uLLamellaam thaLLaadudhE

Saravanan Natarajan writes:

Thanks to Arun V for this song. I was searching for it for a long time. Sung by K.J.Yesudas & S.Janaki. Lyrics by Ku.Ma.Balasubramaniam. Music by Salil Choudhry. I had not heard the song for more than ten years; I had seen the movie only once and the song probably twice or so; But something in the song haunted me. To listen to the song after so long gave me goosebumps. The style of the song is one that is seldom seen in TFM.

dhooraththu idi muzhakkam (5.12.1980/ Sai Sudha Films) would have been forgotten today, had it not been for two factors. One is that this film is often mentioned in any article on Vijayakanth, for it happened to be his first film as hero. He had acted in inikkum iLamai, agal viLakku, neerOttam and saamandhipoo, but it was director/producer K.Vijayan who first cast him as the hero in dhooraththu idi muzhakkam. Vijayakanth, Poornima and Peelisivam were in the cast.

The film recounted a seaside saga of a doomed romance. It opens with a group of tourists passing by a quaint hamlet on the seashore. Chancing upon a statuette of a woman, they are eager to know her history. And an obliging villager commences the narration.

Ponnan(Vijayakanth) a young fisherman and the willowy Chelli (Poornima) are deeply in love. The world seems to be at their feet when tragedy strikes. Ponnan is believed lost at sea. Chelli is coerced into marrying Maari (Peelisivam). Chelli resigns herself to a tranquil marital life; she even finds solace in the form of motherhood. But Maari is besieged with suspicion concerning her fidelity; and abetted by an unscrupulous sorcerer, schemes to offer his child in a ritual sacrifice to obtain riches. Ponnan unexpectedly resurfaces now, and saves the infant from a gory death. The proceedings then drift to a tragic climax.

An intense love story with a third angle, set against the magnificent backdrop of the surging sea could have reached the epic proportions of chemmeen, had it been handled sensitively. Unfortunately K.Vijayan seemed to have lost direction midway and abandoned ship. And the rudderless story, wrecked further by meandering into a hurricane of rustic superstitions, witchcraft and village lore, left the hapless viewers sadly at sea. The film, quite justifiably, sank without a trace.

* * * *

The other reason why this film remains etched in memory is, of course, this wonderful song.

K.Vijayan sought the forgotten Ku.Ma.Ba, and entrusted him with writing the songs. The veteran lyricist, whose poetic lines had fetched lingering luster to tfm in the 50s, found himself gradually sidelined from the onset of the 60s. At K.Vijayan's invitation, Ku.Ma.Ba wrote the lyrics for all the songs of dhooraththu idi muzhakkam. The lines were filled with simple, yet delightfully apposite flights of lyrical beauty. Two years later, Ku.Ma.Ba. wrote 2 songs for kanavugaL kaRpanaigaL. But despite 'veLLam polE thuLLum uLLangaLE' (SPB & Poorani) and 'thendRal oru thaaLam sonnadhu' (JC), tuned imaginatively by GA, finding fleeting popularity, K.Ma.Ba. faded once again to oblivion, never to return to tfm.

K.Vijayan has been known to ignore the reigning MDs of the day every now and then, and send for talented composers waiting for a break. It was Vijayan who brought G.Devarajan to tfm, by entrusting him with the score for his kaaval deivam (1969). Later Vijayan brought in his old 'comrade' MBS to work for films like pudhu veLLam (1975) and madhana maaLigai (1976). He gave the neglected G.K.Venkatesh a film too, and GKV came up with some winsome songs in azhagu (1984). Perhaps K.Vijayan intended to make an immortal coastal love story like chemmeen, and thus signed up Salil Chowdhury to recreate the magic that Salil had conjured up years ago for that Malayalam masterpiece. Or probably he was impressed with Salil's work in azhiyaadha kOlangaL, which was released the previous year. Whatever be the providential provocation, Vijayan has earned the undying gratitude of tfm fans for the only intelligent decision of his in the course of this damning debacle.

