AL Raghavan: A singer who soothed a generation with a variety of songs

Raghavan breathed his last in Chennai due to cardiac arrest. He is survived by actress wife MN Rajam

Raghavan had the unique ability to sing in female voice and was highly skilled in pronouncing English words

Popular playback singer of the 60s, AL Raghavan, breathed his last in Chennai on June 19 due to cardiac arrest. He was 87 and is survived by actress wife MN Rajam, a son and a daughter. He had sung more than 500 songs in Tamil and Malayalam.

Born in Tamil Nadu’s Thanjavur in 1933, Ayyampettai Lakshmanan Raghavan followed in his father’s footsteps to become a stage actor. He then entered the film industry through Jupiter Pictures and sung a song in Tamil movie Krishna Vijayam (1947).

Raghavan had the unique ability to sing in female voice and was highly skilled in pronouncing English words. In the film Vijayakumari (1950), he lent his voice to Kumari Kamala.

In the 60s, many youth had yearned for a government employment. They believed that having a command over English would get them what they desired. So, they followed western music. and developed an interest in cricket.

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This was evident in the song Nadodi Nadodi in MGR-starrer Anbe Vaa (1966) penned by lyricist Vaali. It had lines like ‘...twist dance theriyuma …test match puriyuma..’ (Do you know twist dance? Do you understand test match), which apparently mocked who were not exposed to these trends. It’s no wonder Vaali was referred to as Vaaliba Kavignar (youth poet).

Raghavan had sung the song along with his contemporary TM Soundararajan. While Raghavan gave voice to the extras, who mock MGR on screen, Soundararajan lent his voice to MGR.

Another song Once a pappa met a mamma from the same film was based on Sri Lankan ‘Baila’ genre. Raghavan had sung the song, peppered with mischievous tone.

His stylish pronunciation of English words and skill in making funny sounds during interludes between songs gave him the opportunity to sing a number of songs for comedian-actor Nagesh.

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Songs like Oh my lady, cut body (Vietnam Veedu), Seettukattu Raja (Vettaikkaran), Nadagamey Indha Ulagam (Saadhu Mirandaal), Ulagathil Siranthathu yethu (Pattanathil Bootham) and Gubu Gubu Gubu Naan Engine (Motor Sundaram Pillai) became not only chartbusters, but also stress-busters.

Every line of these songs had rhyming English words. It was a trend then. For example, the song Gubu Gubu Naan Engine goes like this: …aanaa lovvula successu, aagaatti pona diversu (if all goes well, on will succeed in love. Or else, once will end up in divorce).

Coupled with Nagesh’s quirky reactions and comical dance movements, the humorous tempo by Raghavan, the songs had become instant hits among college students.

However, Raghavan was and will be remembered if not for any other songs, but one. An iconic pathos song — Engirunthaalum vaazhga from the film Nenjil Oor Aalayam (1962) — on love failure.

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Directed by CV Sridhar, the film dealt with a love triangle. In the song, penned by poet Kannadasan, Raghavan lent his voice to actor Kalyan Kumar. It became one of the memorable love failure songs.

Later in his career, Raghavan also tried his hands in acting and producing films. He along with TM Soundararajan produced a film, titled Kallum Kaniyaagum (1968). Both played the lead roles. But the acting was not their cup of tea,” writes film writer RP Rajanayahem in his blog.

Journalist Sudhangan, in his column Oru Penaavin Payanam wrote that Raghavan-Rajam couple had to sell their house due to the losses they faced in the film industry.

“The film Kannil Theriyum Kathaigal (1980) directed by Devaraj and Mohan had five different music directors, Ilayaraja, Shankar-Ganesh, GK Venkatesh, KV Mahadevan and Agathiyan. But it was a flop” he wrote.

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