Malaysia Vasudevan - A Great Playback Singer

It was an afternoon about sixteen years ago. A recording studio in Alwarpet, Chennai was brimming with activity. A music album titled ‘Indrum Puthithu’ was being recorded. It was an effort to re record some of the famous golden oldies of Tamil film music, in the voices of popular current-day singers with the new recording technology. The album was being produced by the music label I was working for. Therefore, I was there to oversee the proceedings. Malaysia Vasudevan was coming there to sing a few songs originally sung by T M Sounderarajan. All were waiting for Malaysia Vasudevan’s arrival. I was standing outside the studio, anxious to meet him as he entered. I had not met him in person before.

A white color luxury car entered the lane in front of the studio and Malaysia Vasudevan alighted from it. He was about fifty years in age, stoutly built with oval face and sharp eyes. His glasses reflected the evening sun. As he entered everyone greeted him with folded hands. As he was replying to their greetings, I too conveyed my greetings. But I was a new face to him among the many familiar persons. He went into the studio without paying attention to me!

Since it was already late, Malaysia Vasudevan went straight to the singing booth and put on the head-phone. After the initial preparations, as the track rolled, the voice of Malaysia Vasudevan boomed over the speakers: ‘Neerodum Vaigaiyile Nindraadum Meeney..’. The same voice that had entranced me as a child! The same voice that had emanated from thatched cinema hall of the neighbouring village and echoed off the hillsides we resided on. It took me to the nostalgic memories of the Malaysia Vasudevan songs that I had loved to listen to again and again. And my mind was instantly transported to my childhood days.

I was twelve then. The thatched cinema hall used to have an afternoon show on weekend days at three o’clock. I used to start early from home without letting anyone know. It used to take an hour for the tiny me to reach near the theatre trudging the hilly terrain. I used to wait at the gate in anticipation of the songs that were played over the long grey colored reflex horns fixed over the roof corner of the theatre. ‘Aye..Muthu Muthaa Mottu Vitta Vaasamulley..’. Soon the high pitched powerful voice of Malaysia Vasudevan will echo off the surrounding hills and spread over the plains. It used to mesmerize me and transport me to a dream world, forgetting all my miseries.

As my favourite songs from Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam films were played; the winding paths around the theatre would bring in people from surrounding villages into the theatre. They would pay the ticket price into semi-circular cubby holes marked ‘Kasera’ – Rs.4, ‘Charu Bench’ – Rs.3, ‘Bench’ – Rs.2 and ‘Thara’ – Re.1 and obtain the entry tickets. Soon the reflex horns outside the theatre would fall silent and the songs would be heard only inside the theatre. I would go as close as possible to hear the now muted music. There was this fierce desire to go inside and listen to the music in the film and the songs that would be played during the intervals. But almost always I had no money with me. So, as songs stopped and film started running, I would start my trudge back home. Even that was a pleasurable experience for me as I played the songs in my mind as my body swayed to the beat of the songs!

In the days that I could not manage the trip to the theatre, I would stand on the highest hillock near my home and listen to the songs as they wafted across the valleys to me. Blowing wind on top of the hill would at times carry away portions of the songs here and there. Still, the experience of listening to songs as they are wafted across distances was a wonderful thing that defies description.

I was strangely enchanted in a peculiar manner whenever I used to listen to the songs of Malaysia Vasudevan. Just listening to his songs like ‘Othha Roopa Onakku Thaaren’, ‘Aattukkutti Muttaiyittu’, ‘Vethala Vethala Vethalayo’, ‘Pattuvanna Rosavaam’, ‘Koodayile Karuvaadu’ etc keyed me up and made me overjoyed. I was virtually infatuated with the manner of his singing. I remember even now the indefinable elation that possessed me whenever I listened to his ‘Thanni Karuthiruchi’ song. Even today listening to that song gives me goose bumps.

I loved even his ordinary dance songs like ‘Chevvandhi Poomudichha’ and ‘Podhuvaaga Emmanasu Thangam’ for the sheer springiness his peppy voice brought to my steps. The energy in his songs like ‘Nila Kaayudhu Neram Nalla Neram’, ‘Kanne Thorakkanum Saami’, ‘Vaa Vaa Vaathiyare Vaa’ and ‘Aasai Nooru Vagai’ made my love affair complete with his style of singing. It was only much later I realized that this fascination of mine to his songs was due to his natural felicity and honesty in singing.

