Moments with Dakshinamoorthy Swami

R. C. Suresh

The veteran music composer V Dakshinamoorthy requires no formal introductions. He created a wondrous magic in more than the 150 Malayalam film songs he composed, spanning nearly 50 years of his career in the movie industry. He was also a professionally trained Carnatic vocalist who was very fortunate to have his mother as his Guru and this did help him to ingeniously compose numerous semi classicals, most of which are timeless treasures. Swapnagal… Swapnagale for the movie Kavyamela (1965), Harshabashpam Thooki for Muthaasi (1971), Vaikkathashtami Nalil and Akasham Bhoomiye Villikunnu from the movie Bharyamaar Sookshikuka (1968), are some of the few memorable songs of the many semi-classicals that he tuned. His melodies leave a striking mark in the history of Malayalam films for the soul-touching feel it could churn out. And so did his few rib crackling numbers like Oru Roopa Notu Kodutha from the movie Lottery Ticket (1970). All these proved him to be a matchless music composer who could breathe life into all genre of music.

Accomplished businessman RC Suresh speaks about his years with Swami…..

Dakshinamoorthy Swami used to come home to teach music to my little sister Ambily, who thanks to him and God, is now a well known playback singer. We were living in Chennai then and this was during the late sixties and early seventies, when Swami was creating huge waves with his music. It was my mother’s long cherished dream to professionally train my sister under Swami. And here, I happily played the role of the chauffeur, driving Swami to my home from his residence in Chennai. I had this passion for music even though I never did want it to take it up as a profession like my sister. However, I was a good critic of quality music, if you could call it that.

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Swami recognized this quality of mine. In fact he did want me to pursue it as a career. We used to have long and uninterrupted talks on music and just music alone in our more than one hour drive from his house to mine and back. Mostly it was just me and him in the car. I used to happily look forward to these sessions with him. I learnt a lot about music from these meetings we used to often have. 

One day Swami called home and asked for me. My mother who answered the call gave the phone to me. He asked me if I was free and if I could go with him to Bharani Studio, which was located just a few kilometers away from where we used to stay. I readily agreed. Swami took a cab from his place and picked me up from my house. The recording studios those days resembled the cinema halls of today minus the seats. There were just three of us in the studio, the third person being the sound engineer. Swami asked the engineer to play a song for me. He asked me to listen carefully to the song that was played and then tell him my opinion about it. I listened and it was definitely a beautiful song and knew it was a sure hit.

All the while I was listening to the song, Swami was keenly watching me. I told swami the song will definitely rock the charts. He was really happy when he heard this and told me it was a song he had composed for a new movie. I was completely moved upon hearing it. For me, it was like winning a life time achievement award in music because an Acharya in music and that too somebody very famous like him took my opinion of all people about a yet-to-be released song. The song as predicted was a big hit and turned out to be one of the evergreen Malayalam classics. The song was Kaattile Pazh Mulam from the movie Vilakku Vangiya Veena.

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Another memorable incidence that I had with Swami was in 1986. I had completely relocated to Kuwait by then having set up my business there. I had come to Chennai to visit my mother and like always I dropped in at Swami’s house. We decided to go out for a drive in my mother’s car. The car was fitted with the latest stereo system and there was this song which I liked very much and listening to over and over again. I can still remember Swami sitting on the passenger seat with his legs crossed on the seat. While driving, I asked Swami if he knew this song that was playing on the stereo. I told him it was a remarkable song that stirred up poignant feelings in a person. I noticed he was more than happy to hear it and was grinning from ear to ear. He told me it was one of his latest compositions and my opinion about it made him more than happy. I was touched to no limits on hearing this. It was the fact that he rated my opinion about a song so highly. We drove around the city listening to the song again and again, enjoying each other’s companionable silence. The song was Vathil Pazhuthilooden-munnil from the movie Idanazhiyiloru Kalocha. Swami had later narrated this incident in an interview. It was again one of my most cherished moments with him.

Swami used to often speak to me about the constraints that he faced while composing music for Malayalam movies. Firstly, he said he had to work almost all the time on a very limited budget because of which he could never have the right number of instruments he wanted for the songs. Secondly, the recording studios in South India often relied on outdated recording technology when compared to Hindi Cinema where the latest was available for music composers. As a result, most of the time, the quality of songs was not to his expectations. Thirdly, he used to say that very often the time allotted for a song in a movie was never enough to get the full feel of the song due to various situations in the movie.

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I never had an opportunity to give him a guru dhakshina and learn music from him. I learned his way of singing by just listening to him during our trips. I have requested RameshNarayanan, a famous Malayalam music director to rework on 15 popular songs of his. I am trying to wholeheartedly overcome the constraints that he often used to speak about and feel sad about too. God willing I want these compilations to be my Guru Dhakshina to him for the extraordinary lessons I learned from him. The album will be released soon…