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Gayathri and Vidhu Pratap on music and More

`Work hard, be happy'

It is a euphonious duet when two award winning playback singers get together. There is not a single discordant note in their conversation. As Gayathri Ashokan and Vidhu Pratap get together for a Take Two interview, there is fun, banter and above all music. Gayathri, who hit the limelight with her soulful song `Deenadayalo Rama... ' in `Arayanagalude Veedu' won the Kerala State Award for her song `Endee Nee Kannaa' in the movie `Sasneham Sumithra.'

Vidhu, who was selected as the first `Voice of the Year' award in a music competition conducted by a private channel in 1997-98 made waves with his songs in `Meesa Madhavan,' `Swapnakoodu' and the song `Sukamanee Nilavu' in `Nammal.' He won the State award for the best male playback singer in 2000. Saraswathy Nagarajan and Bimal Sivaji record.

Two lines of an impromptu `oppana' sung by Vidhu welcome Gayathri to Vidhu's house in Kaithumukku. Gayathri is getting married to Sai, a dentist in Kozhikode, on January 4.

Vidhu: So, you are going to lose all you fans.

Gayathri: My fans enjoy my songs. Getting married has nothing to do with it. How about you?

Vidhu: I am not old enough to get married. I am only 24 (laughs).

Gayathri: Let us talk about music.

Vidhu: I am just back after a recording in Kochi for a movie. It began at 12.30 a.m. After the first recording was over at 3.00 a.m., I went back, slept and returned to the studio at 6 a.m. But I did not feel tired. It was quite alright. However, on the way back, I was feeling very sleepy.

Gayathri: Rehman also does most of his work at night. I had been to see the rushes of Jairaj's film `Makalku.' Quite a few singers have sung for the movie. Hariharan, Adnan Sami, Jassie Gift and Manjari have also sung for the movie.

Vidhu: Will you continue as a playback singer after your marriage.

Gayathri: Yes. My fiancée does not have a problem about that.

Vidhu: Is it an arranged marriage?

Gayathri: Yes. The horoscopes were matched...

Vidhu: I believe in horoscopes too. But difficult to predict what kind of a marriage I will have...

Gayathri: Let us talk about you. When did you decide to be a singer? You sing a number of Tamil songs and your diction and pronunciation are pucca. What I like about your songs is that you have an individual style and never try to mimic anyone.

Vidhu: Well, my mother Laila hails from Amaravila. A lot of people there speak Tamil. Perhaps that is why my Tamil is good. As a student, I was not into music alone. During my school days in Christ Nagar, I used to participate in monoacts, mimicry and singing. So, I was not exposed to too much of songs. Like many kids, I was also learning Carnatic music. My first teacher was Sreekanteswaram Saraswathy Ambal. Now my guru is B. Sasikumar. It was after I won the Voice of the Year Award that I seriously thought about becoming a singer.

Father's pride

Gayathri: I have heard that your father, Prathapan, is the person who really motivated you to become a singer.

Vidhu: Yes. Ninety per cent of the effort was my father's. He backed me and encouraged and, most importantly, supported me financially. After I won the `Voice of the Year' award, I got some offers to sing for concerts. I first sang for a movie called `Paadamudra' when I was in Class IV. My first real break was `Devadasi.' I have a song in `Rasikan.' When did you decide to become a singer. You come from a family of musicians.

Gayathri: But I was not focussed like you people. I used to enjoy music a great deal and was learning Carnatic music. My grandmother, Ammukutty, was a good singer and my Valliamma (mother's sister) used to play the veena beautifully. She was a professor at Stella Marris in Chennai. Then, when I was doing my BA, I became a great fan of Hariharan and that is when I decided that I had to learn Hindustani music. I went to Pune as my guru Alka Marulkar was staying there. I stayed there to learn Hindustani.

Vidhu: Don't you think that Hariharan's ghazals and songs had a great influence in making Hindustani music so popular in Kerala?

Gayathri: Absolutely. He has a great voice and moreover since he is a South Indian, a lot of people were able to relate to him better. How did you take care of your voice? I have heard that male singers go through a difficult phase when their voice breaks.

Vidhu: It is very difficult and frustrating. You not sure whether to begin on a high or low note. Suddenly, in the middle, your voice lets you down. That was a difficult period.

Gayathri: During that time, doing the wrong riyaz could damage your voice.

Vidhu: During that time Vazhuthacaud Sunil, who had passed his Ghanabhooshanam was not too busy then. He used to come at 5 a.m. and I had to get up and practise. Sometimes I used to get angry as I had to get up early. But now I feel that was good for my voice.

Gayathri chechi, you have a younger brother?

Gayathri: His name is Ganesh and he is an engineer.

Vidhu: Ask Gayathri chechi what she calls her father? Neshu. And do you know what they call their mother? Nunia (Gayathri laughs out loud). That is the language in their house. Her father's real name is Ashokan.

Gayathri: From Ashokan it first became `Ashu' then it became Neshu.

Vidhu: They have such short forms for many such things. I was able to decipher her language only after working with her for four or five years.

Gayathri: We have done a number of stage shows together and they are usually a hit. Is it not Vidhu? Vidhu dances... Vidhu: She will not ...

Gayathri: I don't dance to impress anybody.

Vidhu: When we do a show it is for the audience.

Gayathri: But that does not mean you `work out' on the stage. He even tried to moon walk.

Vidhu: I try to entertain the audience.

Gayathri: Have you learnt dancing?

Favourite songs

Vidhu: For some time. The audience enjoy our concerts. I like Gayathri chechi's songs such as `Deendayalo' and `Endee Nee Kanna.' The song that won her the award...

Gayathri: As soon as I heard `Sukamanee... ' during a stage show, I was attracted to that song. It is a very romantic one and the song creates a mood. Vidhu: Gayathri, don't you sing fast numbers?

Gayathri: Only if I get fast numbers.

Vidhu: There is one thing. One is lucky to get to sing melodies.

Gayathri: Have you planned your career?

Vidhu: Mine is a not a planned life at all.

Gayathri: But you should have planned something in secret?

Vidhu: That has to remain a secret. There is nothing like that. I don't know how long I will be able to stay on in this field. I wish to be in the field for a long time. Then there is enough competition in this field. Work hard and be happy.

Vidhu: If the husband and wife are from the same profession, there would be problems. I would prefer her to be in some other profession. So what is your ambition?

Gayathri: Talking about my ambition, well, I have spent time and energy to go to Bangalore and learn Hindustani music. My guru is Pandit Vinayak Torvi. Right now, I want to be a singer. Maybe later, when I mature as a singer I may set up a school.

Photo: S. Gopakumar

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