The poet Bharathidasan had a very uncomfortable relationship with films. He was of the view that producers and directors tampered with original works in many ways in order to suit the tastes of film-going audiences. He was not far wrong in this as we all know, given the number of movies that had either digressed quite a bit from the original work on which they are ostensibly based, or the number of songs/music that are mutilated under the guise of janaranjanam (pleasing the masses).

Legend has it that on one occasion Bharathidasan had given permission for a song of his to be used in a movie. When he went for the recording he was shocked to find that some words had been changed. On questioning, the music director said he had taken the licence to do so, as the original lyrics were harsh in some places to the ear and would therefore not record well. Flying into a rage, Bharathidasan stomped out banging the door of the studio. An underling ran after him, asking him not to make loud noises which could be accidentally be recorded on tape. To this Bharathidasan retorted that a recorder that could not take in ‘harsh Tamil’ could not be expected to extend that facility to a door banging. And that was that.

He would not look back at the film world for long. But sitting in the peaceful confines of Annamalai University, his friend and fellow Tamil-lover MM Dandapani Desigar was working on two songs of his. The first was Thunbam Nergayil, which as Desigar said in a rare speech in the middle of a concert, was set in Desh after two years of deliberation. In the same speech he also mused and demonstrated on how it was necessary for an appropriate raga to be selected based on the sentiment of the song, by singing the opening lines of Thunbam Nergayil in Athana. Bharathidasan was charmed when he heard it. Emboldened by this, Desigar then sent the poet’s Vennilavum Vanum Pole to music, this one in Jayanthasena (immortalised by Madurai Mani Iyer’s rendition of Vinatha Suta Vahana of Tyagaraja). This too met with Bharathidasan’s approval.

Thunbam Nergayil made it to AVM’s Ore Iravu (1951), which I wrote about a couple of weeks back. The poet gave his permission on being assured that Desigar’s tune would be used. Sung by MS Rajeswari and an unidentified male, it featured Lalitha (of Travancore Sisters) and A Nageswara Rao on screen. Unlike the film, the song became a hit.

Vennilavum, with Bharathidasan’s ok, became a part of Kalyanam Panniyum Brahmachari (1954). This was a hit and remains a fabulous film. The hero was the pop-eyed TR Ramachandran, with Sivaji Ganesan playing his sidekick. There is a brilliant song featuring the two that goes Jolly Life, Jolly Life. It begins after a long dialogue at 1.57 in the link. The playback for Sivaji is sung by JP Chandrababu the great comedian. The female leads were Ragini, who was paired with TRR and I am sure was at least a foot taller than him, and Padmini who pairs with Sivaji. The song Vennilavum was sung by (Radha) Jayalakshmi and featured Ragini lip-synching on screen while Padmini dances to it. The tune remains faithful to Desigar and is accredited to him. The rest of the songs were set to music by TG Lingappa. The film was produced by BR Panthulu and directed by Pa Neelakantan who also directed it. It is very reminiscent of the musical comedies of English theatre.According to Randor Guy, as can be read in this article, the whole screenplay was plagiarised from a Telugu work by Vedam Venkataraya Sastry. The author sadly, lost his case in the High Court, courtesy VC Gopalaratnam, who appeared for BR Panthulu. I am pretty sure that the tune for Jolly Life is also stolen from some western tune but I am unable to lay my hands on the original. But Lingappa does have several genuine tunes to his credit.

Two more songs of Bharathidasan would make it to films – Tamizhukkum Amudenru Paer, sung by P Susheela for the 1965 Panchavarna Kili. This was also featured in the delightful Ethir Neechal of K Balachander, albeit just the opening lines. The other song is Sangae Muzhangu from Kalankarai Vilakkam, also 1965. Bharathidasan had died the previous year. Music for the former was by MS Viswanathan and Ramamurthy. Kalankarai Vilakkam, with music by MSV alone (as informed by Shiva in comment below) incidentally, was ‘based on’ Hitchcock’s Vertigo. And so we go on.

Since I posted this on April 19, 2018, I have received many corrections and responses. I thank one and all and list what they have said below:

Eramurukan Ramaswami says that two more songs of Bharathidasan made it to films – Pudiyathor Ulagam Seivom in the film Chandrodayam and Chitirasolaikale in MGR’s Nan Yaen Piranthen.

Sundaram Ramaswamy says that another song, Avalum Nanum was featured in Accham Enbadu Madamayada, a recent film.

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