Malabar Mail: Celebrating the spirit of the region

Kozhikode and its obsession with M.S. Baburaj's music

Music and football can live in perfect harmony. Especially in Kozhikode.

So, one wasn’t surprised at all at the Corporation Stadium’s press box on that humid afternoon, several years ago, when the discussion strayed from the delicate dribbles onto the intricate musical notes.

When you talk about great Malayalam film songs, you talk about G. Devarajan and M.S. Baburaj. Just as you would speak of Pele and Maradona when you discuss the greatest footballers. During the half-time of that match in Kozhikode, after talking about the irresistible charms of Baburaj’s music, this writer referred to the vastness and variety of Devarajan’s universe. And right away felt as if being called for an off-side. “No, Baburaj is the greater composer,” said the seniormost reporter in the press box. “Devarajan would come only second.”

He seemed offended. For someone who had recently moved to the city, his reaction came as bit of a surprise: Devarajan is, after all, widely regarded as the greatest composer in Malayalam cinema.

Before long, however, Kozhikode’s obsession with Baburaj became more obvious.

His music is breathtakingly melodious, of course. And, he is the composer of arguably the finest Malayalam film song ever – Thamasamenthe varuvaan... (Bhargavi Nilayam).

City’s own composer

Baburaj is Kozhikode’s own. That is one of the reasons why many music fans of the city, like the elderly reporter at the football ground, swears by Baburaj. Only by Baburaj.

Kollam, however, doesn’t celebrate Devarajan like that. Neither is Thalassery as passionate about K. Raghavan. Thrissur isn’t overly proud of Johnson.

It would be wrong, however, to say that Baburaj’s most ardent fans would only be found in Kozhikode. G. Venugopal, one of the last original, polished voices in Malayalam playback singing, has told this writer that he wished he was born a couple of decades earlier, so that he could have sung Baburaj’s compositions. P. Jayachandran watched Bhargavi Nilayam 27 times at the theatre just to listen to the song.

Devarajan, a man so sure of his gift and stature, himself admired Babujraj’s music. He once said that one of the very few songs he wished he had composed was Thamasamenthe varuvaan...


That song, which the Malayali first head over half-a-century ago, best represents the freshness, the tenderness and the gentleness of Babuaraj’s music. With melodies like Thaliritta kinaakkal than...(Moodupadam), Paathiraavaayilla... (Manaswini), and Thaane thirinjum marinjum... (Ambalapravu), he showed how the sweetness of ghazals and Hindustani music could be transported to Malayalam, like no other composer, before or after, could.

But Baburaj didn’t receive as much recognition – or remuneration – as he deserved in his lifetime. Strange as it may sound, he never won the State Award for music.

As K.P. Udayabhanu, who sang one of Baburaj’s classics, Anuraaga naatakathin... (Ninamaninja Kalapadukal), said, “Unlike his music, he was poor.”

He had indeed gone through tough times. He didn’t know how to sell his talent. All he knew was how to create magic with music.


More to music than just Baburaj

Still, Baburaj wasn’t the only composer who could do it in Malayalam cinema, as Kozhikode would sometimes try to make you believe. Besides Devarajan, who has few peers in Indian music, gifted men like Raghavan, V. Dakshinamoorthy, B.A. Chidambaranath, and M.K. Arjunan have also enriched our film music during its golden period.

The composers who received the baton from them, like Johnson, Raveendran, Ouseppachan, and Vidyasagar, too continued the great tradition, though you could not say the same about the quality of lyrics all the time. Remember, the golden generation of composers also had brilliant minds like Vayalar Ramavarma, P. Bhaskaran, O.N.V. Kurup, Sreekumaran Thampi, and Yusufali Kechery to give them poetic lines to tune.

Those lines attained immortality when they were composed by legends like Devarajan and Baburaj and rendered by singers like Yesudas, Jayachandran, P. Susheela, and S. Janaki.

(Malabar mail is a weekly column by The Hindu's correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Nov 22, 2020 7:11:44 AM |

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