Johnson (composer)

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Johnson (composer).jpg
Background information
Birth nameT. A. Johnson
Also known asJohnson Master
Born(1953-03-26)26 March 1953
Trichur, Travancore-Cochin, India
Died18 August 2011(2011-08-18) (aged 58)
Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India
  • music director
  • instrumentalist
  • singer
Years active1978–2011

Thattil Antony Johnson (26 March 1953 – 18 August 2011), popularly known as Johnson Master, was an Indian film score composer and music director who has given music to some of the most important motion pictures of Malayalam cinema, including those for Koodevide , Namukku Paarkkan Munthiri Thoppukal , Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam , Vadakkunokkiyantram , Perumthachan , Njan Gandharvan , Ponthan Mada , and Bhoothakkannadi . Regarded as one of the finest composers in the industry, [1] he was noted for his lyrical and expressive melodies together with simple but rich tonal compositions of thematic music. Johnson is a recipient of National Film Awards twice and Kerala State Film Awards five times. [2]


After completing B. Com from St. Thomas College, Thrissur, Johnson started his career as an assistant to G. Devarajan in the 1970s, [3] and debuted as an independent composer in late seventies with Aaravam. [4] He was a recurrent collaborator for directors Padmarajan, Bharathan, Sathyan Anthikkad, T. V. Chandran, Kamal, Lohithadas, Balachandra Menon and Mohan. [5] He has composed music for more than 300 Malayalam films, the most by any composer except for Devarajan. [4] He was the first music director from Malayalam cinema to be honoured with the National film Awards. He died of a heart attack in Chennai on 18 August 2011.

Early life

Johnson was born in Nellikkunnu near Trichur (Thrissur) in the state of Travancore-Cochin (now part of Kerala), on 26 March 1953. [6] His father, the late Thattil Antony, was a bank employee. His secondary education was at St. Thomas School in Thope, Trichur. Johnson was a singer in the choir of Nellikkunnu St. Sebastian's Church. He obtained training in guitar and harmonium from his colleagues during this early periods itself. He used to sing in youth festivals and musical shows and joined the orchestra team of some local troupes and played harmonium in many concerts. He also used to sing in female voice in ganamelas (a stage show where film songs are sung by local or professional artists). [7]

In 1968, Johnson and his friends formed a club named Voice of Thrissur. Johnson was the main instrumentalist in the club where he played wide varieties of instruments – guitar, harmonium, flute, drums and violin. [7]

Within a few years, the club became one of the most sought after musical troupes in Kerala, and had more than fifty members. This club used to give accompaniment music to playback singers Jayachandran and Madhuri in their musical shows. It was Jayachandran who introduced Johnson to G. Devarajan, one of the most prolific composers of South Indian cinema then. Devarajan literally adopted Johnson and brought him to Chennai in 1974. Johnson bought an accordion, during this period, from R. K. Shekhar (A. R. Rahman's father), and began assisting Devarajan in filmscoring and composing. [7]

Film scoring and soundtracks

Johnson began his independent career by composing the film scores of Bharathan's Aaravam (1978), Thakara (1980) and Chamaram (1980). He composed his first soundtracks for the film Inaye Thedi, debut film of director turned still photographer Antony Eastman and actress Silk Smitha. It was Devarajan himself, who suggested Johnson to the director. Then came Bharathan's Parvathi and Balachandra Menon's Premageethangal. Premageethangal was a notable success with four of its songs – "Swapnam Verumoru Swapnam", "Nee Nirayoo Jeevanil", "Muthum Mudipponnum" and "Kalakalamozhi" attaining cult status.

