Minmini had it made for her, an enchanting voice and a musical career to match. She tells K. Pradeep what it was like at the top and shares the trauma of suddenly losing her voice
It happened almost 16 years ago, but every time Minimini does a rewind of that day it gives her the gooseflesh. The young singer had just met and sung before Ilayaraja. Gangai Amaran, P. Jayachandran and poet Vaali were among the audience. A recording was on in one of the studio floors. Stepping in she was stunned by the huge orchestra – hundred violins et al. Turning around she was in for a bigger surprise. Inside the cubicle nearby stood Asha Bhonsle; in flesh and blood, singing one of Ilayaraja’s compositions. “I don’t really know what happened to me then. I began crying. Here was a legend that I had heard so much about from my mother. Here she was singing in that lovely voice. And what was I, a rookie singer from a nondescript village in Kerala, doing there? Ilayaraja Sir, sensing my feelings perhaps, introduced me to Ashaji, who blessed me. That same evening I recorded my first Tamil song for Ilayaraja Sir,” recounts Minmini of a day which launched her musical career.
Leap to fame
A lot more happened that day. Illayaraja christened her Minmini, as he felt her name Mini somehow did not have a Tamil ring, and asked her to stay back in Chennai. For the next five days Minmini recorded for the maestro. Songs for other music directors followed and then came A. R. Rahman’s ‘Chinna china asai…’ (Roja). Minmini was virtually catapulted to national fame. “Frankly, I was simply being led ahead. I knew nothing at all. I had no formal training in music. Though I got admission to the RLV Music Academy in Tripunithura, I could not join. By then I was busy as a permanent recording artist in Cochin Arts and Communication, Kochi, and singing in ganamelas. Right from my childhood I simply loved music. I used to adore anyone who could sing. My training was from the different music directors for whom I sang during those early days. Even today I don’t think I can identify all the ragas, nor do I search for the beauty of the words in a song. I try to sing as close to what the music directors teach me. Getting into films was something I had not bargained for.”
Probably it was her ability to reproduce every note, cadence, exactly blotting paper-like, that impressed Ilayaraja and the others. “Maybe this was one reason. It cannot be anything else for when I was asked to sing a kirtan I told him I did not know one. Even now I don’t know all that. I have often heard Ilyaraja Sir say that he liked my voice.”
It is this innocence and rustic simplicity that comes out in Minmini’s singing. Her voice brought out her heart, her moral convictions, singing with her life.
Even before this Tamil experience, Minmini had made her debut as playback singer in the Malayalam film ‘Swagatham.’ In Chennai, Minmini stayed with Jerry Amaldev for the first few days before moving in to the late C. O. Anto’s house as a paying guest.
For two years Minmini dominated the scene. She sang in seven languages and around 2,000 songs. She won the Tamil Nadu State award for best female singer for her brilliant ‘Roja’ solo. In Malayalam she was the favourite of music directors like Johnson, Raveendran, S. P. Venkatesh, Bombay Ravi and Mohan Sithara. Some of her songs like ‘Souparnikamritha….’ (Kizhakkunaram Pakshi), ‘Oonjal Urangi…’, Neelaraavil…’ (Kudumbasametham), ‘Kakka poocha…’ (Pappayude Swantham Apoos), ‘Paathiraavayi…’ (Vietnam Colony), ‘Swayam varamai…’ (Paithrukam), ‘Vellithinkal…’ (Meleparambil Aanveedu), ‘Aarunee vinmakale perucholamo…’ (Ghazal) and many others turned super hits.
Then came that debilitating blow. Minmini lost her voice. She was even unable to speak. “Those few years were terrible. In fact, I knew it was coming but never thought it would be so serious. I remember how I gradually began losing confidence, cancelling my schedules fearing loss for those who had arranged everything. It was at this time that Rahman called and said he had a song for me. He tried to reassure me that he was not going to lose anything even if I could not sing for the studio was his. I went and found that singing was a far cry for me. All that I managed was to blurt out the words. Rahman recorded everything and it was his brilliance that made it into a song. That one ‘Pachakkili paadum…’ for the film ‘Karuthamma’ was the last I recorded. After that it was silence.” In that silence Minmini found many things.
Minmini got married almost at this time and now had to shoulder new responsibilities. “The cause for loss of voice remains a mystery. I believe that it was the will of God. I was forced out of a dream world and look around. This was the time when I began realising so much about life. It is a miracle that I’m able to speak and sing now.”
Along with her husband Joy Mathew, a popular keyboard player, they have formed a music troupe ‘Sound of Music’ for which Minmini sings occasionally. She has sung in a couple of albums but has not received any offers from films of late. “Trends have changed. These days a singer needs to market oneself , keep calling many people for chances. I don’t think I’ll be able to do it. I’m happy with what life has given me, a magical career where I rubbed shoulders with some of the legends in music, a loving husband and two lovely children,” Minmini rounds off.