When did the playback system come into vogue in Tamil Cinema? In the 1930s there were no technical facilities to pre-record songs in a
sound- recording theater before the commencement of the film shoot as
it is done today. Songs were recorded along with dialogue while the
camera rolled. Consequently only artistes capable of singing with
their own voices were chosen to act. While the actor sang, members of
the orchestra sat safely away from the camera range and played the
background musical score. If the actor had to walk, the accompanying
musicians too walked along with him carrying their instruments!
That's why only instruments that could be carried or strung round the
necks were used. Harmonium, flute, violin, clarinet, mridangam and
such were commonly in use. No pianos or veenas, thank you! In outdoor
scenes, the instrument-players sat under trees or on mats or trolley
and played happily. If any player committed a mistake in playing a
note or swara in the last line or word the shot had to be taken
The playback system came into existence in Calcutta during mid- 1930s
and was used in Bengali and Hindi films.
Some musicians did not appear on screen but lent their voices and sang for films as
off-screen 'playback' singers. (Radha) Jayalakshmi, M. L.
Vasanthakumari, and D. K. Pattammal belong to such a list out of which
Pattammal is "the greatest Roman of them all."
Because of her family background, tradition and Brahmin middle class
values Pattammal never sang love duets and hardly saw the films in
which she sang! After she rose to dizzying heights of success and fame
in the Carnatic Music world she moved away from films. Perhaps she
sang in too few films but her songs of Bharathiyar in " Nam Iruvar"
shall ever remain immortal melodies.