A young man born in Thiruparaithurai near Trichy moved to Chennai (then Madras ) in the 1950s, seeking an opportunity to act in Tamil films with a bagful of experience as a director at theatrical plays. Little did people at that point know this vibrant persona was going to become a poet who would stand the test of time by penning lyrics for over 15,000 songs.
Born as S. Rangarajan in 1931, Vaali initially worked with All India Radio before moving to film industry. Rangarajan had no idea that his pen name Vaali, which he assumed as an inspiration from artist Mali of Ananda Vikatan, would make him correlate with the title Vaaliba Kavignar (youthful lyricist) that he got as a result of the lyrics he penned.
Vaali’s legacy tethered either with Kannadasan or Vairamuthu, with the former in his early days and the latter joining him after the demise of Kannadasan. Vaali, unlike Vairamuthu didn’t require insane amount of poetic knowledge to be understood though his works in Arangaettra Velai or Ramanuja Kaaviyam (to name a few) prove otherwise. His genius lies in the fact that his works ranged right from K.V. Mahadevan to Anirudh Ravichander at present.
When I was a kid, as a fan of scrumptious beats, I never really looked into the lyrics while listening to a song. But it was songs like Mukkala Muqabla (Kadhalan) Chikku Bukku Rayile (Gentleman) that made me notice the lyrics. (with no understanding, of course) And this continued even with films like Boys, New and Sivaji. Since I was hooked to these albums and had a very little understanding of what Vaali had done apart from writing these playboy-ish type of lyrics, I was never attracted towards him as a lyricist and preferred his counterparts instead. As I grew up, I started listening to all kinds of music and most importantly, the lyrics. I started listening to M.S. Viswanathan and Ilaiyaraja. This was the time I started giving importance to lyrics along with the music. Also, I noticed Vaali penning the lyrics for almost all the films where Raja scored music. I found Vaali’s name under the ‘lyricist’ column for films like Mouna Raagam, Apoorva Sagodharargal, Thalapathi, Thevar Magan and Michael Madana Kamarajan, whose music I treasure and I cursed myself for not being benevolent towards him. Later, I saw a concert of Ilaiyaraja where I found Vaali’s genius elevated when the composer
himself explained how simple and appropriate Vaali’s lyrics can be by showing Sundari Kannaal Oru Seidhi song from Thalapathi as an example. I started looking out for the interviews of Vaali and found one where the lyricist along with A.R. Rahman had given one for the film Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. It was there I learnt that this amazing lyricist can pen down the entire lyrics for a song within the time of chewing a betel.
Vaali’s youthful numbers often reflect the kind of person he was. His association with Ilaiyaraja resulted in about 5000 songs with a Vaali number in almost every film. He helped in narrowing down the generation gap, which was his major success.
Vaali was energetic throughout his life. He kept working till the end. He never hesitated to acknowledge people whenever he found talent in them. His literary works range right from Avathara Purushan to Pandavar Bhoomi. He could write Koovi azhaithal kural koduppan as well as Unna Nenachen Paatu Padichen. Also, he refused the National Award for the song India Naadu En Veedu is a fact that only a few would know. Vaali might have breathed his last but we are yet to hear his last song. It would only be appropriate if we finish this post with something Vaali came up with to show the society the agony and pain that a girl underwent due to her dark skin and poverty. The lyrics also shows how she redeems herself from all these obstacles and agony, composed by A.R. Rahman.
“பச்சைக் கரு யாவும் பாவக் கரு அல்ல
நீயும் நானும் யாரு குத்தம் குறை சொல்ல”
Vaali was a prolific writer, actor and a wonderful human being that walked on earth.
I found an ode in Tamil which was written to honour him. A fitting send-off for somebody who might go down as one of the greatest lyricists ever.
(Tamil ode credits: Mr. Vinay Kumaar)