The birthdays of two icons went by last week; both formed a good part of my childhood memories. My first outing as a toddler with my large joint family was to a song recording where the words flew forth from one and the music from the other! MS Viswanathan and Kannadasan were the two stalwarts; it is their birth anniversary on June 24 that was celebrated with a lot of love on social media. It was heartening to see several music threads paying tribute. One Twitter account shared MS Viswanathan songs that we often mistake for being Ilaiyaraaja songs (for example, My Name is Billa from the Rajinikanth-starrer Billa). Another asked for a list of favourite lyrics by Kannadasan, and boy, was it an avalanche!
As a lyricist-musician pair, Kannadasan and MSV remain unmatched in their legacy. The array of best songs—be it romantic or philosophical (of which the black and white era had at least one per album)— belonged to these two mirthful, creative minds: MSV loved a good laugh and Kannadasan always had quips aplenty, as I was told by my uncle, the late R Kannan, who conducted many a recording of theirs. Their range spanned the films of actors like MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan and swept the soundtracks of the 60s and the 80s, till the Rajini-Kamal era came along. In fact, Kannadasan’s last song was in a Kamal Haasan film, Moondram Pirai (‘Kanne Kalaimane’).
The song, ‘Vaa Vennilaa’ (Mella Thirandhadhu Kadhavu), has such strong MSV tones to it; the film’s music is credited as being a joint composition between MSV and Ilaiyaraaja. Many years later, they would repeat their ‘combination’ for a rather poetic film, Vishwa Thulasi, starring Mammotty and Nandita Das, which also had melodies that stood out. ‘Ilamai Oonjalaadugiradhu’ was a film in which the soundtrack remains as a tribute from Ilaiyaraaja to MSV (listen to ‘Orey Naal Unai Naan’).
As a child who grew up in a family of film buffs (my octogenarian aunt can still recall trivia from the shooting days of Maya Bazaar), I was privy to the LP record era, when the songs would come, ahead of their release, to our house for a ‘preview’ (much like the movies we were taken to every weekend). ‘Kaadhalikka Neramillai’ was the first album I perked up listening to, with lyrics by Kannadasan and music by MS Viswanathan. I remember my uncle telling me how Kannadasan had arrived late to a composing session of that film and MSV was ‘mock-angry’ at him for wasting working hours and had said he wanted to change the lyricist. Kannadasan had written the song, ‘Vishwanathan velai vendum’, as his ‘peace offering’ to MSV!
There must be many an anecdote behind each pearl of a song that came from the duo. Their deaths have not taken away their work, which has lived on beyond them. That two best friends who created a rich legacy for themselves and for Tamil cinema, also shared the same birthday, is indeed a beautiful coincidence.
Sujatha Narayanan: The writer is a content producer and an art curator an can be contacted @n_sujatha08