Most of his songs that became popular in Kerala were common lore type of songs with a fast beat and simple tune. Therefore, I did not have much chance of listening to his melodies and other genres of songs. Later after listening to his songs like ‘Inda Minminikku Kannil Oru Minnal Vandhadhu’(Sigappu Rojakkal), ‘Malargale Nadha Swarangal’ and ‘Kovil Mani Osai Thannai Kettadharo’(Kizhakke Pogum Rayil), ‘Vaanmegangale Vaarungal’(Pudhiya Vaarpugal), ‘Malargalilay Aaraadhanai’(Karumbu Vill), ‘Poove Ilaya Poove’(Kozhi Koovudhu), ‘Paruva Kaalangalin Kanavu’(Moodupani), ‘Adi Aadu Poongodiye’(Kaali), ‘Pattuvanna Chelaikkari’(Engeyo Ketta Kural) and ‘Kanngal Rendum Sandam Solla’(Unakkaagave Vaazhgiren) I came to the conclusion that it was Malaysia Vasudevan alone who is the most talented Tamil playback singer of our times. He had this ability of naturally rendering diverse emotions without even the slightest of excess. Decades have passed but across all these years, every time when I listen to his songs my conviction on this has only become stronger.

Malaysia Vasudevan, like T.M.S was a singer who achieved great popularity in Tamil alone. Singing in other languages was not his forte. He knew well that he could not grasp the pronunciation and nuances of other languages including his mother tongue Malayalam. That was why he kept refusing invitations to sing in other languages. But compulsions being what they are in this industry he had to sing a few, less than ten, songs in Malayalam, about twenty songs in Kannada and one or two in Telugu. Pronunciation mistakes notwithstanding, most of his Malayalam and Kannada songs were big hits. A fast fun song ‘Naale Baruve Nanna Koduve’ from the Kannada film Pralayanthaka is a good example. The natural peppiness and the madness his voice had infused into this song tell us how far ahead, by leagues, he was of singers ruling the roost in Kannada at that time!

Malaysia Vasudevan’s career in film music started with philosophical songs dripping in pathos and moved on to delicately essayed love duets, assertive folk songs, heart-stopping love songs, songs rich in affection, songs conveying humour and laughter, songs mimicking the likes of T.M.S. and C.S. Jayaraman and continued on to a song of hit songs based on Western melodies. Under the circumstances, it was both mystifying and unfortunate that the film industry decided that his voice suited only for fast folk based songs which are known as ‘Dappankuthu’ songs. More than his delicately rendered extraordinary songs, it was such songs of him which became popular. This only served to type-cast him as a ‘Dappankuthu’ singer.

Many film music listeners still remains ignorant of his diverse and multi-dimensional singing abilities. Even serious fans of Tamil film music consider him, to this day, only as 6-8 singer. 6-8 is the musical description of the beat of such songs. Shankar-Ganesh type of music directors continued to offer him only this type of songs that were low both on creativity and depth. But it was a different matter that Malaysia Vasudevan rendered all the songs given to him with dedication that made these songs listenable. Unfortunately, this only reinforced his reputation as a ‘Dappankuthu’ singer. Some of the compositions mentioned in this article may not represent high standards of music but are cited only to bring to the notice of music lovers the simple honesty and energy that Malaysia Vasudevan with his singing style instill these lackluster and routine compositions.

Many thousands of songs in film and non-film genres have imparted, in a career spanning over thirty years, Malaysia Vasudevan was innocent of the crass commercial ways of the world, particularly the ways of the film world. He always remained a soft spoken and loving person. He never marketed himself to achieve anything or to reach any position. That allowed many to withhold their praise for the many parts he played in Tamil film industry. It is my contention that his role was not even properly evaluated and if at all, it was conveniently underestimated.

Like his music, Malaysia Vasudevan’s life too is unusual. In the early days of 20th century when poor people had very little means of livelihood, many families from the Palakkad areas of Kerala migrated to Malaysia in search of livelihood. Seventeen years old Chathu Nair of Ottappalam and twelve years old Ammalu of Polpulli along with their respective families were a part of the group that emigrated to Malaysia. Their families found employment in the rubber estates of Klang Valley. A few years later with the blessings of their families, Chathu Nair and Ammalu were joined in wedlock. Vasudevan was born on 15th June of 1944 as their 8th child.

