The 13-year old and his friends decided to form a band. They wanted a popular artist to inaugurate it, and the veteran singer was their unanimous choice. “She lighted the lamp and look where I am today,” the boy, now an internationally reputed composer, said at a function where he gave away the Lifetime Achievement Award to her. The speaker was A.R. Rahman! The singer, Vani Jairam!
“I should have used her voice more,” Rahman added. Vani has now sung for the soon-to be released Siddharth starrer, Vasanthabalan’s ‘KaaviyaThalaivan,’ a Rahman musical.
Vani’s hiatus in Tamil cinema seems to have ended with ‘Ramanujan.’ Ramesh Vinayakam, its composer, had called her up to say that he had been waiting to give her a song befitting her capability. The result is the scintillating ‘Narayana’ number. Even otherwise, live shows, television and other recordings keep Vani busy.
“People assumed that I’ve retired from the scene,” she observes. But why should she, when her voice, pitch and sruti alignment are still perfect? In June this year, when she was on stage in Sydney, her energy and enthusiasm belied her age. “Harish Raghavendar, Sathyaprakash and Mathumitha Shankar were part of the troupe. Throughout, I stood on the podium and sang in the same scale as I had sung the originals. In fact, I seem to be more comfortable in the higher octaves as I grow older,” she laughs. Naturally the audience refused to believe she is 70!
Recently, when music composer Gopisundar contacted her for a song in the Malayalam film, ‘1983,’ Vani was in Mumbai. Undeterred, the producer, director, and composer travelled all the way from Cochin to record the song (a duet with Jayachandran) in Mumbai. Vani hums the song, “Ola Gnalankuruvi.” Mesmerising indeed! Another recording -- “Olichu Poi…” -- was for composer Shaji Kumar for the film, ‘Iniyum Ethra Thooram.’ Both are chartbusters. “I give my 500 per cent to every assignment and God takes care of the rest,” she says.
The goodwill Vani Jairam shares with fans, colleagues and up and coming singers and musicians is immense. “I am cordial to everyone. That could be the reason for my striking a chord with both young talents and established artists,” she says.
Recognition is a norm for Vani. The Lifetime Achievement award she received in Malaysia a couple of years ago, and the honour at Muscat, a couple of months ago, where as a chief guest at Rajinigandha, a programme of Malayalam music, she enthralled the audience, exemplify the fact that light music lovers all over the world are drawn to her. “Life has offered immense opportunities,” she acknowledges.Honours galore
Commendation from a senior colleague can be wonderful. A few months ago, the P. Suseela Trust honoured Vani at a grand function in Hyderabad, with a citation and a purse of Rs.1 lakh. The event was widely covered on television, because she is a noted singer in Telugu cinema. Being proficient in almost all major Indian languages, Vani, with her mind-boggling memory for lyrics and her quick grasp of the diction and pronunciation, is celebrated for her songs in Marathi, Gujarati and Oriya, among others.
Her award for Best Playback Singer in the Oriya film, ‘Debjani,’ is a glory that she received long ago. But the fascination for her music and her fan base remain intact.
“To them I am an Oriya girl, in Kerala I am a native, in the Marathi belt, I am a part of it and so also in Telugu. Tamil, of course, is my mother tongue,” she smiles.
On May 28, Vani was felicitated in Bhubaneshwar for her contribution to Oriya films. Preceding it was the PBS Puraskar Award in Hyderabad, instituted in memory of the inimitable P.B. Srinivos. Just two days ago, on July 30, Yuva Kala Vahini, a prestigious organisation in Hyderabad, presented her the ‘Pride of Indian Music’ Award.
Vani has been blessed to find composers who realise her worth. If Vasanth Desai gave her a break in ‘Guddi,’ M.S. Viswanathan, K.V. Mahadevan and Shanker-Ganesh in Tamil and Telugu, Vijayabhaskar in Kannada, Prafullakar in Oriya and Arjunan Master in Malayalam, utilised her potential. “I am indebted to all of them,” she says.
Vani’s knowledge of swara and laya is well known (the legendary M.S. Viswanathan has mentioned it often), her skill at notation is noteworthy, her potential in public speaking, which makes her a much sought-after celebrity at various dance and music programmes, and the poetess (her poems have been appreciated by stalwarts such as Vairamuthu) and the painter in her (her drawings are a visual treat) are other facets.
But most surprising is her mimicking talent that comes to the fore in the course of our conversation!
The Kannadasan Award that Vani Jairam received on June 22, 2014, at Coimbatore is very close to her heart. An ardent admirer of his verses, the fact that he described her prowess as singer in his book, has made memories of the master lyricist indelible for her. “At the function, when ‘Isaikavi’ Ramanan noted in his speech that Kannadasan must have written certain songs that I’ve sung, with me in mind, and quoted salient lines from them, I was awe-struck by the analysis,” she says.
The words of Naushad, composer nonpareil, about Vani, in ‘Naushad Nama,’ which was published recently, are telling. The gist of it is, ‘Vani Jairam’s is the most trained voice. Her Urdu pronunciation is impeccable. I wanted to record a ghazal album in her voice, but it didn’t materialise.’
Vani feels that she is privileged. “Imagine! I was chosen to release Vasant Desai’s book. My mentor, who put me on the road to fame! Not just their music, I’ve also imbibed values such as, humility from these great men.”