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A M Rajah - Song of a Summer Breeze

Most of the music we hear today bears no remote resemblance to the great melodies from the golden era of South Indian film music. It is hard for a true music lover to digest the sort of noise that is churned out today in the name of music. The film music of the day, bereft of melody holds no charm for those who have heard the greats of yesteryears like A M Rajah. With his honey dipped velvet soft voice A M Rajah ruled the hearts of lovers, and the lovers of melody in 1950s and 60s. There is a magic in his voice that reminds us of a moonlit night’s soothing calm and of a cool gentle breeze on a scorching summer day.

T M Sounderarajan, Ghantasala, A M Rajah, P B Srinivas, Yesudas and
S P Balasubramanyam are considered to be the all time super star singers of south Indian film music in terms of their fame and number of songs they have sung. But A M Rajah stands out in this list with his exceptional ability to excel in soft romantic melodies. He was undoubtedly the most soulful voice among them all.

His voice simply had the sweetness of honey and A M Rajah’s caressing style of romantic singing proved that great music is never loud. His satin-soft rendering and the emotions bloomed through his inimitable voice is a treat for music lovers till this day. His voice suggested a remarkable quality of absolute ease. With a firm grounding in perfect pitching and a soft, rich style of singing A M Rajah still remains the greatest of evergreen singers of south Indian film music.

A M Rajah was an accomplished music director and may be the most successful composer-singer of south Indian films. Even in Hindi one can not find any successful singer composer like him may be with an exception of Hemant Kumar. Most of the songs composed by A M Rajah reached the peak of popularity though they all were uncompromising melodies.

His first attempt as a composer was for the Telugu film Sobha in 1958 which turned out to be a great success. Pelli Kaanuka of 1960 established him as a music director of substance in Telugu.
Kalyana Parisu of 1959 was director Sridhar's debut film which enjoyed huge box-office popularity. This was also the debut of A M Rajah in Tamil as a composer. This film was one of Gemini Ganesan's biggest hits ever. In playback, what Mukesh was for Raj Kapoor, was A M Rajah for Gemini Ganesan. Their voice matching was impeccable. The honeyed music of Kalyana Parisu was a runaway hit and the songs played a big part in the success of the film. It is also to be remembered that when Sivaji Ganesan forayed into film production with Prabhuram pictures, he selected A M Rajah as the music director for the film ‘Vidi Velli’.

A M Rajah's tryst with composing includes super duper hit songs from the films ‘Aadi Perukku’, ‘Anbukkor Anni’ and ‘Thean Nilavu’ and he is widely admired for his great composing skills till this day. His composing style was typically soft like his voice. Rhythmic melodies of sheer originality were his strength and forte. That was a time when A M Rajah was the true 'Raja' of Tamil Film Music.

A M Rajah was the only male singer who was equally successful in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. He entered Malayalam cinema with the film Lokaneethi in 1952 under the baton of the famous composer V.Dakshinamurthy. Though A M Rajah hailed from Andhra Pradesh and had pronunciation problems with certain Malayalam syllables, Malayalees accepted him as Kerala's own singer. In Malayalam he achieved super star status in the 1960s, mainly as the singing voice of the great actor Satyan.

Famous Malayalam music director Devarajan who composed many songs of A M Rajah testified in a book that A M Rajah was not only a honey and milk voice but also was a very nice person with a pure heart and straight forward attitude. A M Rajah’s melodious songs in Malayalam films continue to charm. Be it the scenic ‘Periyaare’ from Bharya, or the oh so romantic `Paalanu Thenanen’ from Umma or the soft lullaby `Kannum Pootti Uranguka' from Snehaseema or the moonlit melody `Thazhampoo Manamulla’ from Adimakal or the song with a feel of eternity ‘Aakasagangayude Karayil’ from the film Omanakkuttan, there is a sweet freshness, which makes A M Rajah an all time favourite of Malayalam music listeners.

In Telugu almost all his songs were phenomenally popular. Be it ‘Moogavaina Emi Le’ (Podum Intha Jaalame in Tamil) and other songs from Appu Chesi Pappu Koodu(1959) ‘Choodumade Cheliya’, ‘Paalinchara Ranga’ and other songs from Vipranarayana (1954) or ‘Antu Maamidi’ from Akka Chellellu(1957) or ‘Priyatama Manasu Marena’ (Maasilla Unmai Kaadhale in Tamil) from Alibaba 40 Dongalu, ‘Andala Konetilona’ from Alladin Adbhuta Deepam (1957), ‘Yedho Naveena Bhaavam’ from Amarasandesam(1954), ‘Raa Raado Raa Chiluka’ from Chinna Kodallu(1952), ‘Andaalu Chindeti’ from Chintamani(1956), ‘Tanemi Talancheno’ from Dhaamptyam(1957), all the songs of Missamma(1955), The songs of Pelli Kaanuka (1960), Prema Lekhalu(1960) Na Chellalu(1953)…. The list is long..

