A realm beyond film

Malayali fans at home and abroad continue to celebrate Vani Jairam’s versatility

Published - November 09, 2017 03:49 pm IST

CHENNAI: TAMIL NADU: 23/10/2017: Indian singer Vani Jayaram at an interview to The Hindu in Chennai on Monday. Photo: V. Ganesan.

CHENNAI: TAMIL NADU: 23/10/2017: Indian singer Vani Jayaram at an interview to The Hindu in Chennai on Monday. Photo: V. Ganesan.

Regaling listeners in a magical voice that belies her age, Vani Jairam continues to hold audiences in thrall at her devotional, film and Hindustani Light Classical concerts here and abroad. As we ensconce ourselves on the sofa at her home for a conversation, she begins, “I never waste time, and chronology means little to me, as my voice is still young.”

The fresh garlands in the room are from the Malayalee Welfare Association, Chennai, which had honoured her with the title ‘Sargashreshtra Puraskaram,’ the previous evening. In November, she will receive the Swathi Thirunal Academy Award in Varkala, and Malayali Association, Doha, will felicitate her and P. Susheela.

The septuagenarian singer’s popularity in Kerala has touched a new high. It was the duet ‘Olanjali Kuruvi,’ with Jayachandran, in the Nivin Pauly film, ‘1983’ that ushered in her second innings. Her numbers for ‘Action Hero Biju’ (with Yesudas), and for Mohanlal’s recent hit, ‘Puli Murugan’ have been chartbusters. I was a witness to the impact her presence made in Dubai a couple of years ago, where she arrived to receive the Best Female Malayalam Playback Singer Award from Cinema Vision Asia, in Sharjah. “All over UAE people stop me at malls, with requests to sing a couple of lines from my recent hits. What more can I ask for?”

In July, The North American Film Awards (NAFA) in New York and Chicago awarded her for her number in ‘Action Hero Biju.’ “My next, for ‘Captain,’ too has all the makings of a hit number. I’m thankful to Malayalam cinema for the encouragement which never seems to wane, to the young crop of composers Gopi Sunder and Jerry Amaldev and to directors Abrid Shine and Vysakh for continuing to recognise talent.”

A few months ago when Rajeev Kurup, the son ofO.N.V. Kurup, called her up for ‘Sopana Geetham,’ one of the toughest poems of O.N.V, composed by Rajeev himself for his album, ‘Smruthi Thalam/ONV Poems,’ Vani was apprehensive.

“The diction and pronunciation may be too difficult for me. A singer from Kerala would be a better choice,” she suggested. But Rajeev refused to take a ‘No’ from her and came to Chennai to record the song. Vani spent time with language experts to get it all correct and her portion was done in just two hours!

“I told you so,” smiled Rajeev. Perfection is a hallmark of Vani’s success!

A writer and composer

That Vani is a verse writer and composer of bhajans is a little known facet of her versatility. “The lyrics and the music come to my mind together and I just note them down,” she says. That she has roped in some immortal names to record bhajans with her could be another surprise! “My albums with the Kathak King, Birju Maharaj, ‘Thumri Dadra Bhajan’ and ‘Holi Ke Gaane,’ Jayadeva’s ‘Geet Govind’ with Kelucharan Mohapatra on the Pakhawaj, the abhangs I learnt from Vasant Desai and Keshav Badge, ‘Venkatesa Suprabhatam’ in Tamil composed by L. Krishnan and ‘Prasanna Venkatesa Sahitya’ are my landmark projects. Music goes far beyond the realm of cinema,” she reiterates. Vani’s infallible memory is amazing! She recalls the lyrics of all the numbers from the past decades to the present day with ease!

“Pt. Ravishankar and O.P. Nayyar would often talk about it. M.S. Viswanathan would refer to me as blotting paper. It’s God’s gift,” she smiles. Nurturing the voice is primary for singers. “Mohd. Rafi would speak in whispers during our music rehearsals, so as to not exert his voice,” she recalls. But talking continuously, Vani also sings for me!

“Except for my 10-minute riyaz in the bath every morning I rarely practise music at home.” Her medleys are always lapped up by audiences. As I mention it, she sings a Malayalam medley, and unwittingly I’m humming ‘Olanjali ’ all the way back home …

The accolades

The encomiums of J. R. Carr, a British, who reviewed Vani Jairam’s concert at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, London, is a must- read for connoisseurs of music. He has praised her mellifluous and flawless presentation that was backed by right emotions and perfect diction! “A critic has to do his homework thoroughly. Carr had done it and hence could analyse the nuances. But when a Chennai reviewer writes, “there were no kalpanaswaras in my devotional concert or that I was accompanied on the tabla, I can only pity the lack of knowledge about the genre. Are kalpanaswaras a part of bhajans? Or did the veteran devotional ‘Piththukuli’ Murugadas use mridangam for accompaniment?” Vani Jairam’s exasperation is evident.

Many successful firsts

She is probably the only female voice with whom the renowned Hindustani Classical singer, Pt. Kumar Gandharva, has sung a duet! And that Marathi song (‘Runanubandhachya’) made Vani Jairam a household name in Maharashtra overnight.

“He first wished to listen to me before he agreed to the duet,” she recalls. Composer Vasant Desai made her render a song in his presence, and at the end of it Gandharva’s only query was, “When is the recording?” In fact, Vani Jairam has several successful firsts to her credit.

Her maiden numbers in all languages have been chartbusters –‘Bole Re’ (‘Guddi’) in Hindi, ‘Malligai’ (‘Dheerga Sumangali’) in Tamil, and ‘Sowrayudhathil’ (‘Swapnam’) in Malayalam, not to forget those in Odiya and Bengali. Also her song in debut films of actors Jaya Bhaduri, Sridevi (‘Moondru Mudichu’), Shabana Azmi, Parveen Babi, Juhi Chawla (in Kannada) and others have all been runaway hits...

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