His voice cuts across regional boundaries to appeal to a wide audience. K.R. Manigandan keeps track of ace singer Vijay Prakash’s melodies and milestones

Vijay Prakash’s voice is about versatility. From deep and sombre to high-pitched and cheery, the singer has made the most of his tonal abilities in scores of hits that include ‘Jai Ho’ (Slumdog Millionaire), ‘Hosanna’ (Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya), ‘Kaadhal Anukkal’ (Endhiran), ‘Veera’ (Raavanan) and ‘Om Sivoham’ (Naan Kadavul). I catch up with the studio-hopping singer as he practises his lines prior to a recording session in the city. In jeans and a casual checked shirt, the singer and voice-over artiste for over 10,000 ads, breaks into song. And I simply shoot the breeze…

Born into a musically-inclined family, it was no surprise that Vijay took a liking for music even before he realised what he wanted in life.

“My parents Ramashesha and Lopa Mudra are both Carnatic musicians. My father used to teach my mother music and that’s how they met. My grandfather Lakshmipathy Bhagavathar was a Harikatha exponent,” says Vijay, whose family though hailing from Andhra Pradesh has for many generations been living in Mysore. “And my mother is from Tiruchi. Therefore, we speak Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.”

“I started learning Carnatic music when I was six years old and performed at concerts in temples. Today, if I am able to enjoy different genres of music and dabble in them, it is because of my training in classical music. It has helped me understand and analyse the nuances,” says the singer, who even underwent training under veteran vocalists R. Vedavalli and Raghavendra (in Mysore).

Joining the National Cadet Corps in school proved to be a turning point. “I participated in more than 30 NCC camps held all over India and it was while attending them that I came across several other music forms including folk. That’s when I understood that there was so much more to music.”

He became so involved with music that he even took the bold decision of dropping out of college to take up music full time. “I got into an engineering college to specialise in Electronics and Communications but soon realised that my interest lay elsewhere.” After a visit to Tirupati, the singer set out to Mumbai to seek his fortune. “I had nobody there but I was lucky to find the right people. The first person I met is the well known singer Suresh Wadkar, who helped me in every possible manner he could. It was his friend Vinay Mandke who pointed out that my baritone voice would be suitable for voice-overs.”

From 1996 to 2006, Vijay did voice-overs in various Indian languages. In the meantime, he participated in the popular music show Sa Re Ga Ma hosted by singer Sonu Nigam and emerged as a finalist. “People in the field realised I was capable of much more. I began doing jingles. Till today I have worked on over 3,000 jingles.”

From classical to jazz to pop, Vijay can switch genres as easily as a seasoned driver changes gears in a car. “It’s all in the mind,” he says as he recounts his journey in music. After 10 years of singing, cinema happened. The first song he rendered was for Ismail Darbar’s Baaz. He then went on to work with many big names in the industry such as Ilaiyaraaja and Shankar- Ehsaan-Loy.” Says Vijay, “Working with Raja sir, whose songs I have grown up listening to, was a dream come true. When I heard the song I had to sing, I was anxious if I could do justice but did so in just two hours. That’s his magic.”

Saying Jai Ho

Soon after working with one legend, he got an opportunity to work with another.

“After I was introduced to A.R. Rahman, I recorded two songs — one for Swades and another for S.J. Suryah’s New. After a lull, many songs happened in a row.”

The first was ‘Manamohini’ from Yuvraaj followed by what would become his best-known song, not just in India but across the globe — ‘Jai Ho’ from Slumdog Millionaire.

“‘Jai Ho’ has several singers but I have sung the lead vocals. Wherever I go today, I say that I am one of the singers of the Oscar-winning song and my entire body of work comes under the limelight,” he says.

“I have sung several songs for Harris Jayaraj, who has made excellent use of my skills. I sang ‘Hello Rammante’ in Orange which was a super hit in Telugu. My songs in films such 7aum Arivu, Nanban and Ko have all been chartbusters. Other music directors such as Yuvan Shankar Raja, Keeravani and Devi Sri Prasad have also encouraged me by giving wonderful songs. I am blessed to be able to work with such gifted musicians, who have helped me find the rhythm of my life,” says Vijay with a smile.

On a different track

I am setting up my studio in Mumbai and composing music for a Kannada film Andar Bahar that has Shivraj Kumar in the lead. Music direction has given me a complete picture of the music-making process. I am not too keen on taking up too many projects as I would like to concentrate on my singing for now.

I sang a popular number in a critically-acclaimed film and was excited about it. But when I went to the theatre to watch the film, I realised the song was being rendered by someone else. That day I learn an important lesson: Not to talk about an album till its official release.