The interactive session with the singer is a wonderful mix of music and matter. As I listen to Vani Jairam’s lilting pieces, I am amazed at the range and clarity of her voice, and her mind for detail. The enigma beats me — the mesmeric timbre is very much intact and her music is still enchanting. Hence logically she should have continued to be active on the film firmament …
“I’m puzzled too,” she says with a smile. Cinema may have sidelined her but the singer continues to be busy through the year travelling within the country and without, for performances. The December season has been no different.
Be it the felicitation function at Ghantasala’s recent birth anniversary at Rag Ragini and her address at the inauguration of the music studio of Sri Sakthi Institute of Hotel Management, both in Hyderabad, her time-tested medley of melodies at the annual function of msvtimes.com, her presentation at the show hosted by Malaysian Tamils to honour Kannadasan, the inauguration of Mudhra’s annual fest or the celebration for poet Vaali, in Chennai, her music was lapped up.
She was a special judge of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’s recent ‘Champion of Champions,’ on Zee Telugu, and Chennaiyil Thiruvaiyaru and Vijay TV honoured Vani as a ‘Living Legend.’ “The event included a jugalbandhi of Pt. Viswa Mohan Bhat and Ravikiran. I was overjoyed when Bhat began ‘Bole Re Pappi’ (‘Guddi’) and requested me to render it. I returned the compliment and sang his ‘Kesariya Balam’ in Rajasthani Mand. Unforgettable evening,” she laughs.
Her presentation of Annamayya kritis at Swarna Bharati Indoor Stadium, for Sri Venkateswara Seva Samiti, Visakhapatnam, during Vaikunta Ekadasi a month ago, held the packed hall in thrall! “When next morning the Andhra edition of The Hindu stated that her chants of ‘Govinda Govinda’ reverberated at the venue, I felt gratified,” says Vani.
Yet not singing in cinema irks her. “It’s never been an easy ascent for me. I’ve always had to struggle my way to recognition. And when I listen to today’s film numbers, I find it strange that faulty diction and defective singing are often accepted.” As if to substantiate her statement Vani sings a couple of lines and you understand the import of her words. “It’s not just film music. I keep wondering where lovers and critics of Hindustani were during my light classical, ghazal, bhajan and abhang concerts,” she adds.
Vani has been on the concert circuit for 42 years -- even when she was at the summit of popularity in Tamil cinema, she never gave stage singing the go by. “At one of my programmes for IFA, Subbudu spoke very highly of the octaves that I touched in my abhangs. My priority has been devotional and light classical. How can I bring in niraval and kalapanaswaras in these genres? Yet I’ve been criticised for it.” Vani’s anguish is evident. Naturally she isn’t too keen to hold the mike during the December Season.
The young girl, who began as a trained Carnatic vocalist, also followed film music avidly. She is a fan of many singers, but topping the list is Mohammad Rafi. When marriage took her to Mumbai, her tutelage under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan made Hindustani her forte. “My ustad would make me sing for eight hours a day,” says the ace who describes herself as a “glutton for hard work.”
Her devotion to composer Vasant Desai, who made her a household name in Maharashtra, is immense. Who can forget Vani’s crowning glory, ‘Guddi’? (She dwells on the great music director in a chapter in the book, ‘Vasant Desai – Composer Par Excellence,’ where eminent personalities have recorded their thoughts.) A spate of assignments from titans of music, including Naushad, Madan Mohan, R. D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji and several Marathi and Gujarati music directors kept her busy till the South beckoned, and how!
In 1973, when Vani was in Chennai for two music concerts at a Bhajan Sammelan, M.S. Viswanathan entered as the chief guest. He was greatly impressed, and a year later the chance to sing his ever-famous composition, ‘Malligai En Mannan …’ came her way. Interestingly Vani’s first number in every language has been a chartbuster! She went on to sing several hits for MSV. “You should have met me earlier Vani,” he told her. Hailing from a conservative family Vani had to rein in her passion for film music till marriage. Once husband Jairam realised her potential, he did his utmost to help her hone her talent and shine as a playback singer.
Vani has even sung for R.K. Shekar (A.R. Rahman’s father) for his Malayalam film, ‘Yuddha Bhoomi’ and later for Rahman. “Rahman’s song goes this way” — Vani goes into melody mode, singing ‘Sugam Sugam Adhu …’ for a film called ‘Vandi Cholai Chinna Rasu.’ “It was a duet with SPB. The tune is quite tricky and worth listening to,” she says.
The linguist is a commendable painter and poet too, and no less fascinating, is her time management skill. With just a part time maid for help, she meticulously manages the kitchen, home, and concert tours. “Actually I’m five-in-one -- full-time housewife, full-time nurse (Jairam had been extremely unwell and Vani has now nursed him back to good health. “He needed utmost care and I saw to it that the round-the-clock diet and medicine schedule never went awry.”), professional singer, secretary to the singer and errand boy rolled into one,” she laughs.
Vani was recording a song for a film that was being dubbed in Hindi. The Telugu version had N. T. Rama Rao in the lead, and the song was a dance number filmed on Hemamalini. “I had the headphones on – P. Leela’s Telugu original in Atana raga in White 5 Scale was flowing into one ear and I had to match my Hindi version with the live orchestra in C Sharp that fell on my other ear. The sync had to be perfect. Composer Usha Khanna who had come over to watch the recording was so awe-struck that she got emotional,” remembers Vani. No wonder, the singer was referred to as a prodigy in her childhood!