As a school kid growing up in Chennai in the mid 90s, I had two temptations that were incredibly hard to resist. One was soft drinks. Pepsi and Coca Cola fought tooth and nail with one another to increase my glucose levels. The second temptation was to even harder to resist – to engage in spirited, though ultimately meaningless, debates on the quality of AR Rahman’s music. It sounded different. But were the outputs of his keyboard better than the magic of the maestro’s harmonium? Much money was squandered on audio cassettes (they existed, I promise!) and much valuable time was spent away from differential equations and organic chemistry! Amidst all this was a music director named Vidyasagar that caught my attention. Hmm, scratch that. Amidst all this was a song – the marvelous melody, “Malare Mounama…” – that made people pause during their heated Raja vs. Rahman conversations. I remember listening to this song on Sun TV, then learning that the movie’s name was Karnaa and then finding out that the man that mesmerized me with this beautiful composition was Vidyasagar. But the best part was that just when I thought that this man might find it very difficult to surpass the peak that he had scaled with “Malare…”, he proved me wrong. Time and again.
I bought the audio cassette of Karnaa and played it so often that batteries for my walkman needed a separate line item in our household budget! As lovely a song as “Malare…” was, I realized that I equally enjoyed the “Puththam Pudhu Desam” number in the same album. I was recently listening to “Puththam Pudhu…” and was stunned by how this song was catchy and melodious at the same time. Sung by two greats SPB and S Janaki, this song starts off sounding like a catchy duet but by the time it gets to the charanam, Vidyasagar has seamlessly transformed it into a melody, only to soar again with the “kaadhal endru sonnaal…” bit. Karnaa did fairly well and he got a few subsequent offers in Tamil.
But an unfortunate, unwritten rule in Tamil cinema has been to stick to a nonexistent correlation between the success of a movie and the worth of a technician. And so, a slew of box office failures meant that Vidyasagar had to find work in Malayalam and other languages outside of Tamil. While I have heard anecdotally of his stellar work in Malayalam, I had rarely listened to any of his non Tamil language songs. It was with his fantastic work in Snehithiye (2000) that he well and truly resurfaced in Tamil movies. (Thank you, Priyadarshan!) And for close to a decade, he went from strength to strength, working in many commercially successful, critically praised movies with good directors, big stars and most importantly meaningful stories (Anbe Sivam, to cite one example) that gave him tremendous impetus to come up with some delightful tunes.
It is rather sad that, again, the box office fate of some of his movies in the past few years have meant that he is rarely seen – heard, to be more precise – in Tamil anymore. I can only hope that, true to his name, he gets opportunities to showcase his oceanic knowledge of music. I wish that filmmakers, with an eye for melody, don’t turn a blind eye to his abilities. Alas, this might just a plea yelled out in a vacuum. But the fact that I felt a strong, inexplicable need to record my lament is really the result of all the pleasure that his music has given me. It pains me that I need to go back in time, instead of enjoying newer pleasures that his music is fully capable of gifting listeners. For now, I will leave you with a dozen of my favorite Vidyasagar songs.
Sincere thanks to all the youtube video owners. Be warned – the visuals don’t always stack up to the aural delights! So, I have assigned a picturization score for the songs - let's call it PS. On a scale of 1-5, 1 signifies an eye sore and 5 denotes a visual delight.
1. "Malare Mounama" from Karnaa (PS - 3)
2. “Puththam Puthu Desam” from Karnaa (PS - 1)
3. “Thaamara Poovukum” from Pasumpon (PS - 3)
4. “Vennilave Vellai Poove” from Sengottai (PS - 1)
5. “Devadhai Vamsam” from Snehithiye (PS - 5)
6. “Kadhal Vandhadhum” from Poovellam Un Vaasam (PS - 4)
7. “Theradi Veedhiyil” from Run (PS - 4)
8. “Poo Vaasam” from Anbe Sivam (PS - 5)
9. “Aalanguyil” from Parthiban Kanavu (PS - 5)
10. “Sudum Nilavu” from Thambi (PS - 3)
11. “La La La” from Poi (PS - 3)
12. “Kaatrin Mozhi” from Mozhi (PS - 5)