It was the genius Ramu Kariat who brought Salil down south in 1965 to compose music for his magnum opus chemmeen. And sitting in Room No. 28 in the old Woodlands Hotel in Chennai, Salil diligently crafted the landmark album. The rest, as they say, is history. The besotted Malayalis now acquired one other common passion, besides communism and football, to share with their Bengali brethren. With his scintillating songs in film after film, Salil went on to carve a hallowed niche for himself in mfm. His albums like Swapnam, Nellu, Ragam, Raasaleela, St.Thomas and Air Hostess are a discerning collector's delight even to this day.

Sadly, contemporary tfm just didn't have the catholicity to embrace this genius and celebrate his music. The first timid foray that Salil made into Tamil Cinema was uyir (1971/ TVS Productions), for which he composed only the bgm, while the songs went to an obscure Ramana Sridhar. The next opportunity came in 1973 when Ramu Kariat got Salil to compose 3 songs for his ambitious karumbu. Though the project was given up, the immortal 'thingaL maalai veNkudaiyaan' (KJY & PS versions) and 'kaNNE ..kaNmaNiyE' (Sabita Chowdhury) were triumphantly propagated by Radio Ceylon throughout the 70s. In 1978, when Shankaran Nair's madanOlsavam was dubbed into Tamil as paruvamazhai (Raghava International), Salil's exquisite compositions like 'maadapuRaavE vaa' (KJY), 'thEnmalar kannigaL maaRanai nEsikkum' (SJ), 'kaalamagaL medai naadagam' (KJY) and 'angE sengathir saaindhaan angE' (SJ) wafted in the airwaves for a while.

When Balumahendra turned director in 1977 with the Kannada film kOkila, he got Salil to work on the score. And when he bagged his first directorial venture in Tamil, he went to Salil again to compose the songs. azhiyaadha kOlangaL (1979/ Devi Films) boasted of treasures like 'poo vaNNam pOla nenjam (JC/PS), 'naan eNNum pozhudhu' (SPB) and 'kedacha unakku sugam'. Though all the 3 tunes were drawn from Salil's prior works in other languages, they fitted amazingly well in the pastoral horizon that
Balumahendra summoned up.

dhooraththu idi muzhakkam was the next and also the last Tamil film that had music by Salil. There were 5 songs in the album: the haunting 'maNiviLakkaal amma' (KJY), the rhythmic 'sevvalli poovE chithirappoompaavai' (SJ, chorus), the angler's anthem 'valai yEndhi chelvOM' (SPB, PS, chorus) and the breezy 'There is a rainbow in the distant sky' (Jayachandran, Sabita Chowdhury, Sherene Peters & Ravi, which had the Tamil lines penned by Ku.Ma.Ba. and the English lines written by Salil himself!) and, of course, the tour de force 'uLLamellaam thaLLaadudhE'.

* * * *

The moonbeams play tantalizingly on the silvery waves; after another day of tiring toil, the entire hamlet lays its flushed cheek against night's comforting bosom and falls into fitful slumber. The entire hamlet, except of course, Ponnan and Chelli...
They have kept to their moonlight rendezvous again, and seem overwhelmed at the pleasure that these stolen moments of intimacy usher in. She can't help humming in sheer bliss, and then finds words to convey the deluge of emotions, the delicious turbulence in her heart that the joy of being in her lover's arms evokes. And the waves seem to surge in empathy. In that moment of rapture, she wonders, half-fearing, if this joy would last, if all their dreams of a life together would come true...like a soothing balm to erase her fears, he tenderly assures her that he would marry her against all odds, and
vows to protect her with his love and care.

Salil created a joyous, original tune for this wondrous song. And for many of us who first heard it more than twenty years ago, it still seems to be forever new, even timeless in its enchantment. I am unaware of the technical aspects of music, but this song fills me with inexplicable thrill, with infinite awe.. Like a child whose small feet have strayed into some dim-lit temple of the God he knows he has to worship, but doesn't comprehend wholly why, I happily become one amongst the multitude of proletarian fans for whom Salil Chowdhury seems surely much more than merely human.