Most readers of this blog would have seen MS Subbulakshmi’s Meera (1945). Those who have not would have definitely seen/heard the immortal song Katrinile Varum Geetham, which remains the highlight of an even otherwise very memorable film. There is something about the tune, the words, the little cameo of Kamala and Radha dancing, the grandiose Rajasthani setting and of course the ethereal presence of that star of stars- Subbulakshmi. Even today,I get a catch in my throat when lines such as Aaa yen solven mAya piLLai and vAna vELi tanil tArA gaNangaL are sung.

Years ago, Vintage Heritage, that wonderful initiative (does is still survive I wonder), used to screen old films for the benefit of its members at the theatre in Nadigar Sangam on Habibullah Road. Meera’s screening was special, for we had Randor Guy and Kalki Krishnamurthy’s daughter Anandi, both wonderful speakers and raconteurs, giving us details of what went into the making of this film. Randor was great with his in depth knowledge but Anandi was even better for she had been an eye-witness to the entire production.

Speaking on Katrinile she said she could modestly take some credit for it. In those days there was a very popular gramophone record of a song that went Toot Gayi Man Bina. Anandi was so enamoured of it that she pestered her father to write a Tamil equivalent for Meera and thus was born Katrinile. In her speech she said the record was by Jutika Ray. I searched high and low for it but never found the song. And then came YouTube and along with it the discovery that this was sung by Sheela Sarkar and not Jutika Ray. The music is by Kamal Dasgupta who was with the Gramophone Company of India before he migrated to East Pakistan along with his Muslim wife. Now for the interesting bit, courtesy Wikipedia – Kamal Dasgupta had a PhD from Benares Hindu University for his thesis on Meerabai! What a coincidence that his tune should become the basis for the best known song in the best known film on Meera! I have not been able to discover much on Sheela Sarkar. VAK Ranga Rao says she must have been an artiste who like Juthika Ray was frequently contracted for singing by the Gramophone Company of India. You can listen to her Toot Gayi Man Bina here

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