He came to prominence through his collaboration with Malayalam author and director Padmarajan. Koodevide was their first venture, which had one of the most famous songs of Johnson "Aadivaa Kaatte", a pathbreaking song in Malayalam music history. It was one of the first songs in Malayalam to so many western classical elements. The song was born out of Padmarajan's need for a western song for his innovative film. Song composition took place in Woodland's Hotel, Chennai. Another notable feature of this song was the lyrics by O. N. V. Kurup, who for the first time wrote lyrics for a pre-composed song. [7] Johnson worked for 11 films with Padmarajan, including his last film Njan Gandharvan . This productive collaboration saw the detailed screenplay and cinematography of Padmarajan become a fertile ground for expressive musical narration and thematic scores for Johnson. This is seen in some of the greatest motion pictures of Malayalam cinema, like Nombarathipoovu (1987). Another notable collaboration of Johnson was with director Sathyan Anthikkad, with whom he associated in almost 25 films. He was able to provide some of his most popular songs with Anthikkad and this combo is widely accepted to be one of the greatest director-composer collaborations in Malayalam cinema. Acclaimed Malayalam director Bharathan also collaborated with him in multiple films including Parvathy, Palangal, Ormakkayi, Kattathe Kilikkoodu, Ente Upasana, Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam, Ozhivukalam, Malootty, Chamayam and Churam . His major other collaborations with directors include Mohan (Oru Katha Oru Nunakkatha, Sakshyam, Pakshe and Angane Oru Avadhikkalathu), Sibi Malayil ( Kireedam, Chenkol, Dasaratham and Nee Varuvolam), Sreenivasan ( Vadakkunokkiyantram and Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala ), Lohithadas ( Bhoothakkannadi , Kamal ( Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal, Shubhayathra, Ee Puzhayum Kadannu and Paavam Paavam Rajakumaran), and Balachandra Menon (Shesham Kazhchayil, Premageethangal, Kilukilukkam, Kelkatha Shabdam and Nayam Vyakthamakkunnu ).

He is also noted for his collaboration with the Malayalam lyricist Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri. Their association began in 1989 with Sathyan Anthikkad's social satire Varavelpu . Most of Johnson's notable works were in the late eighties and early nineties. In 1991, he scored a record number of 31 films, including 29 with Kaithapram. [7] Johnson won National awards for two consecutive years. He won his first National Award for best music direction for the motion picture Ponthan Mada (1993). The next year he got his second National award for Sukrutham for the background score.

After an extremely successful career of more than a decade, Johnson took a sabbatical from film scoring by the end of the nineties. The quantity of his works began perishing during this time. By the beginning of the 2000s, he didn't sign any new projects that even his most noted collaborator Sathyan Anthikkad had to find a new composer. In 2003 he did the background score for the NFDC movie Parinamam (The Change) directed by P. Venu.In 2004, he sang the song "Theekuruvi" from Kangalal Kaidhu Sei , which was composed by A. R. Rahman. Perhaps it is the only song recorded by him for any composer other than himself. He returned strongly to the field with Photographer in 2006, which fetched him numerous awards. [8]

