Lyricist Maruthakasi’s Autobiographical Notes

An English translation

by Sachi Sri Kantha, September 15, 2020


Front Note by Sachi

Lyricist A. Maruthakasi

Last year, I contributed a short memorial item on Aiyamperumal Maruthakasi (1920-1989), famed Tamil lyricist. on his 30th death anniversary. I had provided my English translations to three of his immortal movie lyrics.

This year marks Maruthakasi’s birth centenary. He was born in February 13, 1920 at a small village, Melakudi kaadu in Tiruchi district, to Aiyamperumal Udaiyar and Mizhahayee Ammal. Though from a family background in traditional farming, Maruthakasi’s interests in Tamil literature was kindled by his contact with fine teachers he had during his schooling days. He was lucky to sharpen his linguistic skills under the tutelage of Papanasam Rajagopal Iyer, the elder sibling of ranking Tamil composer and first generation Tamil movie lyricist Papanasam Sivan (1890-1973). It deserves mention that this Rajagopal Iyer was the father of V.N. Janaki, who later became the 3rd wife of MGR.

As a front note for the compendium of his film lyrics, published in July 1986 [Thirai Kavi Thilagam Kavignar A. Maruthakasi songs, Parani Pathippagam, Chennai, 316 pages], Maruthakasi had written 11 pages of his career reminiscences as a Tamil lyricist; After three years, he died on November 29, 1989, at the age of 69. As such, we can consider these autobiographical notes of poet Maruthakasi as one of a kind of primary documents on the Tamil movie history between 1950 and 1975. He had reminisced on his interactions with his seniors in the industry – lyricist Udumalai Narayana Kavi, music director G. Ramanathan, producers T.R. Sundaram and Sandow M.M.A. Chinappa Thevar, and actors N.S. Krishnan and MGR, when he was in his 30s.

Maruthakasi had briefly described the circumstances which created his ever-popular Tamil lyrics such as, Sirippu (sung by N.S. Krishnan), Manushanai manushan saapiduranda thambi payale (sung by T.M. Soundararajan), Manapparai maadu katti (sung by T.M. Soundararajan), Kannai Nambaathe Unnai ematrum (sung by T.M. Soundararajan). Towards the end of his autobiographical notes, Maruthakasi had acknowledged the encouragement offered by his junior lyricists Vairamuthu and Vaali, to record these thoughts.

I provide an English translation of this document, for digital record. He had titled it as ‘Anupavam’ (Experience)


Maruthakasi’s ‘Experience’

After completing the movie ‘Rajambal’, Aruna Films of Chennai began ‘Kumastha’. For it’s Telugu and Tamil versions, Acharya Aatreya and I wrote the lyrics respectively. Aatreya wrote a song in Telugu, ‘Mana athakula inthe Prathukula ponthe aasalu, bekkala mede’. The meaning of these lines was told as ‘Our all dreams were built as a house of cards’. Immediately, for it’s tune (set by music director C.N. Pandurangan), I wrote the lines, ‘Nam Jeevia koodu KaLi mann oodu – Aasaiyo manal veedu’ [Our life nest is made of sand tiles – yearnings are but sand hut]. While all, including Aatreya, were appreciating these lines, I received a thunder-bolt news. My immediate younger brother Govindasami had died. Within an hour, these events happened and I did face the reality of my thoughts.

After that, (actress) Madhuri Devi, invited me to write lyrics and arranged G. Ramanatha Iyer [GR] as music director, for her own production ‘Rohini’. She had played a few Bengali song gramophone records to GR and asked to set music for those tunes. For what reason GR refused to work at the Modern Theatres of Salem, he told the same one to Madhuri Devi – He had told politely, ‘I’m not needed here. You can request someone else. He suggested my dear pal K.V. Mahadevan who was then at H.M.V. (which stands for His Masters Voice) to replace him. As a consequence, for many movies, we were able to work together, and by God’s grace our families came to be bonded as one.

