CHENNAI: Within an hour of M S Viswanathan’s demise, G Chokkalingam was at his house moving chairs and tables around, making the kind of arrangements that families often need a hand with. It may seem like a strange thing for a producer and distributor to be doing, but for someone who spent three years painfully recreating the soundtrack of MSV’s Karnan, track by track, this is mot juste. “I still remember what ayya said when I took my idea of digitalising Karnan to him. He asked ‘why’ and I told him because I was a fan of Sivaji and a bigger fan of his and he smiled and said go ahead,” recalled Chokkalingam.
In fact, when he first started with the Sivaji-starrer, Chokkalingam thought that digitalising the print from its negative format to the large screen would be the tough part. Turns out he was wrong. “It was the sound. In those days, the soundtrack and BGM that ayya had recorded with such beautiful talams and various instruments had been embedded into one mono file. The only way to digitise that in the Dolby DTS format was to recreate it one instrument at a time,” he let on. And so Chokkalingam went back to the composer and sought out all the original musicians and brought them to the studio again — dusting out instruments that had long been replaced by fancy synthesisers and sound gear. “I met all kinds of people from his assistants to all the music directors today. None of them thought it was possible, until the owner of Sangeetha Studios said he would try. We did it,” he said, “But it took us three whole years to do it bit by bit.” The reason, was because he did not want anybody to refer to the digital version as a remix. “That would have been an insult to our ayya,” he said.
So particular was Chokkalingam that the recreated version should match MSV’s original that they kept taking cuts to MSV and asking whether it was right. “At every step, he was very pleased and when Karnan eventually came out restored, he came to the first show in Sathyam Cinemas and patted me on the back after it ended and said, ‘You have brought my music to a whole new generation’. That is the greatest praise I could hope for,” he said.
So, when they remastered Aayirathil Oruvan and brought MSV back to oversee the process, he was stunned and actually asked Chokkalingam. “Why are you doing this in this day and age? Even my own children haven’t done any of this for me.” After the pall of gloom has cleared, Chokkalingam wants to go after studio heads to protect and preserve movies that featured some of MSV’s best. “I’m worried that movies like Rickshawkaaran, Thangapadakam and others have already been lost, but I’m going to give my best to try and do it anyway. If not for my own satisfaction, at least for MSV ayya,” he said.