Non-cinematic outputs

Johnson has released four non-film albums. His first album Sneha Deepika was released in 1989 on Tharangini audios. It had nine Christian devotional songs – "Aathma Swaroopa", "Unni Yesu Pirannu", "Manninum Poovinum", "Thumbapoo Polulla", "Bhoomikku Pulakam", "Manassakumengil", "Kulir Choodum", "Arthungal Innoru" and "Vidarnna Punchiri". The featured artists were K. J. Yesudas, K. S. Chithra and Sujatha. [9] His second album Onathappan, a collaboration with M. G. Radhakrishnan and Berny-Ignatius, consisted of nine festival songs. The track "Mundon Paadam" was composed by Johnson, sung by M. G. Sreekumar and had lyrics penned by Bichu Thirumala. [10] His third album Nannipoorvam Johnson, consisted of twelve tracks – "Chandanakkavilinnu", "Panineeru Peyyum", "Vasundhare", "Virunnu Vanna", "Prapanjam Sundaram", "Enthe Nee Varathe", "Nilasandhyayil", "Veruthe Onnu", "Ponnazhikkuttu", "Pranayappirave", "Kalindhi", and an introductory speech by Sreenivasan. The lyricists were R. K. Damodaran, Gireesh Puthenchery, Kaithapram, Bichu Thirumala, M. D. Rajendran, K. Jayakumar, S. Ramesan Nair and Poovachal Khader and the songs were rendered by K. J. Yesudas, P. Jayachandran, K. S. Chithra, M. G. Sreekumar, Aparna Rajeev, Dr. Rashmi Madhu and Johnson himself. In 2009, he released his second Christian devotional album entitled Parishudhan. It had eleven tracks – "Vazhiyum Sathyavum Nee Thanne (Vijay Yesudas), "Mullukal Kuthi" (Chithra), "Ariyathe Polum" (G. Venugopal), "Neethimanayavane" (Sujatha), "Traditional song" (Louis), "Mazhayum Veyilum" (Rimi Tomy), "Oru Viral Sparshathal (Sudheep), "Loka Palaka" (Chithra), Neethanthamam (Vijay Yesudas), and "Kannukalil Theliyum" (Manjari).

Music style and impact

His skilful integration of textual rhythm of the lyrics together with rich tonal arrangement, redefined songwriting in Malayalam cinema, since the late 1980s. In his film scores, Johnson combines native South Indian melodic patterns with the harmonic structure of classical music and this has attained an expressive form of narration through film score. [11] He composed for about 300 films, making him the second most composed music director in Malayalam, after his guru G. Devarajan. Though he has obtained no formal training in classical music, he was able to incorporate the beauty of Carnatic ragas in his songs. Most of his songs were composed on Kalyani raga.

Johnson's favourite male singer was K. J. Yesudas, who has recorded many songs for him, while S. Janaki and K. S. Chithra were his favourite female singers. Chithra had some of her most noted songs with Johnson. [12]

Johnson is fondly called Johnson Master (Johnson Mashu) by Malayalee audiences. Even his contemporaries and competitors refer him with the tag 'Master' ('mash' in Malayalam).

His background scoring style has a cult following. His scores from Thoovanathumbikal, Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal, Manichitrathazhu, Thaniyavarthanam, Chitram, Bharatham, Aparan, Kireedam, Sukrutham are considered to be amongst the best.


Johnson won his first National Film Award for the Best Music Direction for the film Ponthan Mada (1994) and the very next year he won his second National film award for the Best Background score for the film Sukrutham (1995) [13] He was the first Malayalee music composer to receive a National award in music category and is also the only Malayalee music director who received two national awards in music category. This film has one song Adimarunge ayyayya (അടിമരുങ്ങേ അയ്യയ്യാ) lyrics by O. N. V. Kurup and sung by K. S. Chithra and chorus composed by Johnson. This is a folk song. National film award committee noted that he brilliantly integrated western folk tunes into this song.[ citation needed ] The award was given for best music direction and background score of this film. He has received three Kerala State Film Award for Best Music Director, for the films Ormakkayi (1982), Vadakkunokkiyantram and Mazhavil Kavadi (1989), and Angane Oru Avadhikkalathu (1999). He was awarded the Kerala State Film Award for Best Background Music for the films Sadayam (1992) and Sallapam (1996). He has thus received five Kerala State Film Awards in music category, an achievement he shares with Devarajan. He has received the Kerala Film Critics Awards four times, the most recent in 2008 for Gulmohar. In 2007, he won the Mathruboomi Award for Best Music Director for Photographer (2006). [14] He won the Mullasserry Raju Music Award for the song "Enthe Kannanu Karuppu Niram", also from the same film. In addition, he has received numerous other awards and nominations including Devarajan Master Memorial Award and Raveendran Master Memorial Award. [15]


