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Tamil fuelled Subbu’s creativity — in all forms

Kothamangalam Subbu, author of Thillana Mohanambal, was much more than a novelist. He was a poet, script writer, film director, actor, music critic and villuppattu exponent, all rolled into one. The seeds for Subbu’s villuppattu — ‘Gandhi mahaan kathai’ — were sown when Gandhi visited Madras. Va. Ra. asked Subbu to compose a poem in 24 lines to welcome Gandhi. Unfortunately, the poem could not be read at the time. The 24 lines were later expanded by Subbu to fill 250 pages, and the work was published by Vai Govindan Chettiar of Sakti Prasuram.

At the ‘Poets' Meet’ held at the Congress grounds in Teynampet on July 16, 1964, Kothamangalam Subbu is seen with Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai and Srimathi Soundaram Kailasam

At the ‘Poets' Meet’ held at the Congress grounds in Teynampet on July 16, 1964, Kothamangalam Subbu is seen with Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai and Srimathi Soundaram Kailasam   | Photo Credit: STAFF

The second edition was brought out after Gandhi’s death, with additional verses. “Appa performed this villuppattu in many places, including Raj Ghat. Appa would cry when he narrated Gandhi’s death, and the audience would cry along with him,” says Subbu’s son Viswanathan. “During the Indo-China war, appa wrote a play in villuppattu style, and it was broadcast on AIR, Madras. The Congress committee published it under the title ‘Cheena vedi.’ Every year, on January 25, AIR New Delhi would have a mushaira (poetic symposium). When appa’s villuppattu verses were translated to Hindi and presented there, the audience, which included vice-president Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, was very impressed,” says Subbu’s son Srinivasan.

The song ‘Maname Murganin Mayil Vahanam’ (film Motor Sundaram Pillai) was written by Subbu. He had set it in Atana ragam, but M.S. Viswanathan wanted to present the verses in Hindolam, and Subbu agreed. However, the film version did not have the charanam. When Subbu sang the charanam on stage, listeners would get emotional.

From the archives

“Some years ago, Ananda Vikatan published nuggets from its archives, under the title ‘Pokkisham.’ In an interview, Kannadasan says that it was one of father’s songs in Mangamma Sapatham that inspired him to write songs, ” says Srinivasan. The Purattasi Sanikkizhamai concerts at Subbu’s house were famous, drawing huge crowds, who came not only for the music, but also for Subbu’s witty speech at the end of each concert. The Purattasi concerts had their beginning in Kothamangalam, and the person who set the ball rolling was Abdul, Subbu’s tailor. In the early 1930s, Subbu worked for a timber merchant in Kothamangalam.

A view of the Kothamangalam Subbu - Purattasi Saikkizhamai house in Mylapore, Chennai.

A view of the Kothamangalam Subbu - Purattasi Saikkizhamai house in Mylapore, Chennai.   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

One day, he and his brother Cheenu were planning to go to a concert in a neighbouring village, but the timber merchant assigned some work to Subbu, and Subbu asked Abdul to tell Cheenu that there was a change in plans. At once Abdul said, “I suppose you are not going to the concert, because you have to do a puja for Venkatachalapathy, today being a Purattasi Saturday.” Subbu had not given a thought to Venkatachalapathy puja, and was shaken by Abdul’s words. He decided to do a Srinivasa puja, but there was no picture of the deity in his house. An advertisement in The Hindu had a picture of Srinivasa, which he propped up against the wall. He then vowed to observe puja every Purattasi Sanikkizhamai and organise concerts and bhajans. In Madras, the Purattasi event got bigger, with six or seven concerts a day.

Once, Subbu and Cheenu travelled to a village to attend a T.N. Rajarathnam Pillai concert. It was a temple festival, and even while TNR was playing, fireworks were set off and an angry TNR walked away, refusing to play. (‘Thillana Mohanambal’ had a similar scene. TNR was the inspiration for Shanmugasundaram, the hero of the film ).

Thillana Mohanambal by Kothamangalam Subbu

Thillana Mohanambal by Kothamangalam Subbu   | Photo Credit: spl

Dejected, Subbu and Cheenu walked away from the temple, and sat on the pyol of a house. Subbu said to Cheenu: “Why don’t you sing something in Thodi?” Cheenu began to sing, and suddenly the window of the house opened, and a voice thundered: “Can you not come in and sing?” The voice belonged to TNR! The brothers went in and TNR sang Thodi for them! Cheenu and TNR took turns to sing the whole night!

When Subbu heard a TNR concert broadcast by All India Radio, Madras, he wrote the poem ‘Asaiyaaga kettu naanum.’ “I have lost my heart to the flawless playing of Rajarathnam. I remain mesmerised, but not by your ragamalika, or your rapid ravais or even the naadam. Just the sound of your seevali is enough to make me your slave. Of what use is a garland of flowers for such a vidwan? So, I offer you a garland of verses,” goes the poem.

