Even though they made quite popular songs at the time, some composers faded away quietly, without gaining a lot of attention.

Collage of three malayalam film posters -- Godfather Chithram and Aaranyakam
Features Music Saturday, January 16, 2021 - 15:39

Decades after they were made, sung, and played in loops on specially mixed audio cassettes, Malayalam film songs of the 1980s got picked by newer generations when some old fan posted them online. Names like Johnson Master, Jerry Amaldev, Ravindran, Ousepachan and MG Radhakrishnan were on the lips of young people reluctantly admitting that they liked the same songs their parents did. But quite a few of those songs, even when sung and heard over and over again, didn’t quite bring close the names of its makers as much as the others. Names like S Balakrishnan, Kannur Rajan, Reghu Kumar and Raghunath Seth, to list a few. This story is about them.

“Many of these were popular songs of the time. Problem was while some of the films were super-hits, the others were barely noticed. These less-celebrated musicians were not part of a ‘gang’, friends or favourites of a certain director or actor. They also had to face a lot of stiff competition at the time. Remember, these were years when stalwarts like Johnson – who could singlehandedly tune songs, orchestrate and create beautiful background scores – worked. So even though they too were brilliant, they didn’t always find work,” says music critic Ravi Menon.

S Balakrishnan

When directors Siddique and Lal made their first film Ramji Rao Speaking in 1989, they brought along with them a number of new names to the industry. The film – a comedy mixed with drama – became recognised for its newness in scripting, direction, its actors and music. All songs of Ramji Rao – ‘Kanneer Kayalil’, ‘Avanavan’, ‘Oraayiram Kinakkal’ and ‘Kalikkalam’ – were novel, melodious and noticed. S Balakrishnan, who made his composing debut with the film, had worked with the legendary MB Sreenivasan as an assistant for the Malayalam film Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal, directed by Fazil.

“Fazil sir suggested Balakrishnan’s name when we were preparing for Ramji Rao Speaking. He was a flautist. When we met him, we gave him a situation in the film and he gave us the tune of 'Kanneer Kayalil'. We loved it,” says Siddique.

Curiously, the name of their hero in the film was also Balakrishnan.

Siddique and Lal trusted him with the music of their next three films – In Harihar NagarGodfather and Vietnam Colony -- all turning out to be one big success after another. Songs like ‘Ekantha Chandrike’, ‘Pookkalam Vannu Pookkalam’, ‘Neerpalungukal’ and ‘Pathiravai Neram’, were quite popular in the 1990s.

Watch: Song from In Harihar Nagar

“For some reason, few other directors called him even though most of our film’s songs were so popular. Dejected, he later went back to Chennai and began a music school in Bengaluru,” Siddique says.

Balakrishnan died in 2019, aged 70. He was from Palakkad, but had moved to Chennai to try his luck in films.

Kannur Rajan

Kannur Rajan began much earlier, in the 1970s. "Those were days when renowned composers like Devarajan and Baburaj were active," Ravi Menon recalls.

Even so, Rajan made music for several films from the 1970s through the 90s, and passed away while he was working on one of them, at the age of 58.

His most famous film is Chithram, a blockbuster of the time starring Mohanlal and Ranjini, directed by Priyadarshan. Everything about Chithram, including its music -- a mix of Carnatic, folk and good old fashioned romantic melodies -- was famous.

Watch: Song from Chithram

Two semi-classical songs from the film – ‘Nagumo’ and’ Swaminaatha’ - are often chosen by participants of music competitions. Mohanlal sang a song in the film, a folk one called ‘Aey Moonnu’.

Another melodious song that Kannur Rajan composed – ‘Ilam Manjin’ -- from the Mohanlal film Ninnishtam Ennistham, is counted among the evergreen movie tracks of the 1980s.

Kannur Rajan was the father-in-law of another music composer, Sharreth.

Reghu Kumar

Reghu Kumar's discography is full of surprises. He composed the songs of Thalavattam, which has the famous 'Janmangal Pulkumpol'. It's one of the first Malayalam songs to have a guitar solo, by the late John Anthony, maestro of Carnatic fusion who founded the band Karnatriix.

Read: 'Karnatriix' John Anthony, the musician who never aged, passes away

Reghu worked in quite a few of Priyadarshan's earlier films, Ravi Menon says.

The list has Hello My Dear Wrong Number (‘Nee Yen Kinavo’), Boeing BoeingAram plus Aram = Kinnaram and Aryan ('Ponmurali'), among others.

Watch: Song from Thalavattam

Shyama, a romantic thriller starring Mammootty and Nadiya Moidu, directed by Joshiy is also in the list. The film has some really popular songs like ‘Chembarathipoove’ and ‘Poonkatte poyi’.

So is the 1990s film Maya Mayooram, which has a reproduction of the famous Bollywood song ‘Kabhi Kabhi’, sung by KS Chithra for Revathy’s character, bent over a piano, photographed by an unknown admirer. The film also has the beautiful ‘Kaikudanna Niraye’.

Reghu passed away in 2014.

Raghunath Seth

Not much is known about Pandit Raghnuath Seth except what's available on the internet. He composed two most famous songs in a much-adored 1988 film, Aranyakam. Both ‘Olichirikkan’, sung by Chithra, and ‘Aathmavil Mutti’, sung by KJ Yesudas, were instant hits.

Watch: Song from Aaranyakam

Hailing from Gwalior, Raghunath was trained in Hindustani classical music and received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1994.

He has reportedly scored music for many documentary films and television serials, but films appear far and few in between.

Raghnunath Seth passed away in 2014. 

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