Unquenchable spirit

Kaithapram Damodaran Namboodiri Photo: H. Vibhu   | Photo Credit: H. Vibhu

Nothing has ever kept him down. Not even a debilitating cerebral haemorrhage. In a career spanning 30 years poet-lyricist Kaithapram Damodaran Namboodiri has defied the odds and retained his dreams. But now Kaithapram seems to be in a tight spot. The world he loved appears to have turned its back on him.

It is 30 years since Kaithapram wrote his first film song. And never before has he felt so lonely, so ignored, not even when he was confined in a hospital at Vellore.

“The haemorrhage thankfully spared my right hand, my mind and creativity. But for some reason the industry still treats as if I’m still in some critical care unit. I have proved that I can still create good stuff with the hit P. Jayachandran song (‘Vaalmuna kannile…’) in Aadu Puliyattam. But my condition has happened to others like Johnson and Raveendran. They were ‘jobless’ in the last phase of their lives. And when they died people queued up to pay tribute,” says Kaithapram.

For Kaithapram the absence of love and friendship is akin to death itself. “If there is one constant in my life, something that has put my life together, it is the affection and consideration I have got from the people around me. This is what I have learned and what I have attempted to spread in my poems, in my songs, through my life. And this is what I find going out of this world. People smile at you but they are often meaningless. I have begun to realise it.”

To be able to write verse that can touch hearts, a poet needs to be emotionally charged, he needs to value personal relationships, says Kaithapram. “If your eyes don’t turn moist when listening to a beautiful song or see something painful, if you don’t have that sort of a sensibility, how can one write poignant lines, how can one act in response?”

Kaithapram was fortunate to work with ‘mighty’ personalities who put his life on track. “Music was always part of my life. My father, Kesavan Namboodiri, was a disciple of Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar. But his music died with him. My fate would not have been different but for the kindness of some great souls. I don’t want to put my life on flashback mode and reel out names of the people who helped me pull along.Perhaps, my story is what I have said in the film Sopanam.”

Kaithapram was a priest in a temple at Edapazhanji in the capital city when he used to hang out at Kavalam Narayana Panicker’s Thiruvarangu during rehearsals. “It was Kavalam sir who motivated me to write. I did small roles in his plays and also sing with the group. I wrote a few poems, that Kavalam sir read and he asked me to send those to All India Radio (AIR). He must have told M.G. Radhakrishnan and Perumbavoor G. Ravindranath about me. My first songs were tuned by them and aired by AIR.” Later, Kaithapram was part of Narendra Prasad’s Natyagriham where he also tried his hand at composing.

Theatre and friends led him to Fazil. “Fazil was, for a short while, part of Thiruvarangu. That made things easy for me. That’s how I got a chance to write songs for Ennennum Kannettante (1986).”

All the songs in this film, set to music by Jerry Amaldev, turned popular. “I was new and some of the lines like in the song ‘Devadundubhi sandralayam…’ was complex. Later, with my association with masters like Padmarajan and Lohitadas I learned the virtue of simplicity. Ironically, despite all the songs in my debut film doing well I never got the chance to work with Jerry Master after that.”

Kaithapram has no qualms in saying that he owes a lot to the directors he worked with in that early phase of his career. “Directors like Lohitadas, Jayaraj, and Kamal, showed me the way. They taught me economy, how to write for the scenes, for the characters and to make it as simple as possible. It was a learning process that helped me a lot.”

Kaithapram, with a long line of music directors, tuned songs in accordance to the trend and situation. He has written over a 1,000 songs in around 370 films. His combinations with Johnson, Raveendran, Mohan Sithara, M.G. Radhakrishnan, Bombay Ravi, and Ousephachan have resulted in some of the best songs in the language. “Among all the music directors I have worked with, and I have worked with a whole generation of them, I had a special bond with Johnson and Raveendran and that showed in the songs.”

Kaithapram never had problems of fighting to keep his words in tune with the wildly changing music trends. He never believed in writing only to please himself rather struck a fine balance. “A song lyric must fit melody. A lyricist’s mind must be a receptacle for seizing and storing experiences, feelings, images that remain there to unite to form a new mix. If one is bereft of experiences and feelings I think he cannot create a good song.”

In 1996, Kaithapram made his debut as music director in Jayaraj’s Desadanam. and won the Kerala State Award for Best Music Director for Karunyam. He went to score music for around 27 films for celebrated directors like Kamal, (Kaikkudanna Nilavu) Hariharan and (Ennu Swantham Janakikutty), Shyamaprasad among others.

Kaithapram forayed into acting and also carved a niche for himself on the Carnatic music circuit. “Being recognised as a Carnatic vocalist has been a huge blessing. And not being able to sing now is a real pain. There was a time when I travelled the length and breadth of the State singing kutcheris. In fact, for Chembai centenary celebrations at Kottayi, his birthplace, I had the fortune to sing the inaugural kutcheri before a learned audience that included greats like K.V. Narayanaswamy and also the last kutcheri. This happened at the very place where my father learned music. Hari, who hails from Anchal, near Kollam, is one of my ardent admirers. He likes my concerts and has a record of all my performances. He keeps asking me when I’ll be singing my next.”

Music and its power to cure is something Kaithapram strongly believes in. He realised the healing touch of music when he was recovering from the haemorrhage. In the hospital it was singing and writing that kept him active. He would keep the sruthi and hum bringing back memories of his concerts, of ragas, kritis. Even today music is an integral part of his daily routine of exercises. He started his music therapy experiment with the assistance of the students of Swathi Thirunal Kala Kendram, an institution he started. “On so many occasions I have experienced the power of music. We tried this successfully at the mental hospital at Kozhikode. I have been witness to how music soothed the mentally ill and also the terminally ill. I have spent almost all my savings on this institution and its activities. Today, I don’t earn anything. I have started travelling and holding music therapy sessions. I request the government or other agencies to support the institution and its activities.”

Kaithapram is awaiting the release of his film Mazhavillinattm Vare, a project that he directed. The film, set in the backdrop of cricket, originally had Sreesanth and Pakistan fast bowler Mohammed Asif. When both got into trouble, Kaithapram roped in a London-based singer of Pakistan origin Abbas Hassan as hero. “The shoot and post-production work are over. I hope I will be able to release it soon.”

Some of his best

Indulekha kanthurannu… ( Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha)

Kannerpoovinte… ( Kireedom)

Thankathoni… ( Mazhavilkavadi)

Kannil nin meyyil… ( Innale)

Pramadavanam… ( His Highness Abdulla)

Devaanganangal kayyozhinja… ( Njan Gandharvan)

Unni vaavavo… ( Santhwanam)

Vikaaranoukayumayi… ( Amaram)

Ramakatha… ( Bharatham)

Paathiramazhayetho… ( Ulladakam)

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2021 11:10:44 PM |

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