Voice with an enchanting lilt

IT IS 12 years since she passed away and M. L. Vasanthakumari's voice still resounds in one's ears, recreating the rapturous joy her music gave her innumerable fans. Her music was also beautifully expressed in the many film songs she had sung from the 1950s onwards. Each a gem, often these songs were the highlight of the films. Though mostly Carnatic-based, MLV also revelled in singing a few western and folksy tunes, with panache.

MLV made her film debut through "Rajamukthi", Tyagaraja Bagavathar's own venture. She sang for V.N. Janaki, and it was released with much fanfare. The film was a flop, and as so often happens, the music too did not click with the masses although the songs were lovely.

Then came `Sudarshan", for which MLV was signed as a singing and dancing star. So she went to Dandayuthapani Pillai to learn dance. She was told that dancing would affect her voice, and so she dropped the idea. MLV's first big hit was "Manamagal" in 1951, with music by C.R. Subbaraman, under the banner of MSK films. The peerless duet of "Ellam Inbamayam", based on Kalyani, and having a ragamalika suite of Mohanam, Hindolam and Darbar, which was sung with P. Leela and picturised on Padmini and Lalitha became an all-time hit. The brief sketch of Mohanam is enough to transport MLV's fans to bliss. The same film also had the super-hit, "Chinnanchiru Kiliyae", which for a long time was MLV's choice of tukkadas sung towards the end of her classical concerts. Today, even instrumentalists include it in their repertoire.

MLV then began to sing frequently for the films of Kamala and Padmini, especially for their dance sequences. "Parthiban Kanavu" had three songs by MLV, sung for Kamala.

The superb ragamalika "Parkadal Alaimaele" from "Raja Desingu" (1960) actually had the distinction of being recorded and picturised on Padmini, after the film's release and added to it, to increase the film's popularity. This song too became an integral part of most Bharatanatyam recitals. "Konjum Purave", from "Thayullam" (1952) was based on the Hindi song, "Thandi Havayen", but had the added spice of background music from the theme music of "Samson and Delilah."

"Ayya Sami" picturised on Lakshmikantam in "Or Iravu" (1951) was based on "Gore Gore" by C. Rama-chandra from the film "Samadhi" sung by Lata and Amir bhai, which in turn was based on the Latin American song "Chico Chico from Puerto Rico", from the film "Cuban Pete".

Each and every film song sung by MLV in the raga Kalyani is riveting — "Adisayam Vanathu Arivumayam" ("Vikramadithan"), music by S. Rajeswar Rao, "Senthamarai Kannanae" ("Vairamalai") by Viswanathan Ramamurthy, "Vanna Tamizh", ("Sornakili"— here Kalyani is followed by other ragas), "Adum Arul Jothi" — in this dance song MLV starts with Kalyani and then glides from one raga to another with gay abandon.

"Vikramadithan"... one of the many films enhanced by MLV's voice.

"Vikramadithan"... one of the many films enhanced by MLV's voice.  

Telugu, Malayalam, and some Kannada — MLV sang in all these regional films. "Pelli Koothuru," the Telugu remake of "Manamagal," had MLV in an astounding duet ("Virarajulu Valape") with C. R. Subbaraman, called Her last film song was for the Kannada film "Hamsa Geethe"— "Nindati Chandana" in Darbari Kanada.

The great film connoisseur V.A.K. Ranga Rao recalls that this song was said to be MLV's own version, but is not very sure of the fact. This song too is popular in a dance repertoire.

Film singing demanded perfect diction, and many felt that MLV's enunciation of Carnatic music was better, as she was so tutored for films. The happy voice that could scale heights with a never-say-die approach, had the unique charm of a peculiar lilt to it, that simply caught at one's heart strings.

It was this rhythm that elevated MLV to a different plane, be it in films or traditional Carnatic music. The line "Aadi varum thene" in the song "Chinnanchiru Kiliye" truly describes MLV. Her appeal, by way of films and dance, has spread to a wider audience than just Carnatic music listeners.

The dance film songs "Aadal Kaaniro" and "Aadatha Manamum Undo" have such an evergreen quality, an unbelievable fusion of dance and music. Saregama India Ltd released the cine classics of MLV, in 2001, a salute to her versatility. It is a pity that many of her old recordings are not available to the public.

Collectors have many hours of MLV's dance and film music, on old records. If only these could be released on tape/CD today!


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