Less-celebrated Music Composers of Malayalam Cinema with big chartbuster hits
While you listen to nostalgic songs like ‘Ekantha Chandrike’ or ‘Olichirikkaan Vallikudil’, have you ever thought who composed such memorable tunes? I know, names flashing in your thoughts might be Johnson, Raveendran, Bombay Ravi, Ouseppachan, Shyam, Devarajan, M. G. Radhakrishnan, Mohan Sithara. etc who gave lion share contribution to Malayalam cinema music. But answer is ‘none of them’.
Yes, there are plenty of such gems in Malayalam music, which form an integral part of a normal Malayali’s life. But if someone ask, who is behind this tune, we may fail to answer correctly. They might have done very less projects, but include some of the best songs of Malayalam. Unfortunately, there are many such gifted artists not only in Malayalam cinema, but also in other languages, despite being so talented, never received appreciation or work which they truly deserved. Such unsung heroes slowly fade from our memory and slowly disappear too. This post is a humble tribute to such legends.
Kannur Rajan – Popular for songs of Chithram & Ninnistham Ennishtam
He composed songs for around 50 films. But people know him only through chartbusters of Chithram and the evergreen track, “Ilam Manjin Kulirumayoru” composed for tragic love story, Ninnistham Ennishtam. In fact, Chithram also had an anti-climax.
Vardhakya Puranam, Vadhu Doctoranu, Kanyakumariyil Oru Kavitha, Katturumbinu Kathukuthu, Ayiram Chirakulla Moham etc are a few more works. Yet none of them can beat the beauty of his tunes like “Ilam Manjin Kulirumayoru“, “Doore Kizhakkudikkum”,”Paadam Pootha Kaalam” or “Eeran Megham” he composed in the 1980s. Two semi-classical songs from the film Chithram – ‘Nagumo’ and’ Swaminaatha’ are truly wonderful. He passed away at the age of 55 following a heart attack while he was working on the film, ‘Kokkarakko‘.
Reghu Kumar – Popular for songs of Thalavattam
When we have talked about Mohanlal’s blockbuster Chithram, let’s talk about another musical hit, Thalavattam – once again a Mohanlal movie with tragic end, directed by Priyadarshan again. Pon Veene and Koottil Ninnum – These songs with a nostalgic touch is included in the playlist of every Malayali’s favourites. He also composed for several Mohanlal popular films like Hello My Dear Wrong Number, Maya Mayuram, Cheppu, Boeing Boeing and Aryan.
Shyama and Aram + Aram = Kinnaram are other memorable works. Reghu Kumar worked with Priyadarshan in some of his early hits, Thalavattam being the most memorable association. He passed away on 20 February 2014 due to kidney failure, aged 60.
Raghunath Seth – Popular for songs of Aranyakam
Whenever Raghunath Seth’s name is taken, we can’t avoid his famous work, Aranyakam. The nostalgic songs, ‘Olichirikkan’ and ‘Aathmavil Mutti Vilichathu Pole’ are not easy to forget. It’s his single work for any Malayalam film as far as I know. He has recorded many songs with stalwarts of Hindi film music. He left his fingerprint as an exponent of Hindustani classical music and flautist. Pandit Raghunath Seth was a recipient of Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and many other honours. He scored music for around 2000 documentary films and many television serials.
He is famous for making many breakthroughs in the technique of flute making and playing. Apart from adding an 8th hole, he added a bamboo key to his flute, which helped him to play many phrases which was impossible before. He also taught many students. He passed away in 2014, in Mumbai, at the age of 83.
S. Balakrishnan – Popular for songs of Siddique-Lal ventures
Right from the debut movie, Siddique-Lal combo worked with the newcomer for 4 out of 5 movies they directed together. All those movies were superhits and the songs were instant hits too. Ramji Rao Speaking (1989), In Harihar Nagar (1990), Godfather (1991) and Vietnam Colony (1992) are those films. S. Balakrishnan also tuned songs of Mazhavilkoodaram & Ishtamaanu Nooruvattam.
