Chat G. Sreeram and Vaikom Vijayalakshmi tune in to Mollywood with a duet in Kamal’s film on J.C. Daniel, Celluloid

C elluloid , filmmaker Kamal’s tribute to J.C. Daniel, the father of Malayalam cinema, marks the playback debut of two singers who’ve been making music for quite some time – G. Sreeram and Vaikom Vijayalakshmi. The two singers are on a high about their duet, ‘Kaatte kaatte…’, a nostalgia-evoking number composed by M. Jayachandran and penned by Rafeeq Ahamed.

For over 30 years now, Sreeram has been recreating the charm of the golden songs of Malayalam cinema and drama, while visually-challenged Vijayalakshmi is a noted Carnatic vocalist and an expert on the one-stringed, Gayathri veena. Sreeram, 52, a programme executive at All India Radio for past 22 years, used to sing tracks for cassettes of Tharangini and chorus for many popular songs. When he became part of K.P. Udayabhanu’s ‘Old is Gold’ music troupe, he got the opportunity to work with legendary singers and musicians.

“I could share the stage with Thankam Vasudevan Nair, Kamukara Purushothaman, KPAC Sulochana, C.O. Anto, P. Leela and K.S. George. From then on I got hooked on old songs. My friends would often ask me to sing new songs, but I don’t enjoy singing them as much I enjoy singing evergreen numbers of Mehboob, A.M. Raja, and the drama songs by Devarajan Master. Perhaps, that’s why Jayachandran thought I could sing ‘Kaatte kaatte…’”

Sreeram was initiated into music by his musician father, the late Cherthala Gopalan Nair. His mother, Lalitha Thampi, was also a playback singer. He completed his post graduation in music from Sree Swati Tirunal College of Music, with first rank. Sreeram seems to have few complaints about his career. “In between, I’d switched over to mimicry as well! But it feels nice that I’m making a debut when there are so many talented singers around,” he says.

Vijayalakshmi is a singer who has triumphed against many odds. “I’m super excited! I have known Jayachandran sir for a long time. One day, he called me up saying, ‘A miracle is going to happen in your life.’ I couldn’t believe it when he said I was going to sing a song for him,” says the bubbly 31-year-old.

Vijayalakshmi mostly taught herself music by listening to audio cassettes of stalwarts, especially her idol K.J. Yesudas. “My parents, Muraleedharan and Vimala, take me around. I see the world through their eyes,” adds Viji, now a disciple of Mavelikkara Ponnammal and Nedumangad Sivanandan.

The youngster also mastered the Gayathri veena, which is a modified version of a tanpura gifted to her by a music lover. “My father re-modelled it and got it electrified. It was the late Kunnakudi Vaidyanathan who named it the Gayathri veena.”

Viji plays both classical and film songs on the instrument. And she makes it a point to learn playing the latest Malayalam and Tamil hit songs. “I learn it by trial and error. Now, I’m trying to play the songs of Kammath and Kammath on it!” she says with a chuckle.