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Throaty treat

`Paravai' Muniamma is a sought after folk singer with films, ads and stage performances galore


AT THE age of 62, most women will either confine themselves to supervision of household duties or visit to temples. But there are exceptions like `Paravai' Muniamma, a folk artiste and playback singer-cum-actress, whose zest for life seems unmatched.

Even at this age, she has the stamina to go for an all-out performance on stage where she bubbles with sheer enthusiasm and joy of regaling audiences. She is unstoppable ever since her meteoric rise to stardom which came with the chartbusting number `Singam pola' from the Tamil hit "Dhool". Overnight, she became a household name. "Don't call me a star. There are many others who have excelled in this field. People such as Gunasekaran and Kottaisamy (folk singers) have done yeomen service to folk arts. They are real stars," she says humbly when complimented on her success.

Muniamma can never forget the efforts put in by `Kollangudi' Karuppayee'. "She is a pioneer and our inspiration. Only after her entry into films, folk artistes have dared to dream of a break in movies."

Muniamma's voice defies her age. When she gets on to the stage, she simply makes everyone sit up with her peppy voice. With a native flair, she dances to the tunes and so rhythmic are her movements that members of the audience can't be laid back.

"I owe what I'm today to my teacher, S.Perumal Konar of Paravai. He was instrumental in imparting basic knowledge of folk songs. He taught me nuances of this art," says Muniamma.

Even as a seven-year-old, she had it in her — an instinct to follow folk songs closely. Her interest in singing was spotted pretty early by a gentleman Rangarajan, who approached her father to sign her up for the movie "Ayiram Thalai Vangiya Aboorva Chinthamani". This was her first offer for playback singing.

"That happened 50 years ago. But my father Karuppiah Servai did not give me permission, as it was a taboo for women to act and sing in films those days. I had to resist my temptation and continue with my studies. However, my father, who was working in the then Harvey Mills, was considerate enough to allow me to learn folk music," she recalls.

It was only after several years that Munniamma's potential and talent as a folk singer matured and she took to singing in temple functions. "I entered professional singing at a very late age as I had domestic responsibilities to fulfil."

She remains grateful to Balan and Jegannathan of Ramji Audios who gave her a break on stage. The folk number "Naadu summa kedanthalum kedakkum" earned her encomiums. "It was they who promoted by releasing my album and offers started pouring in."

Munniamma's fortunes swung when she started touring with the professional music troupe Laxman-Shruti, who signed a contract with her for public performances. She globe-trotted and got introduced on the international circuit. Along with it also came hefty payments - much higher than what other folk singers used to get. Though she has few Tamil numbers to her credit, her versatility is well acknowledged. Her voice has transcended boundaries with performances in Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Australia.

Munniamma had also started her own music troupe to give performances in neighbouring places. "There were five to six women who sang well. But I had to disband my troupe as I was not able to concentrate on too many jobs at a time."

Before being chosen to sing for "Dhool" by the music director Vidyasagar, Munniamma had other film offers. She regrets having lost a chance in the blockbuster "Muthu" but still hopes to work with A.R.Rahman someday.

Far more active for her age, the grand old folk singer makes it a point to regularly visit her agricultural fields at Perumalpatti near Vadipatti.

T.SARAVANAN

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