Long after MGR’s film career came to an end, Pulamaipithan continued to write songs – including for many other heroes like Rajinikanth, Kamalhaasan, Ajith and Vijay.

The genius of Pulamaipithan Remembering the lyricist who gave us memorable songsScreengrab/YouTube
Flix Obituary Thursday, September 09, 2021 - 17:28

When M G Ramachandran decided to break away from the DMK to launch his own party, two lyricists were largely credited with repackaging his image as the ADMK leader. Through MGR’s movies in 1970s, Pulamaipithan (along with Muthulingam) wrote lyrics that helped position MGR as a leader popular among the masses.

The 1975 film Idhayakani was a case in point. The song 'Neenga Nalla irukkanum naadu munnera Intha naatil ulla ezhaigalin vaazvu munera' (You should live long so the country will prosper, so the lives of the poor will get better) was among many such songs. While Pulamaipithan as a lyricist was perhaps synonymous with MGR (accentuated by his later political association with the AIADMK), he was not just that. Long after MGR’s film career came to an end, Pulamaipithan continued to write songs – including for many other heroes like Rajinikanth, Kamalhaasan, Ajith and Vijay. It is said that he wrote over 3,000 songs. In every work, Pulamaipithan left an imprint that bore his name.

Of course, there were some firsts to his credit. Pulamaipithan’s pen launched SP Balasubramaniam. The song 'Aayiram Nilave Vaa' from MGR’s Adimai Penn launched SPB as a singer in Tamil film industry. His pen also launched the legendary Vadivelu as a hero. In Imsai Arasan 23M Pulikesi, Vadivelu’s first film as a solo lead, Pulamaipithan wrote all songs. Two songs that particularly stood out for their revolutionary fervour were part of this soundtrack. Both songs – 'Pootiya Siraiyinai' and 'Vaanam Nammakul' – established Vadivelu as an actor who could pull off any role. In this case, a revolutionary planning a revolt against the king. Interestingly, Pulaimaipithan went on to write lyrics for almost all the films that featured Vadivelu as a hero.

Watch: 'Aayiram Nilave Vaa'

In conversations about Maniratnam’s Nayagan, one name that remained conspicuously absent was Pulamaipithan’s. He wrote all the songs in the film barring one (which was penned by Ilaiyaraaja). Tribute after tribute for Pulamaipithan pouring on social media makes evident this lack of knowledge that he wrote some of the finest songs, gave Tamil cinema some of its best moments. The lack of recognition notwithstanding, Pulamaipithan, perhaps the only one in Tamil cinema, to be known as a pulavar (an academic qualification of a poet), clearly revelled in writing songs that posed a challenge to his lyrical idiom and command over language – a challenge that he willingly took on and won in film after film. In the 1981 film Koyil Pura – a complex love story between a Carnatic singer and his childhood friend – Pulamaipithan wrote all the three songs, all classical, but set to different moods. If 'Amudhe Thamizhe', a eulogy to Tamil, is a light song the duo sings as kids while learning music, 'Vedham Nee' is an intense profession of love. 'Sangeethame', the female solo featuring in the climax, is again intense but this time painful after the couple fail to unite.

In Kodai Mazhai (1986), Pulamaipithan repeats this magic in 'Kaatroduu Kuzhalin Naathame' – a song that expands on the agony of a woman waiting for her lover. But to limit Pulamaipithan’s prowess to classical songs could just be another injustice to this fine lyricist. In the acclaimed Rosapoo Ravikkaikari (1979), Pulamaipithan’s 'Uchi vagudeduthtu pichi poo vacha kili' captured the helplessness and pain of a villager over the infidelity of his wife.

Watch: 'Nee Oru Kadhal Sangeetham'

Pulamaipithan’s genius as a writer and the range he traversed as a lyricist comfortable in all genres perhaps found its full expression in Azhagan (1991) which had eight songs – some peppy and some classical, and one folk - all written by him. Tamil cinema also owes some of its finest melodies to Pulamaipithan. From the soft and romantic 'Kalyana Thenila' in Mounam Sammadham (1990) to the mellifluous and elevating 'Thaaimai' in Vijay’s Theri (2016), he wrote songs that tug at our hearts.

In Tamil cinema, there are songs written by Kannadasan, Vaali and Vairamuthu, and then there are songs. That Pulamaipithan’s brilliance and mastery over Tamil and lyricism was lost in this uncanny scenario where only a few manage to stand tall, is a sad and rather unfortunate commentary on how the industry works. He might not have been adequately celebrated, but Pulamaipithan managed to stay relevant by writing through the spectrum of Tamil cinema, to various names and various moods. In doing so, he fought to keep alive the soul of the language he loved, through the generational shift in the film music scene.

Kavitha Muralidharan is a senior journalist based out of Tamil Nadu.

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