sun you must be prepared for the headache it gives you.” Till date, I’ve not heard the karma theory made so succinct and simple!

Of course, at the other end of the spectrum were his deeply devout treatises such as Paandavar Bhoomi that were published at regular intervals. His contribution to Tamil Literature will live on.

Didn’t he ever feel like calling it a day? “Why should I?” He shot back. “When you like what you do you don’t feel tired or frustrated. Be it lyrics for films or hardcore literature, I’ll never stop till the end.” He kept his word. His book Azhagiya Singar that was released a fortnight ago and his lyrics for Maryan that released yesterday bear testimony to it.

“And remember I spell my name with two ‘a’s and two ‘e’s,” he told me as I took leave from him after an interaction.

I haven’t forgotten, Mr. Vaalee…

This article was corrected for a spelling error.