VAALI – THE VALIANT FILM LYRICIST
It is quite customary to bemoan the death of a celebrity as an irreparable loss that had created a void in a field to which he contributed. In most cases the deceased referred to thus might have retired from active life much earlier. But when the eighty two year old Tamil lyricist Vaali breathed his last such phrases sounded most appropriate. Before his death in the hospital bed Vaali wrote the lyrics for a film yet to roll. Truly a soldier`s death.
Vaali was born T S Rangarajan in Srirangam in Tiruchy in 1931. As a student he brought out a handwritten magazine called Nethaji. While no record of it seems to be available we gather apart from his interest in writing his political ideology in those times. He kept on writing other genres like plays and stories for All India Radio. His very first opportunity in film was as a lyricist in Azhagarmalai kallan in 1958.
Initially Vaali did not get enough chances and out of despair he set out bag and baggage to Mumbai to try his hand on some other trade. The story goes that he listened to a song from Sridhar`s film Sumaithangi . It was `mayakkama kalakkama`.(are you dazed or confused) that stopped him in his track. He began to taste success when his song `poovariyum poonkodiyae poomalai podava `(oh, the flower sketching damsel shall I garland you) in Idhayathil Nee in 1963. Vaali soon became a prolific lyricist but he had to compete with Kannadasan who took film lyrics to dazzling heights with his rich word imageries and thoughtful collocations often imbued with allusions to mythologies and Tamil literary classics. It was a tall order but Vaali fought through valiantly not so much with striking originality as with his imitating cleverness.
All said and done film lyrics when sung and aired do not bear the mudhra of the lyricist as in a Thyagaraja kriti. The film lyricist remains anonymous until one sees the billing. Vaali adroitly penned lyrics a la Kannadasan and on many occasions the listeners mistook his lyrics for Kannadasan`s. Once music director M.S.Viswanathan praised a certain song for which he himself given the tune attributing it to Kannadasan. Vaali politely reminded him that the lyric in question was his creation. That was `andha nal gnapagam vanthathu nanbane nanbane(Memory of those times has come . my friend my friend) from the film Uyarntha Manithan. Instances such as this show that his imitation was not of poor quality and he matched seamlessly powerfully with Kannadasan. But Kannadasan`s ill temper often led him to have tiffs he worked with many including M G Ramachandran.
M G R found much to his delight a suitable replacement in Vaali. Vaali`s lyrics to MGR starrer Padagotti became very popular. He utilized the opportunity that lay before him by eulogizing the person MGR in his lyrics whenever he wanted to paint the characters MGR portrayed. When MGR lip synced to the song of Vaali ` naan anai ittal athu nadanthu vital elaigal vethanai padamattar`(if I could make a command and make it happen then the poor would bear no pain) in Enga Vettu Pillai the audience understood that it was a personal message the actor was conveying to them . Vaali`s lyrics in no small measure worked to the hero worshipping of MGR by his fans. But he limited his adulation to his lyrics and never aligned politically with MGR. Vairamuthu perhaps might have taken a cue from Vaali since despite his hero worshipping of DMK patriarch M.Karunanidhi he too never enlisted himself as a member of DMK.
After Kannadasan ,Vairamuthu made his mark and Vaali once again proved to be no mean competitor. He found favour with all top heroes, directors and music directors due to his readiness to cooperate and to bring out the songs liked by everyone. He had written several thousand film lyrics along with spiritual works like Avathara Purushan and Pandavar Bhoomi . Actor of a few films and TV serials he had won many awards including Padma Shri. Besides his coveted distinction of a film lyricist with the longest innings in Tamil film industry he was a warm and gentle person to all those who knew him.