Klang Valley had a predominantly Tamil population and Tamil had become the language of communication of Vasudevan’s family. Naturally Tamil was the language he grew up with and became his favourite language as well. Even his school education was through Tamil medium. Chathu Nair was musically inclined and had some knowledge of music. He taught all his children what he knew in Music. All his children grew with a natural ability to sing and appreciate music. Vasudevan in particular was keen about music and acting from a very young age. He had started singing before an audience from the age of eight.

The rubber estates had an arrangement where touring talkies used to go from estate to estate screening Tamil films. Estate workers will go to these movies with their beddings. Vasudevan with his friends used to cycle to far off estates to watch the films screened. This greatly impacted on his already latent desire and his ambition to sing and act just grew and grew. He became a serious fan of Actor Sivaji Ganesan and Singer T.M. Soundararajan. M.S.Viswanathan was his favourite composer. Meeting all the three at least once was his burning ambition at that point of time.

After he grew up he attached himself to a few Tamil drama troupes in Malaysia as an actor - singer. In this way, we can call him truly a part of the acting -singing traditions of Tamil drama and cinema. In 1967 when he was 23, a Malaysian Production company came forward to make the drama Ratha Peiy in which he had acted. They had planned to produce the film in Chennai, the then called Madras. Thus in 1968 Vasudevan stepped on the soil of his motherland for the first time arriving as a part of the filming unit. This gave him the opportunity of acting in the film and singing under the baton of G.K. Venkatesh.

Once the film was done and the unit returned to Malaysia, Vasudevan decided to stay on in Madras and seek singing opportunities. From then on it was one long decade of travails and struggles seeking opportunity to sing. It was a scenario of a strange town, a strange people, no place to turn to and none to help either. He knocked on the doors of music composers for opportunities to sing and met film producers to see if that will not open the doors of the film industry for him.

He was too naïve to project himself properly and nothing was happening. Many on hearing that he came from a prosperous Malaysia, advised him to return saying that people already here did not have any opportunity. Whenever he reached a point where it became totally difficult to stay on, the thought of returning to Malaysia. But he was determined that before returning he should sing at least one song in a good film.

Vasudevan met Ilayaraja on one of his visits to the office of composer G.K. Venkatesh. Ilayaraja was working as the assistant of G.K. Venkatesh then. Raja and Vasudevan became friends. ‘Paavalar Brothers’ was a music troupe run by Ilayaraja and his brothers Gangai Amaran and R.D. Bhaskar. Vasudevan joined the troupe as the voice of T.M.S. That was how Vasudevan got to be a member of the friend’s group of Bharatiraja, Ilayaraja, Gangai Amaran, R.D. Bhaskar and S.P. Balasubramaniam.

SPB too was singing for the music troupe of Ilayaraja brothers and around that time in 1969 his debut released song, acted by MGR in the film Adimai Penn had become a super hit. SPB’s first recorded song from the film Santhi Nilayam acted by another huge star of the days Gemini Ganesan also released soon and he was rising to stardom.

It is no surprise that when a singer’s first songs are for very big films and the songs picturised on superstars like MGR, there is only one way to go that is up and up. S.P.B’s growth to stardom illustrates this. That he was introduced by MGR and patronized by him was undoubtedly the reason for S.P.B’s instant and huge commercial success compared to Malaysia Vasudevan’s very hard-earned and success which frugally measured by many.

Malaysia Vasudevan’s date with MGR, undoubtedly the top star of Tamil Cinema of all times was never to come to light. An MGR film, Unnai Vidamaatten, was planned with Ilayaraja to compose the music. This film had a song recorded with Vasudevan but true to form, neither the film nor the song got released.

Vasudevan’s first singing opportunities came from singing jingles for Ad films. He sang in the ad films made by people like A.V. Ramanan. This, then, became his training field to sing before the studio recording mikes. He learnt to sing for recording by listening repeatedly to his own jingles and correcting his mistakes.

