The music composers behind these Malayalam hits know 'Chithram' to 'Godfather'

Although they were making very popular songs at the time, some composers quietly disappeared without attracting much attention.

Decades after being made, sung, and looped on specially mixed audio cassettes, 1980s Malayalam movie songs were picked by newer generations when an old fan put them online. Names like Johnson Master, Jerry Amaldev, Ravindran, Ousepachan, and MG Radhakrishnan were on the lips of young people who reluctantly admitted they liked the same songs their parents made. But some of these songs, even when sung and heard over and over, didn’t bring the names of their makers as close as the others. Names like S Balakrishnan, Kannur Rajan, Reghu Kumar and Raghunath Seth, to name a few. This story is about them.

“Many of them were popular songs of the time. The problem was that some of the films were super hits, the others were barely noticed. These less celebrated musicians were not part of any “gang”, friends, or favorites of any particular director or actor. They also had to face tough competition at that time. Remember, there were years when stalwarts like Johnson – who could single-handedly tune, orchestrate, and create beautiful background scores – worked. Although they were brilliant too, they didn’t always find work, ”says music critic Ravi Menon.

S Balakrishnan

When directors Siddique and Lal made their first film Ramji Rao Speaking in 1989, they brought a number of new names with them. The film – a comedy mixed with drama – was recognized for its novelty in writing, directing, acting and music. All of Ramji Rao’s songs – “Kanneer Kayalil”, “Avanavan”, “Oraayiram Kinakkal” and “Kalikkalam” – were novel, melodious and eye-catching. S Balakrishnan, who made his compositional debut with the film, had worked with the legendary MB Sreenivasan as assistant to the Malayalam film Manivathoorile Aayiram Sivarathrikal, directed by Fazil.

“Fazil Sir suggested Balakrishnan’s name as we were preparing for Ramji Rao speaking. He was a flautist. When we met him we gave him a situation in the movie and he gave us the tune of ‘Kanneer Kayalil’. We loved it, ”says Siddique.

Oddly enough, in the film, the name of her hero was also Balakrishnan.

Siddique and Lal entrusted him with the music of their next three films – In Harihar Nagar, Godfather and Vietnam Colony – which all turned out to be big hits after the other. Songs like “Ekantha Chandrike”, “Pookkalam Vannu Pookkalam”, “Neerpalungukal” and “Pathiravai Neram” were very popular in the 1990s.

Watch: Song by In Harihar Nagar

“For some reason few other directors called him, even though most of the songs in our film were so popular. He later returned to Chennai dejected and started a music school in Bengaluru, ”says Siddique.

Balakrishnan died in 2019 at the age of 70. He was from Palakkad but had moved to Chennai to try his luck in movies.

Kannur Rajan

Kannur Rajan started much earlier, in the 1970s. “Renowned composers such as Devarajan and Baburaj were active in those days,” recalls Ravi Menon.

Even so, Rajan made music for several films from the 1970s to the 90s and died while working on one of them at the age of 58.

His most famous film is Chithram, a blockbuster of the time starring Mohanlal and Ranjini, directed by Priyadarshan. Everything about Chithram, including its music – a mix of carnatic, folk, and good old-fashioned romantic melodies – was famous.

Watch: Song from Chithram

Two semi-classical songs from the film – ‘Nagumo’ and ‘Swaminaatha’ – are often chosen by contestants in music competitions. Mohanlal sang a song in the film, a folk song called “Aey Moonnu”.

Another melodious song that Kannur Rajan composed from the Mohanlal film Ninnishtam Ennistham – “Ilam Manjin” – is one of the evergreen movie titles of the 1980s.

Kannur Rajan was the father-in-law of another musical composer, Sharreth.

Reghu Kumar |

Reghu Kumar’s discography is full of surprises. He composed the songs of Thalavattam, which has the famous “Janmangal Pulkumpol”. It is one of the first Malayalam songs to have a guitar solo by the late John Anthony, Maestro of Carnatic Fusion who formed the band Karnatriix.

Read: ‘Karnatriix’ John Anthony, the musician who never aged, dies

Reghu has worked in some of Priyadarshan’s previous films, says Ravi Menon.

The list includes Hello My Dear Wrong Number (‘Nee Yen Kinavo’), Boeing Boeing, Aram plus Aram = Kinnaram and Aryan (‘Ponmurali’).

Watch: Song from Thalavattam

Shyama, a romantic thriller starring Mammootty and Nadiya Moidu and directed by Joshiy, is also on the list. The movie has some really popular songs like ‘Chembarathipoove’ and ‘Poonkatte poyi’.

So did the 1990s film Maya Mayooram, which contains a reproduction of the famous Bollywood song ‘Kabhi Kabhi’ sung by KS Chithra for Revathy’s character, bent over a piano and photographed by an unknown admirer. The film also has the beautiful “Kaikudanna Niraye”.

Reghu died in 2014.

Raghunath Seth

Not much is known about Pandit Raghnuath Seth other than what is available on the internet. He composed two most famous songs in a popular 1988 film, Aranyakam. Both ‘Olichirikkan’, sung by Chithra, and ‘Aathmavil Mutti’, sung by KJ Yesudas, were instant hits.

Watch: Song from Aaranyakam

Originally from Gwalior, Raghunath was trained in classical Hindustani music and received the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1994.

He has reportedly recorded music for many documentaries and television series, but few films appear in between.

Raghnunath Seth died in 2014.