Srilekha Parthasarathy’s theatre experience helps her to connect with the audience better as a singer
There is an actor in every singer. Popular playback singer Srilekha Parthasarathy is no exception, but her theatrical skills are not widely known.
“As the cultural secretary of the college music society, I was an automatic choice for the National School of Drama workshop and it helped me hone my skills,” says the Delhi-born Srilekha.
She performed with a professional theatre group. “Once I had the opportunity to don the role of Cleopatra,” she says.
“It was a mock performance in a sense. I was actually an old lady in that play who imagines herself as Cleopatra. It was tough wearing heavy attire under the lights. I got good reviews for the performance.”
Srilekha also worked with a street theatre group but soon quit acting to prevent strain to her voice. “In those days there were no lapel mikes and we had to shout to communicate to the audience,” she says.
She then focused on her singing career. “I started singing right from four years old,” she says. “I had won first prize in Nehru Bal Mela in Delhi. I was crowned the Nightingale of Delhi Tamil Educational Association School when I was in the final year of my school.” Her initial inspiration was her maternal grandfather P.S. Varadhachari, a retired principal of the Madura College who had done research in Physics and Music.
She cut her teeth on college cultural festivals, jingles, cover albums and wedding mehndi music and eventually came to Chennai in pursuit of greener pastures.
Her parents supported her, but she had no contacts in the business. “Those were tough days for me,” she says. “I had nobody in the film industry to back me. Like a sales call, I get numbers of music directors from the directory. Fix a target every day, talk to them, fix up an appointment, wait for hours, meet the composer, give my demo CDs, get back and follow up. This routine went on for three years. But I am happy that nobody is responsible for my success today except my family members.”
It was an ad jingle that put her in the public eye, she recalls, ‘Dhinanthorum Vaanguveer Idhayam’.
“The ad featured Jothika, who was a popular actor, and it gave me enough confidence to do one more round of visits to the offices of music composers. It fetched me good results.”
Her demo CDs reached composer Harris Jeyaraj, who was looking for a fresh voice for the movie Lesa, Lesa. She sang ‘Edho ondru, edho ondru’ in that movie. “The film took three years to hit the silver screen,” she says. But when it was finally released, Srilekha became popular overnight. A string of successes followed with ‘Vinodhane’ for the movie Thennavan.
Yuvan Shankar Raja was the music composer for that movie and he gave her another offer to sing in Kurumbu.
She feels the duet with S.P. Balasubrahmanyam, ‘Kadhalagi kanindhadhu...’, for the movie Pop Corn has been her most challenging song. “I had to sing the lines in one breath,” she says. “It was tough. I was struggling but he did it with ease. I watched him in awe. I practised a lot and finally it came out well. It was a tremendous satisfaction when S.P.B. sir appreciated my effort.”
Srilekha is known in the industry as a natural singer. Her voice is original and she hates imitating. “You have to produce your own substance as it is important for your sustenance,” she feels. “Only thing I am not sincere with is with my riyaz (practice).”
Srilekha believes people can be healed with music and she is working on a project to use music as therapy. “I have personally seen coma patients responding to music,” she says. “I am planning to attempt a fusion with Hindustani classical music. I will be singing alaaps, mantras and keerthans to produce that healing effect on patients.”
As she is into yoga and meditation, she also has plans to use the ‘nadha aradhana’ in yoga. “I don’t do yoga as an exercise,” she says.
“I plan to do yoga with music. After the asanas, the music will be played while cooling down the muscles. Basic idea is to re-energise people.”
Having sung 80-odd songs in Tamil, Telugu and Malayam, and participated in over 600 concerts all over the world, Srilekha’s dream now is to sing for Ilayaraja and A.R. Rahman.
Greatly impressed with the voice presence of Shankar Mahadevan, she also would like to perform a full-fledged stage show with him.