S. Janaki completes five decades as a playback singer.
Photo: N. Sridharan
Ageless: S. Janaki’s voice has made her the eternal favourite of Malayali music buffs.
Preferences, when it comes to singers and songs, are extremely subjective. And when there are alternatives, the choices become more difficult. But when it comes to S. Janaki, there is an overwhelming unanimity. She remains the Malayali’s eterna
More than the enthralling voice or her ability to sing the toughest of refrains without effort or affectation, it is Janaki’s pleasing and cheerful demeanour that has given this singer a permanent place in the Malayali ethos.
This year, Janaki completes five decades of her career as a singer. Over the years, Janaki, who began her career as a singer when she was 19, sang in 17 languages and won many national and state awards.
Born on April 23, 1938, at Palapatla, in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh, Janaki became a singer at three. She was inspired by the music programmes on All India Radio. She was initiated into music by Paidiswamy. Winning the second prize in a music competition conducted by AIR in 1956, was the turning point in her life. It spurred her to pursue music .
Staff artiste of AVM
In 1957, AVM Studios, Chennai, was on the lookout for a new female voice Janaki went for the audition and sang Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Rasik balma…’ before music directors R. Sudarsanam and Govardhanam. They were so impressed that Janaki was appointed as a staff artiste of AVM Studios.
That same year Janaki made her film debut. The Tamil film ‘Vidhiyin Vilayadal,’ however, was not released. Reports have it that the Telugu version of this film was released later for which Janaki rendered two songs. The first film to be released with her songs was ‘Magdalanaattu Mary,’ (Tamil). