Tribute Singer and music director M.G. Radhakrishnan will live on through the songs he sang and composed. K. Pradeep
T he centre of M.G. Radhakrishnan's music is unalloyed imagination. There is no forced inclination to demonstrate, it's simple, vibrant, melodic and intense. His music is something that goes deep. Yet his songs, not the common effusions, but those with his stamp, have sadly not got its due. Radhakrishnan remains a largely unheralded composer.
When I first met Radhakrishnan, way back in 1996, ‘Manichitrathazhu' had turned top money grosser. It had grabbed many State and National awards. The film revolved around its music. But Radhakrishnan, who ‘spent months composing' the tunes was forgotten. "To be frank, I simply felt like laughing," Radhakrishnan had said when asked how he felt when his brilliant efforts went unrecognised, specifically with the award committees. The bitterness was evident. For, right from the time Radhakrishnan had made his debut as composer in films, despite making several memorable songs, this had been the verdict.
The only ‘official' recognition Radhakrishnan got came late in his career – the Kerala State Award in 2001 for ‘Achaneyanenikku Ishtam' and in 2005 for ‘Ananthabadram.' Ironically, Radhakrishnan's foray into music composing was not something he had planned. Immediately after his Ganabhushanam from Swati Tirunal College of Music, Thiruvananthapuram, he joined All India Radio. His official responsibilities must have prevented him from plunging wholly into films, but this gave radio listeners some incomparable ‘light songs.' He was doing what he considered the best of trades, ‘making songs and singing them.'
Before making his foray into tinselworld, Radhakrishnan regaled audiences with his classical concerts. What stood out in his kutcheris was the sense of proportion in his manodharma. When Radhakrishnan explored the colours of a raga, or sang the niraval and swara it was never overdone. He, with his characteristic voice, gave a melodic sweep to the ragas, brought out its essence. But, quite unexpectedly Radhakrishnan decided to cut short his kutcheris.
"Right from the time I began to sing," he once said. "I had had the fortune to have Mavelikkara Krishnankutty Nair Sir on the mridangam. He always instilled in me certain aspects, values that became a part of my self. Music was sacred. He used to treat the mridangam as though it had life. I have seen him carrying it on his lap during travel, lighting an agarbathi close to it on stage and even engaging in something like a conversation with it before a kutcheri. After his death I could not come to terms with the new generation, for whom music was a casual pastime."
Radhakrishnan's entry into films was as a singer. The film ‘Kallichellamma' had two of his songs. But the start to his singing career, as Radhakrishnan said, was not very propitious. "I reached the studio, Revathi, on the day I was slated to sing. It was then I heard that the recording was postponed as a union or association of musicians was being formed. I was literally on the verge of tears. As I stood there alone at the studio entrance, Prem Nazir who was going out stopped, talked to me and told me not to worry for such things happen in life."
Like his own music compositions, the songs that Radhakrishnan rendered in films, stood out for its sheer quality. The song ‘Unni Ganapathiye…' from ‘Kallichellamma' became popular but there was another song in the same film that Radhakrishnan sang, which somehow was forgotten. ‘Kaalamennu karnavarukku Keralathil sambandam…' was about the four seasons, brilliantly rendered. There were other songs that did become popular like ‘Shaarike shaarike…' (‘Sharasayya'), ‘Palanayarin…' (‘Ningalenne Communistakki'), ‘Vaikkathappanu Sivarathri…' (‘Mazhakaaru') or ‘Vande Mukundahare…' (‘Devasuram'). But there were others that did not get the recognition it deserved like ‘Sree paalkadalil…' with Kavalam Srikumar (‘Thambu'), ‘Ramayanathile Seetha…' with P. Leela (‘Othenante Makan'), ‘Sarasa suvadana…' with Neyatinkkara Vasudevan (‘Eanipadikkal'), ‘Mallakshi manimaaril…' with B. Vasantha (‘Kumarasambhavam'), ‘Maatuvin chattangale…' (‘Abhayam'), ‘Ellapookkalum chirikkatte…' (‘Puthenveedu'), ‘Radhike…' with P. Susheela (‘Sree Guruvayoorappan') or the melodious ‘Chandana shilayil…' with K.S. Chitra (‘Kulam').
Radhakrishnan must perhaps be the only established playback singer in Malayalam who evolved into a top notch music director. After a rather quiet debut in ‘Thambu,' Radhakrishnan came into his own with some sensational songs in ‘Aaravam.' In association with Kavalam Narayana Panikkar, a relationship he shared right from his AIR days, Radhakrishnan created some priceless gems in Malayalam film music.
There is in Radhakrishnan's songs a strange melody. An aural sweetness which, in recent years, has taken a backseat in Malayalam film music . His songs in films such as ‘Devasuram,' ‘Jalakam,' ‘Adwaitham,' ‘Midhunam,' ‘Manichitrathazhu,' ‘Kannuezhuthi Pottumthottu' and ‘Ananthabhadram' were a relief from the kind of music that has become a symbol of the hectic pace of modern life. There was an old-world charm in his tunes, a feeling of tranquillity. And whenever he attempted to swim along with the trend, something he was not comfortable with at all, his songs have suffered.
Another field where Radhakrishnan has left an indelible mark is in setting poems, and slokas to tune. He did this not just for AIR. Even in films Radhakrishnan has created unforgettable tunes for some great verses. Apart from popular poet-lyricists such as P. Bhaskaran, O.N.V. Kurup, Kavalam Narayana Panikkar and Bichu Thirumala, he had breathed life into the poems of Kunjunni Master (‘Snehapoorvam Meera'), V. Madhusudhanan Nair (‘Kulam'), Kaniyapuram Ramachandran (‘Younam Daham'), A. Krishna Pillai (‘Rishivamsam'), and others. The other notable works in this genre include the numerous poems he set to tune for AIR, an album ‘Surayya Padunnu' on the poems of Kamala Surayya, and his soulful chanting of the Ramayana, an inspiration for a generation of singers and composers.
Radhakrishnan and his songs will forever stand apart. He will be remembered for the musical finesse, delicate touches, and the ability to fuse classical, folk and modern styles, and as a musician who enlivened so many films with his creations.