MSV who saw the stage show of Ilayaraja troupe praised Vasudevan’s style of singing and promised to give him an opportunity. But nothing came of it. In spite of directly asking him for opportunity time and again there was no call from MSV. Elappulli, from where MSV hailed, was a village next to Vasudevan’s mother’s village, Polpulli. Why MSV, of all people, could not see the genius of singers like Vasudevan and S. Janaki and persisted with singers like S.P.B and Vani Jayaram is a mystery that remains to be unraveled.

Vasudevan had his debut opportunity to sing for cinema in 1972. At that point of time, he was close to a film producer Pollachi Ratnam. It was because of him that he got to sing his first song, a comedy song in the film Delhi to Madras with Jai Shankar as its hero. V. Kumar had composed music for the film and song was ‘Paalu Vikkira Padma Un Paalu Romba Suthhama?

TMS sang ‘India Naadu En Veedu’, a popular song of the time, for the film Bharathavilas in 1973. Vasudevan rendered a few lines in it that were sung in Hindi and Punjabi. MSV was the benevolent composer. The same year, Vasudevan sang the song ‘Maalayittu Poomuditha’ composed by MSV again for Thalai Prasavam. But again it was an opportunity that came his way because of the insistence of Pollachi Ratnam.

Vasudevan was a nameless and faceless singer till Violin Maestro and composer Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan called him to sing the song ‘Kaalam Seyyum Vilaiyattu’ for the movie Gumaasthavin Magal in 1974. The Director of the film, A.P. Nagarajan, changed his name as Malaysia Vasudevan and it appeared thus in credits. It was a film in which Shivakumar was the hero and Kamal Hasan, the villain.

Malaysia Vasudevan’s ambition to sing many great songs under the baton of his favourite composer MSV remained largely unfulfilled. He sang fewer than 15 songs for MSV in his entire illustrious singing career. Of this, his song ‘Vethhalaya Pottendi’ in Billa in 1980 was the only mass hit. Even though a 6-8 song, Vasudevan had rendered the song with a rare verve.

In the recently remade Billa, singer Shankar Mahadevan had sung the re-mixed version of this song. When we listen and compare, we will realize the difference between the renderings of a fairly good singer and a rare genius. Malaysia Vasudevan is that rare singer who is difficult to mimic. These singers make a laughing stock of themselves by trying to recreate the quintessential Malaysia Vasudevan songs.

MSV – Vasudevan duo’s ‘Ezhudhugiral Oru Pudhukkavithai’ for the film Saranaalayam is a wonderful music experience. Those who have not heard this song should do so now. One can see that this great song proves Malaysia Vasudevan’s incomparable felicity in melody singing. ‘Enniyirundhadhu Eadera’ from Andha Yezhu Naatkal is another brilliant song. ‘Muthu Maanikka Kanngal’ from Thunaivi is yet another great Malaysia Vasudevan song under MSV’s baton. MSV conceded to Vasudevan that: “Nobody else could have sung these songs with such wonderful élan!.”

In the years 1975 and 1976 Vasudevan passed time with no opportunities to sing. In the year 1976 Ilayaraja made his bow as composer with Annakkilli. It is only natural for Vasudevan to have believed that with his close friend wielding the baton he too will get an opportunity to sing. Whatever the reason, no such opportunity came. But, thankfully, Ilayaraja called him to sing ‘Othha Roopa Onakku Thaaren’ in his second film Bhadrakali. This is a song highly evocative of the emotions of rural Tamil soil winning the appreciation of Tamils even today.

When Ilayaraja started his innings as a composer, Malaysia Vasudevan was there with him throughout and assisted him. In the songs of Ilayaraja’s first 14 films there was a situational song ‘Dear Uncle’ in the film Uravaadum Nenjam which came his way. Though it was a song sung with a group of children, he had rendered it in a touching manner. Ilayaraja had also made him sing the baila song ‘Surangani’ known to all. Ilayaraja gave him songs in his films Durgadevi and Thunaiyiruppal Meenatchi too.

