Y ou arrived with a bang in 2007 — singing the popular ‘Maduraikku Pogathadee’ (Azhagiya Thamizh Magan). There’s been a lull since then?
Yes, I moved to Chicago after marriage seven years ago. I kept myself occupied with music (studying jazz vocals at the Old Town School of Folk Music, Chicago), but it was difficult to find Kollywood work living so far away. Despite that, I’ve managed to come to Chennai at least once a year and have contributed to songs such as ‘Balleilakka’ ( Sivaji ), ‘Pappu Can’t Dance Saala’ ( Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na ), and ‘Chinnamma Chilakkamma’ ( Sakkarakatti ).
How didOK Kanmanihappen?
I visited Chennai in January, this year, and generally put word out to studios that I was available. Miraculously, I got a call from Panchathan studios (owned by A. R. Rahman)! I saw no singers when I went in, and figured they just wanted to say ‘Hi’. Rahman then came in and asked if I wanted to sing for a project. Yes please! He made me sing a few lines for ‘Kaara Aattakkaara’, the bits you hear in the trailer. After about 20 minutes of recording, I thanked everybody and went home and called all my friends to share my excitement. Karthik (my husband) calmed me down a bit and told me that we didn’t even know if it’d be selected for the album. It didn’t matter though. I was on a high.
You have also rapped for the song.
That happened four days later. I was called again and given a few lines that didn’t seem to fit into the tune at all. I was scared I was going to make a fool of myself. Rahman walked in and asked if I’d ever rapped. He smiled when I said no, and asked me to rap like ADK (Aaryan Dinesh Kanagaratnam, the male vocalist of the song). He sang my lines and showed me exactly what he wanted.
And then, of course, you got the biggie — a duet with Rahman in ‘Theera Ulaa’ that has you singing that classical interlude in the middle.
( Laughs ) Yes. They called me for the third time in a couple of weeks. This time, Rahman wanted to know if I was comfortable with classical music. I said I knew the basics. He gave me about six lines, and told me that I had to sound like I was content, like I was floating.
When did you know all your contributions would be part of the album?
They called me again to sing the Telugu versions of the songs, and that was when I knew for sure that these weren’t just practice tracks. I met Mani Ratnam and realised this was for OK Kanmani ( OK Bangaram in Telugu). I also got to sing ‘Mental Madhilo’, the Telugu version of ‘Mental Manadhil’.
I took selfies with them, and Mani was kind enough to ask if we could walk across the room so we could get better lighting for our selfie. Was I going to argue against his sense of lighting? ( Laughs )
Quite a couple of weeks, eh?
It was unbelievable. I know singers in Chennai who run from pillar to post for such work without getting it. How lucky for a person like me to get such tracks when on a vacation! Though I have a recording studio in Chicago, I’m now making plans to shift to Chennai. The time seems right.