To listen live to the soulful voice of the first female playback singer in Malayalam is an incredibly rare and overwhelming experience.
The voice of Vimala B. Varma rang clear at the Kerala Secretariat Employees’ Association hall at an event organised by its cultural wing in Thiruvananthapuram on Tuesday. The programme marked the platinum jubilee of the release of the first Malayalam talkie, Balan , released in 1938. She expressed her happiness at being invited as a guest of honour for a function to recognise her contribution to cinema. It was in the film Nirmala that playback singing was first introduced in Malayalam, in 1948. The movie is a landmark in the history of Malayalam films also for the fact that it was the first to be produced by a Malayali. (Ms. Varma sang for the film).
During Ms. Varma’s time, playback singing and recording were very novel exercises and priority was accorded to singers with powerful and deep voices, music critic Ravi Menon says. “This was not because it was popular demand, but the technical limits of a recording studio required strong voices to outshout background noises in a room without sound-proofing,” he said.
Tracing a brief history of music in Malayalam films, Mr. Menon says it is disappointing to notice a lack of quality in present day music. It was only in 1954 that classical Malayalam folk music was woven into a movie, as previous productions bore imitations of Hindi and Tamil compositions. The film, Neelakuyil , for which the music was scored by K. Raghavan, marked this change and brought about an originality that few composers were able to achieve later on, he says.
Vimala B. Varma, the first female playback singer in Malayalam, felicitated.