Forever a part of the Tamil psyche, MSV composed music for over 1,700 films and has worked with four CMs — NTR, MGR, M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa.
M.S. Viswanathan, whose film compositions transcended every known category of music and refused to be pinned down to musical traditions, died here on Tuesday. He was 88 and is survived by four son and three daughters.
It is not just for many of his ever green songs, but also for the anthem — Neerarum Kadalodutha — MSV will ever be part of the Tamil psyche. In the Tamil film music world, no other composer was as diverse as MSV was and he had composed music for over 1,700 films in Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada and worked with four Chief Ministers — N.T. Rama Rao, M.G. Ramachandran, M. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa.
His first film was Jenova and the hero was M.G. Ramachandaran. MGR had reservations about using MSV in the film. But the producers of the film told MGR that they would not change the music director and if he was not interested in acting the film he was free to quit the project.
Born Maniyanga Subramanian Viswanathan in Elapulli in Palghat district, MSV’s life exemplifies the dictum that the birth of a genius is an accident. He entered the film world as a child artist starring as the child Kovalan in the film Kannagi produced by Jupiter Pictures in Tiruppur. As it did not suit him, he was given the role of Bala Murugan. He has no family history of music, except that he had the privilege of sitting on the belly of his father Subrmanian and listening to him singing. The passion stayed.
After the death of his father, who was working as a jailor and his sister, his mother, driven by poverty and the name earned by MSV as a cursed child, he decided to commit suicide by jumping into a tank. “I wanted my mother to jump into the water first. When she demanded the reason, I told her what if she changed her mind after I was drowned. By that time, my grandfather arrived and we were saved,” MSV had recorded in his biography penned by Ranimainthan.
While living in Kannanur, he played truant, and sold murukku and vadai in a theatre without remuneration so that he could listen to film songs. Instead of attending classes, MSV would stand outside the house of Neelakanta Bhagavathar, a local music teacher and listen to his teaching other students. He also became a student and his music talent was found on a Vijayadasami Day, when playing the harmonium and singing. Neelakanta Bhagavathar who happened to listen to him singing was enthralled and organised a full-fledged concert for three hours at the Kannanur town hall.
MSV’s career in the film world started with the Jupiter Studios in Tirupur. An office boy, his regular work involved cleaning the harmonium of the S.M. Subbiah Naidu, the music director of the studio. Later he joined C.V. Subbaraman, another music director. Both Ilayaraja and A.R. Rahman have worked with MSV.
Lyricist Vaali would say that he used to struggle for a regular income before teaming up with MSV. “After joining hands with him paying income-tax was a major issue,” he would say. Vaali’s first song for MSV was Poovaraiyum Poongodiyey Poomalai Soodava rendered by P.B. Srinivas was a hit.
“Great music should hold a listener spellbound. Athan Yennathan in Pava Mannippu, Iravum Nilavum in Karnan, Yennai Yar Endru in Paalum Pazhamum and Nenjam Marappathillai in Nenjam Marappathillai and Nilave Yennidam in Ramu give the feeling that we have association with these songs in all our births,” Ilayaraja in his afterword to MSV’s biography.
Though T.K. Ramamoorthy was a senior to MSV, later thinker-comedian N.S. Krishnan felt that the duo have MSV’s name first. Ramamurthy was the violinist of music director C.V. Subbaraman. MSV-Ramamurthy composed music for over 750 films before their separation. They came together again in 1995 to compose music for the film Yenkiruntho Vanthan. The film failed, but the songs were hits.
Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram had penned lyrics for two films before teaming up with MSV. But the song Kutti Aadu Thappi Vantha Kullanarikku Sontham in the film Pasavalai made him popular overnight.
The MSV-Kannadasan combination also proved a great success in devotional music. The album Krishna Ganam bears testimony to this. Pullanguzhal Kodutha Moongilkaley by T.M. Soundararajan has few equals in devotional music. After the release of the album, Kannadasan requested MSV to begin all his concerts with the song. MSV would emotionally sing the line ‘Pullangulal Kodutha Moongilkalay Yengal Kannadasan Pugazh Paadungaley.’
“MSV is a original composer and it is my humble opinion that playback singers had succeeded in rendering only fifty per cent of what he had in his mind. Moreover, few music directors have used the tabla the way MSV did. One should listen to Bharathi Kannama in Ninaithaley Inikkum, Ammanai Azhagu Migum, and Ragangal Pathinaru in Thillu Mullu,” said film director Suka, who is also trained in classical music.
Sambo Siva Sambo in Ninaithale Inikkum captured a youth’s unfettered feelings. The song Yezhu Swarngalukkul Ethanai Padal in the film Apoorva Ragangal won Vani Jayaram the national award. “Immediately after recording the song he told Vani Jayaram that she would won the national award. His words proved prophetic,” said Mr. Ranimainthan.
He did the orchestration for violin maestro Lalgudi G. Jayaraman’s thillanas rendered by Maharajapuram Santhanam at a live concert. He was instrumental in erecting a statue for Kannadasan, a desire fulfilled by the AIADMK government led by Ms. Jayalalithaa.
The title ‘Mellisai Mannargal’ was coined by the poet Kannadasan and conferred on him and T.K. Ramamoorthy by Sivaji Ganesan at the inauguration of Kasturi Srinivasan Library in Triplicane. He was also an outstanding singer. Sollathan Ninaikiren, Inbathilum Thunbathilun Sirithidu Magaley, Yenakkoru Kaathali Irukindral and more recently A.R. Rahman’s Sangamam and Vidaikodu Engal Nadey. When Cho. Ramaswamy’s political satire Muhammad bin Tughlaq was made into a film, MSV rendered the song Allah Allah Nee Illadha Idame Illai.
Even after Ilayaraja started dominating the scene, MSV proved his mettle by composing evergreen songs for the film Ninaithale Inikkum. He and Ilayaraja together composed music for the film Mella Thiranthathu Kathavu, where the orchestration was by the latter and the tunes by MSV. He was the only film music composer to receive the Tamil Isai Sangam’s ‘Isai Perarignar’ title, usually conferred on professional classical musicians.
MSV’s funeral will be held on Wednesday morning at his residence on Santhome High Road in Chennai.