Malaysia Vasudevan’s hopes would have been raised when Ilayaraja was called upon to compose songs for Rajnikanth-starrer Bhuvana Oru Kellvikkuri and Sivaji Ganesan’s film Deepam. But nothing came his way again. His dream of singing for his idol Sivaji Ganesan remained unfulfilled yet. But soon came a time when Sivaji Ganesan insisted that Malaysia Vasudevan should alone sing all his songs! In the same vein, later it was found by all that all the songs sung by Malaysia Vasudevan for Rajnikanth were a brilliant match for his voice and his style of acting.

1978 was a landmark year for Malaysia Vasudevan. Another close friend, Bharatiraja, made his debut with the film 16 Vayadhiniley. All the songs of the film, Malaysia Vasudevan songs ‘Aattukkutti Muttaiyittu’ and ‘Chevvandhippoo Mudichha Chinnakka’ in particular, ruled the roost in Tamilnadu for years thereafter. If truth be told, the songs ‘Aattukkutti Muttaiyittu’ and ‘Chevvandhippoo Mudichha’ were to be sung by Jayachandran and SPB respectively. But, at last, through these songs Malaysia Vasudevan became a dominant voice of Tamil cinema songs. Later, Malaysia Vasudevan was to confess that till the success of 16 Vayadhiniley came about he never believed that he could succeed as a playback singer!

This is what Malaysia Vasudevan says of Ilayaraja with emotions welling up his throat: “Ilayaraja had helped me greatly. He was the one who made me a famous singer. He backed me all the way till I became a star singer. It was Ilayaraja alone who strongly recommended me even when producers and directors repeatedly questioned my credentials. Ilayaraja was the reason behind all my successes in a struggle-filled career as a playback singer. He gave me the opportunities to sing all genres of songs. He gave me all the songs of Rajnikant-starrers like Maaveeran and Adhisayappiravi. He insisted on my voice in spite of the dictat that TMS alone should sing in Sivaji’s film Rajarishi.”

For the contention of “other singers have been given the songs of Ilayaraja even with the knowledge that these songs would have been rendered much better by you” Malaysia Vasudevan replied: “I too have been given songs that should have gone to SPB, viz. ‘Indha Minminikku’, ‘Vaan Megangalay’, ‘Kovil Maniyosai’ and ‘Vaa Vaa Vasanthamey”. Malaysia Vasudevan, who never blames others for his travails, may hail Ilayaraja for his own successes; still, lovers of Malaysia Vasudevan’s enchanting singing cannot help feeling disappointed that Ilayaraja could have given him many more important songs but that he did not. It is their firm opinion that he was the best singer found out by Ilayaraja.

Vasudevan brought out the colours and the heart beats of the sensitivities of village life in all his folksy village songs. We can clearly feel the emotions and peppiness of Tamil songs of rural milieu in his singing already mentioned songs and in the songs like ‘Yeraadha Malai Mele’(Mudhal Mariyaadhai), ‘Yethhamaiyah Yethham’(Ninaive Oru Sangeetham), ‘Thaalaatta Naan Pirandhen’(Thooral Nindru Pochhu), ‘Unnappartha Neram’(Adhisayappiravi), ‘Arisi Kuthhum Akka Magale’(Mann Vaasanai), ‘Sokkuppodi Kakkathhila’(Maaveeran), ‘Aappakkadai Annakkilli’(Paayum Puli) and ‘Aalanaalum Aallu’(Palaivana Cholai).

If you happen to hear the recent remix of the ‘Aalanaalum Aallu’ it will become crystal clear to you that you need a great singer like Malaysia Vasudevan to sing a peppy rustic song with its natural emotions. It is truly amazing that a person who grew up in the modern backgrounds of a nation like Malaysia had such a talent and felicity in singing the rustic songs of rural Tamilnadu. Vasudevan himself has given an account of his childhood listening experience of rural Tamil songs sung by laborers of the rubber estates and then being tutored in Chennai by Gangai Amaran and Ilayaraja on the dialects and folk song styles of the Madurai region. Be that as it may, but it is clear that he had an extraordinary ear and a rare genius to get into the soul of the emotions of a song and then to reproduce it with an unerringly apt creativity.

