Malaysia Vasudevan was one of the prime singers of the 80s and 90s Tamil cinema. His versatility as a singer was proved very soon after he took up singing as his career in the early 70s. But you will be surprised to learn that the celebrated singer actually wanted to be an actor when he landed in India from Malaysia.
Vasudevan’s parents were from Palakkad. In the early years of the last century Chattu Nair of Ottappalam, Ammalu of Polpulli along with their respective families migrated to Malaysia in search of livelihood. They became labourers in the rubber estates of Klang Valley. After a few years Chattu Nair and Ammalu became husband and wife in an arranged marriage. Vasudevan was born on June 15, 1944 as their eighth child. His surroundings in Malaysia were predominantly Tamil and his life was lived in Tamil, at school and at home.
Chattu Nair was musically inclined and all his children grew with a natural ability to sing and appreciate music. Malaysia Vasudevan had once said that all his family members, except his mother Ammalu, were singers. He first started learning music from his father and later on, his brother taught him. Vasudevan started singing on stage when he was eight. And yes he was interested in acting too.
When Vasudevan grew up he got attached to Tamil drama troupes in Malaysia as an actor and singer. The producers of one of his plays ‘Ratha Paei’ wanted to make it as a film. Vasudevan came with the group to Chennai and acted in the film `Raththa Paei’. He even sang a song for the film under the baton of G.K. Venkatesh for whom Ilaiyaraja was working as the assistant..
His first major song was in the film `Delhi to Madras’ that starred Jaishankar and Srividya. It was a comedy song ‘Paalu Vikkira Padma Un Paalu Romba Suthhama? for the music director V. Kumar. This chance was possible because of his friendship with the film’s producer Pollachi Rathnam. After that he joined Pavalar Brothers troupe which was run by Ilaiyaraja and his brothers.
During a stage performance, music director MSV heard Vasudevan and gave him a small piece of a song in `Bharatha Vilas’ (he sang for the Punjabi in ‘Indhiya Naadu En Veedu’) and then a song in `Thalai Prasavam’. The first big break came when Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan made him sing ‘Kaalam Seyyum Vilaiyattu’ in `Kumasthavin Magal’. Vasudevan was rechristened Malaysia Vasudevan by AP Nagarajan in this film.
Later when his good friend Illayaraja stormed the Tamil film industry with `Annakili’, he was made to sing in Annakili and after `Aattukutti Muttai Ittu’ from `16 Vayathinile’ happened, Malaysia Vasudevan never looked back. Illayaraja backed him until he became a star singer.
Malaysia Vasudevan has sung close to 8000 songs in his three decades of active career out of which most are for Illayaraja. Illayaraja made Malaysia Vasudevan sing songs of all kinds and genre. Every song Malaysia Vasudevan rendered with utmost sincerity and surprised everyone with the range he had.
Soft romantic songs like ‘Indha Minminikku’(Sigappu Rojakkal), ‘Vaan Megangalay’ (Puthiya Vaarpukal), ‘Malargale Nadha Swarangal’ (Kizhake Pogum Rayil), ‘Malargalilay Aaraadhanai’(Karumbu Vil), ‘Kodai Kaala Kaatray’(Panneer Pushpangal), ‘Poove Ilaya Poove’ (Kozhi Koovuthu) Thangachangili Minnum Painkili (Thooral Nindru Pochhu), etc must be some of the timeless favourites of Tamil film music lovers.
Even under the baton of the maestro MS Viswanathan, Malaysia Vasudevan had sung many illustrious songs. ‘Ezhudhugiral Oru Pudhukkavithai’ (Saranaalayam),‘Enniyirundhadhu Eadera’ (Andha 7 Naatkal) and the super duper hits from ‘Billa’ are just a few rare gems.
Sensuous songs like ‘Kanna Thorakkanum Saami’, ‘or ‘Nila Kaayudhu’ and Emotional songs like ‘Oru Thanga Rathathhil’(Dharma Yudhham), ‘Allithhandha Bhoomi Annai Allava’(Nandu), ‘Adi Aadu Poongodiye (Kali), ‘Vaa Vaa Vasanthamey (Puthu Kavithai), ‘Pattuvanna Rosavam’ (Kannipparuvathile) Ponmaana thedi naanum poovodu (Enga oor Rasathi) all came easy to Vasudevan and succeeded in showing some other brilliant facets of the wonderful singer. His largely folksy tunes sung for Shankar Ganesh are also of inimitable class.
Some of the best songs of Malaysia Vasudevan happened at the time when he was considered the voices of Sivaji Ganesan and Rajinikanth. Who can forget the songs of ‘Mudhal Mariyathai’ which were rendered with a rare spirit of genius? And for the Super Star? From Pothuvaga en mansu thangam (Murattukalai) to Aasai Nooru vagai (Adutha Varisu) to many others and there are too many.
Malaysia Vasudevan is like TMS who was content with the popularity achieved only in Tamil. He was of the notion that to sing in other languages he should have known well the nuances of other languages. At a time when not knowing the language is the first preferred criterion to sing in Tamil, Malaysia Vasudevan’s resolve may sound funny to many today.
This tribute has not touched Malaysia Vasudevan’s acting career simply because he is first a glorious singer. However he will feature in the history of Tamil cinema as a versatile actor too. His acting career that started with ‘Oru Kaithiyin Diary’ and flourished through the late 80s and 90s is a memorable one.
Malaysia Vasudevan, an iconic singer of the 80s and 90s is no more. The renowned singer passed away in Chennai on Sunday February 20, 2011 after a brief illness. He was 66.