Tamil film music has an enviable history. Na Muthukumar has now become a part of it. With over 1,000 songs to his credit in short span of time, Muthukumar has made a slice of Tamil film music’s history his own. Since his debut in 2000, Muthukumar left his imprint on Tamil films in a way that cannot be overlooked. From the iconic Kaadhal in 2004 to the award winning Thangameengal in 2013, Muthukumar wrote songs that soon became a part of Tamil psyche.
If kaadhal remains the most poignant tale of love ever told on Tamil screen, Muthukumar’s songs made it that much more gut-wrenching.Thangameengal had every father in Tamil Nadu singing a lullaby to his daughter. Among songs that always romanticized rains in Tamil cinema, Muthukumar wrote the path-breaking Veyyilodu Vilaiyadi (Play with Sun) for Veyyil – a song closer to our reality, more in touch with our ethos.
He was rich and subtle, at the same time. Muthukumar could write a breezily romantic aaha kaadhal konji konji pesuthe with the same earnestness with which he wrote a more intense Paravaiye engu irukkiraai. His partnership with director Ram produced some of the greatest, sensitive numbers of Tamil cinema.
We met each other when we were still young and fledgling in our careers. It was before yet another iconic Angaadi Theru had happened. I was doing a story on young talents in Tamil cinema and Muthukumar was a name I simply couldn’t strike off. He had liked the way I had translated a few lines of his poetry in my story. Much later, he would request me to translate some of his songs into English. We always ended up discussing about translating more of his works and getting them published.
Versatility was definitely his hallmark but Muthukumar exhibited sensitivity rare to Tamil cinema whenever he got an opportunity to do so. When Gautham Vasudev Menon’s Neethane En Pon Vasantham happened, the movie generated a lot of interest over its music. Touted as Ilaiyaraja’s comeback movie, NEPV had Muthukumar handle all the lyrics. I first heard ennodu vaa vaa song and called Muthukumar to congratulate him for its refreshing originality. Muthukumar would only say I should wait till I hear two more songs – female solos. “You will like them better” he said.
Both Satru Munbu and Muthal Murai paartha gnyabagam turned out to be intense roller-coaster ride of a woman’s emotions. There was no fake coyness about them, nor any holding back. The desperation of a woman’s voice after she has had a love failure found its full, no-holds-barred expression in the songs – something that has hardly happened in Tamil cinema.
Along with now legendary Aanandha Yaazhai Meetugiraai that soothes me into sleep on restless nights like this, these are the songs that Muthukumar would perhaps like him to be remembered for. I would always remember him as someone who rewrote the idiom of Tamil film lyric to accommodate voices that hardly found space.
He was as gentle as some of the songs that he wrote – as pure and breezy in his earnestness to relate to those around him. He is gone like the breeze. But the soulful fragrance of his songs shall remain – like the veyyil etched forever in our lands.
(Kavitha Muralidharan is a journalist who has seen Muthukumar from up close over the years.)