Friday Review

Kannadasan's lyrics held a mirror to life

Even the best of poets will confirm that it isn’t easy to capture the elusive Muse. Therefore, one would assume that poetry written on demand cannot be of quality. . But lyricist Kannadasan shot to fame through the verses he wrote for films, which meant they were written to suit certain scenes and emotions. But then, Kannadasan’s film songs were much more than mere situational songs.

A few lines of the composer’s song are enough for one to get the drift of the film. Listen to ‘Paramasivan kazhuthil irundu’, and one knows that a ruffled male ego is the leitmotif of the film.

AVM Saravanan says, “In ‘Naanum oru penn,’ another poet gave us a lyric which matched our tune. But I was not happy with it. So we brought Kannadasan in. He said the lyric should precede the music, and also insisted that the pallavi should present the basic theme of the film. Thus was born ‘Kanna karumai nira Kanna,’ which we then set to tune. For ‘Arugil vandaal’ in ‘Kalathur Kannamma’, he came up with 56 pallavis!”

“Poetry would gush forth from Kannadasan, and I had a tough time keeping pace,” says Panchu Arunachalam, who served as Kannadasan’s scribe. Both director S.P. Muthuraman and Panchu speak of Kannadasan’s uncanny ability to write lyrics to suit a tune, when required.

“In ‘Karnan,’ only ‘Ullathil nalla ullam’ and ‘Ayiram karangal’ were written first and tuned later. For all the other songs, Kannadasan came up with lines to fit the tune. He completed all the lyrics for ‘Karnan’ in just two days,” says Panchu.

Kannadasan’s songs are like gifts, the situation in the film being merely the wrapping, which hides the nuggets of wisdom. In ‘Idaya veenai thoongumpodu,’ the heroine, married to man known for his rakish lifestyle, asks if one can sing when the heart isn’t filled with joy. In another song, ‘Kadavul thanda paadam,’ he talks of the false smiles of so-called friends. Kannadasan observes in the song, ‘Vanda naal mudal’ that nothing in Nature has changed — not the moon, not wind, not flowers or rivers; but man has changed for the worse. And so it is that a ten-line verse from Kannadasan takes one on a short literary, psychological and philosophical tour. That is because the composer’s observation of life and mankind was acute, and the resulting poetry was encyclopedic in its sweep.

In ‘Oruthi oruvanai ninaithuvittaal,’ Kannadasan says that when lovers are reunited, silence prevails. This mirrors Kamban’s description of the reunion of the Divine Couple as Rama and Sita — ‘pirindavar koodinaal pesavum vendumo?’ The famous ‘Veedu varai uravu,’ is inspired by Pattinathar’s ‘Athamum Vazhvum.’

Kannadasan wrote that Divya Prabandham had enriched Tamil with its novel use of words. He used lines from Andal’s ‘Nachiar Tirumozhi’ for his ‘Manam padaithen’ song. Kannadasan said in his autobiography, that he read only Tamil literature. But he also must have had exposure to English literature. There is beauty in the way he blended thoughts from English literature into his songs. In ‘Kavalai illada manithan’, he said life is nothing but a drama, echoing Shakespeare’s ‘All the world’s a stage’.

In ‘Manathottam podumendru’, he said that a camel may pass through the eye of a needle, but we will not give up the desire for riches. This idea may have been borrowed from the New Testament, which says, ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’

It is a tribute to Kannadasan’s genius, that often rough translations of his lyrics were used in remakes of Tamil films. We see this in many Telugu songs, ‘Devude ichadu’ (‘Deivam thanda veedu’), ‘Moname nee bhasha’ (‘Mounathil vilayadum’) and ‘Ghaliki kulamaythee’ (‘Kannukku kulamedu’) to name a few.

In his autobiographical accounts, ‘Vanavasam’ and ‘Manavasam,’ Kannadasan comes across as gullible, generous to a fault and impulsive, and one realises that his experiences were reflected in many of his songs. At first, the autobiography may seem like a rant against fate, but on second reading one realises it is self criticism, for his errors of judgment.

Film songs offer a limited field of operation, but Kannadasan transformed the limitation into an opportunity. His film songs became vehicles for him to lead his Muse down many paths, leaving one with thousands of lines of timeless poetry.

Remembering a lyricist

“The MSV Kannadasan friendship was legendary”, says S.P. Muthuraman. “When Kannadasan died, MSV had a statue of his made. He requested the then Chief Minister Jayalalithaa for land in T. Nagar to install the statue. The Chief Minister ensured that the State Government took care of the installation. MSV started the Kannadasan-Viswanathan Trust, with contributions from many philanthropists, and every year programmes are organised in the poet’s memory, including contests for school and college students.”

“Kannadasan used to say to K.V. Mahadevan, ‘ Maama, you can set even an essay to tune’,” says Panchu.

AVM Saravanan on Kannadasan’s humility: “Learning that ‘Madhaviponmayilal’ was Vaali’s lyric, Kanandasan went to Vaali’s house to compliment him.”

Many of Kannadasan’s poems have been translated into French.


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Printable version | Feb 20, 2022 9:17:03 am | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/Kannadasans-lyrics-held-a-mirror-to-life/article16076779.ece