Poet and lyricist Vairamuthu shares the highs and lows of his creative journey with T. SARAVANAN and D. KARTHIKEYAN
For a person with a distinguished track record, poet and lyricist R. Vairamuthu is simple and unassuming. It took a while to meet this five-time National Award winner, but his opening words “you are the first to interview me at my farm house,” made us happy.
It is not difficult to gauge why this acclaimed lyricicst prefers his farmhouse to write. For the area, spread over seven acres at the Kodai foothills, is swathed in green with a strong breeze wafting across. “Nature has always been a big source of inspiration for creative writers. You may call it escapism. Every time you are closer to it, you get new ideas,” he says.
Attired in a sandal-coloured kurta and pyjama, he speaks in chaste Tamil that is music to our ears. He is nostalgic about his childhood days that were replete with struggle. And, these memories inspire him to write.
“Memories of the time when people from Mettur and surrounding villages were forced to vacate their land to facilitate the construction of the Vaigai Dam are painful. It is still fresh in my mind. We were so ignorant that when the Government asked us to leave, we paid little attention to it. Only when water engulfed the area and reached knee level, did we sense danger and decided to leave. As a four-year-old, I held my mother’s hand and we moved across to the neighbouring Vadugapatti village. It was an exodus and a pathetic situation as we became refugees in a free country,” the poet in him comes to the fore as he describes this incident.
Talking about his writing, he says, “Any work of art based on the ‘lived’ experience has a lasting impact on people. Unless you feel the pain, there is no point in writing.”
His love for the language has its roots in the 1960s when Tamil got a major push from political parties. Groomed under a climate that favoured rationalist thinking and progressive writing, it was only natural for Vairamuthu to go with the tide, which ultimately ignited the poetic zeal in him. Even as a student, he rose to great heights through Vaikarai Megangal, which later became a prescribed text in many educational institutions.
Having made a mark as a poet, he turned his attention towards writing for films. He launched himself as a lyricist with the song ‘Pon Maalai Pozhuthu’ from the movie “Nizhalgal”. “ I am a poet first and then a lyricist. But being a lyricist I am able to see a larger world as it opens new vistas; it took me to the world of peasantry, daily wage labourers, the industrial working class and the illiterate masses.”
Justifying his decision to write for films, Vairamuthu says, “People from a literature background should enter the tinsel world and take progressive ideas to the masses. Many great literary figures became popular among the masses only after their works got into the realm of popular media.”
But he does not mix poetry and film lyrics.
“Poetry is intrinsic and the creations are mostly about my experiences. On the other hand, lyrics, even though they are churned out from experience, remain mostly visuals. It is like writing for a love sequence relating your personal experience of love to that of the character.”
Vairamuthu is at present compiling an anthology of the best 1,000 songs from among his 6,000 film songs from “Nizhalgal” to “Endhiran”. He has created an endowment in Madurai Kamaraj University to facilitate workshops and seminars on Tamil. Besides, he has also agreed to become a visiting professor and encourage young Tamil writers.
In recognition of his contributions to the Tamil language and literature, the Tamil Nadu Open University and Madurai Kamaraj University conferred doctorates on him. Having accomplished so much, he still aspires to meet Lee Kuan Yew, the founder of modern Singapore.
He says, “His contribution to the development and transformation of Singapore from being a third world country with little natural resources into one of the wealthiest nations in the world is truly amazing.”
Coming back to films, Vairamuthu definitely feels music maestro Ilayaraaja and film director Bharathiraaja are trendsetters.
“The desire to succeed was strong in us and it paid rich dividends. We had the thirst to excel. It was art and its sake in the forefront rather than the commercial aspect. We worked hard day and night and the creations that emerged have stood the test of time. It also helped us to accept challenges. Take, for instance, folk numbers. We paid more attention to the folksy flavour, which was found missing earlier. The reach of those numbers is phenomenal,” he says and sings ‘Vettiveru Vaasam Vedalapulla Nesam…’ the popular song from “Muthal Mariyathai” before signing off.HIS CHOICE
Idhu Oru Ponmaalai, Chinna Chinna Aasai, Uyire Uyire,
Ayiram Thamaarai, Manitha Manitha, Kanavu Kaanum Vazhkai
Parasakthi, Devadas, Ratha Kanneer, Nadodi Mannan, Nayagan