A SONG for my city

Idukki becomes a ‘midu midukki’, often a smiling, beautiful, kind-hearted girl. Rafeeque Ahamed’s ode to Idukki, set to music by State Award winning Bijibal, in Maheshinte Pratikaaram (2016) lists its gurgling streams, the fog, the mountains, its markets, the air…it is a love song to Idukki. If the Idukki song is a love song then ‘Poorangalude Poooram…’ from Punyalan Agarbathis (2013) is an education for those who don’t know Thrissur and a dose of nostalgia for those who call Thrissur home.

These are not the first film songs celebrating places, Malayalam cinema has, down the ages, celebrated its cities and towns.

Ranjith Sankar blogged about how the song came to be…of how he felt an irresistible urge to see the Thrissur pooram; having seen it from close quarters and having experienced the vedikettu, he felt like driving around the Swaraj Round. He says, “I ended up driving around the Round at least 10 times! That was the most nostalgic moment I had in recent times. Very badly felt (sic) like shooting a movie in Thrissur then. Something which can catch the essence of it than (the film) being just based there.” The song, written by Santosh Varma and set to tune again by Bijibal, captures that intangible essence of Thrissur.

This is precisely what Dileesh Pothan intended with Maheshinte… “The plot is set in Idukki, and setting the background was very important which the song does. The song, in that sense, is a detailed introduction to the geography, the culture and the people. People had to understand the characters who lived there. The geography therefore is also very important,” he says. If for Ranjith, who is from Thrissur, it was nostalgia there is none of that with Dileesh who belongs to Kottayam.

Annayum Rasoolum (2013) revisited the Kochi song immortalised by Mehaboob, ‘Kayalinarike Kochi Kayalinarike…’. The original song, written by Mepally Balan, not part of a film, is an ode to Kochi, more precisely to Fort Kochi. Annayum… is set in Fort Kochi and the song therefore is a perfect fit. Written sometime in the late 60s or early 70s, it is a reflection of the times. There is a poignant line that despite the throbbing heart, with all the furious trading in rubber, tea, spices, coir; the loading and unloading of ships, there is hunger and ‘no vacancy’. The song captures the desperation of the times.

Right from the time playback singing was introduced in Malayalam cinema there have been songs with place names. In Nirmala (1948) the film that introduced playback singing, there was one that extolled the charms of Kochi. Written by the first Jnanapith Award winner G. Sankara Kurup, the song beginning ‘Arabikkadalile Kochu Rasiyeppole….’ perhaps for the first time calls the city ‘Queen of the Arabian Sea’. It goes on to describe the city’s beauty at night with bright lights flickering in the distant Willingdon Island. The poet calls this man-made island the pride of Western architecture. Interestingly, this song, rendered by T.K. Govinda Rao, is set in a ragamalika. The music is by P.S. Divakar.

Then there is ‘Kollathu ninnoru Pennu...’ from Minnaminungu (1957), a comic duet by H.Mehboob and Machattu Vasanthi. The song narrates a tale of how a young boy from Koyilandi and a girl from Kollam meet at a tea plantation in Wayanad, fall in love and get married. The song is penned by P. Bhaskaran and set to music by M.S. Baburaj.

There is even a song in Adyakiranangal that rolls out a whole list of place names from Kannur to Thiruvananthapuram. Sung by Adoor Bhasi, the song describes the route of a deluxe bus. It begins … Kannur, Dharmadam, Thalassery… and lists the major bus stops along the way such as Mahe, Vadakara, Thikkodi, Koyilandi…Kozhikode right up to Thiruvananthapuram. Written by P. Bhaskaran and set to tune by K. Raghavan, the song exhorts one to visit all these places in Kerala on this bus.

Long before the Idukki song, the streams, hill slopes, and misty nights of Peerumedu found expression in the most unlikely song from Kalyanarathriyil (1966), the first Malayalam film to be given an ‘A’ certificate. Peerumedu finds mention in a cabaret number beginning ‘One, two, three, four, number sixty four, house of the bamboo door... orma venam orma venam Peerumettil varumbol...’ This song is sung by L.R. Eswari with lyrics by Vayalar Rama Varma and music by G. Devarajan.

The very popular ‘Nalla suruma…’( Kayamkulam Kochunni, 1966) which features singer K.J. Yesudas in the scene, describes graphically the experiences of a vendor in towns like Kottayam, Kollam and Vadakara. This one is from the popular P. Bhaskaran -B.A. Chidambaranath team.

In Anaathasilpangal (1971) ‘Achankovilaattile kocholangale...’ by P. Jayachandran and S. Janaki, is a sort of a road song where lyricist Sreekumaran Thampi portrays the beauty of the forests on the banks of the Achankovil river, the landscape, the whistling wind from the cardamom plantations on its banks and the fruit-bearing banana trees.

There are many such songs celebrating rivers, festivals, religious places, villages and rituals. And then there are places which haven’t been celebrated. As long as there are the movies, there is hope.

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Printable version | Jul 31, 2021 12:35:22 PM |

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