The Ace Lyricist
by Sachi Sri Kantha, November 27, 2019
November 29 marks the thirtieth death anniversary of ace Tamil movie lyricist Aiyamperumal Maruthakasi. His birth centenary comes in February next year. I plan to translate Maruthakasi’s lyrics into English next year. As such, this remembrance piece, will be a brief one, with only three sample translations of his movie lyrics.
A senior contemporary of King Poet Kannadasan (1927-1981) and Pattukottai Kalyanasundaram (1930-1959), Maruthakasi outlived both of them. Though it may be debated, many do believe that family origins may have an influence in creativity. While Kannadasan’s origin is from chettiar (mercantile and trading) group, the origins of Maruthakasi and Kalyanasundaram were from agricultural tradition. Many of Kannadasan’s lyrics deal with gambling in life, business, win or lose situations and rivalry, the lyrical compositions of Maruthakasi and Kalyanasundaram do reflect and elevate the farming culture and folk idioms. Even his surname ‘Marutham’ refers to agricultural/pastoral land.
Maruthakasi wrote his first lyric for the social movie Mayavathi produced by mogul T.R. Sundaram in 1949. It starred singing actor T.R. Mahalingam and Anjali Devi. Since then, Maruthakasi’s oeuvre grew to 4,000 odd lyrics spread over 250 Tamil movies. His glory days were in the 1950s, before the advent of Kannadasan and Kalyanasundaram.
I provide translations of three remarkable Maruthakasi lyrics.
You Tube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-HfMh-yewXM
‘Annam itta veettile’ (Manthri Kumari 1950 movie, music by G. Ramanathan, sung by T.M. Soundararajan). This was the first song that made T.M. Soundararajan recognized for his majestic voice. Though MGR was the hero of this movie, the song was picturized on an extra, ploughing the field.
To those who aid one, he who betrays them
Such a traitor at the end will get destroyed
At the house who fed one, who thinks of stealing
Such nasty minded sinner will get combusted
To fall for masquerade and love such glitter
And after being cheated, what’s a use in worrying later
Even a snake is fed with milk, eventually
It will turn to bite – one need to kill it.
You Tube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATBNyaWxTr4
‘Samarasam ulavum idame’ ((Rambaiyin Kathal 1956 movie, music by T.R.Paapaa, sung by Sirkazhi Govindarajan). This is the foremost philosophical (also devotional) song of Maruthakasi, on cemetery as the equality maintainer. Though comedian K.A. Thangavelu is the hero in this movie, the song was picturized on an extra, in a bearded Hindu sage’s garb. Govindarajan’s bell like voice and clean diction pinch on the nerves of those who listen to this song.
Equality strolls in this place –
We can’t see anywhere in life
Those who are of high caste,
Those who are low caste – beyond such label
All who join here at the end of life
Beyond such bother, they sleep in this house
- In the world – this is (We can’t see)
Who is a pauper? Who is a king?
Who is a scholar? Who is a dim wit?
Once the spirit departs, all do join here.
- As such, this is (We can’t see)
Service minded donator! Lustful Lothario!
God’s golden feet focused Yogi!
All assembled here to sleep
- In truth, this is (We can’t see)
You Tube clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlG3GCzf-i4-
‘Siripavar sila per – Azhupavar sila per’ (Sabash Maapillai 1961 movie, music by K.V. Mahadevan, sung by Sirkazhi Govindarajan). MGR was the hero of this movie, and he lip synched the song. We can identify this as one of the policy song written for MGR. Though 58 years had passed since Maruthakasi penned this lyric, the situation of discriminated in the global society hasn’t changed a bit.
Few do smile – Many do cry
When this reality can change?
Life of workers are in the street
They can only sleep in the road
No one seems to sympathize – Daily
Will the hearts of wealthy open?
Will the ignorance and poverty vanish?
Crying [folks] smiling, will that day dawn? – Daily
Those who are on top need not fall
Those who are wealthy need not lose
It’s enough if the workers are elevated – Daily
Due to the digital revolution that came after his death in 1989, Maruthakasi’s mature thoughts (embellished by the music directors, singers and the actors) continue to enrich the lives of many millions.
Ashish Rajadhyaksha and Paul Willemen: Marudakasi, Ayyamperumal (1920-1989) In: Encyclopedia of Indian Cinema, new revised edition, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 1994, p. 145.
Maruthakasi: Kavignar A. Maruthakasi Padalgal, Parani Pathippagam, Chennai, 1986, 316 pp. (in Tamil)