On the day she turned 70, Vani Jairam spoke to The Hindu over phone from her home in Chennai. During the conversation, she sang a few lines of Nee kettaal naan maatten..., a delightful song composed by Ilaiyaraaja for the 1978 Tamil film Ilamai Oonjal Aadukirathu and picturised on Kamal Haasan and Sripriya.
She sounded young. Unlike many female singers, Vani could retain the sweetness and freshness of her voice. A song like Olanjali kuruvee..., for the 2015 Malayalam film 1983, proves that.
She said she was happy to sing again in Malayalam, after a long interval, and would sing a few more songs in the language over the next few years.
Vani, who died in Chennai on Saturday aged 77, sang more than 600 film songs in Malayalam. Among them are unforgettable melodies such as Etho janma…. (Palangal), Thiruvonapulari than… (Thiruvonam), Vaalkkannezhuthi…. (Picnic), Thriprayarappaa Sreeraamaa… (Ormakal Marikkumo) and Ilam manjin therottam… (Pathirasooryan).
Hindi cinema’s greatest
She had arrived in Malayalam cinema on a melodious note, with Sourayoothathil…, composed by Salil Chowdhury for the 1973 film Swapnam. That was a couple of years after her spectacular debut as a playback singer with Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Hindi film Guddi.
The director wanted a fresh voice for his young, innocent heroine, while the song Bole re papihara..., composed by Vasant Desai in Hindustani raga Miyanki Malhar, demanded a classically trained singer. Vani was just perfect for the song, which remains among Hindi cinema’s greatest.
She, however, could not quite capitalise on the song’s success. But, then, in the era of Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle, it would have been difficult for any female singer to make a mark in Bollywood.
Vani, however, made the best of the opportunities that came her way in Hindi cinema. She was the only female voice Pandit Ravi Shankar used for the 1979 film Meera, in which she had to her credit a dozen songs, including Mere to Giridhar... and Main sanware ke...
She was superb in the only song she sang for Pakeezah, the 1972 classic directed by Kamal Amrohi – Mora sajan... Its composer, the legendary Naushad, said Vani had the most classically trained voice in India, a compliment the singer cherished greatly.
Bollywood’s loss was South Indian cinema’s gain, as Vani established herself as one of the leading female singers of her generation, along with P. Susheela and S. Janaki. With her songs in Tamil, Malayalam and Telugu, she proved she was undoubtedly one of the most versatile singers of Indian cinema.
She revelled in semi-classical songs such as Manasa sancharare… and Dorakuna… (Sankarabharanam), Ezhu swarangalukkul… (Apoorva Raagangal) and Anathineeyaraa…(Swathi Kiranam). She was as good in lighter songs as well, like Engiruntho oru kural… (Avanthan Manithan), Malligai en mannan… (Dheerga Sumangali), and Malligai mullai poopanthal… (Anbe Aaruyire).
A winner of three National Awards and State Awards in different languages, including Gujarati and Odia, she never won it for a Malayalam song, which she found strange, she said in that interview seven years ago.