18th July is the death anniversary of Poet Vaali. Born as T. S. Rangarajan, Vaali is one of the best lyricists in the history of Tamil Cinema. Popularly termed as Vaaliba Kavignar meaning The Youth Poet has ruled the industry for decades and generations. He is my all-time favourite lyricist. What makes Vaali so unique than the other lyricists is his update. Yes, he wrote lyrics for the youth, and the beauty is that it was not the youth of one particular generation but rather the youth of various generations.
When he was introduced Kannadasan was ruling the industry. His lyrics and wordplay were fresh to the audience. It was tough for few to differentiate the songs of Vaali from that of Kannadasan at times, that was the standard he gave to his songs. He knows to write for the tune and can find the best words for the particular tune. His works stood apart during the tornado of Kannadasan. He stood steadily during the reign of Vairamuthu, His work was still fresh in the age of Madhan Karky. That’s the beauty and uniqueness of Vaali.
So in this post, I would like to share some of the songs of the Vaali and what made them unique. By this list, you can see very well why he is called as Vaaliba Kavignar aka The Youth Poet.
Karpagam(1963): One of the early success of Vaali came from this movie. Athai Madi methayadi song is one of my all-time favourite songs. I have always wondered that in the Tamil culture the Athai(paternal aunt) plays a major role and I am unable to find any other song explaining it better. It is always his choice of words that makes it unique, simple and closely relatable.
Then he wrote lyrics to many of the MGR films and he has a keen role in building the image for MGR as the saviour of the poor. When one talks about the songs of MGR it is impossible to miss the song Naan Aanayittal from Enga Veetu Pillai. The image of MGR with the whip in the hand and subtle reference of portraying him as a symbol of downtrodden has reached crores of people. Vaali’s lyrics added the much-needed flavour and tone to the song to make a symbol. I consider this movie to be one of the best commercial movie ever made. You can see the review of the movie in Sylvianism.
Another song which crafted the image of MGR as a person who never moves away from the duty is Moondrezhuthil en moochirukkum from Deivathaai.
Ethir Neechal was a movie about an Orphan who lives under stairs (nope, it’s definitely not the story of Harry Potter) and struggles in life and swims against the tides. The movie was written and directed by K. Balachander starring Nagesh as the protagonist. The movie has the energy pumpimg Vetri Venduma potu paarada ethir neechal, classic love song namely Thamarai Kannangal but my favourite is Sethi Ketto, which is made in a funny tone of mixing the languages of Tamil and Malayalam. This song shows the versatility of the lyricist. This song is an example to show that he can write beautiful lyrics with any number of constraints.
His love for Kannan is very much known and this song is one of my favourites. All the songs in the movie were written by vaali, yes Kettela ange the high beat was also written by Vaali but this song of Kannan oru kai kuzhandai stood tall among the others. This is one of the best from the combo of Ilayaraja and Vaali.
As time changed the music changed, for the changing tunes it was tough for many lyricists of the previous generation to sustain. The 80s saw the rise of new actors and a fresh approach to the movies. This was the period where Rajnikanth, Kamal Hassan and others came into prominence. He wrote lyrics to various songs which included Mandram Vantha thendralukku from Mouna Ragam, Valayosai Kala Kala from Sathya and the list goes on.
During the year of 1989, he wrote the song Unna nenachen for the movie Apoorva Sagothararkal. The music was composed by Ilayaraja. Kamal Hassan was not satisfied with the lyrics for this particular and it had to rewritten around 6 times before the final version. This song remains one of the best songs of the combo all time.
Another Gem of a song is from the movie Agni Natchathiram, Ninnukori Varnam. This just shows the excellence in the wordplay.
Now, all the above songs are considered to be classics and one cannot neglect these songs. Apart from these songs, what made Vaali unique is the way to update himself to the period. Bringing the words from other language has to be done with flair and Vaali just excels in it. Be it Love Birds or Oh Butterfly he just nails what attracts the youth.
Mukkala Mukkabula, became a national sensation. One can easily say that it is one of those early songs that transcended the language barrier and became a national hit for its funky tune and funkier lyrics with great dance. Yes, this song came during the year 1994 when there was no youtube and other social media it became viral all over the country. He knew the pulses of the youth of every generation. This was just another example.
In the movie Kadhalar Dhinam, he wrote the song Oh Maria, This song is a path-breaking one. He included the modern terms of the internet, email in his lyrics. He brought in the modern words to be included in the lyrics. Also in the movie Dheena, he wrote a song named Kadhal website ondru. Yes, these were written by a Man in his 70s. He wrote the song Sollamal thottu sellum goes on explaining the toughest period of a guy who is waiting for an answer from a girl.
If you think these are not modern enough then here comes some of the songs that puts youth into shame. I would like to mention two songs in here from the movie Boys(2003). Secret of Success and Maro Maro. Yes, these songs are written when he was at his 70s.
So, as the generations passed, he got younger and younger. His youthful lyrics were also growing and at the same time, he gave us classics like Kallai Mattum Kandal from Dasavatharam. The wordplay in this song is just awesome. The character of Rangaraja nambi played by Kamal Hassan is staunch vaishnavite in this movie and this song sequence shows his philosophy to see beyond the stones. In this, there come these lines “Rajalakshmi Nayagan Srinivasan thaan, Srinivasan seikindra Vishnu dasan naan“. Which translates as I am a staunch Vishnu follower, the son of Rajalakshmi and Srinivasan. These are the names of the actor’s real-life parents. Bringing in that references makes one wonder the wordplay. While wondering these, then comes the line “Naatil undu aayiram Rajrajan thaan Rajanuku Rajan intha Rangarajan thaan“. Which roughly translates as there might be 1000s of Rajarajan (king of Kings) but I, the Rangarajan is THE KING OF KINGS. On the surface, it may say about the character Rangaraja Nambi but it also says about Vaali whose actual name is Rangarajan. Self-reference is one of his major traits.
To know his love for Kannan, and his spontaneity in writing lyrics you should listen to this song. This video shows the song composition of the song Kaatril Varum Geethame with Ilayaraja. This is really a treat to listen.
Some of his recent songs show that he was still in the game. He wrote the song Netru Aval irunthaal and Sonapariya from the movie Maryaan. His last movie was Kaaviya Thalaivan. And a gem I discovered recently was the song Narayana from the movie Ramanujan. This is one of his final songs. The lyrics of the song says he still had what it takes till the end.
This list is incomplete and it cannot be complete at any point in time. Vaali wrote the songs such as Chinna Thaayaval from Thalapathi, Amma endru azhaikkatha uyirillaye from Mannan and Kaaliyil thinanum Kan vizhithaal from New. He wrote for many generations, he updated himself to excite the youth of all generations. The loss has created an unfillable void.