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Master of verse


O.N.V. Kurup's verses capture the Malayali ethos and express it in words that are simple yet elegant.

WORD PERFECT: O.N.V. Kurup. Photo: S. Gopakumar

Films are now being made to a formula. Like everything in films, the quality of songs is also getting standardised and predictable. But then as the cliché goes, it is the exception that proves the rule. And that exception is a man, a poet, O.N.V. Kurup.

Before ONV blossomed as a poet, Malayalam film music was trying to emerge from the shadows of Tamil music. He along with music director G. Devarajan was mostly responsible for a renaissance in Malayalam music. Instead of copying and reworking popular numbers from other Indian languages, they created songs that were intimate and innate to the Malayali ethos.

Extended poetry

For O.N.V., writing songs was an extension of poetry. Right from the time he got his first poem, `Munnottu,' published, O.N.V. embarked quite consciously into this evocative world of words. All that he saw, all that he read, all that he experienced - folk lyrics, native styles, diction - all merged into his inner being. O.N.V. wrote about nature, the world, emotions. He was admired for his romanticism, his feelings always contemporary, in touch with social reality.

His early poems that have been collected in the volume `Dahikunna Panapatram,' represent what could be called the `pink period' of Malayalam poetry. His subsequent works like `Naalumanipookal' that dwells on the relation between poetic creativity and experience, `Ujjayani' a narrative poem that touches on Kalidasa's life but modifies it with new insights drawn from his writings, or the celebrated `Bhumiykku Oru Charamageetham,' a sensitive reflection on environmental issues, are just samples of this poet's rich repertoire. `Bhumiykku Oru Charamageetham,' is now into its 21st edition. A docu-fiction based on `Bhumiykku Oru Charamageetham' is now being made, which is in the form of an interaction between O.N.V. and Kavya Madhavan about nature and poetry.

Only he could have condensed `Meghasandesam' into a few lines and used it in a song. No wonder then that `Shyama meghame... ' (`Samayamayilla Pollum'), set to music by Salil Chaudhary, remains an eternal favourite. In fact, O.N.V. has, along with music directors like Salil Chaudhary, Devarajan, M.B. Sreenivasan and Bombay Ravi, created some of the most memorable songs in the language.

O.N.V. also came to be admired for his dignified stance. In all these five decades and more, this poet has never penned anything that could be termed sub-standard. Like the man, his work is profound, elegant.

Deliberate decision

"It was a deliberate decision I took when I began writing for films," says the poet.

He laid down conditions; never compromised on his principles. "I always kept away from the regular late night get-togethers often arranged by producers. I did this because I have seen some great talent turning servile and being treated very badly and finally ending up as heavy losers."

For him, songs were meant to express the word, the truth in its most stately form. Even when some of the situations in films demanded titillating lines, O.N.V. came up with poetic verses that lifted the scenes.

Two songs, `Samayamayillapollum... ' and `Enthini chilankakal... ' from the film `Karuna,' are perfect cases in point.

"In all these years, the only time I was really humiliated was when a young film director thought he could take me for granted," says the poet.

He recounts, "I had agreed to write songs for this director's debut film. The brash, young man insisted on the inclusion of a few words in one of the songs."

O.N.V. refused as he felt that those suggested words were coarse. But when the songs were recorded, the director had the audacity to include those words into the song.

"I was furious when I came to know that it had happened. If this is how someone is treated after being in this industry for all these years, it shows how things stand today."

O.N.V. did manage to get the director to tender a written apology but that incident continues to rankle him. O.N.V. bemoans the present state of the Malayalam film industry, especially music.

"Music has become repetitive. After all the trouble of freeing ourselves from the influence of Tamil and Hindi cinema, we have got back to aping them now. There is a total lack of creativity. I feel the music makers alone are not to blame for this. The producers and directors are also to be blamed.

"I was paid a handsome sum of Rs. 1,500 for my first film (`Kalam Marunnu,' 1955). When we began at KPAC we were paid something like Rs. 5. It was a sort of windfall, especially considering the fact that we were students then. The first thing we did with the money from our first film was to buy wristwatches."

Films, today, are all about glamour and flashy lifestyles.

"I have seen people stare at me when I step out of an autorickshaw, or when I step out on to the road to get an autorickshaw. There have been others who have asked me why I do not own one of those brand new cars."

Poet, teacher, lyricist and writer, O.N.V has never tried to be part of the herd. In his film, drama and light songs, ONV has always strived to be different, bringing in words, images, turning them into invaluable gems. And the poet's romance with words continues.

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