The Malayalam Film Songs in between the year 1960 to 1980 were not only gifted with their rich lyrical beauty and melodious compositions but also endowed with diverse themes. The songs of love, solitude, of seasons, lullaby, devotion – the list goes on and on. Here itself, we came across many such themes. One such topic, that I felt has been missed out on, was the genre of “haunting songs.” Why them ? An analysis of the songs in this genre in Malayalam proves that they are so melodious and will continue to haunt the memories of discerning listeners for years to come. They are haunting in the literal sense too, having been picturised in eerie and mysterious contexts.
Yakshi for Dummies.
The theme of such films, either at the centre or the peripheral, places the spirit of a person who succumbed to unnatural death and thereafter becomes a supernatural creature believed to be perturbed and restless due to some factor that prevents them from moving on to nirvana, due to violent death, unsettled matters in their lives, or simply the failure of their survivors to perform proper funerals. They are able to alter and assume forms of various animals at will, but are usually seen in human form. As the earth is regarded as sacred or semi-sacred they go to lengths to avoid contact with it, often floating above it. They cast no shadows, and prefer to appear in white clothing. Sometimes they haunt specific houses which are typically places where they were killed or which have some other significance.
Here are a couple of reasons why I feel that the eerie, weird and mysterious theme of the Yakshi was really popular till the 80’s on the Malayalam screen.
- The Yakshi is a very popular folklore character in Malayalam.
- She is portrayed as an extraordinarily beautiful female.
- The Yakshi of our local legends prefers white robes, and are said to target lonely and lost travelers at night.
- Women dying unnatural death are believed to transform into Yakshis.
- Palm trees are said to be their abodes.
- The Yakshi’s arrival is heralded by an overbearing, benumbing fragrance of the Jasmine or the Alstonia ( Pala ) blooms.
Vayalar Rama Varma, in the song Yakshiyambalam Adachu ( Gandharva Kshetram | Music G Devarajan |Sung by P Susheela ) marvelously portrays the yakshi story as follows:
The Yakshi, who assuming the form of a beautiful woman approaches the lonely priest and asks for a little ‘lime’ for her “paan” habit. The priest fascinated by the charm of the damsel offers the lime. The beautiful lady transforms herself into a terrifying Yakshi and carries the priest to the top of the palm tree . All that remains the next day will be the hair and nails of the victim at the bottom of the Palm tree.
Hence, Yakshi themes picturising the song scenes with a beautiful lady in a white saree accompanied by haunting music was tried in quite a few films. The haunting songs of these films are so melodious and it’s so sad to mention that no earnest attempt was made to showcase these songs.
Before going into the details of the haunting songs in Malayalam films, it is better to know the generic nature of such songs
- All songs are in female vocals
- The songs can be classified into two; the first are those songs by the perturbed and restless spirit of a deceased person. The idea of creating a haunting song imitated by a lady clad in white saree which is cunningly conceived by a villainous master mind to scare others and avoid their presence is the second type
- The song gets repeated or there may be variations in the same film
- All are light songs rich in melodious composition
Almost all Music Directors who created the everlasting classics of our film songs till the 80’s had their contribution to haunting songs also. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. Potti Takarnna Kinaavu from Bhargaveenilayam (1964)
Lyrics : P Bhaskaran | Music : MS Baburaj | Artist : S Janaki
Probably the first haunting song in Malayalam film history. Based on the screenplay of Vaikom Muhammed Basheer, the film is credited with a few classic melodies still remembered by all. The central character, the story writer, takes a house for rent. Later he came to know that the house Bhargavi Nilayam is haunted. The brave writer converse his feelings to the invisible spirit. Contrary to the local belief of bad consequences, the writer is spared by the spirit. One night, the writer finds the spirit of Bhargavi on a swing, singing the song. Though the vocal part of the song maintains the smooth flow of notes in Harikamboji that convey the sorrow of the singer, M S Baburaj used the piano, horns, strings and rhythm guitar in the BGM part to convey the feelings of the puzzled writer. The best part of BGM, I feel is the piece using horns after the first four lines which is repeated after the last part of anupallavi and charanam. This song has a second version – Pottatha Ponnin Kinavu. More on the movie here.