Pithukulli Murugadoss was a close friend of Subbu’s, and he used to tell Subbu about his days in the gurukulam run by Brahmananda Paradesiyar — an echo was the character in ‘Thillana Mohanambal.’

When Subbu moved to Madras, he lived for some years in Subramania Mudali Street, Purasawalkam. GNB, who lived in Santhome, would take a tram to Purasawalkam to meet Subbu. Udumalai Narayana kavi would join them. Sleep would be forgotten and the three would talk about Tamil literature, until the next morning, when Subbu’s friends would leave after a refreshing cup of coffee.

In the 1947 film Miss Malini (script and direction Subbu), Subbu played the role of a villain, who had the nickname ‘Bit notice,’ and whenever Subbu walked up to the Kapali temple, children would run after him shouting ‘Bit notice.’ Subbu was delighted with the attention he got, because it was proof of his success as an actor. Pantulu’s film Veerapandiya Kattabomman was based on the biography of Kattabomman by Ma.Po.Si, who said that he was inspired to write the book, when he heard a song from the film Miss Malini. The song, penned by Subbu, had the line — ‘Gandhi mahaan, Nethaji, Kattabomman kathaiayai solli pillai valarppen.’

Whenever Ramanand Sagar, who directed the TV serial Ramayan, came to Madras, he would spend hours discussing the Ramayana with Subbu. While Sagar would quote from Valmiki and Tulsidas, Subbu would talk about Kamban. Srinivasan once met Ramanand Sagar during a train journey and Sagar said, ‘My Ramayana serial was a result of the many discussions I had with your father.”

At a function organised to honour Ariyakkudi, Subbu said that he owed a lot to the pazhaiyadhu which he used to eat in Ariyakkudi’s house, for as Subbu ate, Ariyakkudi would sing. Once Ariyakkudi sang a folk song for him, which began with the lines “Aathoram kodikaalaa, adukkadukkaa vethilayaam.” Subbu retained the first two lines for a song in the film Chandralekha. Subbu was fond of folk arts. So, in the 1953 film Avvaiyar, written and directed by him, he included many folk dances, in the scene where the king welcomes Avvaiyar.

Subbu wrote verses in a folksy style, for Vikatan Deepavali Malar, and magazines — Sakti, Hanuman, Sivaji, Bharatamani and Kalki. ‘Poranda naatta nenachuppaathu porappattu vaanga’ was a song welcoming soldiers returning home after World War II.

“Vasan printed copies of the song and gave it to the soldiers,” says Viswanathan. Srinivasan recalls that when there was a drought in Madras, Subbu wrote the song ‘Kaveri aathaa kan thirandu paaru.’ Some days after, it poured so much, that the rain seemed threatening, and Subbu wrote ‘Karunaiye pagaiyaanal’ (when kindness proves counterproductive).

Songs in book format

Subbu’s family decided to publish his songs and his daughter Lakshmi Ramachandran, sourced songs from Roja Muthiah library, Ananda Vikatan archives and Tamil Nadu archives. Her sister Annapoorani compiled the songs under different headings, and the book finally took shape under the title ‘Marukkozhundu.’ It Marukkozhundu was released by Nalli Kuppuswami Chetty. Speaking on the occasion, Nalli said: “ Subbu wrote the lyrics for the film ‘Samsaaram.’ All shows were booked in theatres across the city, and I had to go to Pallavaram Janatha theatre to see it.”

Mahalakshmi Bharathan, Kothamangalam Vishwanathan, writer Thiruppur Krishnan, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, Ramanan and Chandramohan during the book release event held at Tattvaloka Auditorium, Teynampet, Chennai

Mahalakshmi Bharathan, Kothamangalam Vishwanathan, writer Thiruppur Krishnan, Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti, Ramanan and Chandramohan during the book release event held at Tattvaloka Auditorium, Teynampet, Chennai   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Thiruppur Krishnan said that Subbu’s verses, although written in a colloquial style, were never out of tune with grammar. Only a person with clarity of thought could write without bombast. , said Krishnan. Krishnan recalled that author Vikraman used to say that artist Gopulu and Subbu were like a rettai nayanam, each complementing the other, picture and word marching together in perfect harmony.

Isaikkavi Ma. Ki. Ramanan said that Subbu not only wrote in the language of the common man, but the ideas in his songs were unpretentious and down to earth.

‘Marukkozhundu’ in two volumes is priced ₹ 800. rupees. For copies contact- 044 28116938


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Printable version | Jun 18, 2021 7:37:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-authors/tamil-fuelled-subbus-creativity-in-all-forms/article30990504.ece

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