Surangani’s little known secret

Surangani-1By Arthur Wamanan

No one knows who Surangani is, no one knows why she wanted fish. But it is no secret that the phrase ‘Surangani ta maalu genawa’ has become a rage and has acquired cult status.

The song was composed by AE Manoharan, popularly known as Ceylon Manohar. Even he would not have expected the song to reach such great heights. Manoharan who is also known as ‘Pop Chakravarthi’ of Sri Lanka composed this song in the 1970s. The catchy tune and fast- paced baila beat made the song an instant hit islandwide. No party is complete without baila songs, and no baila is complete without a Surangani in the play list.

What is interesting is that the song, originally composed in Sinhala, gained wide popularity in our neighboring India. It was a time when Radio Ceylon was heard in Tamil Nadu. Surangani was an instant hit in Tamil Nadu, inspiring many composers in the region. Surangani inspired several prominent music composers in the State including Illaiyarajah, who is also known as Isaignani or ‘Maestro’.

Kuthu songs

Kuthu songs are fast-paced racy numbers. Tamil cinema has had a penchant for dance numbers, which were usually composed in 6/8 or popularly known as baila beat. From Ennadirakkamma to the recent Manmadha Rasa, composers have never failed to make the audience dance in their seats with the Kuthu songs.
Almost every film produced in Tamil Nadu would have a song that would cater to the masses. There have been films which were watched mainly for the dance numbers too. One classic example is Thiruda Thirudi released in 2003. The film gained wide popularity even before its release thanks to the song Manmadha Rasa.
Therefore, it was quite natural that Surangani was lapped up by the Tamil Nadu audience. No one knew the language, but the beat and the simple tune would have given away something of what the song was actually about.

Surangani in Indian Tamil Cinema

The first Tamil song based on Surangani was composed by Illaiyarajah for the 1977 film, Avaren ankke sontham (He is mine alone). The lyrics have no similarities to the Sinhala version except for the phrase ‘Surangani ta maalu genawa’. The song became hugely popular among the Tamil Nadu University students.
The most recent film which had a version of the song was Pandhayam, released in 2008. The music for the film was composed by Vijay Antony and was directed by SA Chandrasekhar, father of popular actor Vijay. The movie received a lukewarm response, and was a failure at the box office. However, the song Surangani, which was featured in the soundtrack was received well by the audience. The phrase ‘Surangani ta maalu genawa’ is part of the lyrics of the song Kokkarako from the 2004 hit film Ghilli. The film which had Vijay in the lead was directed by Dharani while music was composed by Vidyasagar. The song is composed in 6/8 beat, but the melody is completely different since the song is not based on Surangani itself.

The name Surangani also featured in the song Gumthalakadi Ghaana from the film Sandakozhi in 2005. Ullamketkume a film which was also released in 2005 after several delays has a scene where a group of students sing Surangani in the background.
The song also made the right noises in North India too. The film Paramatma released in 1978. The film which was directed by Chand had Shatrughan Sinha and Rekha in the lead.

Recently,a Sri Lankan singer, Dinesh Kanagaratnam composed a fresh version of the song with a completely different tune and style, which also became a hit. The tune was later reused in a Tamil movie TN 07 AL 4777 released in 2009 where Kanagaratnam collaborated with Vijay Antony, who was also the composer for the film.

Popularity over decades

Today, this Surangani is not just a song which became popular. It is an identity. The fan following this song has garnered over decades is proof enough for that. Surangani is also a classic example where music becomes a language of its own, connecting people.

(Published in The Nation on October 5, 2014)

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