Today is MGR’s 102nd birthday. The ADMK (not sure as to which faction) put up a pandal with his photo and played several of his hit songs at a volume wherein he can hear them, no matter where he is. All of them were his usual moralistic ones (Accham enbadu madamai, Thoongathe thambi, etc). The songs from the 1950s and 1960s were of course melodious though I cannot say the same about his 1970s songs.
The songs from Ali Babavum 40 Thirudargalum, which was perhaps one of his finest movies, were conspicuous by their absence. How could they be featured? Firstly, there is an intelligent female companion for thalaivar right through the movie, which detracts from his superhero status. Secondly, he does not preach via his songs. Thirdly, apart from Bhanumathi as Marjina, several others including Thangavelu as Ghulam Mustafa, Sarangapani as Daulat, MN Rajam as Bulbul and PS Veerappa, that arch villain, as Abu Hassan, the head of the 40 thieves provided a strong cast. There were besides these, Waheeda Rehman, in one delectable song – Salaam Babu, and J Jayalalithaa’s aunt Ambuja (screen name Vidya) as Ali Baba’s sister-in-law, paired with MGR’s real-life brother MG Chakrapani.
I had all along assumed that the film, in muzhu neeLa geva colour, was an absolute original from TR Sundaram’s Modern Theatres, apart from being a somewhat hazy copy of the Arabian Nights original. It was last year that someone, whom I forget, in response to my column on film songs, alerted me to the fact that there is a scene by scene, no, frame by frame, original in Hindi. I searched, I found and I watched dismayed Ali Baba Aur 40 Chor. Made in 1954, two years before our Ali Baba, it was produced by Basant Studios and directed by Homi Wadia, featuring Shakeela and Mahipal. That was in black and white. But everything is there, including the sets. It appears old TR Sundaram payed just for transport by way of inspiration.
If that was not disappointment enough, even the songs were lifted, yes even Maasila Unmai Kadale! I could have wept. The Hindi version had lyrics by Raja Mehdi Ali Khan and the tunes were by SN Tripathi and Chitragupt. The Tamil version, though it credits S Dakshinamurthi as the tunesmith, may as well have credited Tripathi and Chitragupt. The lyrics in Tamil were by A Maruthakasi chiefly because Udumalai Narayana Kavi refused to write for lifted tunes. The songs in Tamil had one unique feature – AM Raja sang for MGR and I think Maasila is the only one that MGR sings in the film. Bhanumathi sang several others. Jikki sings Salam Babu. The Hindi original features singers Rafi, Asha and Shamshad Begum. You should hear the original to Maasila. As good, if not better.
Here are the links to some of the originals and the copies:
Rather surprisingly, the one original is Salaam Babu. Though based on an identical sequence in the Hindi film that features Helen instead of Waheeda, it is totally different in tune to Zara Nazrein Mila Lo. You need to just compare the two.
Ali Baba in Tamil is still worth a watch. The action scenes between MGR and Veerappa are very good in particular.
This article is an occasional feature I write on old film songs, chiefly Hindi and Tamil. You can read the earlier episodes here.