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Ruling with RUSTIC ragas

What sets Paravai Muniamma apart is her faith in folk songs, says M. BALAGANESSIN


WHEN SHE first stepped into Tiruchi's All India Radio station two decades ago for recording folk songs, nobody perhaps imagined that one day she will take the celluloid world by storm. But she has done it with her famous `Madurai Veeran Thaane' number in "Dhool".

Incidentally, `Paravai' Muniamma's voice has rejuvenated the folk appeal in the film industry.

Though she had given hundreds of performances all over Tamil Nadu, mostly in temple festivals, her folk number, `Naadu summa kidanthalum kidakkum', written by Joseph of Kalladipatti in Madurai district, brought her name and fame, prompting cine Director, Tharani to introduce her to the celluloid.

Stunning costumes

Having been drawn to `Therukoothu' as a girl of seven, the dazzling jewellery and glittery costumes used by the actors rendered her awestruck. Later on, she found her mentor in S. Perumal Konar, a folk artiste, and took upon herself the task of popularising his lucid approach of delivery. One such, she recalls, was his description of a tragedy with the phrasing, `Pandi nagaramam Madurayil nadantha pallikkoodam,' to describe the tragedy of 35 school students who died after a two-storey building collapsed in April 1964. Her devotion to her mentor was such that she has brought out a cassette containing his compositions.

Despite the overwhelming popularity she had gained of late, she is sceptic about her future in the film industry. "I know it is difficult for a folk artiste to sustain in the film world. What I earn here is barely enough to make ends meet. I know of artistes like me, who are now in penury."

With a traditional aura, she says, "I am doubly careful in choosing my roles in movies. I prefer playing the mother character, which I have done for many leading actors like Dhanush, Parthiban and Sarathkumar. I am jittery lest I become a laughing stock if I play the role of a wife."

Remedial force

Her consistent efforts in making folk art a remedial force to heal human stress have paid dividends. What sets Muniamma apart from the other singers is perhaps her strong faith that folk songs provide strength and solace to all sections of humanity - be it an illiterate agricultural labourer in the fields or an industrialist in foreign soil.

"My overseas programmes stand testimony to the fact that human race has an unquenchable passion for folk art and culture. Folk songs cannot be withered away by disco, jazz or rock".

Folk songs had for long remained in the realm of villages. " Be it a lullaby, ode or elegy, a rural woman is capable of composing and rendering, situation-specific songs instantly. Set to proper beats, folk songs can synchronise with any modern musical instrument. This was evident in Dhool."

Appeal to Govt

She has an appeal to make. "The Central and State Governments should honour folk artistes appropriately by instituting awards and sanctioning special concessions in the form of free bus and train passes."

Muniyamma has, of late, shot to popularity for another reason. In her cooking shows on television, she creates the rural flavour with all the countryside paraphernalia, starting with earthen cooking wares.

The blend of folk songs adds to the rural flavour in her show. "I feel people like my songs more than my cooking," she says. "They just watch the show to hear the songs I sing in between."

Be it on stage or in silver screen, `Paravai' Muniamma is her usual unassuming self.

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