None of his contemporary singers could touch the emotional highs expressed in the sensitive songs on the folk mode like ‘Ponmaanai Thedi’(Enga Oor Rasaathi), ‘Pattuvanna Chelaikkari’(Engeyo Ketta Kural), ‘Kuyilukkoru Neram Irukku’(Cholla Thudikkudhu Manasu), ‘Aathu Mettile’(Graamathu Adhyayam), ‘Aagayam Bhoomi Yendrum Ondra’(Saamanthi Poo), ‘Kammakkarai Oram’(Raasaave Unnai Nambi), ‘Pethhu Eduthhavathan’(Velaikkaran), ‘Thanandhana Kummi Kotti’(Adhisayappiravi), ‘Thenkizhakku Seemaiyile’(Kizhakkuchheemaiyile, ‘Vettiveru Vaasam’(Mudhal Mariyaadhai)etc.

For a comparison, listen carefully to Malaysia Vasudevan’s rendering of ‘Pattuvanna Rosavaam’ (Kannipparuvathhile) under Shankar Ganesh’s baton and the SPB song ‘Uchhi Vagundheduthu’ in Rosaappu Ravikkaikkari composed by Ilayaraja. Both songs have the same folk tune and reflect more or less the same yearning emotions. Just listen to the emotional chords they strike and reach your own conclusions.

Malaysia Vasudevan has rendered with total sincerity and surprising ease the very few songs with a classical music based songs offered to him. The songs ‘Puyal Ena Ezhundhadhada’ and ‘Sankara Siva Sankara’ from Rajarishi, ‘Amma Amma’ from Maaveeran, ‘Isaiyale Naan Vasamaaginen’ in Paatukku Oru Thalaivan, ‘Malaiyoram Mayile’ in Oruvar Vaazhum Aalayam, ‘Aananda Then Katru’(mimicking C.S. Jayaraman) in Manipur Maamiyaar, ‘Alankaram Abhishekam’ in Marumagale Vaazhga, ‘Kadhiravan Ezhundaan’ in Shree Raghavendra, ‘Malargalilay Aaraadhanai’ in Karumbu Vill and ‘Poovay Nee Yaar Solli’ in Thaniyaadha Thaagam are all songs based on Carnatic ragas. He has rendered these songs without any difficulties but with a touch of élan. In the song ‘Poove Nee Yaar Solli’ composed by A.A. Raj there is a small but difficult to render Sangathi at the end of the word ‘Poove’. The ease with which he sails through it is truly a touch of genius.

He has rendered many a song in high pitch without any strain or a false note. Songs of Rajarishi and Maaveeran cited above, ‘Yezhugave’ again from Maaveeran, ‘Manithan Manithan from Manithan, ‘Oru Thendral Puyalaagi’ from Pudhumaippenn, ‘Maamaavukku Kudumaa from Punnagai Mannan and quite a few of his other songs have been sung at an unusually high pitch with effortless ease. Of these, ‘Maamaavukku Kudumaa Kuduma’ is a great fun song. The gusto and liveliness with which Malaysia Vasudevan had rendered every note of the song with such absolute ease is an amazing feat.

He was just as great in singing songs based on western music. Who else has given such a virtuoso singing of western-based songs like ‘Kodai Kaala Kaatray’(Panneer Pushpangal), ‘Thedinaen Pudhiya Sugam’(Shankarlal), ‘Indha Minminikku’(Sigappu Rojakkal), ‘Paattu Inge’(Poovizhi Vaasaliley), ‘Paruva Kaalangalin Ninaivu’(Moodupani) and ‘Yey Maina’(Maaveeran) without straying into Indian style of rendering at all! The ‘Thedinaen’ song is so quintessentially western that the brilliant rendering reminds one of Kishore Kumar’s style. To evaluate Malaysia Vasudevan’s felicity in rendering such songs, one should listen to Yesudas rendering the Malayalam song ‘Lola Raaga Kaatte’. This song is the Malayalam version of ‘Kodai Kala Kaatrey’.

Malaysia Vasudevan’s voice has a chameleon-like quality in adapting itself to moods. You can feel the strong voice of Malaysia Vasudevan imparting a velvety touch of love in the song ‘Kaalangal Mazhaikkaalangal’ in the film Idhayathil Oru Idam. The beat in the song ‘Kanngal Rendum Sandam Solla’ of Unakkaagave Vaazhgiren has a tough rhythm pattern to follow. Yet we find him rendering it with a soft emotional touch.

