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Three persons uniquely placed to speak about singer Vani Jairam, who passed away recently, pay tribute to the great singer through Inmathi.com. Of these one is Rajkumar Bharathi who has sung many songs with Vaniji in various languages. The second is M V S Prasad who retired as Director of Press Information Bureau, Chennai. He hits a personal note in his tribute. The third is Sampath Sunderarajan, popularly known to all as Bale Sampath, one of the pillars of msvtimes.com. His analysis of Vaniji’s songs brings forth her musical brilliance.
And now to Rajkumar Bharathi:
As the name itself indicates Rajkumar Bharathi belongs to the Mahakavi Bharathi lineage. Apart from being a performer who was formally trained in classical carnatic music under Sarvasri Valliyur Gurumurthi, M Balamuralikrishna and T V Gopalakrishnan, he is also a well-recognised music composer of the classical genre. The Music Academy in Chennai bestowed on him the TTK award in 2019. In this recorded tribute given to Inmathi, Rajkumar Bharathi talks of his experience teaming up with Vaniji as he sang along with her. He also recounts how Vaniji was very affectionate towards him and treated him like her own brother.
Here is his tribute…
“My first song with Vaniji was composed by Melisai Mannar M S Visvanathan (MSV) in the film Yuddha Kandam. It expressed the dilemma between the options of waging a war and extending a warm handshake. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would stand by Vaniji’s side and sing with her in a studio.
I learnt many things from her, mainly being punctual. Also, not a moment would she waste in unwanted, unnecessary talk. She had learnt formally to sing both carnatic and Hindustani and that gained her a lot of respect the moment she appeared in the studio. She quickly grasped things, and so the music director did not have to spend much time and energy to explain the finer nuances of a song to her. Vaniji had also mastered the art of notating for the songs, whether it were a cinema song or mellisai (light music) or a devotional number. And this was reflected in the way she interpreted and reproduced the song as well. Well… grasping is one thing, but faithful reproduction is a totally different thing. Added to this was her sense of sruthi (pitch). She always adhered to the right pitch. There was never one occasion where the sruthi would go out of sync. Not one. And, what’s more, she was a polyglot. I have sung many songs with her not only in Tamil but in Kannada as well. We even sang in a Tulu film directed by K N Tailor.
She always adhered to the right pitch. There was never one occasion where the sruthi would go out of sync. Not one. And, what’s more, she was a polyglot
Another music director I cannot forget is G K Venkatesh. He belonged to Karnataka. He was as famous as a K V Mahadevan or an MSV in Tamil Nadu. Vaniji and I have sung many songs for him. These recordings in Kannada had to be done in studios in the state as the Government of Karnataka was offering many concessions. We used to go by flight along with her husband Sri Jairam and do the recordings in Bangalore. We recorded many songs for music director Vijaya Bhaskar too and also did some songs in Telugu. The way in which Vaniji and Sri Jairam treated me was both exemplary and affectionate. I was a brother to her, always.
It is on these occasions — and there were a number of them — that I understood what great human beings the pair were. While it was true that I was a rank junior in terms of both age as well as musical scholarship, they treated me always as an equal.
I remember very well a program by a dancer of repute, Ms Yamini Krishnamurthy, that was telecast on Doordarshan, where in one of the episodes Vaniji and myself sang the incomparable Bhairavi Swarajathi of Sri Syama Sastri. Her depth in carnatic music was made evident here. In the same manner, in a particular cassette we sang together an aarathi song for Shirdi Sai Baba in Tamil written by Sri Nagai Shanmuugam and set to tune by Sri L Krishnan. Even today this song has not lost its popularity.
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Jairam sir himself maintained a recording studio. This had its own advantage. Vaniji herself was well aware of the sound dynamics whenever she stood to perform in front of the mic. She and her husband never belittled devotional songs and were professionally engaged fully even while performing these. No half-hearted attempts even for this genre.
My father was a homoeopathic doctor whom Vaniji and Jairam sir used to consult very often. When I had some problems with my voice, their sane advice was to be under the care of my father. When my father passed away, they paid a visit and comforted me in my grief.
Ultimately I got over the problems with my voice and became fortunate enough to have Vaniji perform under my music direction. In the same manner, the couple used to attend my concerts and would give valuable feedback after the concert.
May her soul rest in peace!
M V S Prasad, who retired as Director of Press Information Bureau, Chennai said he made his first acquaintance with Vaniji through the song Bole Re Papihara. It was different to listen to a fresh voice in the Hindi film field. “Next, I used to visit Chennai often and when the film Sankarabaranam was released, most of us kept wondering why Viswanath garu chose Vaniji and Janaki over P Susheela for that film, considering the fact that Susheela was the mainstay of Tamil and Telugu films. I also listened to that great song “Malligai En Mannan” from Dheerga Sumangali and was greatly impressed by her singing.”
