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Memorable voice, evergreen songs


The songs that D.K. Pattammal sang for films were either devotional or patriotic.

Unforgettable: D. K. Pattammal

The first known instance of playback singing in Tamil cinema took place in 1938 in ‘Nandakumar.’ The film was produced in Poona (now Pune) as a partnership venture in Marathi and Tamil with A.V. Meiyappan as the partner of the Tamil ver sion. The film was directed by Marathi filmmaker, Keshav Rao Dhaibar.

The quality of singing by the actress playing Krishna’s mother, Devaki, was not up to the mark. So Meiyappan and Dhaibar were eager to re-shoot the sequence, which for various reasons was not feasible. They then came up with an innovative idea of replacing the sound track with another voice, and shooting the scene with the actress moving her lips ‘in sync’

A prominent Carnatic musician based in Bombay, Lalitha Venkataraman, was brought in for the song. And so, the playback system was born in Tamil cinema.

D.K. Pattammal was brought into films as a playback singer by the lawyer-turned-filmmaker, K. Subramaniam, for his classic, ‘Thyaga Bhoomi’ (1939). Written by ‘Kalki’ ( Ra. Krishnamurthi), it had S. D. Subbulakshmi and K.J. Mahadevan in the lead roles.

The film had a sequence towards the end showing a group of freedom fighters marching in a procession, carrying the Indian National Congress party flag. The heroine joins the group. A song is heard in the background highlighting the Freedom Movement and inviting people to join it. ‘Desa Sevai Seyya Vareer..!’ was written by ‘Kalki’ and tuned by Papanasam Sivan. And the singer was D.K. Pattammal. The song and the scene became famous and led to the film being banned by the British.

As 1947 arrived, with political freedom from the British being only a few months away, A.V. Meiyappan released his ‘Naam Iruvar,’ a major hit. In the film, there were two dance sequences choreographed by Vazhuvoor B. Ramaiah Pillai with scintillating dance by ‘Baby’ Kamala. The songs were ‘Aaduvome Pallu Paaduvome..’, and ‘Vetri Ettu Dhikkum...’ by Subramania Bharati, sung by D.K. Pattammal, the composer being R. Sudarsanam. Her silky, soothing style made them unforgettable.

An honour

Interestingly, D. K. Pattammal’s name was announced in the film before the song-dance sequence began. It was the first time such a thing had been done in South Indian cinema. A rare honour indeed.

Pattammal also sang two songs for ‘Mahatma Urangaar’ (1947), directed by G. Pattu Iyer, ‘Kaana Aaval Kondengumen Iru Vizhigal...’ and ‘Kunchitha Paadham, Ninainthu Urugum...’ ). The lyrics were by Papanasam Brothers, Sivan and Rajagopala Iyer, and the music by S. V. Venkataraman and T. R. Ramanathan.

Pattammal then sang for an entertaining comedy in 1948, ‘Pizhaikkum Vazhi’ produced by the noted comedian, T. S. Durairaj, who also played the lead role. It was directed by A. Mitradas. Pattammal sang two songs written by Madurai G. Sundara Vaathiyar and composed by G. Aswathamma . One of them was on India, its perennial rivers, culture, poets and so on. A sample... ‘Engal Naattukku Endha Naadu Eeedu Perinba Gnana Veedu.’ Pattammal sang for more AVM films besides ‘Naam Iruvar.’ These were ‘Vethala Ulagam’ (1948), ‘Vazhkai’ (1949) and ‘Rama Rajyam’ (1948). She sang two melodious songs both written by Bharati. One song was ‘Thoondir puzhvinaipol sudarvilakkinaipol ...’ and the other was ‘Theeratha vilayattu pillai…’ Pattammal’s effortless singing and the bewitching dancing by ‘Baby’ Kamala made the last scene an aesthetic one.

A.V. Meiyappan dubbed the super hit Hindi film, ‘Ram Rajya,’ in Tamil. In an innovative move he added a prelude to the film, the popular song sung by Pattammal describing the main events of the epic, ‘Ramayanam.’ Pattammal also sang (‘Bharatha samudayam vaazhgave...’) in AVM’s ‘Vazhkai’ (1949), which introduced Vyjayanthimala to the film field. It was a major hit of 1949. A.K. Chettiar’s compilation movie on Mahatma Gandhi, for which he had travelled to many countries collecting footage and also shooting fresh scenes, had Pattammal singing ‘Aadu Raattey...’ which became popular. In ‘Lavanya’ (1951), produced and directed by G.R. Lakshmanan, Pattammal sang two songs highlighting the patriotic spirit and the problems of the poor. They were ‘Pazham Bhaaratha nannaadu’ and ‘Thanga oru nizhal illaiye.’ Both songs were written by Papanasam Sivan and composed by S.V. Venkataraman. (Carnatic musician Vijay Siva rang up this writer while this article was being written and gave an interesting fact not known to many. In DKP’s gramophone record collection, there is a disc carrying both the songs with a rubber stamp reading “BANNED.” According to him and DKP’s family, these songs were banned by the British Government.)

The Gemini Studio boss, S.S. Vasan, invited Pattammal to sing for his ‘intellectual’ film, ‘Miss Malini’ (1947). Based on a story by R.K. Narayan and directed by Kothamangalam Subbu, it had the bi-lingual star of the day, Pushpavalli, in the title role. The song was ‘Sri Saraswathy’ but it was not used although DKP was paid a handsome remuneration. The reason Vasan gave was that the character Malini was poor, which meant she could not afford the training needed to be an accomplished singer. T.V. Ratnam sang the song instead. Pattammal also sang in Tamil and Sanskrit in Chittoor V. Nagaiah’s Telugu classic, ‘Thyagaiah,’ apart from a few forgotten films. Pattammal never sang love duets and hardly saw the films in which she sang. She moved away from films after she achieved success and fame in the Carnatic music world.

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