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Complete musician


B.A. Chidambaranath, who passed away recently, was more than a music director who had scored evergreen songs in Malayalam films. He was an accomplished violinist and Carnatic musician.

Musical touch: B.A. Chidambaranath.

B. A. Chidambaranath was a complete musician. He, in a long, eventful career, had had a finger in about every musical pie. But, it is his contribution as a music director in films that has gained precedence over all the other accomplishments.

Hailing from a family of reputed musicians from Bhoothapandi, Nagercoil district, Chidambaranath took early lessons in mridangam and Carnatic vocal from his father, B. K. Arunachalam Annavi.

His father, a Tamil scholar, was a respected teacher whose illustrious disciples included K.V. Mahadevan, N. S. Krishnan and S.D. Subbiah. Chidambaranath is also said to have trained for sometime under Muttiah Bhagavathar and even played the mridangam for him at one of his Kathakalakshepam performances at Thiruvattar.

“This happened when the man who had been contracted to play the mridangam did not turn up. But my ‘official arangetram’ was for Kunniyoor Seethamma, one of Muttiah Bhagavathar’s disciples,” Chidambaranath had said in an interview to this writer.

Chidambaranath then learnt the violin first under Nagamani Marthanda Nadar and then for seven years under the legendary Kumbakonam Rajamanickam Pillai.

“That was the period when I came to understand the immense possibilities of Carnatic music,” he had said.

Reaching Chennai, Chidambaranath had accompanied some of the luminaries of Carnatic music on the violin. In fact, it was one of these concerts that paved the way for his entry into films.

Entry into films

Photo: S. Ramesh Kurup

The violinist accompanying Madurai Mani Iyer is Chidambaranath.

Chidambaranath accompanied M. M. Dandapani Desikar for a concert and it was he who recommended the young musician to music director C.N. Pandurangan. Chidambaranath worked as an assistant to him and then later with S. V. Venkatraman. He did ‘Gokuladasi’ and ‘Jnanasoundari’ (1948) with the latter. In the second film, Chidambaranath played an important part in the composing of the songs too.

Before making his entry into Malayalam films, Chidambaranath had composed the music for a Sinhalese film.

“I was recommended to the producers of ‘Vellinakshatram’ by the German cinematographer of the Sinhalese film I had worked in earlier. When I reached Alappuzha, I found that a group of musicians and singers had decided on a few tunes and they expected me to approve those. I was disgusted with the rather unprofessional arrangements and offered to quit. My German friend intervened, rooted out some of the artistes and asked me to begin composing.”

No gramophone records of ‘Vellinakshatram’ (1949) have been released; no prints of the film exist today. The only source of material on the film is perhaps the songbook published at the time of the release. The book, quite surprisingly, makes no reference to Chidambaranath. The music is credited to Udaya Studio Orchestra.

One of the singers in the film, Cherai Ambujam, in an interview, said that there were two people who had helped in the music. One was Chidambaranath and the other was harmonist Paramudas. Yet it is now widely believed that the first song that Chidambaranath composed in Malayalam was ‘Aaha mohaname….’ This was followed by ‘Sthree’ (1950). Chidambaranath sang for the first time in films. The song ‘Kaviayi kazhiyuvaan mela…’ may not have become popular but it was certainly an important landmark in his musical career.

Stint in AIR

Then for almost 14 years Chidambaranath did not contribute to film music. This was the phase when he put his heart and soul into his musical productions for All India Radio, which he had joined. He was also busy with concerts at this time.

At AIR, Kozhikode, which he always claimed to be his ‘second home,’ he met and forged a strong friendship with P. Bhaskaran. This association paved the way for Chidambaranath’s second coming to Malayalam films.

It was during this phase, which saw him score the music for 14 films, beginning with ‘Rajamalli,’ that Chidambaranath made his presence felt. Simplicity was the hallmark of his tunes. He used classical ragas for soulful melodies that showed how attuned he was to Carnatic music.

In Tamil films, Chidambaranath did not get much of an exposure. His songs like ‘Kanne konchampaaru…,’ sung by T. M. Sounderajan and L.R. Iswari in the film ‘Chellappenn,’ was a super hit. The songs of ‘Ninaithen Vanthai’ was released but the film never saw the light of day. One song in this film, ‘Ananda sangeethame…,’ a ragamalika by M. Balamuralikrishna, is still in circulation.

Chidambaranath breathed life into innumerable light and devotional songs. He wrote the lyrics and composed krithis like ‘Vaani Vagadeshwari varam arulvayi…’ and couple of others like ‘Naamam nalla naamam….’ and ‘Sakalamum tharupaval sangeeta daivam…’ specifically for K.J. Yesudas.

Till 1973, Chidambaranath’s music enriched around 30 Malayalam films. Then he resurfaced briefly once again in 1994. He, along with his son Rajamani, wielded the baton for the film ‘Aramanaveedum Anjooreckarum.’

A dedicated teacher, Chidambaranath has a legion of students who have made their mark in music. Even in the evening of his life, despite his failing health, he longed to hold the violin and run his fingers along the strings that always played a different tune to his magic touch.

Gems from Chidambaranath

l ‘Kunnilmel ni enikku…’ (‘Rajamalli’)

l ‘Karayunno puzha chirikkuno…’ (‘Murapennu’)

l ‘Kalpanathan alagapuriyil…’ (‘Station Master’)

l ‘Nidrathan neerazhi…’ (‘Pakalkinavu’)

l ‘Kunkumapoovukkal…’ (‘Kayamkulam Kochunni’)

l ‘Paarijatha malare…’ (‘Sahadharmini’)

l ‘Ponnambalamettil…’ (‘Kottayam Kolacase’)

l ‘Gokulapala…’ (‘Postman’)

l ‘Paalkadal naduvil…’ (‘Kanatha Veshangal’)

l ‘Kanyaka mathave…’ (‘Madatharuvi’)

l ‘Mandham mandham…’ (‘Chekuthante Kota’)

l ‘Pushpangal choodiya…’ (‘Viruthan Sanku’)

l ‘Vaarthinkal…’ (‘Vidyarthi’)

l ‘Mayilpeeli mizhikallil…’ (‘Chattambi Kavala’)

l ‘Neela neela vaanamithe…’ (‘Kalipava’)

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