A M Rajah or Aemala Manmatharaju Rajah was born on July 1 1929 at Ramachandrapuram in Chitoor district of Andhra Pradesh. When he was three months old his father passed away. The family shifted to Renukapuram where his studies began. He moved to Madras for graduate studies and passed B A from the Pachaiyppa's College, Madras in 1951. He won many first prizes in Pachayappa's College music competitions. He made it in to the films when he was spotted by HMV to record two Telugu songs which were written and composed by him.

Music director K V Mahadevan helped Rajah to arrange and record the instrumental portion. These songs got good air play in All India Radio. Listening to them in one of the AIR's late night programmes, S S Vasan of Gemini Pictures offered A M Rajah the title song in his multilingual film Samsaaram which even made in Hindi. Rajah sang in all the language versions of the film. In 1951 he was also booked to sing for the Tamil film Kumari composed by K V Mahadevan with songs like ‘Azhiyatha Kathal Vazhvil’. A M Rajah has shown South Indian film music a new style of singing which he cultivated with the influences of North Indian way of singing. His soft and appealing voice attracted thousands of admirers to his side each day.

A M Rajah's fame and popularity rests solidly on his scores of immortal songs. In Tamil, the sadness filled love song ‘Sirpi Sedhukkaatha porchilaiye’, the frivolous call of ‘Minor Life Romba Jolly’, the soul of sweetness ‘Aadaatha Manamum Aaduthe’, a bit of the elegant western touch in ‘Paattu Paada Vaa’ and ‘Oho! Enthan Baby’, the tragic and lovelorn ‘Kathalile Tholviyutraan’ the ever enchanting 'Thendral Urangiyapothum' and so on. You can rarely find an A M Rajah song which is off shade.

The strong classical music background, which he acquired from the days of childhood, helped him render many raaga based songs like `Kalaiye En Vazhkaiyin' from Meenda Sorgam in Vageeswari, ‘Kaalaiyum Neeye’ from Thean Nilavu in Hamsanandhi etc.,with absolute ease. Equally well versed was he in fast paced numbers like `Vaadikkai Marandhathum’ and ‘Kanmoodum Velaiyilum’. His slow paced songs like ‘Nilavum Malarum’, ‘Idhaya Vaanin Udhaya Nilavae’ and ‘Kannaale Naan Kanda Kaname” kindle our nostalgic memories creating a romantic mood around. He rendered all his songs with an unmatched feel and when you hear ‘Maasila Unmai Kathaley' in Ali Babaavum 40 Thirudarkalum, ‘Kankalin Vaarthaigal’ in Kalathur Kannamma, ‘Kanmoodum Velaiyilum’ in Mahadevi, ‘Pattu Poochi Polum Rani’ in Aval Yaar etc, the songs enmeshes you with pure joy.

In 1950s and early 60s, during the peak of his popularity, A M Rajah lent his voice to almost all the leading names of South Indian screen like MGR, NTR, ANR, Sivaji, Gemini, Satyan, Prem Nazir and many others when they were younger. He suited them well to their images of young romantics. But with the changing times and trends in films A M Rajah never resorted on mimicry to suit any actor’s style. For him music was never mimicry or mockery. This is the sole reason for his songs captivating the listeners even today without the support of the visual histrionics of the ‘over actors’ of that era.

A M Rajah also acted in some films. A small-time role in the Nageswara Rao starrer bilingual Devadas to an important role of a singer in the Telugu movie ‘Pakka Inti Ammaayi’ come to mind. Weird are the ways of the film world! ‘Pakka Inti Ammaayi’ was later re-made in Hindi as Padosan which re-made into Telugu again as ‘Pakka Inti Ammaayi’, years later! In the first movie, A M Rajah played the role which Kishore Kumar did in Hindi. In the second version S P Balasubramanyam played the role first played by A M Rajah.

In 1955 during rehearsing the song ‘Azhagu Nilavin Bavaniyile’ for the film Maheswari, A M Rajah proposed his co-singer Jikki Krishnaveni which resulted in their marriage. Jikki was one of the finest female singers south India ever had. Even the greats like P Suseela was heavily influenced by Jikki’s lively singing style. Many of P Suseela’s early songs prove this influence. A M Rajah and Jikki have six children and among them Chandrasekhar is naturally gifted with elements of the voice quality of his father.

A M Rajah and Jikki were the first South Indian pair to record a song in Bombay for a Raj Kapoor film under his direct supervision with Shanker-Jaikishan as music directors for the film ‘Aan’. They sang Telugu and Tamil versions of the songs of this multilingual film. A M Rajah also sang in Hindi films like Bahut Din Huye etc. Hindi singers Mohammad Rafi and Talat Mehmood were A M Rajah’s role models in film singing. He adapted many interesting aspects of their singing styles but never imitated them. He sang songs like ‘Athi Madhura Anuraaga’ in Kannada and many popular songs even in Sinhalese language.

