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Evergreen compositions

P. K. AJITH KUMAR

K. Raghavan gave a new direction and identity to Malayalam film music.



THE RIGHT TUNE: K. Raghavan has been honoured with Swaralaya-Kairali-Yesudas award for lifetime contribution to film music.

As he searched for the right tune for the lyrics, little did K. Raghavan realise that he was about to compose history. P. Bhaskaran, his friend and colleague at All India Radio (AIR), Kozhikode, had written the song `Kayalarikathu' for a film he was directing along with Ramu Kariat.

`Neelakkuyil,' released in 1954, gave Malayalam cinema a new direction and it also gave Malayalam film music an identity of its own. Half-a-century later, the songs of `Neelakkuyil' still sound fresh, just as it did in the Fifties, when the songs came as a relief to Malayali ears that had got used to tunes and lyrics inspired by popular Hindi film songs of the day.

Unforgettable scene

"I never thought the songs of `Neelakkuyil' would become such a rage," says Raghavan, who has won this year's Swaralaya-Kairali-Yesudas award for life-time contribution to Malayalam film music. "I remember seeing the audience in cinemas singing along when the song sequences came on the screen. Since it was dark inside the hall, they read the songs from books after lighting candles stuck inside coconut shells. It was an unforgettable experience."

The film had many other hits besides `Kayalirakathu... ,' which was sung by Raghavan himself. Songs like `Engane nee marakkum... ' (Kozhikode Abdul Khader) and `Ellarum chollanu... ' (Janamma David) conquered Kerala.

All the songs of `Neelakkuyil' have an earthy charm about them, as Raghavan infused the folk element into Malayalam film music.

"While growing up in Thalassery, I was exposed to a variety of art forms such as Kolkali, Theyyam and Mappila pattu; maybe that's how the folk element came into my music," he explains.

There is, of course, more to his music than folk. A trained vocalist in Carnatic music, he could bring the best out of a raga too in songs like `Kodungallooramme... ' `Mayalle marayalle... ' and `Aayiram phanamezhum... .' He has also tuned some of the most popular melodies of Malayalam cinema, including `Parvanenduvin... ' `Manjubhashinee... ' and `Karimukil kattile... ' Composer Johnson feels Raghavan walked ahead of his time. "I would say he composed a rap song (`Kayalairkathu... ') long before the genre called rap came into being," he says.

P. Jayachandran, who has sung some splendid songs for Raghavan, including `Ekanthapathikan njan... ' (`Ummachu'), has great respect for the man. "He was very meticulous and he knew exactly how to make a singer sing the way he wanted to," he says.

The variety in Raghavan's music - he also composed songs for plays and AIR - is amazing. And he dared try out a variety of voices, many of them new. Mehboob, Brahmanandan, Balamuralikrishna, M.L. Vasanthakumari, A.P. Komala, Gayathri Srikrishnan, Santha P. Nair, A.M. Raja, K.P. Udayabhanu, M.G. Radhakrishnan, P.B. Sreenivas, Vani Jayaram, Jikki, V.T. Murali, K.S. Chitra, G. Venugopal... they have all sung for him.

"I never depended on any one singer. I didn't compose a song with any singer in mind; I would search for a suitable voice after making the tune," says Raghavan.

Murali, whom he introduced to playback singing in `Thenthulli' with "Othupalleelannu...," says it was a dream come true, singing for the great composer. He adds, "I will always be indebted to him."

So will Malayalam cinema, for giving its music an identity of its own.

* * *

Immortal songs

Some of the unforgettable songs composed by K. Raghavan:

`Kayalarikathu... ' `Nazhiyuripalu kondu... ' `Hrudaythin romancham... ' `Maanathe mazhamukil... ' `Shyamasundara pushpame... ' `Aattinakkareyakkare... ' `Poornendumukhiyodambalathil... ' `Nalikerathinte nattilenikkoru... ' `Manjani poonilavil... ' `Kathu sookshichoru... '

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