I cannot forget the kindness of Annan M.A. Venu, who had left Modern Theatres, and used me and Annan Sheriff (Ka. Mu. Sheriff) to write lyrics for the movies he had produced. While prodding along like this, I was taken to the house of N.S.K. (comedian N.S. Krishnan) to write a humor song for him, to the movie ‘Puthu Vazhvu’ produced by Bhagavathar (M.K. Thiyagaraja Bhagavathar). It was my first introduction to N.S.K. as a lyricist. But, N.S.K told me, in his own humor-tinged style, ‘As of now, only Udumalaiyar (Udumalai Narayana Kavi) and K.P. Kamatchi had written for me. Only one song was written by Ariya Gana Santhanakrishna Naidu. If your song is not to my taste, I’ll call Udumalaiyar again, and you will be disappointed. If it’s fine for me, I’ll praise. If you agree to this (option), you can write.’

I took this as a challenge for me. I asked him to tell me the song situation. He responded as follows: ‘A gypsy couple work their business separately. He became suspicious of her and ask her. She did reply almost correctly, but at the end tells him there was another guy who was eyeing her. For this, the gypsy husband tells her that he would take her to meet the other guy and teach him a lesson. This is the scene. It should be in my style.’ I responded, ‘Isn’t it an easy one? The characters of Singan – Singee in the Kutrala Kuravanji (dance drama) isn’t it?’ He asked, ‘Do you have literary training?’ I replied, ‘I had received lessons from Papanasam Rajagopala Iyer. My unassigned great mentor is Udumalaiyar. My guiding lights have been Sirgazhi Arunasala Kavirayar – who wrote, Rama Natakam, Gopalakrishna Bharathi – who wrote Nandanar history, Judge Vethanayagam Pillai – who had written Saiva samaya Samarasa Kirthanas, Papanasam Sivan, and the father of Tamil Drama Sangaradas Swami. I also sang a few songs of these pioneers. Immediately, N.S.K hugged me and told ‘I had given half of my heart, in which Udumalaiyar was residing’. He complemented me and told ‘I’ll have good future’. The next day, I had written my song and took it. He asked me to sing and I sang. He was so pleased. That song was ‘Cheenathu Ravikai Mele’. Unfortunately, as this Bhagavathar’s film was delayed in production, N.S.K. didn’t use it. Later, it was used in the ‘Mullai Vanam’ movie.

The next song I wrote for him was in ‘Raja Rani’ movie – that ‘Sirippu’ (laughter) song. He had requested this song from Udumalaiyar. As more than a week had passed without much progress, both (Udumalaiyar and N.S.K.) had called me. I was told the first line. ‘Sirippu – athan sirappai seerthooki parpathu nam poruppu’ [Laughter – we need to analyze the merits of this laughter] I completed the song next day. I had finished the last line as ‘This is musical laughter’. (N.S.K., inserted) his brand of comedy by ending the song with two beat and one beat cycle of counting, brings laughter to all even now. But personally for me, that song had brought tears too. For every year’s Deepavali, Kalaivanar had sent me and my wife, silk verti and silk sari. He had an unequalled soul.

In the early days, I stayed at a house, No.17 Kandappa Achari street in Purasavakkam. At the neighboring room, ‘Thaiyar Kalai Sundaram’, a dear friend of Arignar Anna stayed. When he had time to spare, Anna used to visit Professor Anbazhagan’s home at Purasavakkam. One day, Mr. Sundaram, Professor Anbazhagan and Anna had watched a movie ‘Kanavu’ (Dream) at the Uma Theater. I had written the all lyrics for it. Music director was Thadchina Moorthy Swamigal (aka Malayala Thadchina Moorthy Iyer). In the lyrics of a song,

‘Thiru nadu thannil thiru vodu yenthi [In a land, carrying a begging bowl]

Theruvodu pohum nilai maridaathu [and walking in road – this situation won’t change]

Seemankal Ullam maaratha pothu’ [until the minds of wealthy won’t change]

had attracted Anna very much. After watching the movie, I feel humbled that he had called me through Sundaram, and greeted me for those lines. Not only this, I had another experience that how much he (Anna) liked my folksy lines. For the ‘Thanga rathinam’ movie of S.S.R. (S.S. Rajendran). two lines of mine,

‘Innoruvar thayavetharku in naatil vaazhvatharku Illai enra kuraiyum,

Inge ini melum yaen namakku’ (Why we need another person’s courtesy to live in this land…) was an example. Anna had quoted these lines in his 5 page essay published in ‘Dravida Nadu’ paper. I consider this as the good certificate I received from him.

