The death of SP Balasubrahmanyam plunged the music world into deep grief. While people across the social spectrum expressed their profound grief at the loss, MD Manoj decided to pay his tribute to the legendary singer in a manner that would immortalise SPB’s life, career, music. Manoj began work on a compendium of articles. Six months after SPB’s death, in March 2021, the first edition of Padu Nilave: SPByude Jeevithavum Sangeethavum (Olive Books) was published.
This work, edited by Manoj, is replete with close analyses, intimate conversations, personal memories of noted lyricists, singers, critics and journalists, where evidence in the form of names, places and dates have been accumulated.
For Manoj, who has penned and edited around 30 books on music and cinema, this anthology is special. “This is a humble tribute to a great singer. I realised how much people loved SPB when I requested people from different spheres of life to write. Everyone took time off from their busy schedules to write for this book. This work will always remain special,” says Manoj, who surprisingly never aspired to be a writer.
An English teacher at Mattummal Government Higher Secondary School, Athavanad, in Malappuram district, it was Manoj’s interest in music that found expression in the form of books. “I used to sing a bit, good enough to represent the district at the State Youth Festival in light music and poetry recitation. Then I tried my hand at playing the harmonium. It was like learning the basics and picking up from there, almost self-taught. Gradually, I began accompanying Kathaprasangam artistes on the harmonium,” says Manoj.
All the while, Manoj nursed a fondness for film music and films. “Listening to songs on the radio became part of my life. Along with this, I also began watching films regularly. In the case of films, I was watching mainly offbeat films, those by directors such as Bharathan, Padmarajan, Mohan, and KG George. This passion extended to foreign films and I became a constant at the annual International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK).”
Remembering Raveendran Master
Manoj’s first book was a self-published one — a collection of early poems and stories. His foray into this genre of films, film music and musicians, was after the death of noted music composer Raveendran. “That death shocked me. I loved his music, it excited me, haunted me. I longed to meet him but it never happened. For days I could not sleep. That’s when I decided to write something about Raveendran Master. My article was published in a vernacular magazine. That inspired me.”
Manoj travelled to Kulathupuzha, met members of the composer’s family, recorded their memories and started collecting information and opinion from various sources. Manoj was ready with Raveendra Sangeetham.
“Most of the publishers I approached with this project were sceptical and rejected it outright. That’s when Olive Publishers came forward and agreed to publish it. It was my first work in this genre and that book is into its third edition.”
This work spurred Manoj to write. Along with regular contributions to newspapers and magazines, he wrote a number of books on music and cinema. “These included works that I wrote and also those I edited. In fact, my first award was for a work I edited, P.Bhaskaran Sangeetha Smruthikal, a book on poet-lyricist Bhaskaran Master. It has memoirs by many of his fellow writers, a study of his works, interview with the poet-lyricist and a brief bio-sketch.”
For nearly five years on a trot, Manoj’s books on cinema were released at the IFFK venue. “This was an exciting and rewarding experience. These books covered a variety of themes from music in international films, essays, studies on women characters in world cinema, women film makers, on ten renowned directors with autobiographical notes, interviews and studies.” In these works, Manoj splices social history and critical theory with a personal conversion narrative.
Two of his works on cinema, Cinemayude Adayalangal and Cinemayile Sangeetha Yathrakal fetched him awards. He was granted a Doctorate by the University of Calicut for his research paper on music, which formed the basis for the work Cinemayum Novelum: Kazhchayude Vinimaya Vicharangal.
In the pipeline are books on varied subjects. “There’s one on the life and music of composer AT Ummer, one on noted mridangam player Mavelikkara Krishnankutty Nair, on the musical journey of Salil Choudhary and a dream project on KJ Yesudas.”
Books on music
A.R. Rahman: Vismaya Sangeetham, Mounangal Paadukayayirunnu, Shyama Sangeetham, Udayaragam, Aro Madhuramayi Padi Vilikunnu, Etho Janma Kalpanayil, Pattinte Vysakhapournami, Priyapetta Paattukal, K. Raghavan: Paatinte Rithu Rajaradham, Viswasangeetham
Books on cinema
Malayala Cinema: Kazhchayude Rithubhedangal, Cinemayile Sangeetha Yathrakal, Cinemayum Novelum: Kazhchayude Vinimaya Vicharangal, Loka Cinemayile Sthree Kathapathrangal, Loka Prashastha Vanitha Samvidhayakar, Viswaprasidha Samvidhayakar, Cinemayude Adayalangal