Madras Lalithangi Vasanthakumari was born in 1928 into a musical family, her mother Lalithangi a noted musician of her day and her father, Ayyasami Iyer, a scholar and teacher of music. Thus music was in her genes and she began to learn classical Carnatic music as an infant. An attractive lass, she accompanied her mother in her concerts singing seconds (‘pin pattu’). In her teens she became a disciple of GNB, this being a turning point in her life and career. She imbibed all that was best in her guru's musical genius and added her own to the inheritance.
(During the early 1990s, this writer made a two-part (60-minute) TV serial on MLV - Thiraivaanil Oru Isai Theynee! telecast by Doordarshan Kendra, Madras. It was well received and won much praise. In it R. Krishnamurthy (her husband) and Srividya (daughter) spoke on camera about MLV. V. N. Sundaram, P. Leela and Tamil film star G. Sakunthala (for whom MLV sang in Ellis R. Dungan's hit and cult film, Manthrikumari) also spoke, recalling their association with MLV.)
MLV was to have acted in M. K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar's comeback movie Raja Mukthi (1948) which was made in Pune. After Bhagavathar was arrested in December 1944 for his alleged involvement in the sensational and historic Lakshmikantham murder case he underwent a 30-month term in prison and was acquitted in April 1947. He then promoted his own film unit, Narendra Pictures and the first film was Raja Mukthi. MLV went to Pune to act but for many reasons, chose not to. Instead she took her bow as playback singer in this film. She sang duets with Bhagavathar and the songs became popular while the movie flopped in spite of its prophetic title.
MLV sang “ kulakodi thazhaikka…”(raga ramapriya)…”Enna Anandam….”(simhEndramadhyamam, duet with MKT)… “santoshamai anbar…..”(duet with P. Bhanumathi)… “Araro….” (yaman kalyani)… “ingum anum…..” (madhyamavati, duet with MKT).
The lyrics were by Papanasam Sivan and C. R. Subbaraman was the music director. Unusually in this film there was a song trainer - Alathur Sivasubramani
am, one of the famous Alathur Brothers. The director was the well-known filmmaker of the 1930-1940s, Raja Chandrasekhar who directed MKT in the hit film, Ashok Kumar (1941).
One of the immortal classical Carnatic music -based melodies of Tamil cinema is the evergreen hit song Elam inba mayam…. sung as a duet by MLV-P. Leela in the film Manamagal (1951) produced and directed by the cult figure and comedian supremo, N. S.Krishnan. Manamagal was the Tamil screen adaptation of the popular Malayalam play Suprabha by the noted Malayalam writer Munshi Paramu Pillai. The social reform theme play is about a young woman who marries a womanizer due to circumstances, after being in love with another fine man who is away in England. In a daring move she makes up her mind to be only a bride and virgin, and never a wife. Hence the title Manamagal (bride).
NSK, an ardent champion of social reforms, found the Malayalam play up his alley and produced and directed it under his own banner. The cast had besides himself and his star wife T. A. Mathuram, S. V. Sahasranamam, Padmini, Lalitha, T. S. Balaiah, D. Balasubramaniam and other members of NSK Nataka Sabha.
The film has classical music as a continuous thread throughout its screenplay. T.S. Balaiah plays the role of a lecherous music teacher who covets his student (Padmini), the only daughter of a wealthy man. The girl is engaged to her cousin who is studying in England (Sahasranamam).
The music master has previously abandoned a widow with whom he had a relationship (TA Madhuram), who is rescued by a good Samaritan (NS Krishnan). The music master also has his eyes on the young wife (Lalitha) of an aged clerk. The lady reciprocates and the scheming duo plot to ruin the life of the rich young girl.
The introductory scenes feature TA Madhuram lamenting about her fate to NSK. The flashback shows Balaiah leading her inside his bedroom with the tune of radha sameta Krishna in the background. At the end of the narration, NSK asks TAM as to where the rogue lives.
The scene immediately shifts to Padmini's house, where Balaiah is teaching her the song paviyinum padu pavi, set in kalyani, a duet by VN Sundaram and MLV.
Later Lalitha also becomes Balaiah’s student and the duet ellam inba mayam, set in simhendra madhyamam followed by ragamalika svarams in kamboji, mohanam, hindolam and athana is performed by the two (Lalitha and Padmini with Leela and MLV as playback) as a sign that they have attained musical maturity. The sequence, set in a typical 1950s drawing room, has the girls seated on a mat with the music master looking. At the other end, on a swing, sits Padmini's ageing father looking on admiringly. Part of the song is shot from his perspective and the camera (probably placed on the swing) keeps panning forward and backward in time to the music. The duo then participates in a dance competition too where they dance to Ayirathi tollayirathi (sung by MLV and Leela again), a song championing many social causes. A fast paced number that has MLV dominating the show.
Cinnanjirukiliye made its screen debut in this film as a duet on screen between TS Balaiah (VN Sundaram) and Padmini (MLV), to which Lalitha dances. Its ragamalika suite has been grafted since then to the concert platform without any change. A song, not much heard, from the film is a solo by MLV. A sad piece, piranda kuttil, it is shot on Padmini. The song has an amazing range and only MLV could have done justice to the number. Most of the songs in the film were penned by Udumalai Narayana Kavi.
(To be continued)