To millions of people who speak Tamil and Malayalam, he is Mellisai Mannar (‘King of Melody’) and master-creator, whose work in hundreds of films has withstood the test of time and evolution in film music.
To scores of today’s music directors and musicians, he is a pioneer and trailblazer who paved the way with compositions that shine like stars in the musical firmament, defying the passage of time.
To diehard fans like this writer, Tamil film music begins and ends with Manayangath Subramanian Viswanathan, affectionately initialed as MSV.
Today, MSV is a spry 82-year old with a zest for life with unadulterated passion for music. It was around 1952 that he started composing music for Tamil films in partnership with Tiruchirapalli Krishnaswamy Ramamurthy (TKR).
Both had worked under renowned music directors of the era, including C R Subbaraman and S M Subbiah Naidu.
When the former passed away unexpectedly, with uncompleted work in many films such as Chandi Rani and Devadas, the mantle of responsibility fell on the young shoulders of MSV and TKR. The songs composed by them became instant hits.
‘Panam’ was their first film as independent music directors, on the recommendation of legendary comedian the late N S Krishnan.
The duo belted out hit after hit and found a place for themselves not only in Tamil film history, but also in the hearts and minds of millions of Tamilians.
An inimitable duo
It is no exaggeration that several films in the 1950s and 1960s owed their stupendous success to the scintillating musical scores of the Mellisai Mannargal (a title conferred on them by the great poet and lyricist, the late Kavingar Kannadasan).
This fruitful partnership ended in 1965, following ideological and professional differences and both established their own entities as music directors.
While TKR could score music only for 22 films, MSV fostered a highly successful career, composing music for more than 600 films, exhausting superlatives of fans and critics alike.
In fact, there is a saying in Tamil film circles that a film may disappoint and even bomb at the box office, but MSV’s music never disappoints.
A dedicated website
About a year ago, a chance remark by a friend took me to a website with a forum dedicated to the maestro ((www.msvtimes.com). The Forum has fans sharing news, views and experiences related to this musical phenomenon.
Membership to the Forum introduced me to a group of likeminded MSV fans in Bangalore. The Forum organises regular meetings at each of which we play our favourite MSV songs and discuss the lyrics, the tune, instruments used and the impact they have had on each of us over the years.
Most of the songs are an inseparable part of our childhood, bringing back memories of days spent listening to these gems on ‘All India Radio’ or ‘Radio Ceylon.’
Last fortnight MSV was in Bangalore at the invitation of a Sivasubramanian (Siva), an ardent fan and a businessman.
Siva had invited his father figure and a few of us to participate in a family function.
It was an unforgettable experience.
We had done a little bit of homework, short-listing 25 of our favourite MSV songs.
We played video clips of these songs on an LCD TV and asked him questions.
While we went into raptures at the end of the each song, the ‘creator’ remained unaffected and self-effacing, attributing their success to team work, the vision of lyricists and directors, and the golden voices of the singers.
Among the songs we played were Paartha Gnabagam Illaiyo (‘Pudhiya Paravai’), Avalukenna Azhagiya Mugam (‘Server Sundaram’), Paruvathil Konjum (‘Panam Padaithavan’), Kannukku Kulamedhu, Ullathil Nalla Ullam (‘Karnan’), Ohoho Little Flower (‘Neelavanam’), and Paaduvor Paadinal (‘Kannan Yen Kadhalan’).
The evening demonstrated the penchant that MSV has for his fans.
Photo Caption: The author of the above article with M S Viswanathan and his wife Janaki in Bangalore, India on August 28, 2010.
Editor’s Note: The mastery of MSV was an integral part of the Kannadasan Vizha (Kanndasan Festival) held under the auspices of Auckland Muth Tamil Sangam on May 15, 2010 (See Indian Newslink May 1 & 15, 2010). Readers may send their views on the above article.