He brings out the sensuous feelings in songs like ‘Kanna Thorakkanum Saami’, ‘Vaa Vaa Vaadhyare Vaa’ and ‘Nila Kaayudhu’ so well that every word of the lyrics conveys a thousand pictures. But the same voice conveys the warmth of brotherly love in the song ‘Oru Thanga Rathathhil’(Dharma Yudhham). The emotions he conveys in the song ‘Allithhandha Bhoomi Annai Allava’(Nandu) is nothing less than the Mehdi Hasan style of Ghazal singing!

In the film Indru Poi Nalai Vaa film there is a song ‘Pala Naal Aasai’. The manner in which the lines ‘Idhu Maalai Choodum Naeram, Ini Kaanbom Raaja Yogam’ have been crooned to fill us with a pleasant sense of elation. The song ‘Pani Vizhum Poo Nilavey’ from the film Thaippongal is among the best of his love songs. In Carnatic raga-based song ‘Malargale Nadha Swarangal’ in Kizhakke Pogum Rayil, his manner of the soft rendering of the first word ‘Malargale’, is so magnetically attractive that we stay arrested on the word for days together. The song ‘Per Vachhalum Vaekkamal Ponalum’ from Michael Madhana Kama Rajan is such a perennial pleasure to listen to. In the concluding part of this song he touches such a rare height of musical titillation with lines ‘Mandaarai Chhediyoram Konjam Mallandu Neduneram’ that it is unlikely to suffer the indignity of remixes as it will burn any singer touching it. The song ‘Vettiveru Vaasam’ has a line ‘Verukku Vaasam Undo Maney’. The emotional outpouring conveyed by that soft lingering touch to ‘Maa..ney’ is a peerless rendering that will daunt the best of singers.

Another song that touches the heights of emotion is ‘Poonkatru Thirumbuma’ from the film Mudhal Mariyaadhai. Two different emotions are expressed in the same score. The song starts on a sad note but as the song reaches the last part it achieves a metamorphosis into a happy frame of mind. The tune remains the same, the change is achieved through change in lyrics and more so by Vasudevan’s rendering of it. The songs ‘Onna Paartha Naeram’ and ‘Thanandhana Kummi Kotti’ from the film Adhisayappiravi evokes elation throughout.

‘Then Kizhakku Seemaiyile’ is the only important song he has sung for A.R. Rahman. This is a gem of an example of how a great singer can take a song with an average melody to great heights of music experience. One can cite hundreds of examples like this. It will need a book to tell about Malaysia Vasudevan’s singing style in detail.

Malaysia Vasudevan had a great voice of his own. But he could brilliantly mimic the voices of TMS and others. But to mimic his unique singing style is a big task for any talented singer. In a recent Reality show on a TV channel, one saw the currently known singer Krish singing atrociously ‘Poove Ilaya Poove’ in the presence of Malaysia Vasudevan. If you are a singer, try singing the Malaysia Vasudevan song ‘Kodai Kaala Kaatrey’ conveying the emotions he stirred so brilliantly. If it is of any consolation to you, be informed that even Yesudas could not do it!

Malaysia Vasudevan never embellished his songs with a false fit or artificial sweetness. Unlike some of his contemporaries he avoided artifices like strainful elaborations, needless moans, laughs and cries between the lines. And he paid no attention to natural human errors that occurs while singing. But he never failed to reach the intended delicate heights as per the emotions needed of the song. We must note that this was the singing style great singers like Mehdi Hasan, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, T.R. Mahalingam, A.M. Raja et all stood for.

Malaysia Vasudevan mentions Lata Mangeshkar, Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, TMS, P. Suseela, S. Janaki and Yesudas as his favourite singers. If you listen to the duets he has sung with male or female voices, most of the times he would have rendered better than his counterparts. Barring S. Janaki, others have often failed to match him. Whether it is ‘Ennamma Kannu’ or ‘Nanbane Yenadhu Uyir Nanbane’ or any other song with any other male voice, the next time around make it a point to carefully listen. You will understand the point I am trying to make here.

As pointed out earlier, Malaysia Vasudevan has been the most mercilessly targeted by the re-mix culture. I had mentioned the examples of ‘Vethhalaya Pottendi’ and ‘Aalanaalum Aalu’. We all are aware how the new ‘Ennamma Kannu’ turned out with the music ‘dis’arrangement by D. Imaan. It almost appears that the current generation of Tamil Film Music believes music to be mere jumble of notes!

