Composer M.S. Baburaj was a versatile unsung genius who enriched Malayalam film music.
Melody king: M.S. Baburaj.
‘Thamasamenthe varuvan…’ from the movie ‘Bhargavi Nilayam,’ most probably features on everyone’s list of favourite Malayalam film songs. Chances are it would be right there on top of most lists. In fact, rarely does a day pass by for the Malayali without coming across the eternal melodies of the one and only M.S. Baburaj.
October 7 marked the 30th death anniversary of Baburaj. Yet again, the day went largely unnoticed, save for a small function at his hometown, Kozhikode, the following day.
Baburaj may have composed music for only about 100 films, but most of his songs were hits. Perhaps, among his contemporaries in Malayalam, it was he who had the highest percentage of hits.
Baburaj introduced to Malayalam cinema the delicate charm of Hindustani music. No composer, either before or after, has given Malayalam cinema such refined ghazals. His melodies were silken; as gentle as a breeze.
Themes of love and separation found a new voice in Malayalam with the melodies of Baburaj. Most often they were accompanied by the lyrics of P. Bhaskaran and the vocals of his favourite singers K.J. Yesudas and S. Janaki.
There was more to his repertoire than Hindustani music. His tunes for Thacholi Othenan (‘Anjanakkannezhuthi…,’ ‘Appam venam…’ and ‘Kottum njan kettilla…’) are among the best in the ‘Vadakkan Pattu’ films.
He was a master of ‘Mappila Pattu.’ Songs like ‘Oru kotta ponnundallo…’ (‘Kuttikuppayam’) and ‘Palanu thenanu…’ (‘Umma’), represent the best of this tradition.
He also composed one of the finest ‘mujras’ in Malayalam, ‘Adanumariyam…’ in the film ‘Priya.’
“Baburaj was a much more versatile composer than he was given credit for. He was a self-taught genius. Sadly, he never got his due. Imagine the man never got even a State award!”says K.P. Udayabhanu, who has sung a few unforgettable songs for Baburaj, including ‘Anuraga natakathin…’ (‘Ninamaninja Kalpadukal’) and ‘Chudu kanneeral…’ (‘Laila Majnu’).
“Much like his music, he was a simple soul. Unlike his music, he was not well off,” he adds.
Composer Johnson remembers singing Baburaj’s songs for stage shows in Thrissur “In those days I used to sing in the female voice and I remember singing ‘Sooryakanthi…’ and ‘Vasantha panchami nalil…’ on many occasions. I was too young to understand the greatness of Baburaj. To come up with so many popular songs at the time of a colossus like Devarajan is no mean task,” he opines.
Baburaj was the composer that Devarajan respected most. “The only few songs that I wished I composed were that of Baburaj, like ‘Thamasamenthe varuvan…” he is said to have remarked.
It was Devarajan’s decision not to do the music for ‘Umma’ (1960), as he was not willing to work for the remuneration offered by the producers, which proved to be the turning point in Baburaj’s career. Baburaj, who had made his debut three years earlier with ‘Minnaminungu,’ composed songs like ‘Kadali vazha…’ and ‘Palanu thenanu…,’ and waltzed straight into the hearts of Malayalis, to remain there forever.
Life, though, never was easy for Baburaj. Born to a Bengali father and Malayali mother, he had a difficult childhood after he lost both his parents when he was very young. Old-timers recollect him earn a living by singing on the streets of Kozhikode; he was later adopted by a policeman called Kunju Mohammed.
Even after turning a successful composer, Baburaj continued to sing, even for small audiences. He has sung a few film songs. ‘Pottithakarna kinavinte…’ (‘Subaida’) is an example.
C.M. Vadiyil, who played the violin for Baburaj’s ‘mehfils’ in Kozhikode and neighbouring places, recalls: “He was a great singer and I still remember him singing ‘Pranasakhi…’ on the eve of a wedding at Thalassery.”
Lyricist Kaithapram recollects listening to him sing near the Temple Gate at Thalassery during the Navaratri festival one night, back in the 1960’s.
“He was singing ‘Sapthaswara sudha…’ (‘Anarkali’). He had got all the ‘sangathis,’ sung originally by M. Balamuralikrishna and P.B. Srinivas, perfectly right.” However, Baburaj used to be paid poorly for his concerts and he never was smart enough to sell his music; he did not even have a bank account.
He died a poor man at a government hospital in Chennai in 1978, leaving behind immortal songs that enriched Malayalam film music.
•‘Thamasamenthe varuvan…’ (‘Bhargavi Nilayam’)
•‘Thaliritta kinakkal than…’ (‘Moodupadam’)
•‘Akale akale neelakasham…’ (‘Midumidukki’)
•‘Thane thirinjum marinjum…’ (‘Ambalapravu’)
•‘Anuraga ganam pole…’ (‘Udyogastha’)
•‘Anjanakkanezhuthi…’ (‘Thacholi Othenan’)
•‘Surumayezhuthiya mizhikale…’ (‘Khadeeja’)
•‘Pranasakhi njan…’ (‘Pareeksha’)
•‘Innale mayangumbol…’ (‘Anveshichu Kandethiyilla’)
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