“Who would’ve thought that I would sing and act in a film at this age?,” Nanjamma says with glee over the phone. The 60-year-old from Attappady in Wayanad district doesn’t know who Prithviraj or Biju Menon is or the movie she has sung for. But she has emerged a star on social media with her song in Sachy’s Ayyappanum Koshiyum, starring Prithviraj and Biju, reaching theatres today. Composed by Jakes Bejoy, the video of the title track, featuring recording sessions, was released last week. Not only her voice, but her naivety and lack of pretension during her interaction with Prithviraj have won her many fans.
“I am happy that people have loved our song,” she says with a laugh. The lyrics by Nanjamma are in her native Irula language, which goes, ‘Kalakkatha sandana maram vegu vega poothirikka...poo parikkan pokilamo vimanathe paakkilamo...’ (The sandal wood tree in the east has bloomed...shall we go to pluck the flowers and see the aeroplane). The song, passed on to her from her forefathers, is sung when a woman is feeding a child.
She has sung three more songs in the movie. Nanjamma, who belongs to Nakkupathy Pirivu ooru (colony), has been part of Attappady-based Azad Kala Samithi, which has been performing the dance and music of the region across Kerala and outside the state.
“We’ve performed at events organised by Folklore Academy and other art and cultural organisations. We’ve also staged our dance and songs at Utsav, organised by the Kerala government to promote traditional art and dance forms in all the districts,” says Pazhani Swamy S, leader of the Samithi.
Since the movie is set in Attappady, director Sachy wanted tribal songs to be included and that’s when he contacted the Samithi. “He listened to Nanji chechi and later a 11-member team from our troupe was called for a session in Kochi. Later, the songs were recorded in Chennai,” says Pazhani, a tribal watcher of the Forest Department, who has also acted in the film.
He adds that Nanjamma had very little idea about the reach of her song until people came in large numbers to meet her and reports about her were splashed in the media.
“She has been singing from childhood. She hasn’t gone to school and has been making a living rearing cattle. Being in the news is totally new for her. Chechi has acted in one of the song sequences as well,” Pazhani says. Besides a short film, she has sung in the state film award-winning film, Velutha Rathrikal.
The composer says that she wasn’t comfortable singing with the headset on. “She couldn’t keep up with the rhythm. So we had to adjust the tempo after the recording,” Jakes points out.
The title track was chosen from the many songs that Nanjamma and her team performed at the studio with their own percussion instruments. “My role was that of an enabler. The soul of the song is Nanjamma. And you never get bored listening to her even if she repeats the lines,” Jakes avers.