2. Nizhalaayi Ninte Pirake from Pathira Paattu (1967)
Lyrics : P Bhaskaran | Music : VijayaBhaskar | Artist : S Janaki
The film was produced and directed by Prakash under the banner Movie Crafts and written by Jagathi N K Achari. A lady is found missing and her brother is informed by a person called Das that she was killed by her lover. In the night, a ghost like figure is seen roaming with a haunting song Nizhalaayi Ninte Pirake . The disheartened brother goes in search of the lover who reveals that actually Das was the person who murdered her. It was later revealed that the driver of the wicked Das was a CID officer and the ghost was none other than his wife assisting the CID to unravel the mystery. Unfortunately neither the print of the movie nor its digital version is available now.
Music Director Vijaya Bhaskar scored music for films, in Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Marathi, Tulu and Konkani language. He was also a recipient of Karnataka State Film Award for Best Music Director six times. Vijayabhaskar composed music for Jeevikkaan Anuvadikku, Kayal Karayil, Theruvu Narthaki, Vidheyan, Kathapurushan, Mathilukal and Paathirappattu. He died in the year 2002. There is a Hindi version of the song composed by Madanmohan though I can’t trace the name of the film. This resemblance maybe incidental since Vijayabhaskar assisted Madanmohan for a few films. The prelude and the interludes convey the haunting mood of the song especially the piece in vibes after the line Etho yakshikku chooduvaan.
3. Paadunnu Puzha Paadunnu from Paadunna Puzha (1968)
Lyrics : Sreekumaran Thampi | Music : V Dakshinamoorthy | Artist : S Janaki
Produced by Jayamaruthi and directed by M Krishnan Nair, this movie had R K Sekhar assisting Dakshinamoorthy in music composition. Jayachandran is a handsome painter who loves Sethulakshmy, music teacher of Indu. Jayachandran is invited to the house of Indu’s brother Advocate Ravi. Ravi requests Jayachandran to draw a portrait of their step mother. This acquaintance makes Indu fall in love with Jayachandran. However, the unperturbed Jayachandran maintained his love to Sethulakshmy alone. One day Jayachandran & Sethulakshmy decided to elope at 7 in the evening. To save time till 7, Sethulakshmy goes to Indu’s house. There she finds only Ravi who grabs Sethulakshmi. In the tussle, she is killed. The advocate, without losing time, paddles out to the sea in a boat and dispose off the corpse. On his way back , in the solemn silence of the night, he hears the song Paadunnu Puzha Paadunnu and in the haze clearly sees a women in white emerging from the water.
The song Padunnu Puzha Padunnu has three versions. First one sung by Jayachandran ( K J Yesudas), second by Rajalekshmy and Indu (P Leela) and the third the disturbingly haunting song (S Janaki). Dakshinamoorthy scores three different tunes for the same lyrics which is a unique phenomenon in film music composition. The first one, a pleasant melody, second version semi classical and third the haunting song.
4. Paathirapakshikale from Urangatha Sundari (1969)
Lyrics : Vayalar | Music : G Devarajan | Artist : P Susheela
Produced and directed by P Subramaniam for Neela Productions, this is the remake of Daphne Du Maurier’s famous novel ‘Rebecca’. Kartha, a well off person, fall in love with Vilasini, a dancer. He marries her. The house maid of his mansion is profoundly devoted to Vilasini and the enchanting song Paathirapakshikale Paaduis her favorite tune. One day she dies in a boat accident. After a few days Kartha meets Prabhavathy, an orphan, and after a few days of courtship, she agrees to marry him. Kartha’s business trips leaves Prabhavaty alone in the mansion. In the night, she encounters a mysterious profile of a lady and a haunting song. The woman in question is none other than her husband’s former wife! Though the song is unpopular, I feel that it is one of the best in this genre and that of the composer. The interlude of the song is the theme music for the film. A very melodious song synchronized with unusual BGM. Listen to the line Teril vanna Diwaswapnangal Vaari choodiya Peeli in the anupallavi. The part teril vanna glides through the notes of F Major Chord. As it enters diwaswapnangal a pinch of sorrow is effectively added through the movement to the minor notes and again the song get back to its joyful mood. The song is repeated four to five times in the film.
