A perennial classic in the sphere of Tamil film songs is ‘Kaatriniley Varum Geetham’ based on the Sindhubhairavi raga.It is sung by the nightingale of India MS Subbulakshmi in the film ‘Meera’ where she plays the title role.This song was a favourite of one of my aunts who would be singing snatches from it frequently. As a kid I used to tease her by bursting into this song as soon as I saw her but with the passage of time the song cast a magical spell on me too.
I have been fortunate in seeing the film on the big screen twice and several times on the small screen through DVD.Gradually I became more aware of its finer points and learnt to appreciate the songs more.
QUEEN OF SONG
Madurai Shanmugavadivu Subbulakshmi known as MS Subbulakshmi or more popularly as ‘MS’was a sublime singer who ruled the Indian classical music world for over five decades.Blessed with a divine voice,immeasurable talent and ethereal beauty she captivated the hearts and minds of innumerable fans.
Former Indian premier Jawaharlal Nehru once paid her a compliment saying ‘Who am I a mere Prime minister before the queen of song’?
During her illustrious career MS Subbulakshmi acted in four movies. The most famous and successful one of the four was ‘Meera’ about the Rajput princess Meerabai who was an ardent devotee of Lord Krishna and sang many devotional bhajans in praise of him. Meera produced in 1945 was directed by the american Ellis.R.Dungan and is regarded as one of the 100 best Indian films produced in a century.
“Kaatriniley Varum Geetham” Sung By MS Subbulakshmi In “Meera”
Almost every song in Meera was a hit but the most famous of them all was ‘Kaatriniley Varum Geetham’.It is a solo and picturised on MS Subbulakshmi herself whose appearance,diction, poise and rendition makes the song an immortal number.There is no doubt that this song is one of the highlights of the movie.
The music score for the film was composed by the legendary SV Venkatraman called SVV.The music for some songs were his original compositions while tunes popular in North India were used for others. According to ‘Vaamanan’ the reputed chronicler of Tamil film music, the original inspiration for Katriniley varum geetham was from ‘Loot Gaye’sung by Juthika Roy the well known Bengali singer of Meera bhajans and other classical songs.
Apparently MS Subbulakshmi and her enterprising husband T.Sathasivam were planning to bring out some Meera bhajan gramophone records and had already recorded some songs in this regard. Well known Editor of the Tamil ‘Kalki’magazine ,‘Kalki’R. Krishnamoorthy had been enamoured of the melody of the song sung by Juthika Roy and used to hum it often.
Since Krishnamoorthy was associated with Sathasivam in the ‘Kalki’venture and was a close family friend ,MS wanted him to write words in Tamil for the Juthika Roy Bengali song . Kalki Krishnamoorthy did so and the song Kaatriniley Varum Geetham was born. The song was sung by MS and duly recorded but the gramaphone disc was not released.
Subsequently a decision was reached by Sathasivam and Subbulakshmi to produce Meera as a film and this song was to be used for it. When SVV took over music composition he was given the recording of Katriniley as sung exactly by MS to the tune of the number by Juthika Roy.
Venkstraman however refined the melody utilising Carnatic musical connotations from the Sindhubhairavi raga. The classical music exponent and columnist Charulatha Mani refers to Kaatriniley varum Geetham as one of the exemplary depictions of Sindhubhairavi raga in film music.
The song picturised on MS as Meera was shot on location in what is known today as the state of Rajasthan. A royal mansion on the outskirts of Jaipur and a garden with ponds and fountains near a palace in Udaipur served as settings for shooting scenes for the song. Jiten Bannerjee was the cinematographer.
One may observe when viewing the you tube of this song that MS Subbulakshmi is clearly seen singing out the words in some shots while in others she walks without any lip movement. The song is heard in the background. This is because originally the entire song was shot in Jaipur but later scenes of Meerabai walking along the gardens of Udaipur were shot and included. Hence this variance.
CLOSE UP SHOTS
An impressive feature of this black and white film Meera released in 1945 are the captivating close up shots of MS Subbulakshmi in this song and in many other scenes. The camera angles and lighting help bring out perfectly the beauty, moods and expressions of the heroine’s remarkable facial features. For this Ellis Dungan and Bannerjee made a replica bust of Subbulakshmi’s face and experimented with it shooting from many angles and lighting shades. This helped to shoot MS in the actual film scenes.
MS Subbulakshmi’s face is elegantly portrayed in the close up shots as she sings with emotion and passion. Her striking eyes sparkle with expression. She gently moves her face from side to side as she sings out from her heart. Even as she sways the viewer also sways in harmony enraptured by the singing.
Another interesting aspect of the picturisation of the song is that the sequences are shot in daylight. However some lines in the verses refer specifically to the night.One is ‘Vaana veliyinil Thaaraa kanangal’(Hordes of stars in the spatial skies) and the other ‘Nilaa malarntha Iravinil Thendral Ulaavvidum Nadhiyil’(The breeze moving cross the river during the night where the moon blossoms).The former line is shown simply in daylight but the latter one is illustrated by an inserted image of a moon lit sky.
The lyricist Kalki Krishnamoorthy was a well known Editor and creative writer well known for his articles, short stories,reviews and novels. Though he wrote poetry occasionally it was not regarded as his forte by readers. The Kaatriniley varum geetham song however was a noteworthy effort that marked Kalki’s prowess in this sphere too.
The song is no doubt a paean to Lord Krishna but it is an ode to music also. The power of the geetham or song is described in many ways by the lyricist such as ‘ripens stone into fruit’(kallum kaniyum)’makes dead trees sprout(patta marangal thulirkkum) ‘entrancing listening Jungle animals’(Kaattu Vilangugal Kaette mayangum) etc.
As stated earlier this is a song that continues to be a source of aesthetic pleasure in many modes to me. I do hope that those of you who can appreciate songs of this type will enjoy this pleasure along with me.
And now let me take leave and let the winds carry the song ‘Kaatriniley Varum Geetham’ to you and hopefully make you as happy as it makes me.
D.B.S.Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org