The passing of music legends PB Sreenivas and TK Ramamurthy in a span of four days is sure to send nostalgic nuts like me down memory lane. Along with MSV, KV Mahadevan, TMS, P Susheela, Kannadasan and Valee, they spawned a musical pranava in movies that would remain and resonate forever. They might have receded from eyesight but would never go out of earshot nor be erased from our minds! And since they are evergreen and very contemporary, I always avoid using the cliched ‘yesteryear’ in their context.
The sixties were the years of transition of film songs from the classical carnatic to the mass modern music called ‘mellisai’. And the Visvanathan-Ramamurthy duo were the pioneers of this shift. Of course, their mastery of the old form was the foundation but they intelligently fused their basic strengths with latest trends and let loose a virtual revolution in film music. The flood of lilting songs that they unleashed in those years has not ebbed from our collective memories till date. Ramamurthy’s orchestration skills are the stuff of music legend and were the launching pad for many a super hit. Still, he and his tribe of composers would unhesitatingly and without ego hassles mute themselves to allow the lyric and singer to take centrestage, unlike the ones of today who often drown out every other aspect of a song in a cacophony of sounds. That the duo parted at their peak with Aayirathil Oruvan, a musical block-buster, is still the most regretted tragedy in film history. While MSV continued to flourish, Ramamurthy sadly faded away after a few films.
PB Sreenivas was not just a singer but a consummate music scholar. His knowledge was in-depth and first-hand owing to his research mindset. His student-like eagerness to learn explained his humility. It was a lifetime obsession that kept him going even long after his voice vanished from modern frequencies. He was devout and a multi-lingual who could compose lyrics and set them to tune on his own, singing being just one of his facets. Yet it is only as a singer that he is known. In fact, his renderings in Tamil number only a few hundreds, but many would last for all time for their sheer silken finesse. His output is actually a poor measure of his real skill just as his simple demeanor was a deceptive cover for his profound worth.
The metallic timbre of TMS and the cotton-wool texture of PBS were the prime playbacks to which megastars of the time like MGR, Sivaji and Gemini lip-synced. The two diametrically different voices had come together in quite a few songs too and the result had always been a double treat of scintillating contrasts. Their voices stood out sans any props. TMS never needed the aid of stereo effects to boom across the spectrum or a separate track to rise above the orchestra. Nor did PBS require noise cancelling apparatus to croon softly and still be heard distinctly. When they sang our hearts did the hearing! There was something about those voices that transcended technology and touched the soul.
Though uniqueness was their forte, there were some dampeners. All of those musical greats had to remain in the background, away from limelight in the prime of their time for various reasons. In a State where political polarisations were stark, these artistes – singers, lyricists and composers – were actually common contributors to both opposing ends of the ego divide. They always had to guard against a mis-step that could cost them their careers in a touchy, forgetful industry. Again, they had to forego their own personalities and preferences to cater to the larger-than-life images of the mega heroes and the fancies of their fanatic followers. Perhaps ironically, it was this personal suppression and limited space that made them churn out such great numbers with a vengeance, so that at least posterity could salvage their identities from the stranglehold of the stars.
The absence of an all-pervading entertainment news media, as now, also enhanced their physical anonymity. Though I think it added to their mystique, it is possible that some feel a pang at being denied their well-deserved due when it mattered most. More so when they see rank novices and one-minute wonders strutting around in all pomp 24/7 and waxing eloquent on petty ‘performances’. But I, for one, would prefer to enjoy my pet past masters and the passions they evoke in perfect privacy, far away from the puerile mediocrity and din on parade.
Indeed, the secret mental archives of legions of connoisseurs is the best stage for them to linger and be listened too. For, they were a class apart.
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