When I was sub editor of Andhra Prabha newspaper (similar to Dinamani in Tamil Nadu) I happened to be in SPB’s house one day. Around that time, the national awards were being announced and the most popular film was Sankarabaranam, the best male singer happened to be SPB, the best female singer was Vaniji. Incidentally this was the second award Vaniji had received. She already won one for the film Apoorva Raagangal. When I was all set to interview SPB, he preferred that Vaniji be interviewed instead. In fact S P Shailaja took me to Vaniji’s residence (after a phone call from her brother) and Vani and Sri Jairam insisted that I should stay overnight and finish/record the interview. I had gone with a tape recorder, a National Panasonic if I remember right. Vaniji presented to me an LP record of her bhajans for which music had been done by the famous musician, flautist Raghunath Seth of Films Division, together with VijayaRama Rao, another renowned flautist.
At Vijayawada, one Sampath, who belonged to the Express newspapers group, wondered how I was able to interview Vani Jairam and wanted me to provide the transcript in English. It was carried in the Friday special pages of The Indian Express in all its southern editions. Then I joined PIB i.e. Press Information Bureau and was the publicity officer posted in Tirumala. Vaniji visited this place at the time and worshipped at the Balaji temple, and insisted that we — my wife and I — should also be present. She rendered a couple of songs before the deity. Our families were getting close and we travelled in the same car and went around Tirupati. Vaniji in fact became closer to our family than SPB himself, in spite of my knowing SPB from childhood as we both were from Nellore.
Apart from being a singer, Vani Jairam was a lyricist and a painter too. I think I can compare her with P B Srinivas (PBS) who composed poetry not only in his mother tongue, Telugu, but also in several other languages. In these multi-talented people, one can see that the focus is not limited to just one aspect of the fine arts but is diffuse
Winning awards became a regular affair for Vaniji, and she bagged her 3rd award for the film Swathi Kiranam directed by Late K Viswanath. There is a beautiful song in that film which I cannot forget, composed in raga Amruthavarshini — a difficult song which would appear to get over, but commence yet again. There is no way you could resist applauding listening to it. Vaniji sang for the young lad Manjunath (of Malgudi day’s fame). This is a film in which Malayalam film star Mammooty appears as the Guru of Manjunath. The songs, all of them tuned by K V Mahadevan, are difficult to sing but became immensely popular. Kudos to Vaniji for the stately execution of these numbers!
With all the awards coming her way, she still was not given as many chances as she deserved in the Telugu film industry. That is my feeling. About the Tamil film industry I do not know. But one thing is for sure. The way she pronounced Telugu, one would scarce believe that she was not a Telugu ‘praja’. Impeccable it was, and this applies to her Kannada and Hindi too.
I had served as Director of the Press Information Bureau for about five years. Our office was at Shastri Bhavan in Chennai and Vaniji’s house was just at the end of this road i.e. Haddows road. I got a good chance to meet her often.
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I know that she had learnt Hindustani music from Abdul Rehman Khan Saheb while in Mumbai. She used to tell me that she practised for about 10 hours a day. On the one hand, this was the routine Khan Saheb had demanded of her while learning from him and two she wanted to master this genre of music in a reasonably good time. And it is there that she got introduced to Vasanth Desai, who was impressed by the timbre of her voice and — against all odds — gave her an opening in the film Guddi, which happened to be the debut film for actress Jaya Bhaduri as well. It was a great achievement on the part of Vasanth Desai as he had to take on the Mangeshkar sisters’ group that controlled the Hindu film music industry. This was not an easy task. Two songs became instantly popular from this film, Bole Re Papihara and Hum Ko Manki Shakthi Dena. The second song also became the prayer song of many schools after the film was released and it became hugely popular.
Sri M S Visvanathan, when he heard Vaniji for the first time, did not know that she was from Tamil Nadu and asked why she had not sung in Tamil films before. Carried away by the strength of her voice, he gave her the first Tamil film song, a solo, Malligai En Mannan Mayangum in Dheerga Sumangali, which became a roaring hit.
When it comes to the Telugu field, it was SP Kothandapani who gave Vaniji her first chance in the film Abhimanavanthulu. She sang a Javali in that film (Kalyani), where the dancer happened to be Padma Shri Shobha Naidu. And remember that it was the only appearance of Shobha Naidu on the screen. SP Kothandapani had the reputation of introducing new voices (in the Telugu field) and he can take credit for the introduction of Yesudas, SPB and of course Vaniji. SPB named his studio as Kothandapani audio labs in memory of SP Kothandapani. In Kannada films, Vaniji sang for Rajan Nagendra and VijayaBhaskar, and in Malayalam too she has rendered several songs. Also Vaniji sang many devotional numbers too and the pious feeling it invokes will be talked about for years to come!
