Tamil playback singer and Carnatic musician of long-standing and repute, T M Soundarajan sang more than 10,000 songs in over 3,000 films, besides rendering classical, devotional, and light music songs. Enjoying a long and successful career, he first sang for films in 1946 at the age of 24, and his last playback was rendered with P Suseela in 2010 at the age of 88. Learning South Indian classical singing at age 7, he gave his first concert at 23. Going on to enter the film industry, he rendered songs for South Indian film stars, becoming the singing voice for Tamil screen sensations such as M G Ramachandran, and Sivaji Ganesan. Besides lending his voice to thespians such as N T Rama Rao, Gemini Ganesan, and S S Rajendran, he also sang for actors of younger generations such as Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth, and Vijayakanth. Memorable for rendering several hit numbers such as Ponaal pogotum poda in Paalum Pazamum (1961) and Anbe vaa (1966) in the film of the same name, he also recorded film songs in 11 languages including Kannada, Telugu, Hindi, and Malayalam. He was music director of the film Bala Parikshai, and also composed lyrics and music for several devotional songs. Soundarajan was richly honoured for his contribution to music. He was also awarded the Padma Shri, among other awards.
He was born Thoguluva Meenatchi Iyengar Soundarajan on 24 March, 1923 in Madurai, to Meenakshi Iyengar and Venkatammaa. Starting his training in Carnatic music at the age of 7, he learnt under Chinnakonda Sarangapani Bhagavathar, a music teacher from Sourashtra High School, Madurai, followed by further instruction from Arayakkudi Rajamani Iyer. He left Madurai in search of a career and joined the Royal Talkies in Coimbatore for a monthly salary of Rs. 50. At the age of 23, he started giving stage concerts, his first Carnatic musical concert was being at Sath Guru Samajam, Madurai in 1945. Interestingly, at stage concerts Soundarajan sang in the voice of the then-famous classical singer and actor M K Thyagaraja Bhagavathar.
Success was not instantaneous for Soundarajan. He was initially rejected by music composers and recording technicians as his voice could not sustain in higher pitches. In 1946, he bagged the chance to sing in films when director Sundar Rao Nadkarni recommended him to S M Subbaiah Naidu, who gave him the opportunity to sing five songs in the style of Bhagavathar for P V Narasimha Bharathi’s Krishna Vijayam, which released in 1950. The same year, he went on to sing Annamitta veettiley in the film Manthiri Kumari, followed by an acting as well as singing opportunity in Devagi (1951). Rendering songs for Valaiyapathi (1952), Kalyani (1952), Nalla Pillai (1953), he further trained his voice with the help of music directors at AVM Productions.
His big break came in 1954, when A Maruthakasi recommended him to sing for Thookku Thookki, starring Sivaji Ganesan. Up until then, Ganesan’s songs would be rendered by singer C S Jayaraman. An introductory meeting between Ganesan and Soundarajan ensued, following which Soundarajan rendered the songs closely imitating Ganesan’s voice. He was thereafter on board to render all the Ganesan songs in the film. He was also selected to sing Konjum kiliyana pennai for Sivaji Ganesan in the film Koondukkili (1954). It was the only film in which M G Ramachandran and Sivaji Ganesan acted together. MGR was so impressed by Soundarajan’s rendition that he wanted him to become his permanent singing voice in films; as did Ganesan. He rendered songs for MGR in Malaikkallan (1954), as well as for Sivaji Ganesan in films like Kalvanin Kadhali (1954). He thus became the main playback singer for both MGR and Sivaji till the end of 1978 and 1995 respectively, deftly adopting different styles while singing for each actor that matched their speaking voices.
Soundarajan delivered multiple hits in the course of his career with music directors such as M S Viswanathan, K V Mahadevan, and the Viswanathan-Ramamoorthy duo, becoming a leading singer in Tamil cinema. He worked with more than 70 music directors ranging from S M. Subbaiah Naidu to A R Rahman. He also rendered several hits in Kannada such as Baare baare nanna hinde hinde from Sadaarame (1956), as well as Telugu. He also appeared onscreen as an actor in a few Tamil films such as Devaki (1951), Pattinathar (1962), and Kallum Kaniyagum (1968), also producing the latter with singer A L Raghavan.
In later years, he rendered a song for the 2008 album Netrichutti at the age of 86, as well as for the album Song for Daughter. His last film song was rendered in 2010 with P Susheela for Valibum Sutrum Ulagam, at the age of 88. He also lent his voice for the A R Rahman-composed song Pirapokum ella yuyirukum in 2010 at the Tamil Semmozhi Meet Anthem.
Soundarajan also enjoyed a successful career performing at concerts across the world. Participating in his first musical concert abroad in Malaysia in 1957, he went on to perform all over the world for nearly 50 years till 2007.
Married to Sumithra in 1946, the couple had three sons and three daughters, namely TMS Selvakumar, Chitralekha, Mallika, TMS Balraj, and Chandrika.
T M Soundarajan passed away aged 91, on 25 May 2013 in Chennai, Tamil Nadu.