G. Sreeram and Vaikom Vijayalakshmi tune in to Mollywood with a duet in Kamal’s film on J.C. Daniel, Celluloid

Celluloid, filmmaker Kamal’s tribute to J.C. Daniel, the father of Malayalam cinema, marks the playback debut of two singers who’ve been making music for quite some time – G. Sreeram and Vaikom Vijayalakshmi. The two singers are on a high about their duet, ‘Kaatte kaatte…’, a nostalgia-evoking number composed by M. Jayachandran and penned by Rafeeq Ahamed.

For over 30 years now, Sreeram has been recreating the charm of the golden songs of Malayalam cinema and drama, while visually-challenged Vijayalakshmi is a noted Carnatic vocalist and an expert on the one-stringed, Gayathri veena.

Fifty-two might not be every one’s idea of an ideal age to make a debut as a playback singer. But Sreeram would rather term it as “late-blooming.” He says: “I’m overjoyed that Jayachandran gave me a song that suits my genre.”

Sreeram, a programme executive at All India Radio for past 22 years, used to sing tracks for cassettes of Tharangini studio and chorus for many popular songs. When he became part of K.P. Udayabhanu’s ‘Old is Gold’ music troupe, he got the opportunity to work with legendary singers and musicians.

“I could share the stage with Thankam Vasudevan Nair, Kamukara Purushothaman, KPAC Sulochana, C.A. Anto, P. Leela and K.S. George. From then on I got hooked on old songs. My friends would often ask me to sing new songs, but I don’t enjoy singing them as much I enjoy singing evergreen numbers of Mehboob, A.M. Raja, M.K. Thyagaraja Bhagavathar and the drama songs by Devarajan Master. Perhaps, that’s why Jayachandran thought I could sing ‘Kaatte kaatte…’”

Sreeram was initiated into music by his musician father, the late Cherthala Gopalan Nair. His mother, Lalitha Thampi, was also a playback singer. He completed his post graduation in music from Sree Swati Tirunal College of Music, with the first rank. Playback singers Srinivas and G. Venugopal were his contemporaries in school and college. Sreeram seems to have few complaints about his career. “In between, I’d switched over to mimicry as well! But it feels nice that I’m making a debut when there are so many talented singers around,” he says.

Vijayalakshmi, meanwhile, is a singer who has triumphed against many odds. “I’m super excited! I have known Jayachandran sir for a long time. One day, he called me up saying, ‘A miracle is going to happen in your life.’ I couldn’t believe it when he said I was going to sing a song for him,” says the bubbly 31-year-old.

“‘Kaatte kaatte…’ has this melodious old world charm. Singing playback is wholly different from singing classical music. It was quite difficult for me to match the sruti. But then Jayachadran sir was kind enough to give me portions that I was comfortable with,” she says.

Vijayalakshmi mostly taught herself music by listening to audio cassettes of stalwarts, especially her idol K.J. Yesudas. “It was in 1987 that I met him for the first time,” recalls Viji, as she is fondly called. “My parents, Muraleedharan and Vimala, take me around. I see the world through their eyes,” adds Viji, now a disciple of Mavelikkara Ponnammal and Nedumangad Sivanandan.

In between, the enterprising youngster mastered the Gayathri veena, which is actually a modified version of a tanpura gifted to her by a music lover. “My father re-modelled it and got it electrified. It was the late Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan who named it the Gayathri veena,” she says.

Viji plays both classical and film songs on the instrument. And she makes it a point to learn playing the latest Malayalam and Tamil hit numbers. “I learn the songs by trial and error. Now, I’m trying to play the songs of Kammath and Kammath on it!” she says with a chuckle.

Well-composed

Celluloid is set in the 1930s. During the decade, the folk-classical genre seems to have been in vogue. It didn’t take much effort to compose because my guru Neyyattinkara Mohanachandran and his guru, M.M. Dandapani Desikar, used to sing this genre,” says Jayachandran about his compositions for Celluloid, starring Prithviraj, Mamta Mohandas and debutante Chandni.

Jayachandran calls himself “lucky” to have given Sreeram and Vijayalakshmi a chance. “Sreeram is a singer par excellence, whose potential has never been tapped. Vijayalakshmi is one artiste whom I admire. There is something divine about her singing,” he says.

The other song from the movie, ‘Enu ithonnum arinjathe illa…’, written by Engandiyoor Chandrasekharan, is sung by Sithara Krishnakumar, who has sung in movies such as Elsamma Enna Aankutty, Marykkondoru Kunjadu, Traffic and Chapters among others. “I’m working with her for the first time. She has sung the song in a deep bass voice, giving the song a different flavour,” says Jayachandran.