In its time, Chandralekha was a sensation. I allude not to the white-haired dancer but to the movie. It became such an obsession with a grand-uncle of mine that he watched the film 48 times and had to be treated for it! The family always spoke of Chandralekha with some trepidation and TR Rajakumari, who did not know of our existence, was portrayed as the siren who had set out to destroy grand-aunt’s domestic bliss.
I saw the movie in the 1970s at the Kamadhenu Theatre, which specialised in reruns. Years later, I saw the Hindi version of it on DD. Seen through the spectacles of the 1970s and 1980s, Chandralekha was a humdrum film. But you could imagine what an impact it would have had when released.
Surprisingly for a film of its class, there is not one memorable song in it. My favourite remains Ayilo Pakariyama – that nonsense-worded piece that would have done Edward Lear proud. Sung by and featuring NS Krishnan, TA Mathuram and Sundari Bai, it is a delight. The words were probably made up by the trio. The music is by Saluri Rajeswara Rao but I somehow have this gut feel that NSK’s portions were left to him to improvise. The lyrics for the movie were by Kothamangalam Subbu and Papanasam Sivan. I dont think Sivan could have written Ayilo Pakariyama. Maybe Subbu did.
A bigger challenge is to find out the various western tunes that went into the making of the song. The opening potion sung by NSK is clearly inspired by the songs of the Gondoliers of Venice. God knows where the Ayilo Pakariyama tune came from though it is remarkably catchy. The penultimate portion when NSK is picked up by the guard is clearly operatic and I love the way NSK holds his note, like a tenor.
This song does not feature in the Hindi version, nor for that matter do NSK, Mathuram and Sundari Bai.
My favourite part of the song? That bit where NSK, Mathuram and Sundari Bai dance their way out from the crowd standing in a circle. A natural breeze ripples the skirts of the two women and the three of them sway from side to side. The next scene has them dancing the same way to the castle. I love that bit. I also love the operatic portion by NSK which ends just as the castle drawbridge closes.Also see the way the children in the situation respond to NSK. He was such a natural. So was TA Mathuram. On her, my favourite story is this – years later, I was watched the MS Subbulakshmi/GNB starrer Sakuntalai at a Vintage Heritage screening. The acting was uniformly rotten barring the girl who acted as Priyamvada who was far ahead of her times. That was TA Mathuram. When I came back home and called my mentor KV Ramanathan to discuss the movie and mentioned this, he told me that when Sakuntalai was released, a critic panned the movie for the same reason and singled out TA Mathuram for praise,stating she had a glorious career ahead.
Enjoy Ayilo Pakariyama – they dont make songs like this anymore.
This article is part of a series featuring old film songs, chiefly Hindi and Tamil. You can read the earlier parts here