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Govarthanam ♫ The unsung maestro of Tamil Cinema Music

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by Vamanan

(R.Govardhanam passed away in Salem,Tamil Nadu on Sep 18th 2017)

R Govardhanam was neither an M S Viswanathan nor a K V Mahadevan in prolificacy of melodies, but it was the tacit conviction among Tamil film music connoisseurs that he was an equally gifted composer who came up with entrancing songs. Some, like sound engineer Sampath who was his colleague in AVM Studio, put down the scarceness of opportunities to plain ill luck, while his musical colleague and competitor MSV blamed it on his plain appearance. “One could mistake him for an accountant in a provision store,” MSV once remarked. Looks apart, the fact remains that Govardhanam was a fiend with notes — he had only to give ear to a piece of music before he poured out the notes in all their profusion.

R Kovarthanam (Feb 21, 1918 – Sept 18, 2017)

Govardhanam’s father had been an accountant in a grocery store, though he was a musician too. Govardhanam’s elder brother, R Sudarshanam had joined Gubbi Veeranna’s troupe and then worked in film music orchestras before helming one himself in AVM Studio and its gramophone record wing, Saraswathi Stores. It was while accompanying his elder brother to a recording, that 10-year-old Govardhanam’s natural proclivity of deciphering music had suddenly burst out in full bloom. After this, during a song recording, Nadaswaram exponent, Tiruvavadudurai Rajarathinam had played his beloved ‘todi’ to the boy and been astounded by the latter’s swiftness in scanning the raga’s notational contours.

The Sudarsanam-Govardhanam duo were known to score the background music for alternate reels of AVM’s film projects aiming at fast completion, but films like ‘Jathakam’ (1953) and ‘Orey Vazhi’ (1959) saw the younger brother wielding the musical baton on his own.

Kanum kanum pesiyathum ~ Kairasi

‘Kairasi’ (1960) brought out the best in Govardhanam, with its limpid melodies brimming forth sweetly with lyrical intimations of love and romance. Even MSV was inspired by ‘Kaathirundhen Kaathirundhen’ to hone a melody of the same hue in ‘Athai Madi Methai Adi’. But even a sleeper hit like ‘Kairasi’ did not wake up Govardhanam’s luck as an individual composer though he was going great guns assisting the Viswanathan Ramamurthy duo in their most fecund and magical years.

Sivagami mahanidam (pattinathil Bhootham)

Captivating melodies seemed to flow out of his imagination in matchless profusion in the colourful extravaganza ‘Pattanathil Bhootham’ (1967). Whether it be a ghazal-like romantic number (Andha Sivakami Maganidam), or a competition song that must flow through the comic to the romantic to the sentimental (Ulagathil Sirandhadhu Edhu) or a poignant number (Kannile Kandadhellaam Kaatchiyaa), Govardhanam measures up to his melody like a master.

Anbulla Athan vanakkam (Kairasi)

‘Pattanathil Bhootham’ can be considered the acme of Govardhanam’s career, but even the success of the film did not do much for him as a music director. He did a handful of more films but rather than waiting for films on his own, he found it easier to work for other music directors who knew his accomplishments and respected him on that score. His half-a-century of work was admired so much among film musicians that he became something of a mascot for new music directors.

In his last years, he had lost his eyesight as well as his hearing, but ploughed a lonely furrow with his devoted wife because of his sense of independence. He had lost his will to live and his passing at his house after a few days of illness has perhaps freed him into the realms of music that he knew so intimately.

(The writer is a historian of Tamil film music and author of books on Tamil cinema)

courtesy: Times of India

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