5. Ottu Vala Edukkan Marannu from Aadyathe Katha (1972)
Lyrics : Vayalar | Music : M K Arjunan | Artist : P Susheela
Produced by Chitranjali and directed by K S Sedhumadhavan, the story was by P Keshavadev. A writer, who is working in the city, decides to write a novel. He requests his peon to find out a peaceful place in the nearby vicinity. The place is identified and the writer shifts to his new abode. The owner of the house was really pleased to see the educated handsome bachelor who is also a government servant. The village people in the neighborhood without hesitation came to see the writer. Whenever he took his pen, a new visitor appeared or a new incident occurred in such a way that not a single word was written. Night came. The writer felt happy since he thought that hereafter nobody is going to disturb him. To his surprise, a very old men stroll into the room. He introduces himself to be a neighbor and incidentally narrates the story of a Brahmin lady who was a resident in the house years back and finally committed suicide. In all full moon days, he swears, the lady ghost is seen in the house. The writer in the bed was troubled and in the dark hours saw the beautiful Brahmin lady ( Jayabharati, as a guest artist). Singing the song Ottuvalaedukkaan Marannu, the yakshi laments on her fate in the following lines
“പോയവൈശാഖങ്ങള് പിന്നെയും കാണുവാന്
പോയതുപോലെ ഞാന് മടങ്ങിവന്നു”
“ക്രൂരമായ് വേര്പെട്ടു പോയൊരെന് യൌവ്വനം
ആരെനിക്കിന്നു തിരിച്ചു നല്കും?”
The song is a beautiful melody having the features of Mishrasivaranjini ragam. However, Komal madhyamam is also used in the song. The prelude to the song starts with a movement in strings followed by a humming by Susheela and ends with the strumming of the banjo. The interlude before the charanam is edited in the record version of the film.
Related : Pranaya Sarovarame from C I D Nazir (1971) , with lyrics by Sreekumaran Thampi and sung by S Janaki . The song, though picturised in an eerie situation unfortunately lacks the beauty of a haunting song.
6. En Chundil Raaga nombaram from Kaadu (1973)
Lyrics : Sreekumaran Thampi | Music : Vedpal Varma | Artist : S Janaki
Produced and directed by P Subramaniam, the movie was written by S L Puram Sadanandan. Vikraman heads a team of gangsters who have a jungle hideout . Mala is the daughter of the tribal chief and she loves Veeran from the tribe. Vikraman, fascinated by the beauty of Mala, one day cunningly takes her to his place on the pretext that Veeran, her lover is lying there injured. Realizing the treachery she tries to escape. A tussle followed and the girl collapses. Sensing the seriousness of the situation Vikraman buries the body. Next day, in the night, people hear the melodious and haunting voice of a female singing the song En Chundil Raaga nombaram. All of them where really petrified to see the profile of Mala roaming the woods singing the song.
Its very interesting to note that there is another song in this film Ambili Vidarum Ponmaanam which is so close in its tune with this song. This song has another version in the film rendered by P Susheela. Though the lyrics of the two songs are different the tune is same and the haunting effect in this song is added effectively by the BGM. Thanks to T K Pukazhenthy who assisted Vedpal Varma in the BGM part. Vedpal Varma, composed melodious songs for Hindi and Punjabi films.Tum na aye sanam shama jalti rahi by Lata Mangeshkar ( Bhoot Nath /1963) of Vedpal Varma is one example for his talent to create soft melodies.
7. Kaaveri Kaaveri from Kuttichaathan (1975)
Lyrics : Vayalar | Music : RK Sekhar | Artist : S Janaki
The film produced under the banner Rajapriya was directed by Crossbelt Mani. Padinjarekkara is a village. A few residents strongly believe the existence of ghosts. Another group firmly disapproves it. In between, there is a third group of gangsters cleverly manipulating the people for their ends. In this situation the CID enters and the usual sequence of events follow. Finally the truth is revealed and the film ends. The song is sung by Vidhubala, a hapless lady who fall into the trap of the gangsters. They make use of her to lure the CID to their hideout.
