A L Raghavan had ushered in new genre of Tamil Pop

Updated by admin on Monday, June 22, 2020 01:59 PM IST

When the song PombaLai Oruthi IrundhALAm broke out in the hit film AdhE KangaL with music by Vedha, there were a few words like Sothika and Sonnava that sounded like gibberish. They were not gibberish but were Sourashtrian words by which the heroine was intimidated but the words actually meant “Let me go, I am afraid” in Sourashtra. 
The Sourashtra words were actually thought of by two singers who hailed from the Sourashtra community, A L Raghavan and T M Sounderajan. The words of their mother tongue were accepted by Vedha and incorporated in the song which went on to be a big hit, picturised on Ravichandran, Nagesh and Kanchana. 
Both Raghavan and TMS sang thousands of Tamil songs with excellent pronunciation despite their mother tongue being Sourashtra. 
In the passing away of Raghavan on June 19, 2020, in Chennai at the age of 86, the Tamil film music industry lost a versatile singer who could sing all types of songs but 
specialised in pop, yodeling and comedy songs with a verve of his own. Especially for comedian and character-actor Nagesh. 
Even in his own production with TMS, Kallum Kaniyaagum, Raghavan carries the look of a Western youth, wearing shorts and a T shirt, strumming a guitar and singing a pop song in Tamil (along with Nagesh) to counter Rajashree’s song of Girls on the Beach, Birds on a Tree, Pennum Paravaiyum Free Free. 
Raghavan thus came to represent a new generation of Tamil singers who could sing Western pop, which suited the dancing abilities of Nagesh. Together, they were responsible for a number of Westernised pop sequences, Rock and Roll, using Ceylon Baila as well, aimed at Gen Next. Raghavan and Chandrababu ushered in Tamil pop to audiences. 
There was no match for Raghavan’s versatility in Western-comedy songs like Once a PApA met a MAmA in AnbE VA, Seettukattu RAjA (VEttaikAran), Enna VEgam Nillu BAmA (Kuzhandhaiyum Deivamum), Jigibugu Jigubugu NAn Engine (Motor Sundaram Pillai), VAzhaithandu POla Udambu AlEk (PanamA PAsamA) ), Ulagathil SiRandhadhu Edhu (Pattanathil Boodham), Hey Naadodi (Anbe Vaa), ChappAthhi ChappAthhi DhAn (Nawab NArkali),  April Fool (Panithhirai), POda ChonnA PPOttukkarEn (PoovA ThalaiyA), especially for Nagesh, as it was felt that his voice and style suited the actor. 
He would effortlessly sing American musician Gene Vincent’s Be-Bop-A-Lula for Jaishankar who plays the role of an Afro-Asian singer in NAn YAr TheriyumA (1967) in a night 
club scene along with another role of Jaishankar in a Bond-like character, besides Bharati and Cho (who even plays the trumpet).While the main song goes PArthadhum KAdhalai Tharuvadhu sung by TMS, Raghavan sings the portion of  Be Bop A Lula for Jaishankar, the Afro-Asian singer. Vincent was a pioneer of the rock and roll movement. Here are the two  versions, one of Raghavan and the other, the original, of Vincent. 
PArthhadhum KAdhalai Tharuvadhu in  NAn YAr TheriyumA 1967 sung by  TMS and A L Raghavan picturised on two Jaishankars (double role of ‘Bond’ and Afro-Asian singer), with Bharathi and Vijayasree. Music Shankar Ganesh, Director V V Ramanan and Producer Navashakti Films. 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRo0wSHMKXE  (Gene Vincent with Eddie Cochran) Be Bop A Lula 
This style of Raghavan was in total contrast to his early years in the field of theatre and music.

Ayyampettai Lakshmanan Raghavan was born in April 1934, as son of A R Lakshmana Bhagavthar, a stage actor. Lakshmana Bhagavathar was also a good musician who could sing, play the violin and mridangam, and was well known not just in Ayyampettai but in entire Thanjavur district. Bhagavathar had acted along with Kali N Rathnam in films like Punjab Kesari (1938), Chandragupta Chanakya (1940). Bhagavathar died early due to cholera, and Raghavan had to take over the family responsibility at the age of eight.

