TMS was the uncrowned monarch of playback singing for almost three decades from the 1950s

On Friday mornings, if you happen to be at any local temple of Lord Muruga or part of an auspicious occasion in villages and neighbourhoods of Madurai, you will surely hear Ullam Uruguthaiya Muruga Un Adi Kangaiyile, Azhagendra Sollukku Muruga and other heart-melting devotional songs rendered by Thuguluva Meenatchi Iyengar Soundararajan, popularly known as TMS, son of Madurai.

TMS was the uncrowned monarch of playback singing for almost three decades from the 1950s. His passion-filled and emotion-laden voice reigned over the Tamil land. The entry of this ‘Vengala Kuralon’ into tinsel town changed the playback singing scenario. He sang for M. G. Ramachandran, Sivaji Ganesan, N. T. Rama Rao, Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Rajkumar, Gemini Ganesan, S. S. Rajendran, Jaishankar, Sivakumar and also Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan.

He made his debut in Krishna Vijayam, which was directed by Sunderlal Natkarni of Central Studios, who recommended him to music director S. M. Subbaiah Naidu. In 1946, Subbaiah Naidu gave TMS five songs, asking him to sing in the style of M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar. Though the songs came out in 1946, the film was released only in 1950.

In 1954, lyricist A. Maruthakasi recommended TMS to sing in Aruna Pictures’ Thooku Thookki. Music director G. Ramanathan was so pleased with TMS’ rendition that he gave him the chance to sing all the songs for Sivaji in the film, and all of them became instant hits. TMS used to say that he had to bring his voice from ‘naabi kamalam’ (depths of his stomach) while singing for Sivaji. On screen, it was very difficult for the audience to identify the singer as there was such a seamless integration in voice and expression between Sivaji and TMS.

TMS’ entry into films and rise cannot be seen in isolation as the Dravidian politics and its nexus with cinema were getting stronger in the 1950s.

For the first time in Tamil film history, the films centring on the ‘hero’ image started to appear and the ‘dominance of duos’ was emerging, with MGR and Sivaji stably sitting on the throne. TMS had the inimitable gift of matching the voice of both the heroes to such an extent that people would believe it was MGR and Sivaji themselves singing.

The rare combination of lyrical genius of Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram, Kannadasan, Maruthakasi, Udumalai Narayanakavi, Alangudi Somu and Vaali; music of Subbaiah Naidu, K. V. Mahadevan and M. S. Viswanathan, and the emergence of Dravidian and socialist ideology- driven films helped him greatly. The Dravidian movement used films, especially film songs, to take its ideas to the masses. Social scientists, who worked on MGR’s films, talk about, besides his absolute control over the different aspects of production of songs, one factor which aided his mission — more than what MGR bargained for was the remarkable ability of TMS, who sang a majority of his songs, to typecast his voice for the hero.

TMS formed an integral part of the visual-aural politics of Tamil cinema. Songs, with their reproducibility and wider reach, gave the most important fillip to MGR’s image, popularity and “ideals.” These songs became the most effective form of communication with the masses and gave hope to his fans and followers. TMS’ voice helped MGR to win the hearts of his fans as songs greatly boosted the credibility of DMK’s message to the subaltern.

The subaltern was made to relive time and again his encounters with the message of MGR whenever he listened to the message in his songs. They are still sung during election campaigns and party conferences.

TMS’ songs, in fact, became a political platform for MGR, especially Naan Aanaiyittal, Adho Andha Paravai Pola, Yaen Endra Kelvi Ketkaamal Vaazhkai Illai etc.

TMS’ rendition also captured various human emotions. For example, one can cite a series of numbers sung for Sivaji which are philosophical — Yaar Antha Nilavu , Satti Suttadhadaa, Aattuviththaal Yaaroruvar Aadaathaare Kannaa, Aaru Maname Aaru and Manidhan Ninaippadhundu. There were revolutionary numbers for MGR laced with socialist and Dravidian ideology -- Acham Enbadhu Madamaiada, Thoongathey Thambi Thoongathey, Summa Kidantha Nilathai Kothi, Odi Odi Uzhaikkanum etc.

His folksy number Ennadi Rakkamma Pallakku from Pattikada Pattanama still makes people go crazy with its rustic beats and beautiful rendition and the song is a must in cultural festivals in Madurai. No Hindu wedding in Tamil Nadu is complete without these songs of TMS — Poomazhai Thoovi Vasanthangal Vaazhththa, Poomudippal Indha Poonguzhali and Kaduval Ninaithan Mana Naal Koduthan.