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A long musical journey

K. PRADEEP

Winner of the first Ravindran award, M.K. Arjunan has completed 50 years in his musical career.



ALWAYS IN TUNE: M.K. Arjunan. Photo: H. Vibhu

A dream debut in `Karutha Pournami,' followed by a string of hits in the next couple of films, and suddenly the limelight was trained on M. K. Arjunan. The modest, soft-spoken melody maker had made his mark.

Soon there were whispers floating around that someone else was assisting Arjunan in the composing of his songs. When these whispers became louder a producer (Hassan Bhai of Deepak Combines) decided to get to the truth. He had Arjunan, who had begun composing, locked up in his room. Oblivious of all that was happening around him Arjunan completed his job. That put an end to the whispers.

Ask Arjunan Master of this and he dismisses it with a chuckle and says, "So many strange things happen in life." True, for Arjunan's life and career is replete with surprising twists and turns.

Childhood shows the man, it goes a long way in shaping one's personality. This modesty, simplicity, which is Arjunan's strength, perhaps even his weakness, must have been forged from a disciplined, spartan, ascetic life of a ashram. Losing his father (Kochukunju) at a young age, the burden of looking after a big family fell on his mother (Parvathi).

Unable to provide for all her children she sent Arjunan and his brother, Prabhakaran, to Jeevakarunyananda Ashram at Palani. It was here that Arjunan got his first lessons in music. Every evening, after school, Arjunan would join the other children in singing bhajans. Noticing something different in the young boy, the head of the ashram decided to give him music lessons. For the next few years Arjunan began learning music under Kumarayya Pillai. It was the beginning of an eventful, musical journey.

Odd jobs

After schooling the brothers returned home to Fort Kochi. "We took up many odd jobs. While I kept in touch with music, my brother drifted away to different occupations. I used to get an occasional call to sing in concerts or to sing and play the harmonium for various small music troupes. In between all this I continued my training in music with some dedicated teachers like Vijayarajan Master and the late Vathakad Raghava Menon," recollects Arjunan.

Composing music was another turn in Arjunan's life. Such attempts in small-time amateur plays, gradually grew into a serious hobby. Arjunan was soon sought after by almost every amateur troupe. He then graduated to the professional stage and was soon associated with top names like Changanassery Geedha, People's Theatre, Kalidasa Kalakendram, Desabhimani Theatres, Alleppey Theatres and KPAC. Arjunan went on to compose around 800 songs for 300 plays. This association grew into an intimate bond, which Arjunan maintains even today.

The next step was cinema and since his debut in 1968 there was no looking back for this sensitive music director. At a time when stalwarts like K. Raghavan, G. Devarajan and M. S. Baburaj ruled the roost, Arjunan managed to break into the scene and establish an identity of his own.

"In our days there were so many great composers. We worked and flourished together, each one noted for his individualistic style and fresh compositions."

Not one to flaunt his genius, he lets his songs speak for him. Songs like `Manathin muttathu... ,' `Padatha veenayum paadum... ,' `Ethra sundari... ,' `Thiruvona pularithan... ,' `Vaalkann ezhuthi... ,' `Anuragame... .,' `Dwarake... .,' `Dukhame ninakku... ,' `Neela nishidini... ,' `Aayiram Ajantashipangallil... ,' and many more of his 500 songs in over 218 films, are ample proof of this proficient composer's variety.

The songs that he created, the singers and musicians he introduced to the music industry will bear testimony to his creativity and his largesse.

Surprisingly, Arjunan was never considered worthy of a State award nor duly recognised for his priceless work.

The strength of this man is his friends and his unfailing belief in these relationships. And though this music director is generally a forgotten man, he still has a legion of friends across Kerala, a bond that he keeps renewing. Like in Muhamma, for example.

Legion of friends

"I have a long standing link with Muhamma. It began from the days we spent here for the rehearsals and productions of plays. A whole lot of us, including people like P.J. Antony and Thilakan, used to stay here for days together. There is a small club here and though most of the members are dead I still keep in touch with them and with the new generation of members. I go there often, stay for a couple of days with some of the families I have known for years."

In Palluruthy, where Arjunan now stays, it is usual to see him on his daily walk, chatting with friends, actively involved in the activities of AASA, (All Artistes Save Association) sharing in the joys and sorrows of his neighbours, always ready to lend a helping hand.

It is perhaps this recognition, this love, from people belonging to various strata of the society that Arjunan values more than anything else.

Winner of the first Ravindran award, 70-year-old M.K. Arjunan has completed 50 years in his musical career beginning with his concerts.

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