Raghavan joined OAAR Arunachalam Chettiar’s Baala Gaana Vinodha Sabha and took up small roles, mainly in mythological plays where he had act and also sing. Music came naturally to him. In 1945-46, the company staged Thirumazhisai Alwaar at the Sugana Vilas Sabha near Plaza Theatre off Anna Salai. The company resorted to a novel promotional campaign by drawing the Naamam (thilaka generally worn on foreheads byVaishnavites) with the letters Thirumazhisai Aalwaar in bold on Anna Salai, and on the sides of the trams that used to run then. That was enough to convince the public that the play on Thirumazhisai Aalwaar was being staged there. Huge crowds attended the play. The actors wore real diamonds and gold jewels !   
Among those who saw the play was Somu Chettiar, owner of Jupiter Pictures. He was impressed by the acting and songs of young Raghavan, and decided to cast him at Bala Krishnan in the film Krishna Vijayam that he planned to produce. However, there was a snag. Raghavan was under contract with the Baala Gaana Vinodha Sabha for another one and a half years. Its owner Arunachala Chettiar was not willing to relieve Raghavan. Finally, Somu Chettiar handed over Rs. 5,000 to Arunachala Chettiar to relieve Raghavan of the contract and then made him his employee. He got a chance for chorus in films like Mohini and VElaikkAri, as his voice had not yet matured. It was in 1950 that music director C S Jayaraman gave him his first major song along with K R Ramaswami and T R Rajakumari who sang for their own parts, while Raghavan had to render playback for Kamala. As they had to share a mike for the recording, young Raghavan had to stand on a table between Ramaswami and Rajakumari to gain access to the mike (Kaatchi Yaavum Kalaignan Aatchiyae). 
After his four-year stint with Jupiter Pictures, Raghavan moved to Chennai to work in the plays of S V Sahasranamam and Sivaji Ganesan. Once, while singing for a play at 
Congress grounds in Teynampet, film music composers M S Viswanathan and G K Venkatesh found his voice impressive. Venkatesh then told MSV that it was “our Raghavan”, since MSV had also worked for the Arunachala Chettiar company. 
MSV then decided that he must give Raghavan opportunities to sing in films, and got him to sing along with J P Chandrababu, the song Hello My Dear Raami in Pudhaiyal (1957). 
The problem for Raghavan was that Chandrababu would sing his lines but when Raghavan had to sing the next two lines, Chandrababu would force Raghavan to dance with him. With great difficulty, Raghavan managed to reach the mike and sing his portion! 
In his next films, Raghavan even manage to ‘yodel’ which was new to Chennai in those days.
K V Mahadevan provided Raghavan his first big song Oru MuRai PArthAlE POdhum in Panchali (1962). KAdhal YAthiraiaikku BrindAvanamum in Manidhan MARavillai in 1962 (for A Nageswara Rao) was well received, a duet with P Susheela, and music by Ghantasala.  
Among his biggest hits were Andru IOomaip PeNNallO for Gemini Ganesan in PaarthAl Pasi Theerum in 1962, music by Viswanathan Ramamoorthy, PApA PApA Kadhai KELu (AmmA EnGE) for Nagesh, KaalgaL Ninradhu Ninradhu Dhaan (Poojaikku Vandha Malar)  for Muthuraman, Buddhi SigAmaNi Petra PiLLai for M R Radha (Iruvar ULLam),  Engirundhaalum Vaazhga for Sridhar’s Nenjil Oar Aalayam (sung for Kalyan Kumar, music Viswanathan Ramamoorthy, the last one being a favourite of music lovers till today for the excellent lyrics of Kannadasan. 
In EnginrundhAlum VAzhaga, Kalyan Kumar meets his girl friend after many years but finds she is married. She also entrusts him (a doctor) the task of saving her husband who is critically ill. In this song, Kannadasan summarises the entire film in just a few lines, bringing to the fore the dilemma of the doctor, a wonderful character who seeks to cure her husband. A classic song in a film rated as a Tamil classic. 
However, despite a path-breaking song, Raghavan could never come out of the image of being a singer for a second hero or worse, a comedian. 
Raghavan never got to sing for the two leading heroes, MGR and Sivaji in films, although he did sing for Sivaji Ganesan for his plays. Music directors were for him but film 
distributors, who often dominated the industry, were against using his voice for top heroes. 
Once, he did sing for Sivaji in the film, ‘NAn Vanangum Deivam (1963), ‘Mullaippoo Manakkudhu' and recorded by K V Mahadevan but distributors objected. The duet (with 
Jikki) had to be used for comedian T R Ramachandran and Ragini, instead of Sivaji Ganesan and Padmini. 
Another song, Thingalukku Enna Indru ThirumanamO, that was recorded with A L Raghavan and S Janaki with music by Viswanathan Ramamoothy, for the film Idhayathil Nee (1963), starring Gemini Ganesan, Devika and Nagesh, was not used in the film. At the end of the song recording (written by Mayavanathan), the singer S Janaki pointed out to Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy that the tune was the same as for Azhagukkum Malarukkum JAdhiyillai recorded just a few days ago for Nenjam Marappathillai, a flustered MSV 
informed producer Muktha Srinivasan of the mistake, and offered to record another song at his own expense. The tape of this song remained with Muktha Srinivasan’s office but when the songs of his production Poojaikku Vandha Malar in 1965 were sent to Radio Ceylon, the song Thingalukku was added by mistake. Radio Ceylon regularly aired this song Thingalukku as in Poojaikku Vandha Malar though it did not form part of the film. 
The song Thingalukku was a big hit for radio listeners though many wondered why it was not part of the movie Poojaikku Vandha Malar. For Raghavan, it was another case of 
missed opportunities that continued to dog his life. Had the song been part of the film Idhayathil Nee, it would have given his career a big boost. 
As music assignments dwindled, Raghavan sought to entrench himself in the film industry by turning producer. Partnering with his Sourashtra mate, T M Sounderarajan, he 
launched Soundar Raghavan Movies to make Kallum Kaniyaagum in 1967 Though its songs were popular like Kai Viralil PiRandhadhu Naadham  and EngE Nan VAzhndhAlum, (TMS), the film didn’t do well at the box-office and TMS wanted to end the adventure. Both TMS and Raghavan had acted in the film.
However, Raghavan produced one more film in 1980, (much against the wishes of his wife M N Rajam, former actress), employing a marketing technique of having five music 
directors for the same film (Kannil Theriyum KadhaigaL) – K V Mahadevan, T RPappa, M S Viswanathan,  Shankar Ganesh and Ilayaraja. The songs by Shankar Ganesh (Unnai Nenachen) and Ilayaraja (NAn Oru PonnOviyam KandEn) were hits but the film flopped, creating more financial problems for Raghavan. 
In the last few years, like many other actors and singers of yesteryears acted in Tamil serials for television. 
Tamil film music lovers would like to sing EngirundhAlum VAzhga (May you live well, wherever you are) to A L Raghavan. 
By R. Rangaraj (the writer is President, Chennai 2000 Plus Trust)


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