CHENNAI, July 18: Lyricist Vaali, who secured a place on a par with Kannadasan at a time the latter strode like a colossus in the Tamil film music world, died in Chennai on Thursday evening.
Vaali, who dominated the film world for over five decades and wrote songs for many a protagonist played by actors from MGR to Dhanush, was not well for quite some time. He was in hospital for over a month. He was 82 and is survived by his son.
His songs were packed with brilliant lines and imagery and there were times when Tamil film music buffs were at their wits’ end to discern whether a particular song was written by Kannadasan or Vaali.
On the one hand, he wrote songs like Madhavi Ponmayilal, Ammavendrazhaikatha uyirillaye, Naanaga naan illai and Janani janani that transported the listener to a different plane, on the other he entertained the masses with low-brow songs such as chikkupukku chikkupukku railay, mukkala muqabla and singari sarakku nalla sarakku.
As professional rivals Kannadasan and Vaali had joined issue with each other on public platforms. But in private life they were close friends and spent many an evening together.
Overwhelmed by his the brilliant imagery of the lines in the song Pakkathu Veetu Paruva Matchan in the film Karpagam, Kannadasan declared in a public meeting that Vaali would be his heir-apparent. It was in this function in 1963, Viswanathan and Ramamurthy were given the title Mellisai Mannargal.
Though he had written songs for MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and present day heroes, he could easily be described a “poet laureate” of former Chief Minister MGR.
If MGR made films with political message that would stand by him in good stead in the days to come, Vaali’s lines reinforced his ideas.
Naan Aanai Ittal (enga veetu pillai), moondrezhuthil yen moochirukkum (Theiva Thai), kan pona pokkiley kaal pogalama (Panam Padaithavan), Puthiya vaanam, puthiya boomi (Anbe Vaa), Thambi Naan Piranthen Kanchiyilay Netru, and tharaimel pirakka vaithan (Padakoti) galvanised the masses.
Born S. Rangarajan in Thiruparaithurai near Tiruchi in 1931, he assumed the pen name Vaali, as he was an ardent fan of famed artist Mali working with Ananda Vikatan, now a Tamil weekly. Vaali was also a student of the Government College of Arts in Chennai. Vaali was also known as Vaaliba Kavignar (youthful lyricist)
A theatre enthusiast, he had directed many plays in Tiruchi and Srirangam and worked for the All India Radio (AIR) as a part-time employee, before making a foray into the film world as lyricist.
In his memoir he recalled that two youngsters would regularly visit his drama rehearsals and he wanted one of them to take a role of woman in his plays. The youth who rejected the offer later became Sri Jayendra Saraswathi of the Kanchi Sankara Mutt. The other person was Sivaji Ganesan.
He landed in Chennai in search of opportunities in the film world and spent his days smoking cigarettes and drinking water as he had little money to buy food. He was staying in a lodge, with Nagesh, later to become a master comedian, in the next room.
The break came in 1958 and he wrote his first song for the film Azhagarmalai Kallan. The first film he wrote for MGR was Nallavan Vaazhvaan and the dialogues were penned by former Chief Minister C.N. Annadurai.
But Ithayathil Nee starring Gemini Ganesan gave him the much needed popularity. MGR starrer Padakotti took him to new heights as a lyricist. Subsequently he wrote almost all films of MGR and shared a fantastic relationship with M.S. Viswanathan.
“I was writing lines for my livelihood. I started paying tax only after joining hands with MSV,” he had said in his memoir.
Vaali also wrote some of the fine songs for Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth.
His devotional song Karpanai entralum Karchilai entralum on Lord Muruga continues to move generations of devout listeners. “Koovi azhaithal kural koduppan”, set to the raaga valaji has become an immortal Tamil krithi rendered in classical music concerts.
While he was a believer, he benefited immensely from his association with the leaders of the Dravidian Movement including three former Chief Ministers C.N. Annadurai, MGR and M. Karunanidhi.
A prolific writer, he had penned the biographies of Rama (Avathara Purushan), Krishna (Krishna Vijayam) and Ramanuja (Ramanuja Kaviyam) in verse form. Pandavar Bhoomi is Mahabharatha in modern verse. His latest work was the biography of Srimad Azhagiyasingar, the 45th Jeer of the Ahobila Mutt.