Musing on some film songs – 3

Unlike my paternal grandfather who was a serious man devoted to Sanskrit and his library of 5,000 books, my maternal grandfather was, like Ol’ King Cole, a merry old soul. A railway doctor, he was good fun to hang around with, especially as we grew up, for he had a fund of ribald stories of the past, knew most of the scandals of his time, enjoyed Hindustani music and above all, loved old Hindi and Tamil films.

Patanga (1949) starring Nigar Sultana (one of Thatha’s favourites), with Shyam, Yakub and Gope, was one film that he and I saw together when it was telecast on Doordarshan in the 1970s. He knew all the songs by heart. In many ways this was a movie that like Thillana Mohanambal, very theatrical, more so because the characters were all part of a drama troupe and many of the songs were in a stage setting, complete with audience, curtains and the proscenium arch. The acting was mediocre at best but the song, oh the songs! I can still recall, 40 years later some of them – Piya Gaye Rangoon, O Dilwalon, Pyar Ki Jahan Ki Nirali Sarkar and Namaste Namaste (which incidentally is not a Dikshitar kriti). The dances were also a delight, with Yakub and Gope, despite the latter’s portly figure, being so agile in their movements.

That the songs were an all-India hit is evident from the way in which the tunes were immediately lifted for use in Tamil cinema. They were all by C Ramchandra, who sang the male portions too, the female voice being Shamshad Begum’s.

Vazhkai – poster courtesy Wikipedia

One of the tunes found place in AVM’s Vazhkai, released in the December of 1949, the same year that Patanga hit the screens. This was Vyjayanathimala’s debut film and it featured many dance songs. One of them, Aaasai Kollum Meesai Ulla, sung as a duet by MS Rajeswari and AG Rathnamala is a straight copy of Pyar Ki Jahan Ki Nirali Sankar.Another song from the same film, Enni Enni Paarka Manam is lifted from Chup Chup Khade Ho, a song from the 1949 movie hit Badi Behen, starring Suraiya. The song was sung by her along with Lata Mangeshkar. The Vazhkai number was a solo by MS Rajeswari. The music for Vazhkai is by R Sudarshanam and the remaining songs in the films are all original scores. But these two need to be accredited to C Ramchandra. The storyline too was not original apparently. Wikipedia informs me that it was ‘inspired’ by some Hollywood films!

Digambara Samiyar, poster courtesy Wikipedia

Come 1950 and Digambara Samiyar, based on Vaduvur Doraiswami Iyengar’s novel, hit the screens. Made by TR Sundaram’s Modern Theatres, Salem, it’s music was by SM Subbiah Naidu and G Ramanathan. But it did have the obligatory lifts from Hindi cinema. Oosi Pattase, sung by Gajalakshmi and VT Rajagopalan and pictured on Baby Lalitha and VK Ramaswami, was copied from O Dilwalon. Another song, Paaru Dappa Paaru Dappa is from the Begum Para starrer Lara Lappa Lara Lappa (Ek Thi Ladki – 1950). Thinking about all these cut-paste jobs I somehow feel that the real heroes are the lyricists. Imagine, AVM or TR Sundaram coming to them with a Hindi movie tune and saying write lyrics for it! For Vazhkai it was KP Kamatchi Sundaram and for Digambara Samiyar there was a host of them – Kannadasan, KP Kamatchi Sundaram,Ka Mu Sheriff, A Maruthakasi and Thanjai N Ramaiya Das (all this info courtesy Wikipedia – the entry on this film has also got a storyline which should be held up as an example of bad English in all schools).

Given all these hits, it is a wonder that the biggest hit Mere Piya Gaye Rangoon was never copied. I love that song. C Ramchandra, who scored the music, also sings the male lead, while Samshad Begum is the female voice. The setting is a delight with Burma being represented by several women wearing sarongs and kurtas. The first woman in the chorus, is just fabulous. Both Gope and she are generously proportioned, but move with such grace. Nigar Sultana’s side, representing Dehradun, is on the contrary just empty, leaving her to handle it. The balance between the two is really good.

This article is part of a series on old film songs, chiefly Hindi and Tamil. The earlier episodes can be seen here.