Though he got a magical start in Mollywood, his career deteriorated with mid-1990s, and he couldn’t recreate the same magic. He passed away in 2019, and was not active in last 2 decades, except a very few albums. Read more about S. Balakrishnan here.
Perumbavoor G. Raveendranath – Best known for the songs of Thoovanathumbikal and Innale
He is associated with two of Padmarajan classics – Thoovanathumbikal and Innale. “Megham Poothu Thudangi” and “Onnam Raagam Paadi” of Thoovanathumbikal, & “Kannil Nin Meyyil” & “Nee Vin Poo Pol” of Innale are regarded as timeless classics. In fact Perumbavoor G. Raveendranath won state award for best music composer for Innale.
Though he has tuned many popular film songs, he is best known as a Carnatic musician and vocalist. He worked in only very few films as a music composer. He teamed up with Yesudas and released several devotional albums in Malayalam for Tharangani studio in the 1990s and later. Perariyaathoru Nombarathe from Sneham is yet another popular song, sung by Yesudas. He composed music for Ayalathe Adheham, Aksharam, Thandavam, Vasudha, Post Box No. 27, Chitrasalabham, Alanchery Thambrakkal and a few other films.
R. K. Shekhar – Popular for songs of Chottanikkara Amma
Majority of his active years, R. K. Shekhar worked under different music composers, especially M. K. Arjunan. When his independent career just had a flying start, death took him away at the age of 43. Extra work without rest made him ill, and he died comparatively at a young age. As a music composer, he is credited with 22 movies. He created his masterpiece tune in his dead bed, Manasu manasinte kaathil for Chottanikkara Amma (1976). His debut song, Chotta muthal chudala vare for Pazzassi Raja (1964) was immensely popular. Though he got a good break in 1964, he preferred to concentrate on what he was doing till then – arranging and conducting for other composers.
To add, his son is world famous musician and composer, A. R. Rahman, who faced a lot of hardships during his childhood because of untimely death of R. K. Shekhar. Read biography of this great musician & arranger here.
Vidyadharan Master – Popular for ‘Kalpanthakalatholam’ & many other hits
We can’t fully categorize Vidyadharan Master under forgotten names. He composed very few albums, but many of his songs are memorable. Evergreen classic ‘Kalpanthakalatholam’ from Ente Gramam sung by Yesudas can be counted first. “Chandanam Manakkunna” from Achuvettante Veedu, “Paaduvaanaay Vannu” from Ezhuthaappurangal, “Vinninte Virimaaril” from Ashtapadi and “Swapnangalokkeyum Panku Vaikkaam” from Kaanan Kothichu are some of the popular songs composed by Vidyadharan Master. Some of his film albums include – Veena Poovu, Utharam, Radha Madhavam, Aanachantham, Padamudra etc.
Deepan Chatterji – Popular for songs of Kakkakuyil
Deepan Chatterjee was a National award-winning sound engineer and music composer, who worked as a recording assistant of legendary Bollywood composer R. D. Burman between 1970 and 1994, throughout his peak years till his death. He composed songs for Wanted (2004) and Kakkakuyil (2001), both starring Mohanlal, which became popular in the mid-2000s. He composed the item song, ‘Govinda Govinda’ featuring Swetha Menon and also ‘Paadaam Vanamaali‘ in Kakkakuyil, and both were dance sequences.
Many of his students like Justin Jose (of Bahubali fame), M. R. Rajakrishnan and Udaykumar are established names in Indian film industry now. As a sound engineer, he frequently worked with Priyadarshan in different language films. Read biography of this sound engineer here.
End note: Pukazhenthi, who composed music for Bhagyamudra, Muthalali and Moonu Pookkal, Chandran Veyattummal, who composed BGM & music for Bioscope, music for Njan Steve Lopez, Bombay Mittai & Drishtantham; Afzal Yusuf who composed music for Chandranilekulla Vazhi, Bombay March 12, Immanuel, Ithu Pathiramanal, God For Sale are a few more names which deserve mention.