In 1956, A.P.N. (A.P. Nagarajan) produced his first movie ‘Makkalai Petra Maharasi’ under the Lakshmi Pictures banner. I was asked to write a lyric in which names of many towns had to be included. As the plot of the movie is based on farmers, I was told that the names of towns should be linked to prominence in farming. That song was ‘Manapparai Maadu Kaddi…’ [Having a bull from Manapparai town]. At the same time, while I was writing a lyric ‘Ninaichathu Onnu – Nadanthathu Onnu’ [I thought one thing, what happened was another thing] to Mr. A.K. Velan’s successful movie ‘Thai Piranthaal Vazhi Pirakkum’, a friend Violin Mahadevan wished to start the M.M. Production company as a share holder and I was asked to place my signature. Though I refused the offer, at the insistence of A.P.N., I agreed.

Due to many reasons, that movie took more than two years. Due to this delay, the troubles faced by me and music director K. Mahadevan for that movie ‘Alli Petra Pillai’ (The Son of Alli) were too much. In between, so many incidents. A memorable one was, Devar Annan [M.M.A. Sandow Chinnappa Thevar] called me to write a lyric for current Chief Minister Mr. M.G.R., That first song for him had revolutionary thoughts, like ‘Manushane Manushan saapiduraandaa – Thambi Payale’ (One person is eaten by another person – Younger Brother boy)

In between for three or four years, I didn’t visit Salem. Respected Balu Mudaliyar and Sulaiman had arranged Udumalayar Aiyah to write lyrics for ‘Ali Baba and Forty Thieves’. At that time, Aiyah had asked me to help prepare lyrics, based on Hindi tune for the National Pictures movie ‘Ratha Kaneer’. Balu Mudaliyar, seeing me in the company of Aiyah, asked me ‘Why don’t you come to Salem, even when invited?’ I replied, ‘I was somewhat busy. That’s the reason’. In reality, there is another reason. I was not paid well, in the absence of T.R. Sundaram (the boss of Modern Theatres).

They had arranged Aiyah to write lyrics for ‘Ali Baba’ movie to a sum of 20,000 rupees, and told him. ‘Aiyah – you need to write two or three lyrics, which need to be tuned freshly. For the rest of the songs, lyrics have to be written to the Hindi tunes.’ Hearing this, Aiyah asked me to accompany him. Realizing this, Sulaiman told us, he would return in the evening. Before that, he had sent a trunk call to T.R. S., ‘As you had requested, we had arranged Aiyah. But, he had insisted that if he need to write lyrics for the set suns, Maruthakasi will accompany me.’ For this, T.R.S. had told Sulaiman, ‘Though I had invited many times, Maruthakasi didn’t come. How he decided to come know? He is such a sensible person. There should be some reason for this.’ He had asked Krishnaswamy of Aruna Films to talk and convince me, to talk with him by trunk call. Mr. Sulaiman, passed this message to Aruna Films. I spoke with T.R.S. on trunk call. He asked me, ‘Can I accompany Kavirayar the next day morning?’ As such, Kavirayar and I went there (Salem) and listened to the songs. Eight songs with already set Hindi tunes. Only 2 lyrics needed to be written fresh.

Aiyah told them strictly – It’s a pain for me to write lyrics for the set Hindi tunes. Let him (i.e, Maruthakasi) do it. I will write only lyrics that need to be tuned fresh. T.R. S was pleased. He asked me to write one lyric that need tuning. He requested only one lyric from Aiyah and paid him 3,000 rupees. But that song, was left out from the movie.

