MSV — metre, matter, melody

HEARING M.S. Viswanathan's free-flowing Tamil, one would hardly know that Malayalam is the mother tongue of this veteran music composer, born in Ilapulli village in Kerala.

"Sarigamapadani is my language," 75-year-old Mr. Viswanathan, popularly known as MSV, says with a smile writ large on his face.

Having done music for more than 1,750 film scores in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada and Hindi, this workaholic, who has been chosen this year for Isai Perarignar title of Tamil Isai Sangam, turns emotional when he narrates his walk to fame from a childhood spent in poverty.

He strongly believes in the maxim, "what is learnt is just a handful of soil, when a whole world of knowledge waits to be explored". "Puthagam Paiyile, Budhiyo Pattile", the lines of a song in the Tamil film `Uyarnda Manidan', fitted him aptly, he recalls.

"I joined school at seven, but used to sneak off into the music school of Neelakanta Bhagavathar. For a couple of years, I just spent my time doing odd jobs there and listening to others singing. On a Vijayadasami day, I suddenly sang `Viriboni', Ada Thala Varnam in Bhairavi ragam. A tearful Bhagavathar, totally taken aback by surprise, hugged me. Four years since, then it was Asura Sadhakam," he said narrating his road to success at his first four-hour concert in the age of 13, which was reviewed by English and vernacular newspapers.

Having acted in a play on Harishchandra at the age of 15 and given a role to play junior Kovalan in the film `Kannagi', which was later cancelled and struggling for a while as chorus singer, there was a period of confusion about what he was going to do.

"But today, God has brought me to a position when I am now giving this interview to your newspaper," says the music director, referring to `God's grace', a dozen times in his talk.

Music is the core of every human being's life from birth to death, he says, expressing his passion for his career as composer spanning over five decades. "My philosophy is that what is good for me will be good for the listener. It is wrong to provide what the audience asks for. It may even be poison," he says.

Every song has a story, says MSV, as he narrates a couple of them. "At a marriage concert recently, a 73-year-old woman sent a request for "Paalirukkum Pazhamirukkum" from the film `Paava Mannippu'. This tearful widow thanked me and said, `When my husband was alive, we used to listen to this tape together 20 times each day'."

In another function, there was a 19-year-old boy requesting him a song he composed nearly four decades ago for Sridhar's `Nenjil Or Alayam' - "Ninaippathellam Nadanduvittal".

`Chiranjeevi' is the name that MSV gives for what he calls "Immortal melodies by mortal man." And the recipe for such compositions is, "Good metre, matter and melody."

He has come a long way from the days when there was a lot of togetherness to the era of technology domination in music, making the earlier spirit of teamwork virtually impossible.

"If the song `Enge Nimmathi' with T.M. Soundararajan vibrates with life till today, it is because a 125-member orchestra worked in unison from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m."

Music has power too, MSV strongly believes. "It was when MGR was sick in America. I was at a concert in Colachel and the audience demanded that we sing "Aandavane Un Padangal" from `Oli Vilakku', six times over. In the film, the dying hero survives on hearing the song. The next day, newspapers carried a report saying MGR was out of his serious condition."

Quoting the most touching incident in his life, he narrated how an old woman, his neighbour in his Yercaud estate, told her children that her soul would rest in peace only if the philosophical songs of MSV and Kannadasan - "Ettu adukku Maligai", "Mayakkama Kalakkama", "Veeduvarai Uravu" - were played till her body was taken to the burning ghat.

Today, Mr. Viswanathan is happy to get the award. "It is gift of God and the benefits go to my gurus and the stalwarts who preceded me." He recalls his composition of the Oduvar Pans, which he set to music for a Tamil Isai Sangam release titled `Annamalai Kai Thozha'.

What is the secret of his energy? "I don't think I am getting old. I feel like a 22-year-old man. Even today, I can work for 18 hours a day," he shoots back.

He is first a Rasika and only then an artiste, he affirms. "Naushad Ali, who is coming to release my biography this month, once asked, `What meditation do you do to have so much concentration?' My reply was, `If I take the harmonium in my hands, I will not know even if a murder happens nearby.'"

An interesting testimony to his concentration was when Kannadasan gave him crab soup during Navaratri season. MSV at that time avoided non-vegetarian food.

Focussed on his work, he did not realise what he drank and Kannadasan remarked, "The best way to kill MSV is to give him poison while he's composing music. He'll just drink it."

He spends an hour and a half in prayer every day. "May the whole world receive the happiness that I enjoy."

He signed off with a benedictory song on his favourite harmonium gifted to him in 1966 by the Don Bosco School, Broadway.

The song released in a cassette `Sangeetham Santhosham' begins with "Arignanayiru ... ." and continues as a rhyme with Gnayiru, meaning Sun. `Pazhamai Maarada Pudumai', is his advice for the younger generation - go for the new that does not lose track of the old.

By Akila Dinakar

Photo: K.V. Srinivasan

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