But of all the re-mix assaults, the most horrifying one has been that of the ‘Thanni Karuthiruchi’ song. A non-singer like Chimpu had stabbed, gouged and minced the magnificent song to its last helplessly pleading note. I felt that these new generation junkies had raped and murdered this all-time great song. To add insult to injury the voice of Malaysia Vasudevan had been taken from the original song and pasted as horrifying interludes after changing its very tone. Yuvan Shankar Raja too for his part borrowed Malaysia Vasudevan’s voice from his father’s collection for his remix of ‘Aasai Nooru Vagai’. Remix is a shameless and unjust assault masquerading as modernity on the songs that changed the course of film music in the past.

Malaysia Vasudevan has composed music for five films. Of these, I have been able to find only three songs of Saamanthippoo. If I assess his music composing abilities on the basis of these songs alone, I will rate him as a very good film music composer. I have already mentioned ‘Aagayam Bhoomi Rendum Ondra’ sung by him. SPB had sung ‘Maalai Velai’ and S. Janaki sang the ‘Kanavugale Oorkolam Engae’. All the three are great melodies. Malaysia Vasudevan has also acted in about 85 films. But for me it is the singer Malaysia Vasudevan who stands tall.

Towards the late Eighties with the discernible changes in the course of Tamil film music, his singing opportunities declined. In this background, in 1989 he produced the film Nee Sirithhal Deepavali. It was a big failure. He lost everything including his owned house. After that he sang only a few songs. ‘Thenkizhakku Seemaiyile’ song for A.R. Rahman was one such song. And in 1997 we saw him mouthing the background voice ‘Hilgoray...Hilgoray’ in the song ‘Poo Pookkum Osai’ in Rahman’s Minsaara Kanavu. After that nothing much was heard of him.

Malaysia Vasudevan had commented in an interview: “I have the highest regards for the composers of my time. But I had not gone to them seeking opportunities. I also had never thought that I should get opportunities by spoiling others’ opportunities. I never expected anything from anybody. Therefore, there are no regrets either. I landed in India with a dream of singing just one or two songs in films. But I have sung more or less 5000 songs. I have seen it all, victory, fame and money. So there are neither regrets nor claims. I do not have the dissatisfaction of not having ascended Mount Everest. I only have the satisfaction of climbing the Pazhani hill. That is sufficient. I have never counted the money given for recordings or for stage shows. I believed in men. Some were worthy of it. Many were not. There is nothing big in this life to boast of nor is there a place for regret. Life goes on.” This misplaced faith continued into the difficult days when he had to rely on stage shows for living. He continued to participate in the shows getting only part of the money or no money at all.

In 2003 when he was in Malaysia for a stage show, he suffered a stroke because of a clot in the brain and suffered a terrible paralysis even losing the ability to talk. Barring Gangai Amaran and SPB there was no call of support or consolation from the film world. The industry that he worked in for decades and where he was the benefactor of quite a few totally ignored him. At the height of his fame his home was brimming with relations, guests and fans and it was always a never ending party there. All of them disappeared with his financial decline and diminishing fame. And when his health was affected, they deserted him completely. He was left alone. Malaysia Vasudevan the super star singer was lost in oblivion. With no news of him, his fans also stopped thinking about him.

Spending what was left of his wealth, he was nursed back to partial health. With a stage show now and then, life was getting on. Unfortunately, further strokes in 2008 and 2009 left him unable to speak or walk. He was in emergency care for months. Continued treatment and exercises has restored reasonable capacity to speak and walk with difficulty. Left hand has been badly affected. Above all he cannot sing a single note now. How much worse can it get for a great singer, who dedicated his life to music? Better medical care may restore his health. But how? That must be the biggest question before him now.

A rare singer of modern Tamil cinema who expressed emotions in the natural most tones and lived his life with unbounded passion for music, Malaysia Vasudevan is a music festival that should always be celebrated by Tamil film music lovers. These are the lines of one of his songs…
.....We all were born here
Together we grown here
What do we take with us when we leave-
That we seek to keep with us?