One of the fine compositions of R K Sekhar who contributed equally in composing the tune for the lyrics and for the supporting BGM. The prelude starts with a movement in the major scale and as it progresses enters the flat notes. The piece of music in the finishing part of the intro first in synthetic vibes and then supported by guitar proves the talent of RK Sekhar. Though the song seems composed in the Misra Sivaranjini, R K Sekhar on a few occasions deliberately mixed a few different notes to produce the haunting mood for the song. The song is edited in its record version by deleting the charanam part of the song which I remember is only available in the movie version.
8. Bindu Nee En Jeeva Binduvo from Chandanachola (1975)
Lyrics : Dr. Balakrishnan | Music : K J Joy | Artist : P Susheela
Produced by Dr. Balakrishnan and directed by Jaysey, there are two versions for this song in the film. Vidhubala, the heroin plays with her daughter in the first version which is composed in a happy mood and it became a hit with its charming tune. As the film progresses, Vidhubala dies and she appears as a ghost in the dream of Sadhana who enticed Vidhubala’s husband Jose Prakash. The guitar is effectively used in the lead as it was the favourite instrument of K J Joy along with accordion. Though the song moves along the notes of Aabheri, the musician feels free to rely on different notes to enhance the beauty of the song.
9. Nisheedhini from Yakshagaanam (1976)
Lyrics : Vayalar | Music : M S Viswanathan | Artist : S Janaki
Yakshagaanam is directed by Sheela and produced by Mathiyoli Shanmugham. The story is by Medhavi. Ravi (Madhu) and Savithri (Sheela) are happily married. One day, with a few others, they go for a vacation to Ravi’s house. In the bunglow, Savithri encounters strange experiences. In the night, she hears the song Nisheedhini.. and through the window she saw the profile of a spectral women.
The song is repeated till the end of the film. The song, even today, lives in the heart of all music lovers. M S Viswanathan uses the ragam MisraSivaranjini and in the anupallavi and charanam drift to the borders of natabhairavi to make the lines medina medini nin in the anupallavi and Yamini Yamini nin in the charanam much more pleasing. MS Viswanathan in the song explains how a haunting song can be created by the judicious mix of ragas.
Related : Pokaam Namukku Pokaam from the same film by Vayalar and sung by S Janaki. Though the song leads us to the climax of the film, it failed to generate the melody and went unnoticed.
10. Ee Kaikalil from Ee Gaanam Marakkumo? (1978)
Lyrics : ONV Kurup | Music : Salil Chowdhury | Artist : S Janaki
Produced by Padma Mani Films, the movie was directed by Sankaran Nair. The film is gifted with a few good songs composed by Salil Chowdhury and assisted by Shyam and Sabita Chowdhury.
Gopi returns back to his house to inherit his ancestral property. The immovables were managed by Raman Nair, the karyasthan, at his will who disliked the sudden appearance of Gopi. The irritated Raman Nair decides to work out a plan to scare Gopi so that he will flee from his home forever. One night, Gopi was awoken by a song, Ee Kaikalil . The song starts with a humming followed by an enthralling prelude so typical of Salil Chowdhury. Composed in minor scale, I feel that this is the best Malayalam haunting song of Salil Chowdhury. The interludes are lead by synthetic strings beautifully accompanied by the oboe.
Related : Rappaadi Paadunna Raagangalil from Vishukkani (1977), written by Sreekumaran Thampi and sung by P Susheela. The song is composed in minor scale. Still the musician elevates the song to new heights with his masterly application of b major (different note) in the line Talirum Taarum polinju.
11. Yamini from Agnivyooham (1979)
Lyrics : Sathyan Anthikkad | Music : A T Ummer | Artist : S Janaki
Produced by R S Prabhu under the banner of Sree Rajesh Films, this was directed by P Chandrakumar. The story unfolds in a flashback narrated by a ghost. The film starts with the song Yamini a lady in white with long hair is seen in the night by the watcher of a tourist bunglow. The watcher, a fresh appointee, unaware of the mysterious stories of the locality enquires who she is. She tells her story. The release year was 1979 and it was in the previous year the famous Hollywood movie Omen was released in Kerala. So naturally the idea of the “Devil Dog” was brought in to the theme.
