DHARMAPURI: Sundarayyar was an unknown street play artiste from a nondescript village who went on to win the national award for playback singing this year. His is the story of an underdog fighting against all odds, the stuff that movies are made of.
In the beginning of 2016, pestered by a friend from his troupe, Sundarayyar reluctantly auditioned to sing in the Tamil movie, Joker, which also won the honours for the Best Tamil film at the 64th National Film awards announced on Friday, apart from handing the 40-year-old singer the national award.
Sundarrayar now joins an elite club which hosts legendary names like S P Balasubrahmanyam and K J Yesudas among others. His first song in a feature film, 'Jasmine-u' from Joker will now be played repeatedly in FM radio stations in the coming days.
When the results were announced, Sundarayyar was in Bengaluru with the Manal Magudi theatre troupe of Kovilpatti, preparing for a performance in Dharwad in North Karnataka this weekend.
For a person who never got another opportunity to sing in films after his first and only song in Joker, a national award was something he least expected. "A friend called to inform me that the film, Joker had won the national award. I was so happy for director Raju Murugan that my emotions were over the moon," Sundarayyar said.
A few minutes later, the friend called Sundarayyar again, this time informing him that he had won the national award for his song. "I didn't know how to react. I was dumbstruck. I remained silent for a few seconds and let it sink in," the singer recalled.
With Joker, when he got the opportunity to see his first song in a feature film come out, Sundarrayar had thought it would be a turning point in his life. "I thought my life would change." It didn't. With a young family and an unstable day job as a part-time teacher at a government school in his native town in Dharmapuri district which paid him Rs 7,000 per month, relocating to Chennai and scouting for opportunities to sing in films was not something he could have afforded.
But, his life, like that of many of achievers has always been about fighting the odds.
Youngest in a family of six siblings, Sundarayyar took to singing like duck takes to water, performing in street plays at Vellisandhai village in Palacode taluk, Dharmapuri district since he was 10 years old. When he finished school and wanted to pursue music at the Government music college in Chennai, his father, a farmer was against it. "Would music bring food onto your plate?" his father had said, chiding him. But Sundarayyar was firm. "I would rather die if I cannot pursue music," Sundarayyar told his dad, recalling how the emotional blackmail made his parents approve of his choice, though hesitantly.
His father's apprehensions came true. How could a young boy from a village in Dharmapuri make it big? "I came back and set up an eatery in my village. I was also performing in street plays whenever I got the opportunity," he said.
A socially and politically aware individual, Sundarayyar is known in his circles for singing for the Dravida Iyakkam and lending his voice to create awareness against dowry and female infanticide - social issues that are prominent in Dharmapuri district.
In fact, when Joker's music director, Sean Roldan auditioned him, Sundarayyar stuck to his strength and sung folk songs and songs about social issues. "A month later, Sean called again to record my voice. The feeling was surreal." he recalls.
Naturally, he is grateful to the makers of the film and Sean Roldan for providing him the opportunity. But, the person whom the national award winning singer spoke at length about was his wife, Kavitha, whom he met while performing in a street play in Tiruvarur and got married to a few years later. His wife, he says, stood by him and believed in him even when he didn't.
Part of a renowned theatre troupe, Sundarrayar now aims to win a national award as an actor. The national award also carries a cash reward with it. Asked what he would do with it, Sundarrayar says his first investment would be a music system. "I couldn't afford one. Even my own song I listened to in the mobile phone that a relative gifted me. Now, technology has improved. I shall buy a good music system to listen to songs." Sundarayyar said.