Johnson died at his home in Chennai on 18 August 2011 at the age of 58, due to a massive heart attack. [16] He was survived by his wife Rani Johnson, son Renn Johnson and daughter Shan Johnson. Renn Johnson died on 25 February 2012 in a motorbike accident in Chennai. [17] Shan Johnson, a trained singer and musician, died of a cardiac arrest at her flat in Chennai on 5 February 2016. [18] [19]

Partial discography

Original scores and soundtracks

1979 Cheriyachante Kroorakrithyangal
Oridathoru Phayalvaan
Inaye Thedi
Ithiri Neram Othiri Karyam
Kelkatha Shabdam
Swarna Gopuram
Ithu Njangalude Kadha
Thuranna Jail
1983 Koodevide
Shesham Kaazhchayil
Onnu Chirikkoo
Kattathe Kilikkoodu
Ivide Thudangunnu
1984 Parannu Parannu Parannu
Ente Upasana
Swanthamevide Bandhamevide
1985Akkacheede Kunjivava
Nerariyum Nerathu
Oru Kudakkeezhil
Makan Ente Makan
Kadha Ithu Vare
Oduvil Kittiya Vartha
Aa Neram Alpa Dooram
1986 Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal
Oru Katha Oru Nunnakkatha
Neram Pularumpol
Kariyila Kattu Pole
Ice Cream
Malamukalile Daivam
Ente Entethumathram
1987 Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam
Ithente Needhi
Arinjo Ariyatheyo
Onnam Manam Poomanam
Archana Pookkal
Kathirippinte Thudakkam
1988 Aparan
Unnikrishnante Adyathe Christmas
Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu
1989 Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal
Nerunnu Nanmakal
Lal Americayil
Pradeshika Varthakal
Pandu Pandoru Desathu
1990Nanma Niranjavan Sreenivasan
Muppathi Randam Naal
Sunday 7 PM
Dr. Pasupathy
Kouthuka Vaarthakal
Ee Kanni Koodi
Cheriya Lokavum Valiya Manushyarum
Niyamam Endu Cheyyum
Pavam Pavam Rajakumaran
Ananthanum Appukkuttanum Anayundu
1991Kakka Thollayiram
Sundari Kakka
Mimics Parade
Kanal Kaattu
Innathe Program
Karpoora Deepam
Aanaval Mothiram
Apoorvam Chilar
Ennum Nanmakal
Njaan Gandharvan
Nagarathil Samsaaravishayam
Venal Kinavukal
Cheppukilukkana Changaathi
Nayam Vyakthamakkunnu
1992 My Dear Muthachan
Kunukkkitta Kozhi
Kasargode Khadarbhai
Maanthrika Cheppu
Kudumba Sametham
Poochaikkaru Manikettum
Aayaram Gayaram
Ambathu Lakshavum Maruthi Carum
1993Addheham Enna Iddheham
Golanthara Vartha
Ente Sreekuttiku
O' Faby
Meleparambil Aanveedu
1994 CID Unnikrishnan B.A., B.Ed.
Ponthan Mada
The City
Kudumba Visesham
Manathe Vellitheru
Malappuram Haji Mahanaaya Joji
Ormakal Undaayirikkanam
Kaattile Thadi Thevarude Aana
Mangalam Veettil Manaseswari Gupta
Sunny Scooter
Thovala Pookkal
1996 Ee Puzhayum Kadannu
Thooval Kottaram
Aayiram Naavulla Ananthan
Kalyana Sougandhikam
1997 Irattakuttikalude Achan
Killikurisiyile Kudumbhamela
Manthra Mothiram
Sankeerthanam Pole
Guru Sishyan
Oral Mathram
Itha Oru Snehagatha
Nee Varuvolam
Athyunnathangalil Koodaram Panithavar
Manjukaalavum Kazhinju
Chinthavishtayaya Shyamala
1999Angane Oru Avadikkalathu
Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal
2000 Swayamvara Panthal
Ee Mazha Thenmazha
Oru Cheru Punchiri
2001 Narendran Makan Jayakanthan Vaka
The Gift of God
Police Academy
2002 Yathrakarude Sradhakku
Stop Violence
Suvarna Mohangal
2003 Parinamam (The Change)
Paadam Onnu: Oru Vilapam
2006 Kisan
2009 Vellathooval
2011 Nadakame Ulakam
Anandhan Pillai Adhava Arjunan Pillai
Bharyamar Adharikkapedunnu
2012 Navagatharkku Swagatham

Original scores

The following lists out the films in which Johnson composed the background score but not songs.

