The chart topper fromChithiram Pesuthadihas given the genre a fresh lease of life The chart topper fromChitiram Pesuthadihas given a fresh lease of life to `gaana'
CHENNAI: It is hard not to smile when you watch `Gaana' Ulaganathan dole out "Vaalla Meenukum," the smash hit song from this year's surprise hit Chithiram Pesuthadi. The outstretched arm, the bobbing index finger, the shaking head, the flashy clothes and jewellery ... Ulaganathan is on the top of the world when he sings.
And why wouldn't he be?
The Vyasarpadi resident is today the toast of Tamil film industry and also a mascot for `gaana,' Chennai's own brand of folk music originating in its slums. His success has brought him three more movie offers, in which he also plays comedy roles to go along with his trademark gaana.
In an interview at The Hindu office recently, Ulaganathan said he had been singing `gaana' since he was nine years old. "I was inspired by the old songs of T.M. Soundararajan and `Seerkazhi' Govindarajan. They were my real gurus. I used to sing at small gatherings. Every time a stage was set up for a light music troupe, I used to sing a couple of songs because of the demand of my friends."
His father Chokanathan, an employee at Chennai Harbour, and his mother Samudhiram were also fans of their son's voice. "We were an happy family even though we might not have had a lot of money."
Though the conditions and culture of North Chennai made him the singer he is today, Ulaganathan asserts he religiously avoided the vulgar lyrics that many associate gaana with. "That was in the past ... when people used to get drunk before singing gaana. But it is wrong to brand a style of singing based on some singers."
So what is the real gaana, we asked. "That is the Hindi word for song," he laughs. "Gaana is a mixture of all forms. It can be devotional song, film song or any song ... the important thing is to mix and match and improvise. The tabla and dholak are main accompanying instruments to the singer."
Ulaganathan, who has been singing for a living for more than a decade now, also writes the lyrics for his songs, that can be a zanny mix at times peppered with some English words. He has released independent albums, his earliest one in 1992.
He draws inspiration for his songs from daily routine and struggles. "I love eating fish and used to buy freshly caught fish when I was working at the Harbour. One night, I just imagined how a marriage between fishes would be. That is when I wrote the Valla Meenukum song."
There was a time when he used to sing at funerals much to the chagrin of his father. "I wanted to stay away but my friends always compelled me." Ten years ago, when he lost his job, Ulaganathan also contemplated a pushcart business to sell small articles. All that is history now.
The singer now plans to shift his family away from Vyasarpadi to a house somewhere else "where he will be able to entertain guests better." His wife and three children are already basking in his glory and he hopes that his children get opportunities that were denied in his younger years. Ulaganathan owes much of his success to Mysskin, director of Chitiram Pesuthadi, who has been a friend and a guide ever since getting him to sing for his movie. His session at the recording studio perhaps was the most crucial time of his life. "I am a bit of a character when I sing. The director said there was something magnetic about it and eventually created a role for me in the movie. That was the birth of `Manja' Ulaganathan."
Symphony Audio has recently re-released Ulaganathan's 1992 gaana album following the stupendous success of "Valla Meenukum" song.