Manjari has struck a chord with audiences thanks to her soulful, pliable voice. Of late, the young singer, a post-graduate in music from the Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram, who has given us hit playback numbers of the scale of ‘Chinni Chinni’ (Urumi) and ‘Pahi Paramporule’ (Vadakkumnathan), has been on a drive to promote and create awareness about Hindustani classical music and ghazals among audiences in Kerala. Both genres of music, she says, are close to her heart. As such she has been giving concerts on the same, winning over audiences with her perfect diction. She presented the show ‘Khayal’, a popular musical dialogue on ghazals, raags and ragas, on MediaOne channel. Here Manjari talks about her journey in Hindustani music. Excerpts…

Taking to Hindustani music

I grew up in Muscat, Oman, where I started learning Carnatic classical music when I was five or so, mainly because my mother, Latha P.M., was keen that I learn music. I gradually grew more and more interested in Hindustani classical. To take part in singing contests, I started learning Hindustani light music and semi-classical music from Ramkrishnan, a music teacher of Rajasthani origin. Then, when I was 14 or so I started learning Hindustani classical from Ustad Khalid Anvar Jan, a renowned musician from Lahore, Pakistan. He has been my guiding force ever since. He gave me the confidence to sing and gave me a focus. My guru is a big fan of Roshanara Begum and we follow the Kirana gharana. Right now, I am learning from Mumbai-based Pandit Ramesh Jule, also of the Kirana gharana. Hindustani classical music nurtures your voice. Besides, I feel, it also gives more opportunities for improvisation.

Right diction

I took the initiative to get the diction right. Just because you happen to be a Malayali, it does not mean you cannot get your diction right. There is nothing you cannot do if you really set your mind to it. Growing up in a multicultural environment in Muscat, I always had a flair for languages as I had many friends who were native speakers of Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Tamil and so on. I also learnt Arabic in school. So I was familiar with various languages. Besides, my guru used to speak in Urdu and I used to train myself by replying to him in the language. You have to be in constant touch with the language, if you want to sing Hindustani classical or ghazals.

On juggling various genres

I think I am able to concentrate on playback singing, Hindustani classical and ghazal, equally because they are all so different from each other. Hindustani classical has it own mood. When I have to present a classical concert, I usually spend four to five days prior to the concert getting into the mood. Playback singing is by far the easiest because you are only giving your voice to someone else’s creativity.

I feel that a singer is complete only when he/she gets to do something creative. Ghazal, which is close to classical music, offers a lot of scope for improvisation. There is no necessity that you have to follow someone else’s tune. It is the lyrics, the emotion layered in them that are important. There is a lot of spirituality in ghazals too and because of that it is very satisfying for a singer.

Stages for Hindustani classical and ghazals in Kerala

Initially, it was difficult. The first opportunity I had to sing here was for a concert organised by Swaralaya, a cultural organisation, in Thiruvananthapuram. Soorya Krishnamoorthy was present in the audience and he invited me to sing for the Soorya fete. From then onwards, I have had regular stages to perform Hindustani classical music. In fact, I have sung concerts in some 20 countries because of Soorya. Awareness regarding Hindustani classical music is less in Kerala than in other places. But people are getting to know more about this kind of music. Nowadays, while presenting concerts, I get requests to sing particular raags or ghazals.

The show ‘Khayal’

I had always wanted to do a television show on ghazals. There are a lot of people who are into ghazals purely because of the richness of its poetry. I posed the idea to television producer Shibu Chakravarthy and the channel was all for it. I have now completed 64 episodes of the show and we have explored the crème de la crème of ghazals, from Mehdi Hassan to Jagjit Singh. The shoot happens once in two months. It would take me a month to listen to several hundred ghazals and whittle it down to a few for the show. I have now completed the show.