recited by: Arvind Swamy
uDal maNNukku tells the tale of how Anandam (unofficially representing M.G.R. in Mani Ratnam's fictional universe) in Iruvar becomes a star. Like the previous two songs dissected so far on this blog, this poetic recital comes from within a 'mousetrap'-ed film ("Veeraprathaban"). But unlike the other two, this is the first song to carry interesting political connotations (that reach their climax in the magnificent 'aayirathil naan oruvan' song.)
Note that MGR's first success as 'hero' came in the 1947 Rajakumari, written by one M.Karunanidhi.
After suffering the ignominy of seeing his first film as hero shut down due to financial trouble, Anandan has finally found new hope in a historical. This is also a good time to introduce his good friend Tamilchelvan to films. In addition to being a budding political activist, he also writes commanding prose and poetry. Given the situation by the director ("a brave Tamil revolutionary has to rescue a kidnapped 'rajakumari'"), Tamilchelvan starts to pen his lyrics. We switch to the picturised song and end with great applause and adulatory mayhem in the cinema theatres.
In what is more of a recitation than a conventional song, the arrangements are extremely spare, with just a string section (violins mainly) accompanying a deep string swipe. Briefly punctuated by strong percussions and "fight" music, the staccato melody returns with choral accompaniment. This provides a perfectly belligerent mood to the on-screen action.
I don't think the music references any work of that period, and in that sense is quite different from the other songs in the album which at their core had elements reflecting the times.
Perhaps the kindest explanation of why Arvind Swamy provides the voice for this song (and another lyrical narration later) is that Mani Ratnam saw him as some sort of lucky mascot, what with both of his previous Ratnam appearances turning into hits. Swamy's diction is poor in places (jarring for a song that significantly extols Tamil chauvinism via its lyrics) and his voice tends to get hoarse at the end. Perhaps lyricist Vairamuthu could have taken the mantle upon himself for these songs?
Though the music does not seem to make any explicit allusions to the age, this is not the case with the lyrics. The lines "uDal maNNukku, uyir tamizhukku" (body for the Tamil soil, life for Tamil itself) was a major clarion call during the 60s. The DMK used it as a rallying phrase in their anti-Hindi protests, so this is a politically loaded phrase. The rest of the lyrics invoke an ominous gravity through the choice of words, a hallmark of DMK writers epitomised by M. Karunanidhi.
You could, therefore, interpret the song as an example of how the politically active film-men of the times wrote with two objectives in mind: one, meeting the ostensible goals of the screenplay, but importantly, two, of creating material that would have a life outside the theatre. Each chant in this song invokes Tamil pride and the determination of those 'revolutionaries' who thought themselves as its protectors in the face of the northern imposition.
The song presents several set-pieces from the historical movies of those times: horseback hero wielding cutlasses fighting off enemy soldiers; sceneries involving chains and bells and ropes; the hapless belle waiting to be rescued; stylised fighting (we saw this right upto the nineties!). In B&W, this song introduces Ramani (Gowthami) in the film, ending with the leads being overwhelmed by the huge reaction of the crowds to what has become a massive hit. Anandan is now a bona fide star.
1. The chapter on The Anti-Hindi Agitation in Vaasanthi's book "Cut-outs, Caste and Cine Stars"
2. I can't seem to find any lyrics online
Next post: 'Hello, Mr. Ethirkatchi'
Previous post: 'Poo KoDiyin Punnagai'