Tamil filmdom has the distinction of creating and nurturing some of the greatest artistic talents ever. But it also has the selfish habit of appropriating them wholly. The lure and lucre that cinema offer have kept many a genius away from the larger canvas that they deserve. Their struggle for a living and recognition in their early days also clinched the case for cinema. The MSs, MLVs etc achieved classical status only because they made bold to break out of the movie mould, even at the risk of financial insecurity. But to most, in a film-crazed, star-dazed State like TN the celluloid was the surest bet for an aspiring singer, lyricist or writer. In fact, always and of late particularly, many prolific novel and short story writers and classical singers are getting into cinema to make good the lost time and money. Fair enough.
Poet Vaali’s potential as a Tamil litterateur was phenomenal. His extensive and intricate knowledge of the scriptures and Tamil literature apart, he was very widely read on a range of subjects. Yet, all of this found outlet predominantly in cinema. His works outside of the silver screen get easily washed away by the deluge of movie songs that he unleashed in over fifty years. The man who was capable of invoking the Supreme on par with some of the ancient saints, however, will be remembered for launching the political careers of super heroes or popularising prevailing fads. Of course, Vaali consciously chose this path and, like Kannadasan, it was late in life that he ventured into serious non-film works.
But Vaali did make up for his sacrifice of other avenues by exploiting film music to the maximum to showcase his infinite talent. His huge reportoire of knowledge, constant updation of current trends and jargons and vast vocabulary skill ensured that he remained relevant and in demand till death. In a way Vaali’s lyrics over the decades is a poetic chronicle of the times in TN. They reflect the evolution of politics, society, literature, poetry, the newsmakers, Tamil language and its various dialects and the generational shifts in popular culture. He was a wise witness who watched the world around him and captured its wonders and woes in winsome words and verse.
Vaali was versatile and quick-witted. His songs spanned extremes. He can be profound and he can be profane. He can preach lofty ideologies and in the same breath plunge to the petty. He can exude class and effortlessly cross over to the crass. He can bring out the classical connoisseur in you with his poetic flourishes and also make you squirm in salacious delight with smutty offerings. For every chaste song there was a licentious counterpart; I suspect the latter outnumbered the former. There are songs that you can listen along with your whole family and there are those that you can’t hear even in the company of your spouse or best friend. This genius was the author of many memorable songs; and most of the outrageous ones too emanated from his fertile brain!
Vaali’s sense of humour and flair for punchlines was notorious. His pallavis (opening lines) were catchy and arresting. He always had an extra word or line on hand if a change was warranted. He often employed colloquialisms, limerical lines, other lingos and even plain gibberish without qualms or guilt. English and its slangs particularly found liberal use in his songs. So how would he have expressed his own death? ‘Vaali’ kicks the bucket?
Vaali was a fun guy who regaled all around him. In all, it was a joyous journey, to him and to those who listened or read him. So, let’s say three Muqqalas to him, whatever it means.
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