A M Rajah had a phenomenal success in his heydays for which he never struggled. Everything was served in a platter in front of his exceptional talents, but circumstances were not in his favour for long. Changing trends in movies along with the rise of other singers like P B Srinivas affected his career even as his own generally unbending nature did not earn him many friends in the film world. Despite his natural ease in singing he was not an easygoing person. This was one of the reasons for his not being able to last in films for a long time. He had very strong ideas about the film music.

As director Sridhar recalls, Rajah would not allow even a single note of his in a song for ‘Thean Nilavu’ to be altered. Kannadasan had a pallavi which needed some adjustments in the tune but Rajah would not give in and then the great lyricist himself made way. Many musicians, who worked with Rajah, confessed that he would come close to being paranoid when it came to his work. If a musician could not reproduce some notes, he might be looked upon as a trouble creator by Rajah! Sreedhar wanted Rajah to compose songs for Nenjil Oru Aalayam, but he was not obliging for reasons only known to him and the opportunity went to Viswanathan Ramamoorthy. After composing the songs for Thean Nilavu, A M Rajah refused to compose background music for the film, again for reasons not very clear to others till date. The release of the film became an issue. Finally the matter went to MGR, who talked to A M Rajah and finally he obliged. That was the last of Sreedhar-A M Rajah team.

The film world having a funny way of ignoring its true heroes. And it has its quirky methods of joining hands with the under talented and undeserving, while geniuses languish in the shadows of penury. When A M Rajah got it in his mind that he was marginalized despite his genius and achievements in films, he left on a self imposed exile from the crooked ways of the film industry. He decided to keep himself and his wife out of the film circles and Jikki too had to sacrifice her soaring career and stay at home.
Being a man always on the move and who never regretted his stands, he went on doing music programs all over the world with his wife, strictly singing only his own songs. Ilayaraja was a guitarist in his troupe for some time. He was getting good income from his tourist cars business too. Perhaps he knew all the while that the world of cinema was not surely his place. That he was but a temporary traveler there, who when his destination comes must pack up and leave. May be somewhere deep within him, there must have been some turmoil and pain that made him bring out the longing and hurt of lovers through his songs with the softest voice but express a hard exterior to the outer world.

Years later, in the early 1970s, it was music director V.Kumar coaxed A M Rajah to come out of his self-imposed exile. The lilting rhythmic melodies ‘Mutharame Un Oodal Ennavo’ in Rangaraattinam and ‘Senthamaraiye Senthean Idhazhe’ from Puguntha Veedu, both composed by Shankar Ganesh established the come back of A M Rajah. The composer in A M Rajah too did make a fairly good come back with ‘Raasi Nalla Raasi’ for film Veettu Mappillai of 1973. He composed the songs of Enakkoru Magan Pirappaan in 1975.

A M Rajah sang for films like Thaikku Oru Pillai, Veettu Maappillai, Veettukku Vandha Marumagal, Paththu Maadha Bandham, Enakkoru Magan Pirapaan, Anbu Roja and Ithu Ivargalin Kadhai in 1970s. He also composed music for a Malayalam film named Amma Enna Sthree In 1970 which had 6 beautiful songs in it. Jikki too had a fine second coming in 1970s which extended for many more years from ‘Kaadhalennum Kaaviyam’ for Vattathukkul Sathuram in 1978 by Ilayaraja to ‘Vanna Vanna Metteduthu’ from Senthamizh Paattu in 1993 by M S Viswanathan-Ilayaraja.

In an interview to Indian Express in 1987 Rajah seemed to have come to terms with his brief but fascinating spell as singer and musician. He said – ‘I am really happy that my songs are still remembered and loved. I still make a living out of singing them on stage. That is why I have no regrets about the setbacks I have had to face in my life and in my career as a musician’. He had become philosophical and said ‘It was destiny. I achieved what I sought to, although the ambition to do still better does not leave me. I can tune better melodies than I did for films like ‘Kalyana Parisu’ and ‘Thean Nilavu’. But I am truly and deeply satisfied too. I wanted to sing for films. I did. I yearned to make a name as a music director. I did that too’.

A M Rajah was active on stage singing till the last day of his life. While returning on April 8th 1989 in a train from a music concert in Koottalumoodu, a hamlet in Kanyakumari district, he was worried and tensed about a helper boy in his troupe who missed the train. Just one false step proved fatal while boarding back to the moving train at Valliyur railway station in Tirunelveli district. He slipped and fell between the track and platform even as Jikki sat inside the train and watched helplessly.

Songs of A M Rajah that are a sweet comfort, in our moments of loneliness ….. In a voice that echoes in our ears with tenderness when even the full moon and the gentle breeze fail to comfort us. Tributes to the smoothest male voice in the Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam film music.
Listen the Malayalam classic of A M Rajah
Aakaasa Gangayude Karayil