VAK Ranga Rao and I now correspond by SMS. He does not believe in smart phones and given his hearing, it is impossible to call. So SMS it is. A couple of months ago he texted asking if I recall the Tamil version of Ra Ra Yasoda Nandana, the hit dance number in Aggi Ramudu. I replied that it was Neeli Magan Nee Allavo from Malaikallan. We then texted back and forth on what an outstanding song it is.
Malaikallan/Aggi Ramudu/Azaad/Thaskaraveeran etc
For those who do not know, Aggi Ramudu was the Telugu version of the Tamil Malaikallan – the two were made simultaneously and released in 1954, to become super hits. Later the film was made in Malayalam, Kannada, Sinhala and Hindi. All of them were made at Pakshiraja Studios, produced and directed by SM Sriramulu Naidu. The Tamil and Telugu starred MGR/NTR with Bhanumathi. The Hindi had Dilip Kumar and Meena Kumari. I have seen these three versions. The music for the Tamil/Telugu versions was by SM Subbiah Naidu. I had always assumed that the lyrics in Tamil were by Kavignar Namakkal Ramalingam Pillai but Wikipedia informs me that some of the songs were by Thanjai Ramiah Doss, Ku Ma Balasubramaniam and someone called Makkalanban. However Neeli Magan Nee Allavo is by Namakkal Kavignar. The screenplay was by the one and only Mu Ka who later made Thi Mu Ka his own.
From Neeli Magan to Aplam Chaplam
A lovely film with many highlights, one of which is the Sayee-Subbulakshmi item number Neeli Magan Nee Allavo. In Tamil the lyrics were by Ramalingam Pillai and the Telugu Ra Ra Yasoda Nandana are by Acharya Athreya. The Hindi version is Apalam Chapalam with music by C Ramchandra. Lyrics were by Rajendra Krishna. In Hindi it is a duet between Lata and Usha Mangeshkars but in Tamil and Telugu the songs are solos, both sung by PA Periyanayaki.
Tamil and Telugu versions
I have earlier written about the song Taaye Un Seyal Allavo (Iru Sahodarigal/1957) which in the Telugu version became Gopala Jagelara (Bhale Ammayilu). In the 1950s, with the wounds still raw following linguistic separation of Andhra, you generally paid tribute to Tamil/Tamil gods in Tamil versions and to Lord Krishna in the Telugu. The concept of Telugu Talli was still in the future. And so it is with Malaikallan – the Tamil song is on Murugan and the Telugu on Krishna. The tune is identical and so are the Kalpana svara-s at the end but the sequence was shot separately for both films as a careful viewing will show.
Kharaharapriya in films
When you think of classical film songs, ragas such as Shanmukhapriya, Simhendra Madhyamam, Mohanam and Charukesi are the first that will probably spring to mind but Kharaharapriya is an unsung wonder. There are so many lovely hits in the raga and perhaps the best of all is Enna Seithaalum Enthan Tunai Neeye, sung by (Radha) Jayalakshmi in Irumbu Thirai. But Neeli Magan is a class by itself. The gait of the song, as befitting a dance number is mesmeric and the svara-s at the end are magical.
The choice of PA Periyanayaki to sing it was perhaps inspired. An early singing star who is credited with performing the first on-screen Tamil Isai concert in the film Sabhapathi (1941), she later became a playback singer. In later years she was heavy-voiced and sometimes audibly out of breath. I always believed that she was not top grade of the order of P Leela or ML Vasanthakumari but there are early songs of hers that are superlative. The Tamil Isai Sangam in its silver jubilee year (1968) paid tribute to her as one of the people who propagated Tamil songs. Vamanan in his delightful series Thira Isai Alaigal writes on her life and I am summarising it here – Coming from a traditional family of artistes, she learnt music from her mother Panruti Adhilakshmi and later when the family moved to Madras, from Pattamadai Sundaram Iyer. She and her sister PA Rajamani acted in films and later Periyanayaki performed concerts and recorded playback. By the 1950s she involved herself in promoting the careers of her nieces, the duo Sayee and Subbulakshmi.
Sayee and Subbulakshmi
They gave you the impression that they were Apsaras who came down to earth. Students of Vaitheeswarankoil Muthusamy Pillai, Sayee and Subbulakshmi were known for their synchronised dancing. They performed in many Tamil and Telugu films and some Hindi ones as well. Petite, they for long gave the impression of being very young girls when performing. Even the Hindi Azaad has them dancing in Bharata Natyam style for Aplam Chaplam.
The lyrics of Ra Ra Yasoda Nandana are direct appeals to Krishna to come to the yearning Gopis. The Tamil song is a brilliant Ninda Stuti to Murugan. I have attempted a feeble translation below but then what can equal Namakkal Kavignar’s output?
Scarlet woman’s son are you not?
The mountain-based scarlet woman’s son are you not?
He whom the four Veda-s worship, that (Scarlet woman’s son are you not?)
Mal is your uncle,
The garlanded one is your uncle,
He of the cowherd caste,
Your wife is of the gypsy tribe,
Praised the world over (Scarlet woman’s son are not?)
Don’t we know of your father
Wandering around like a mad man?
And your brother sitting down
Wherever three streets meet?
Your garbs and disguises
Are strange to the say the least
O spear-wielding Lord
So are your deeds (Scarlet woman’s son are you not?)
The song set in a jungle hideout has MGR/NTR, with Bhanumathi and Sandhya (Mater of the Mater Dei) watching the dance. The extras behind, all evidently prize fighters, are shown relaxing in the company of a leopard. The animal is docile in the Tamil version but for some reason is all charged up and repeatedly goes for its trainer in the Telugu.
But let me not keep you from enjoying the song. Here it is in Tamil – https://youtu.be/Z0E5SGrab_o
and in Telugu – https://youtu.be/Yz4FRzATKsQ
This article is part of a series I write on old film songs. You can read the rest here
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