As Playback Singer

As Playback Singer
1982Aasane Ponnasane Football Johnson Shyam Krishna Malayalam
1991AduppoodhumNaathu Nattaachu Rajamani Kalidasan Tamil
1992Verumoru Moshtavaya Enne Cheppadividya S.P. Venkatesh K. Ayyappa Panicker Malayalam
1993Paadippokaam Samagamam Johnson O.N.V. Kurup Malayalam
1993Naadodi Koothadan Vaa Paamaram Johnson Bichu Thirumala Malayalam
1995Aaraaro Aariraro Thovalappookkal Johnson Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri Malayalam
1998Mookkilla Naakkilla Vismayam Johnson Raghunath Paleri Malayalam
2000Himabinduvayi Susanna Johnson K. Jayakumar Malayalam
2004Theekuruvi Kangalal Kaidhu Sei A. R. Rahman Thenmozhi Tamil
2006Pulchaadi Photographer Johnson Kaithapram Damodaran Namboothiri Malayalam
2006Ammaanam Chemmaanam Kisan Johnson Gireesh Puthenchery Malayalam
2008Thaazhe PaadamGulmohur Johnson O.N.V. Kurup Malayalam

Non-film albums

Independent Albums
1987Sabarigeetham Mankombu Gopalakrishnan, N. K. Ravendran, Muttom Gopinath RJ Series
1989Sneha Deepika Tharangini_Records
1992Onathappam Bichu Thirumala Ranjini
2002Nandipoorvam JohnsonTichus Audios
2009Parishudhan O.N.V Kurup, Gireesh Puthenchery Zion Classics
2011Rajavu EzhunnallunnuManorama Music

Notable songs

In an interview with Malayala Manorama , Johnson listed the following 13 songs as his favourite songs. [7]


National Film Awards

1993 Best Music Direction Ponthan Mada
1994 Best Music Direction Sukrutham Background score only

Kerala State Film Awards

1982 Best Music Direction Ormakkayi
1989 Best Music Direction Mazhavilkavadi, Vadakkunokkiyanthram
1992 Best Background Music Sadayam
1996 Best Background Music Sallapam
1999 Best Music Direction Angene Oru Avadhikkalathu

Kerala Film Critics Association Awards

1983 Best Music Director [20] Koodevide
1988 Best Music Director [20] Isabella , Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu
1992 Best Music Director [20] Savidham , Kudumbasametham
1996 Best Music Director [20] Sallapam , Ee Puzhayum Kadannu
2008 Best Music Director [20] Gulmohar