Apart from this Vani Jairam was a lyricist and a painter too. She has published her works (lyrics) and her Ishta Deivam was Murugan. I think I can compare her with P B Srinivas (PBS) who composed poetry not only in his mother tongue, Telugu, but also in several other languages. In these multi-talented people, one can see that the focus is not limited to just one aspect of the fine arts but is diffuse.
When it came to awards, we organised signature campaigns to get Vaniji conferred with a Padma award, but came through till finally this year, 2023, she was given the high honour of the Padma Bhushan on January 26. I promptly sent a congratulatory message as I could not contact her over the phone.
During the month end, on January 31, my wife and I spent quality time with her when we visited Chennai. I never would have thought that this was going to be our last visit or interaction with her. Recently, her song had been nominated for the Oscars, the film being RRR. Though it was not a musically great song — a kind of folklore modernised (Vaniji also felt the same) — a nomination has its own value.
Before we parted on January 31, Vaniji insisted on taking a photo of all three of us together. It has created an indelible impression in my mind. I was left shocked to say anything on hearing of her passing away. Andhra Jyothi asked for and published my tribute, which was published on Sunday, February 5, on the edit page.
Vaniji had been in the habit of celebrating our visits each time, by offering us new clothes. Quite recently an organisation named Kalanjali, headed by lyricist Vennalakanti, who is known to me, wanted to bestow a lifetime achievement award on Vaniji. She reluctantly acceded on account of my appeal/presence. The organisation brought her to Nellore, where a grand function, with Poorna Kumbham reception was organised. All the VIPs of Nellore were present. There was a music programme too, where Vaniji’s songs were sung. There, on the stage, Vaniji openly said that she accepted the award only because Sri Prasad insisted and told everyone “Prasad is my brother!” What else could me and my wife Saroja want! Losing Vaniji within a span of two years after losing another brother SPB will continue to haunt me for my entire life! Both these losses have not only been great losses to the music world, but also personally to me!
May her soul rest in peace!
Sri Sampath Sunderrajan, also known to many as Bale Sampath is an auditor by profession. Apart from engaging himself in his occupation, he is also one of the pillars of msvtimes.com, a website that is instrumental in organising music programmes. Recently they had organised a programme to celebrate melody queen P Susheela to mark her 80th birthday in a grand manner. Indeed it was a full-house show. Sampath has the innate ability to analyse threadbare each cinema song, be it one of the yesteryears or of the current age, including the trendy ones, and would narrate to you why each song is special in its own way.
The following narrative may not be a tribute to Vani Jairamji, in the strict sense of the word, but serves to analyse some of her songs to bring out her brilliance across genres from the classical to that of an English number. Sampath in his own inimitable way makes us aware how Vaniji has even indulged in yodelling, a la Kishore Kumar or J B Chandrababu. Yodelling is a form of singing which involves repeated and rapid changes of pitch between the low-pitch chest register (or “chest voice”) and the high-pitch head register or falsetto.
One important trait of Sampath is that he is happy to share with the world these fine analyses of the songs. He is a kind of “loudspeaker”, in the positive sense of the word.
Here’s what Sampath has to say:
About Vaniji’s voice and associated aspects, what distinguished her was her perfect pronunciation in all languages, honouring the respective languages and the lyricist. In addition, sruthi sudhdham (perfect pitch) which is of paramount importance for any music, lending the apt bhava (modulation of intonations and expressions) when rendering songs, an ability to notate songs then and there, and executing them to the T, much to the satisfaction of the music directors, was what made her special. Her commitment to all genres of music was worthy of emulation. That Vani Jairam had formally learnt classical, both Hindustani and Carnatic, fared her well. This was evidenced by the manner in which she sang songs like Nathemenum Kovilile, Ezhu Swarangalukkul, Indraikku Yen Indha, Kelviyin Nayagane, Megame Megame, with effortless ease. The bliss experienced when the songs fall on your ears and travel to the inner recesses of your mind would itself be a unique experience.
Vaniji did not just concentrate on songs with a Carnatic or Hindustani base alone. Her versatility can be heard in her folk numbers. Nitham Nitham Nellu Soru, Alamarathu Kili, and Mannaru Mannaru come to one’s mind. Then you have dance numbers like Va Va Pakkam Va, which was sung with the staccato effect
Looking at sheer melodies, some examples could be Devi Vandha Neram, Gangai Nadhi Oram, Anbu Megame, Ore Naal Unai Naan, which serve as a kind of balm to one’s mind and would remain there forever. Vaniji did not just concentrate on these types of songs alone. Her versatility can be heard when you listen to her folk numbers which would leave you dumbfounded. Nitham Nitham Nellu Soru, Alamarathu Kili, and Mannaru Mannaru come to one’s mind. Then you have dance numbers like Va Va Pakkam Va, which was sung with the staccato effect, cutting the lyrics with a purpose. Even these were notated, but mere notation on paper cannot achieve much unless you infuse it with sufficient ‘bhava’ which Vani did, with her abundant knowledge and experience.
