As this article was being written, M.S. Viswanathan, a dazzling icon of Tamil film music passed away.
This writer had the privilege and pleasure of knowing him intimately and had also worked with him writing English song lyrics for his Tamil movies such as ‘Thavaputhalvan’. Especially the song, ‘Love Is Fine Darling When You Are Mine!’ (voice: Ajit Singh), which created history in Tamil cinema.
M.S. Viswanathan (MSV) had composed music in about 1000 movies in more than one language, an outstanding achievement. He was the first to compose film songs in one of the finest raags of Hindustani music -- Bilaskhan-i Todi.
Very few songs have been composed in this raag even in Hindi cinema. In-depth research by this writer along with his guide and friend, Jairam Sriram, musicologist, film music archivist and film historian led to ‘Lekin’ (Hindi, 1997), a song and dance number in this fascinating raag with Hema Malini performing the dance with music composed by Hridayanath Mangeshkar (Lata’s father) and sung by his other daughter, Asha Bhonsle. Lata appears to have sung a bhajan on Meera in this raag but it has not been possible to listen to it or obtain any more details.
What is Bilaskhan-i Todi? Bilas Khan was the son of the legendary Miyan Tansen, the court musician of Akbar. When Tansen passed away, Bilas Khan sat alone beside the body, drowned in grief. Suddenly he began to sing in a new raag, which came to be known as ‘Bilaskhan-i Todi.’ According to the legend, the body of Tansen is said to have raised its hand in appreciation!
Almost all the maestros of Hindustani music have sung or played in this raag such as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Jasraj, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi, Gayatri Devi…the list is endless.
MSV used to listen to Hindustani music and had the various recordings of the maestros. Evidently Bilaskhan-i Todi fascinated him and he began to compose songs, about 20 of them, for films in this raag. Most of them were hits. In some rare instances, he used this raag in all its variations and shades, occasionally mixing it with a touch of another raga such as Sindhubhairavi.
(As MSV was too ill to speak to this writer over the phone, his son Gopi tried to find out what inspired him to compose in this raag. Unfortunately, MSV could not remember.)
The first song that MSV composed in Bilaskhan-i Todi was from the hit film ‘Nichaya Thamboolam’ (1961), ‘Padaithaney Padaithaney’ with Sivaji Ganesan in the lead. It was produced, directed and photographed by B.S. Ranga, with lyrics by another legend, Kavingnar Kannadasan. The song was sung by another legend, T.M. Soundararajan.
Another song in the raag was ‘Thereyedhu…’ from the MGR starrer ‘Paasam’ (1962). It was sung by P. Susheela and had a haunting melody.
In the same year, he composed ‘Satti Suttadhadaa Kai Vittadhadaa…. ‘ from the hit film, ‘Alayamani’ with Sivaji Ganesan. It was produced by the veteran P.S. Veerappa and directed by K. Shankar. This song has layers of philosophical meanings written by Kannadasan and sung by T.M. Soundararajan.
(To be continued)