‘Chithram’ to ‘Godfather’, know the music composers behind these Malayalam hits
Even though they made quite popular songs at the time, some composers quietly died out, without attracting much attention.
Decades after being created, sung and looped on specially mixed audio cassettes, Malayalam film songs from the 1980s were chosen by new generations when an old fan posted them online. Names like Johnson Master, Jerry Amaldev, Ravindran, Ousepachan and MG Radhakrishnan were on the lips of youngsters grudgingly admitting that they loved the same songs as their parents. But many of these songs, even sung and heard over and over again, didn’t bring the names of their creators as close together as the others. Names like S Balakrishnan, Kannur Rajan, Reghu Kumar and Raghunath Seth to name a few. This story is about them.
“A lot of them were popular songs of the time. The problem was that some of the movies were super hits, others were barely noticed. These less famous musicians weren’t part of a ‘gang,’ “friends or favorites of a certain director or actor. They also faced fierce competition back then. Remember, those were years when stalwarts like Johnson – who could single-handedly tune songs , orchestrating and creating beautiful background scores – were working. So even though they were brilliant too, they couldn’t always find work,” says music critic Ravi Menon.
When directors Siddique and Lal made their first film Speech by Ramji Rao in 1989 they brought with them a number of new names in the industry. The film – a comedy mixed with drama – became recognized for its novelty in screenplay, direction, actors and music. All songs from Ramji Rao – ‘Kanneer Kayalil’, ‘Avanavan’, ‘Oraayiram Kinakkal’ and ‘Kalikkalam’ – were new, melodious and noticed. S Balakrishnan, who made his composition debut with the film, had worked with the legendary MB Sreenivasan as an assistant for the Malayalam film Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikaldirected by Fazil.
“Fazil sir suggested Balakrishnan’s name when we were preparing for Speech by Ramji Rao. He was a flautist. When we met him, we gave him a situation in the movie and he gave us the tune of ‘Kanneer Kayalil’. We loved it,” Siddique says.
Oddly enough, their hero’s name in the film was also Balakrishnan.
Siddique and Lal entrusted him with the music for their next three films – In Harihar Nagar, Godfather and Vietnamese colony – everything turns out to be one big hit after another. Songs like ‘Ekantha Chandrike’, ‘Pookkalam Vannu Pookkalam’, ‘Neerpalungukal’ and ‘Pathiravai Neram’ were very popular in the 1990s.
Watch: Song of In Harihar Nagar
“For some reason few other directors called him even though most of the songs in our film were so popular. Dejected, he then returned to Chennai and started a music school in Bengaluru,” says Siddique.
Balakrishnan died in 2019, aged 70. He was originally from Palakkad but had moved to Chennai to try his luck in movies.
Kannur Rajan started much earlier, in the 1970s. “Those were days when renowned composers like Devarajan and Baburaj were active,” recalls Ravi Menon.
Even so, Rajan made music for several films from the 1970s to the 90s and died while working on one of them, aged 58.
His most famous film is Chithram, a blockbuster of the era starring Mohanlal and Ranjini, directed by Priyadarshan. Everything on Chithramincluding his music – a mixture of old-style Carnatic, folk and romantic melodies – was famous.
Watch: Song of Chithram
Two semi-classic songs from the film – “Nagumo” and “Swinaatha” – are often chosen by participants in music competitions. Mohanlal sang a song in the film, a folk song called “Aey Moonnu”.
Another melodious song that Kannur Rajan composed – “Ilam Manjin” – from the movie Mohanlal NinnishtamEnnisthamis counted among the evergreen film tracks of the 1980s.
Kannur Rajan was the father-in-law of another music composer, Sharreth.
Reghu Kumar’s discography is full of surprises. He composed the songs of Thalavattam, which has the famous “Janmangal Pulkumpol”. It is one of the first Malayalam songs to have a guitar solo, by the late John Anthony, Carnatic fusion maestro who founded the band Karnatriix.
Read: “Karnatriix” John Anthony, the musician who never aged, has died
Reghu has worked in quite a few previous Priyadarshan films, says Ravi Menon.
The list has hello my dear wrong number (‘Nee Yen Kinavo’), BoeingBoeing, Aram plus Aram = Kinnaram and Aryan (“Ponmurali”), among others.
Watch: Song of Thalavattam
Shyama, a romantic thriller starring Mammootty and Nadiya Moidu, directed by Joshiy is also in the list. The movie contains very popular songs like “Chembarathipoove” and “Poonkatte poyi”.
So is the 1990s movie Maya Mayooram, which has a reproduction of the famous Bollywood song ‘Kabhi Kabhi’, sung by KS Chithra for the character of Revathy, bent over a piano, photographed by an unknown admirer. The film also has the beautiful ‘Kaikudanna Niraye’.
Reghu died in 2014.
Not much is known about Pandit Raghnuath Seth except what is available on the internet. He composed two of the most famous songs from a much-loved 1988 film, Aranyakam. ‘Olichirikkan’, sung by Chithra, and ‘Aathmavil Mutti’, sung by KJ Yesudas, were instant hits.
Watch: Song of Aranyakam
Originally from Gwalior, Raghunath was trained in Hindustani classical music and received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1994.
He is said to have composed music for many documentary films and television series, but films seem very rare between the two.
Raghnunath Seth died in 2014.