My parents would beam with incandescent pride every time TMS and Susila sang a song set to unforgettable tune by MSV.
Cable television was just making itself at home at our homes, and for some strange reason, my memories of early era Sun TV are filled with songs and movies from the 50s through 70s. Before Raja, there was MSV. (No, I didn't forget anyone. In my music book, there was MSV and then there's Raja and then came Rahman.)
Oh, I could go on all day, everyday, till Sunday. Not for nothing did my mother force-feed innumerable versions of 'evergreen hits'. That musical diet was supplemented in no small measure by my edification at Appa's hands - "Listen to this bit. And they had to do it all in one go. There was no 'track' recording then." The couple would beam with incandescent pride every time TMS and Susila sang.
In the sea of 'old songs' that I suffered through during my initiation, the four aforementioned songs captured my imagination. Malarnthum...as a tune seemed strikingly progressive for that era. I didn't grasp the lyrics until much later, but the music resonated inside me. Unnai onru was how I met Susila and fell under her spell. I couldn't escape the lyrics of this song, so much were they blended to the tune. As a wannabe singer, Mouname was a revelation. PBS makes it sound so easy. And anbulla...was pure fun. TMS bending a stiff tenor voice to his will, crooning nasally to an inimitable tune, was priceless.
What the young men of that era will identify with most, is the rib-tickling, irreverent, sometimes risqué Kadhalikka Neramillai. MSV's music immortalised Sridhar's images in Viswanathan, velai ventum and the bosomy Anubavam puthumai.
MSV was blessed with a stock of stupendous singers. It wouldn't be hyperbolic to state that the voices of P. Susila and TMS must have inspired many of MVS's tunes. Muththaana muththallavo and Sonnadhu nee thaana are tunes that were created to fit Susila's voice.
Here's a Wikipedia page dedicated to the composer. I'm blown away. Look at the sheer volume of films he's had a hand in. Too much. I’ll grant you that not all of them are brilliant; a lot of them are repetitive, another chunk quite ordinary, some of them forgettable even. However, the take-away from this wiki page is that MSV was a man who couldn't stop.
What did him in, then? Ilaiyaraja, you might say. He arrived and transformed the landscape of South Indian music, you might declare. He made MSV’s music redundant, you might argue. Sure, three on three. If you look at Raja’s own drop from Kollywood favour, it seems like a logical cycle for film musicians. Is that all, though? Aren’t we missing something?
There’s more to the fading away of our composers than just the passage of time. I think a transitional era from the mid-70s to the early 80s killed off a great big chunk of South Indian talent. I'll save that dissection for another post. Why dwell on the trough when there's so much richness on the crest. At his core, MSV is all about the music.
There's a story that the legendary poet, author and lyricist Kannadasan recanted during one of his talks. It goes something like this - Kannadasan and MSV were on a trip to Russia. It was a cold, completely new and fascinating land. Kannadasan, a man of reading and rich taste, was able to appreciate the landmarks of history, the roots of some of the greatest literature and art. MSV was mostly a mute spectator, often chastised by Kannadasan for being such an ostrich about World history and art.
Presently, they entered a chapel with their Russian guide. In a corner was a grand piano. As Kannadasan and the guide chatted sombrely about the stained glass and advanced acoustics of the place, there came a sudden rush of pure, classical, Western music. Kannadasan couldn't identify the tune, but he could recognise brilliance, and turned around to see who was playing.
MSV, the ignoramus, who knew not what the Kremlin stood for, who couldn't pronounce Gorky, was playing the piano like he was born to it. The Russian guide was in raptures.
(Anand Venkateswaran is fascinated with people and with words. So he writes about people. Even when he's writing about food, film or formaldehyde. Fatten his ego or spit in his punch, at email@example.com)