A T Ummer was assisted by Guna Singh (the musician who assisted Jerry Amaldev in the Film Manjil Virinja Pookkal and subsequently composed the songs of Padayottam). The tune for the lyrics is composed in a befitting manner for a haunting song – rich in melody. An equal contribution is made by the musician in the BGM part to communicate the haunting nature of the song.
12. Nizhalaayi Ozhuki Varum Njaan from Kalliangaattu Neeli (1979)
Lyrics : Bichu Tirumala | Music : Shyam | Artist : S Janaki
M Mani produced the film in the banner Sunitha Productions. M Krishnan Nair directed the film. Kalliangattu Neeli is a part of the folklore of the erstwhile Travancore State. The story of the film revolves around a rest house. One day the guide takes the tourists to see the nearby places. In the evening the team reaches the deserted and haunting place called Kalliangaad. There the guide narrates the story of Neeli. A beautiful village belle, she falls in love with a warrior travelling through her locale. They get married. The warrior, a thug in disguise schemes her murder, kills the pregnant Neeli, robs her jewelry and flees. Thereafter Neeli is seen by many, clad in a white saree. The yakshi entices the travelers and finally drinks their blood. She meets her beau again, and seduces him with the sweet Nizhalaai Ozhuki Varum njaan, and finishes him off.
The gramophone record of the film was released in Long Play version (LP). The humming in the prelude bears a distant similarity with the humming in the song Ee Kaikalil. Still Shyam made it very effective communicating the melody with a pinch of sorrow. Great work. The percussion was silent in the first four lines accompanied by guitar chords. Maybe, because of his association with Salil Chowdhury that Shyam used oboe very effectively in the song (just listen to the song in between the lines nizhalaayi ozhuki varum njaan and Yaamangal thorum). Organ, Guitar, Oboe, Santoor, flute and a lot many instruments were synchronized to make this beautiful song. Though the song primarily moves along the notes of minor scale, the talented musician traverse through the A and B major notes to create the synergy that we all yearn for and only an intelligent composer can do.
- I doubt that the song Kaanana Sadananthin Manimuttathu Alayunna from Chekuthante Kotta (1967) written by P Bhaskaran, music by B A Chidambaranath and sung by S Janaki belong to this genre. This matter is to be substantiated by those having exact information about the film and especially the song.
- The eighties also produced two good songs of these genre – Kaumaraswapnangal from Aarathi (1981), with music by M B Sreenivaasan and sung by S Janaki – a song which harmonized two tracks by the same singer in a single song and Swararaagamaai from Pachavelicham(1985) with music by Shyam and sung by S Janaki.
- Anybody who knows the song Raathri Raathri from Pattalam Janaki sung by P Madhuri can find its similarity with Aathire thiruvaathire from Prethangalude Taazhvara. The haunting song Raathri Raathri is actually included in the record of film Penpuli. The music for Pattalam Janaki is composed by K J Joy and the song Raathri Raathri is composed by G Devarajan. But due to unknown reasons this song was deleted from the film Penpuli and included in Pattalam Janaki in a love scene.
There are a few songs which are haunting but not characterized by the features in the above songs. Hence such songs are also included. This includes songs sung by male singers also.
- Vasumathi Rithumati from Gandharva Kshetram set to music G Devarajan and sung by K J Yesudas – one of the excellent composition of Devarajan.
- Pakal Vilakku Anayunnu from Ithu Manushyano ? set to music by M K Arjunan and sung by P Jayachandran – the song is composed in Mayamaalava Gowla. The lyrics also narrate the eerie situation. A few days back, Asianet telecasted an interview with Thomas Berly, the director of the film.
- Vilakkevide from Rest House with music by M K Arjunan and sung by C O Anto.
- Omanathingale from Karutha Raathrikal set to music by M S Baburaj and sung by S Janaki.
- Angane ennal from Ernakulam Junction with music by M S Baburaj and sung by K J Yesudas.