  1. P. K. Ajith Kumar (6 February 2016). "Pathos of a wilting melody". The Hindu . Retrieved 23 July 2017.
  2. Aswathy Gopalakrishnan (18 August 2016). "Johnson Master: In Memory Of The Self-Taught Musical Genius". Silverscreen India. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  3. "Devarajan, a composer who embraced different styles". The Hindu . 16 March 2006. Archived from the original on 29 September 2008. Retrieved 23 February 2011.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  4. 1 2 "Down melody lane". The Hindu . 4 May 2007. Archived from the original on 25 January 2013. Retrieved 23 February 2011.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  5. K. Pradeep (25 August 2011). "The complete musician". The Hindu . Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  6. S. Shivprasadh (11 August 2016). "Brilliant tunesmith bids adieu". The Hindu . Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "മനുഷ്യത്വം ഉണ്ടോ സിനിമയിൽ" (in Malayalam). Archived from the original on 8 August 2014. Retrieved 22 February 2011.
  8. "Photographer Synopisis". Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  9. deepika&stype=movie&submit=Find+Songs "Sneha Deepika (1989)"
  10. "Onathappan" Archived 21 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  11. "Johnson brings an evening of melody to Dubai". Khaleej Times . 22 April 2010. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  12. ""Johnson: a versatile composer who hums a retreat note"". Archived from the original on 7 February 2008. Retrieved 7 February 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link)
  13. P.K.Ajith Kumar (4 August 2006). "Conjuror of tunes". The Hindu . Archived from the original on 14 March 2007.
  14. "Mammootty, Padmapriya bags Mathrubhumi awards". IndiaGlitz. 15 September 2007. Archived from the original on 15 October 2007. Retrieved 23 February 2011.
  15. "A treat for music lovers" [usurped] . The Hindu. 21 September 2007. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
  16. "Music maestro Johnson no more". The New Indian Express . 19 August 2011. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  17. "Music director Johnson's son Ren dies in accident". Mathrubhumi . 25 February 2012. Archived from the original on 26 February 2012. Retrieved 25 February 2012.
  18. "Late music director Johnson's daughter Shan found dead in Chennai". Daily News and Analysis . 5 February 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  19. "Shan Johnson died of cardiac arrest: Autopsy report". The News Minute . 7 February 2016. Retrieved 18 March 2023.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 "കേരള ഫിലിം ക്രിട്ടിക്‌സ് അവാര്‍ഡ് 1977 - 2012". Kerala Film Critics Association. Retrieved 18 March 2023.

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">K. Raghavan</span> Musical artist

K. Raghavan, also fondly called Raghavan Master, was a Malayalam music composer and Carnatic Vocalist. Along with G. Devarajan, V. Dakshinamoorthy and Baburaj, Raghavan is often credited for the renaissance of Malayalam film music. He is regarded as the pioneer in contributing Malayalam film songs with its own tunes and styles. Till then, Malayalam film songs were in the tunes of popular Hindi and Tamil film songs and old classical kritis. Raghavan gave a new direction and identity to Malayalam film music. He composed around 400 songs in Malayalam cinema and was active in the Malayalam film industry for nearly four decades. In 1997, he was honoured with the J. C. Daniel Award, Kerala government's highest honour for contributions to Malayalam cinema.

Anjukandy Thalakkal Ummer was a Malayalam music composer from Kerala, India. He is known for composing many soft melodies for 174 Malayalam movies.

<i>Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam</i> 1987 Malayalam drama film

Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam is a 1987 Malayalam-language drama film directed by Bharathan, written by John Paul and produced by M. G. Gopinath and Babu Thiruvalla. The film stars Nedumudi Venu, Sharada, and Parvathy in lead roles, while Devan, Innocent, and Sankaradi play supporting roles. The film is about an elderly teacher couple, who bring up a girl with devotion — only to lose her as well as her son.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">M. B. Sreenivasan</span> Indian composer (1925-1988)

Manamadurai Balakrishnan Sreenivasan, or MBS, was a South Indian music director who worked mainly in the Malayalam and Tamil film industries.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Vipindas</span> Indian cinematographer and director (1938–2011)

Vipindas was an Indian cinematographer and director. He has cinematographed more than 200 films in Malayalam alone, and has directed a couple of films.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lathika</span> Indian playback singer

Lathika is an Indian playback singer whose voice held sway over the music charts in the late 1980s-early 1990s in the Malayalam film industry. She has lent her voice mainly for Malayalam and Tamil film songs for over 300 films. Some of her hit songs of that time are ‘Kathodu Kathoram…' and ‘Devadoothar Padi…'(Kathodu Kathoram), ‘Poo Venam Pooppada Venam...', and ‘Tharum Thalirum...' (Chilambu).