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Musical sojourn with MSV

Having known M. S. Viswanathan for 30 years and more, RANDOR GUY traces the life and career of the music legend of Tamil Cinema.



The mesmerising music of "Paava Mannippu" catapulted the composers to fame.

NEVER IN the history of classical Carnatic Music has the prestigious `Isai Peraringnar' title been bestowed on a movie music composer. It happened during the music festival recently when the Thamizh Isai Sangam conferred the award and title `Isai Peraringnar' on the movie music maestro, M .S. Viswanathan, in recognition, of his service to Tamil film music. He has composed music for an incredible 1,740 movies, which besides Tamil include Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada and Hindi.

Though MSV received minimal training in classical Carnatic music he composed songs in many classical ragas investing them with his own native genius. Like many creative film music composers, has always taken liberty to forge new patterns within the framework of the raga.

Viswanathan made a splash on the Tamil cinema horizon during the 1950s-1960s as part of the duo, Viswanathan-Ramamurthi. Somewhat surprisingly duos in music composing have been rare in Tamil cinema. According to Viswanathan the idea of forming such a team with Ramamurthi occurred to them when they saw a Hindi movie for which the music composers were the famous Shankar-Jaikishen. Ramamurthi was rather sceptical at first but then Dame Destiny took over!

Manaiyangathu Subramanian Viswanathan, affectionately known as Visu was born in Elapulli, a village near Palakkad on July 9, 1932. He lost his father when he was three and a few months later he lost his sister too.

Fortunately for Viswanathan his maternal grandfather took charge of the family and the boy was taken to Cannanore (now Kannur) where he learnt music under Neelakanta Bhagavathar. As he could not afford to pay any tuition fee he did odd jobs for his guru.

Bitten by the acting bug Viswanathan made his way to the world of movies and landed in Madras looking for a break. That was the period Jupiter Pictures was producing their first mega hit "Kannagi"(1942). Regretfully the footage shot with Viswanathan as `Bala' Kovalan was deleted.

When Jupiter Pictures took on lease Central Studios in Coimbatore, Viswanathan made his way to find employment as office boy. His interest in music made him the all-purpose assistant of the Jupiter in-house music composer S. M. Subbaiah Naidu. Mesmerised by the harmonium, which would soon become an extension of himself, he would compose songs whenever Naidu was away. And then came a turning point. Jupiter Pictures was then producing "Abhimanyu" (1948) featuring M. G. Ramachandran, U. R. Jeevaratnam and S. M. Kumaresan in lead roles. Subbaiah Naidu had composed as many as nine tunes for the song , "Puthu Vasanthamaamey Vazhviley...." but the producers and the director rejected all! Viswanathan was composing a tune for the song and Naidu happened to hear that. And he was impressed. The tune was submitted and approved but none new the real identity of the composer! The tune became a hit. Then Jupiter Pictures shifted to Madras and there was the inevitable retrenchment of the locals on the staff. Thanks to Naidu, MSV was taken along but not before the reason was revealed. Jupiter Somasundaram who felt delighted in spotting new talent.

In Madras Viswanathan joined the music party of C. R. Subbaraman. He was working for Jupiter and T. K. Ramamurthi was a violinist in his group.

Subbaraman died when he was only 28. A few more songs had to be composed for "Devadas" (1953) that was being made in Tamil and Telugu. Viswanathan composed "Ulagey Mayam...." sung by Ghantasala and it became a major hit.

Though the music duo began composing music for Tamil films with "Panam" (1952) it was in the 1960s that their magnificent leap ahead took place with "Paava Mannippu" (1961), one of the series of movies of filmmaker A. Bhim Singh with titles beginning with `Pa', such as "Paasa Malar", "Paalum Pazhamum" and "Paadha Kaanikkai". A major element that contributed to the resounding success of these movies was the mesmerising music. The songs that were a rage then, are still popular after 40 years.

Viswanathan used a wide array of musical instruments — accordion, piccolo, melodeon, xylophone, tuba, bongos, keyboard and Indian and Western and even African percussion instruments — which had never been used earlier in Tamil Cinema. He has also sung in some films.

At one stage Viswanathan and Ramanurthy parted company. ButMSV continued to forge ahead in his career. He also turned producer, which of course did not make him a happy man!

Viswanathan had the excellent support of a talented team of arrangers, composing assistants, and instrument players. Mention must made of Sankararaman (Subbaraman's brother), G. K. Venkatesh, Henry Daniel, Joseph Krishna, Joe (keyboard), Sivamani (drums), Nanjappa Reddi (flute), Gopalakrishnan (percussion), Mangalamurthi (accordion), Ben Surender (keyboard) and Frank Dubier (trumpet).

Now in his seventies, Viswanathan still composes music and acts in movies and television serials.

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