Since then, for many movies such as ‘Vanna Kili’, ‘Engal Kula Devi’, ‘Kaithi Kannayiram’ I wrote all the lyrics solely. Among this, K.V. Mahadevan was placed as the music director for ‘Vanna Kili’ movie at Salem. Due to some friction, our unit was broken. Due to suffering from ‘low [blood] pressure’, I had to return to my native place. The last lyric I had written then, was ‘Aa naaka antha madam – Aa hatti Santha madam- Athuvum kooda illadi – platform sontha idam’ [If somewhat lucky, I may use that lodging, If not, there may be a bazaar lodging. If it’s worse, platform is my own spot.] to ‘Aayiram Roopai’ movie. I had returned, even without receiving compensation. I was affected by the jealousy of those, whom I’ve trusted as good friends. I did suffer badly, and stayed for two and a half years in my native place.

After the 1967 general election, when DMK took charge of the state government, all know the big health setback Mr. MGR faced. As he was on his way to recovery, Devar Films Chinnappa Annan wrote to me about his interest in producing a new movie titled, ‘Maru Piravi (Rebirth)’. [It said] It’s rebirth for Makkal Thilagam MGR. And you also have gone out of sight for two and a half years. So, this could be a rebirth occasion for you too. As the title is ‘Maru Piravi’, MGR had asked return immediately. I did return to Chennai immediately. With one song, that movie was terminated. Then, I wrote lyrics to movies including ‘Ther Thiruvizha’ and ‘Vivasayee’

I did receive the Tamil Nadu state prize for the lyric ‘Maruthamalai yaane’ that featured in the movie ‘Thunaivan’. During that time, there was shooting for ‘Ninaithathai Mudipavan’ (The one who finishes what he thinks). In this movie, Mr. MGR had double role. Two songs for this movie written by other lyricists wasn’t acceptable to MGR. So, they called me. Among these the lyric written by Kannadasan, ‘Naan porantha Seemaiyile Naalu Kodi perunga. Naalu Kodi perkalile, Naanum oru aalunga’, I liked personally. I did tell him that I like this lyric. But, MGR’s response was, ‘Of course, the lyric is good. But, it doesn’t reflect my individuality.’ I asked, ‘Can you explain?’ MGR’s reply was ‘Can’t you see the difference between, ‘Ayirathil Oruvan’ (One in a Thousand)’ and ‘Naalu Kodi perkalile Naanum oru aalunga’ (I’m one among the 40 million)? For 10 minutes, I felt immobilized and couldn’t reply. He is not the old MGR. Every minute, he has been growing. My respect for him and the trust I had in his achievements reached beyond boundaries.

Based on this experience, I wrote the lyric that began with the lyric ‘Kannai Nambathe’ (Don’t believe your eyes). MGR was fully pleased with the lyrics. The next day, he had arrived for the recording. Five minutes before the recording time, he called me alone, and asked me to sing the final lines of the lyrics. I sang. On the lines,

‘Pon porulai kandavudan vantha vazhi maranthu viddu,

Than vazhiye Pohiravar Pohattume’,

[Those who had seen money and material, who opt to forget their past travails,

Let them walk their own path]

He asked me, what is wrong if one opts to walk his own path, if that seems to be the perfect one? For me, this was the second shock. I was filled with the thought that like NSK, this individual seems to be thinking every minute. Because of that, I changed those lines to, ‘….Vantha vazhi maranthu viddu, kan moodi pohiravar pohattume

[….who opt to forget their past travails, Let them walk their path with closed eyes] With MGR, there have been so many experiences

After that, Udumalaiyar Aiyah who had gone to Malliyam to write lyrics for ‘Dasaavathaaram’ movie, talked with K.S. Gopalakrishnan and offered that work to me completely. If I had to write my gratitude I need a new life. As such, I refrain from expanding on it. Like this, there have been so many experiences. My contribution to the film industry’s growth and sustenance may be of some grade. Let this industry blossom. While the old leaves wither, new leaves will replace them. I do wish for such growth.

[translated by Sachi Sri Kantha, Sept.16, 2020]



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