‘Ammini, Kingini & Appuppan/Me’ is a YouTube channel dedicated to rarely-heard Malayalam light music, drama and film songs. The songs are sung by seven-year-old Janaki, a.k.a Kingini, her elder sister, 10-year-old Sudakshina S, a.k.a Ammini, and their maternal grandfather, K Bhaskaran Unnithan.
Students of Kendriya Vidyalaya at Pangode in Thiruvananthapuram, they are daughters of Sangeetha Unnithan, an employee with Toonz Media Group, and CP Sreeharshan, a mediaperson.
Unnithan says he had been looking for an avenue to popularise these songs since he wanted the new generation to listen to them. That was when lockdown happened and he got to spend time with his grandchildren. “I felt that getting them to sing the songs would be fun. We did a trial recording. They enjoyed the process and, eventually, the channel was born,” says Unnithan.
A self-taught musician, he had heard or sang many of the songs while growing up in Ayathil, in Kollam district, where he hails from. “During the 50s and 60s, there were arts and cultural clubs in every nook and corner of Kerala. They would present their own plays, featuring amateur artists. Most of these plays had songs written, composed and sung by artists in the locality. However, these songs were never recorded because of lack of facilities or due to shortage of funds,” says 68-year-old Unnithan.
He was associated with Sahithya Vilasini Arts Club (SVAC), a cultural outfit in his hometown. “Enchanted by the songs, I would write down the lyrics in a book. Unfortunately I don’t know the name of the lyricist or composer of most of these songs. The book is in a worn out state now, so I am transferring the content into my computer,” he says.
Although music has been part of his life since childhood, Unnithan could not learn it because of financial constraints in his family. ‘Keram madi vilichitto’, the first song in the channel, was taught by his relative for a competition in his school, he remembers.
Each song in the channel comes with a description. While ‘Changampuzha kavithakal’ was a group song he heard at the state school youth festival in the late 70s or early 80s, ‘Uduthorungiya vasantha ravil’ and ‘Parasurama kshethramevide’ are from SVAC’s productions. There are songs from the days he lived in Delhi as a Central Government employee. One of them is a Thiruvathirakali song, ‘Kerala kulangana komala kalebara’, written by Sukumaran Nair, a senior government official. The video of the Thiruvathirakali performance telecast by Delhi Doordarshan in 1984 during Onam is also uploaded on the channel.
‘Muthu munthiri muthu’ is a lullaby he heard while working in Delhi. “Composed by MG Radhakrishnan and sung by Benny and Susheeladevi, it was broadcast by Thiruvananthapuram Akashavani. I haven't heard it after that and so I included it in our channel,” says Unnithan. Another gem is ‘Kayalinnakkare pokan enikkoru’ written by Vayalar Rama Varma, composed by LPR Varma and sung by P Leela for the play Visarikku Kattu Venda (1958) staged by Kerala Theatres.
After settling in Thiruvananthapuram, Unnithan ventured into serial production and went on to win five State awards for his first production, Ganitham (1997), directed by Shyamaprasad.
Making the videos
All the music videos have been shot at their home. Unnithan says that it is a laborious exercise at times. “It all depends on the mood of the kids. There are days when we fight and they refuse to record! But now that people are talking about the channel, they are enthused about the whole thing,” he laughs.
While Sudakshina’s favourite is the Thiruvathirakali song, Janaki prefers the recently-uploaded Christmas song, ‘Pulkkudilil’, written by Bichu Thirumala, composed by Syam and sung by KJ Yesudas. They both are learning Carnatic music from city-based Sreepriya.
Next they will be recording ‘Velanpattu’, a ritualistic performance of the Velan community. They were invited to sing at homes to ward off evil eye or bad luck, Unnithan says.
He adds that it was a gratifying moment when they could identify the lyricist and composer of the song ‘Pancha varna painkiliyale’ after it was uploaded. “SVAC contacted us with the details. This was composed for the drama Panchathanthram presented in the first half of 1970s,” Unnithan says.
In the coming days, he hopes to present forgotten drama songs and light music songs, especially those recorded by All India Radio. “There are such beautiful numbers that have faded into oblivion. I want to revive them through the channel,” he says.