TMS – The Voice of Tamil Falls Silent

TMS-586x355TM Soundararajan (TMS), the inimitable voice of MGR and ‘Sivaji’ Ganesan, Tamil cinema’s giants, as well as other heroes down the years since the 1950s, passed away on May 25.

He was 91 and is survived by his wife, two sons and a daughter. Had he been able sung to communicate on that day, he would probably have sung, “En neram nerungi vittadhu.” After all, this was the man who sang philosophic numbers, devotional songs and duets with a gusto unheard of, since he first burst on the scene in 1950 with the song “Radhe nee enna vittu pogadha dee.”

Born in the Saurashtrian community in Madurai , his arrival also coincided with the turning point in Tamil cinema, when hero-centric films were being made. It was also the time when Dravidian politics was at a nascent stage, and film songs – released weeks ahead of a movie’s release- were an important vehicle of carrying socialist messages, apart from creating an expectation over the film itself. Until the arrival of SPB, TMS’ voice had a monopolistic rein over tinsel town. He created a marked distinction in his rendition when singing for MGR and ‘Sivaji’, much to everyone’s satisfaction. In the 1990s, when he and P Susheela performed in Muscat, Oman, to a capacity crowd, I asked him how he managed to make the distinction between the two heroes. ” I sing from the throat for MGR films, and for ‘Sivaji’ I tighten my stomach muscles. It needed a lot of practice, but I am glad fans have noticed the difference,” he said.

The state government, the film fraternity and politicians have been paying their tribute to this unmatched singer. Here are a few more :

Pianist Anil Srinivasan : His was the first voice that registered for a certain generation-be it devotional or romantic ballads. In fact, close to four generations have been affected by TMS’ voice. Many of songs like ‘Malarndum malaradha (from Paasa Malar) are iconic in Tamil cinema literature, and regardless of whether the music director was KV Mahadevan, Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy or anyone else, the hit songs those days were a combo of the singer and the song. One feature of his voice is that it was a bit of a nascent rant, and a lot of people started copying that style of singing until SPB established a more rounded style. In that sense, TMS also created a genre by himself.

Director Bharathirajaa : Tamils all over the world were entertained for over 50 years by a ‘kuyil’-and that ‘kuyil’ was TMS. It was like a lullaby for the masses. He was like a university, taking the nuances of the Tamil language through his music to all strata of society. I am deeply saddened by his passing away.

P Susheela : I am still in a state of shock over his death and feel bad that I away from Chennai when he passed away. Who hasn’t listened to ‘Malardum Malaradha’ song, and not be moved by it? It must be among the world’s most popular songs. I have done countless duets with him, and that is part of our cinematic history.

Vani Jayaram : I was shocked by the news of death and was the first to arrive in his Mandaveli house. You see, last year he was unwell and admitted at Kaliappa (Billroth) Hospital. His daughter informed me that he was almost in a coma and was not recognizing anyone. I had carried a picture of Lord Muruga which I placed near him. Then I sang some of his devotional songs. After ten minutes or so, he opened his eyes and looked at the picture. I continued singing, and after a few minutes he slowly joined me. His entire family was astounded and hapy. How I wish I could have done something similar this year too. You see I had grown up, listening to his songs, and his pristine pronunciation of the Tamil language. In fact, I recently told him that I was unable to sleep at night because we were playing his philosophical numbers at home at night, and he laughed. He was a very good friend, apart from being a colleague and I still marvel at how he was never off-key even once, singing at a time when music and technology were near strangers to each other. He was a giant among musicians and the Padma Sri award was too small a recognition for a singer of his stature.

Subasree Thanikachalam: It is hard to define that Tamil was not his mother tongue, because he was the reference for diction in Tamil. Totally masculine and vast, his voice was best suited for all emotions. If we are writhing in pain with ‘Enge Nimmadhi’ , he can soothe you with ‘Yaar andha Nilavu’ and amaze you with the sangathis in ‘Vasantha Mullai’. MGR and Sivaji were contemporaries and they had only one voice to represent them-TMS. Just by listening to the audio one can make out whether it’s a Sivaji or MGR film. Across Tamil Nadu, many Murugan temples play his songs only because till date there is no replacement for ‘ullam urugudhaiya’. Singers in light music troupes could survive only if they imitated TMS those days. His songs will remain the dictionary reference for many aspects, for all aspiring singers.

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