Dad was very fond of the song Aiya Sami and would when in the mood for such things, sing the first line in his soft voice. We had once laughed about the opening line’s sAhityam as well – Aoji, vAyya, rAyya, you come Iya – what a hilarious combo of several languages, all meaning the same. KP Kamatchisundaram was nothing short of a genius. When dad mentioned that it was Vasanthakumari who sang it I just could not believe it. This traditional Carnatic artiste and such a swashbuckling song! I did not know MLV then. Later I came to realise that she was the only one who could have sung it so well.

The song is from the film Ore Iravu, that critically acclaimed but unsuccessful 1951 release of AVM’s, starring A Nageswara Rao, Lalitha, Muthulakshmi, Avvai TK Shanmugam, TS Baliah, KR Ramaswami and TS Durairaj. The story is taken from an eponymous hit play of CN Annadurai’s. The dancer is Lakshmikantha who is clearly so talented. According to VAK Ranga Rao, it is ironic that this woman, who was the second lead in Uday Shankar’s Kalpana (1948), a film in which Lalitha and Padmini were but glorified extras, later came to be featured in ‘item numbers’ like Aiya Sami while the Travancore Sisters went on to become stars in Tamil cinema. According to Ranga Rao, Lakshmikantha spent her last days in a nunnery outside Pondicherry and became very distressed if anyone came to interview her about her film career. A sad end indeed.

But the song, unlike its central figure, has remained evergreen. MLV brought a certain elan to its rendition, especially the soprano touch to the vAngaliyO and falsetto in the upper registers in places such as kuLLa nari. This is somehow absent in the technically perfect way in which Lata Mangeshkar sings in it in the Hindi ‘Gore Gore, Banke Chore‘, from the film Samadhi (1950), starring Ashok Kumar and Nalini Jaywant. That song incidentally, is a duet, sung by Lata and Amirbai Karnataki who is now not remembered but in her times sang several songs such as Sunday Ke Sunday. She was clearly a C Ramchandra favourite. Gore Gore is also like Aiya Sami, a stage setting but unlike the latter, has two women – Nalini Jaywant and Kuldeep Kaur. The lyrics were by Rajinder Kishan and the music of course, by C Ramchandra. AV Meyyappan evidently decided that a hit song from a Hindi film the previous year needed to be a part of his Ore Iravu. The lyrics are typical of the Parasakti era – a song making fun of the rich and branding them as the root cause of all evil in society.

But then this song was not an original. The tune is a lift from Chico Chico from Puerto Rico, by Edmundo Ros, a Trinidadian-Venezuelan musician who if Wikipedia is to be believed, lived up to the age of 101.

Coming back to Aiya Sami, it is not the only hit from Ore Iravu. The other song is Bharathidasan’s Thunbam Nergayil, set to music in Desh by MM Dandapani Desigar. There is a concert recording by Desigar where he sings this song and relates how he spent two years in experimenting with various ragas before zeroing in on Desh. He also does a hilarious take on how the song would have sounded in Athana. That is not the only poem of Bharathidasan that Desigar set to music. More on that in the next post.

This article is part of a series where I look back at some of my favourite film songs, chiefly old ones, and almost all in Hindi/Tamil. The other parts of this series can be read here.