About the same song, Sampath explained further. This was contrasted with Ninaikka Therintha Maname, where there is an observable continuity which is absent in Va Va. It stands out differently on account of this aspect, courtesy Vaniji.
In the same manner, one can also recall the song Kavithai Kelungal from Punnagai Mannan for its special nature. Then Sampath played the song Thagamani Rangamani from the film Viduthalai (Music Director – Chandra Bose), sung by SPB and Vaniji, on his keyboard and observed how Vani sings the words “Nane Ne Nee” in a stylish manner. Next in line was Azhagiya Vizhigalil Arubadhu. And what followed was a song depicting extreme sorrow, expressed owing to the pangs of separation (viraga thabam) from the film Achamillai Achamillai (Karisal). Yes. The instrumental tone, which Sampath played by way of a demo, was not anywhere near the emotion that was sought to be expressed or expected. But Vaniji’s voice, known for its customary high pitch orientation, wore a different shade — it became at once husky while executing this presentation. Vani’s magic, if you like! A totally different dimension for a totally different song and the same applied to the song Sugam Ayiram from the film Mayangugiral Oru Madhu, the music director being Vijayabhaskar.
Sampath launched an English song through Vaniji, which relates to an MGR starrer Navarathinam, where the music was by Kunnakkudi Vaidhyanathan. This was in the raga Navarasa Kannada and Sampath put the song in its proper context. In it, Vaniji would indulge in the art of yodelling a la Kishore Kumar or J B Chandrababu. One is, at the end of all this, left in sheer wonderment. Different music directors’ requirements met perfectly. That is the point Sampath wanted to make! “Can you believe that this was the same Vaniji who had sung chaste carnatic-like numbers like Ezhu Swarangalukkul or Indraikku Yen Indha, Nathamenum Kovilile had these skills too, in her bag,” Sampath asked himself and us as well. What was on display was Vani with varying capacities, much to the delight of categories of listeners.
Next, we go nearer to the sea along with Vaniji. And the song is Pongum Kadalosai! Though this write-up is intended to be a tribute to Vaniji, one cannot but talk of the superior qualities of Mellisai Mannar MS Viswanathan as a tunesmith. Sampath made this observation. Is there anyone who can tune like MSV? “None I can think of,” he asserted. “According to MSV, the words of the lyrics are where the tune is contained! I have had the privilege of having interacted with MSV as one belonging to msvtimes.com on many occasions and he used to harp on this concept time and again,” Sampath said respectfully. In the same song Pongum Kadalosai, MSV has set the tune based on the lyrics and the meaning it conveys, and Vaniji has sung with full faith in the music director and song composer. Even at a high pitch, she is able to do full justice to the sangathis.
One cannot also forget the song “Ennullil Engo” from Rosapoo Ravikkaikari. The lyrics were by Ilayaraja’s brother Gangai Amaran, with music of course by Ilayaraja. Some years ago, a function was organised to honour MSV, with the title Ennullil Engo, which was attended by Ilayaraja. There, he spoke of how “somewhere inside me (Ennullil Engo) MSV is residing and guiding me”. The context of the song is the extra-marital relationship that the protagonist, a lady, is involved in, and it justifies it in its own way. The song is truly moving when listened to in total silence. Try it!
Sampath said we can conclude this tribute rightfully with one from Ilayaraja from the film Azhage Unnai Aradhikkiren and another of MSV’s compositions from the film Sila Nerangalil Sila Manithargal. The first, Nane Nana Yaro Dhana, is for a situation when the heroine, having been cheated by her lover, is reunited with him. Both the music director and Vaniji have made the best use of the situation, fully comprehending it and have given their best. Sampath expressed his singular attachment to this song.
Last, but not in terms of significance, the song, Veru Idam Thedi Povalo, brings out in one stroke the immense sorrow of a woman, Ganga (Lakshmi). She is almost stranded and feels disappointed when it appears that she may not be able to rely on Srikanth to support her for the rest of her life. And MSV, the master, conveys the poignancy through the tune that speaks volumes and communicates the full import of the lyrics (incidentally by the one and only Jayakanthan, himself) and Vaniji is at her “sorrowful best” (“I wonder whether anyone at all would have made it more poignant than Vaniji,” says Sampath) when rendering this song. But there seems to be hope. Pray think of Napoleon Bonaparte who rose to fight again and yet again!
The whole tribute, in 3 parts, ended with the master-piece of Vaniji, her debut song in Tamil, “Malligai En Mannan Mayangum!”
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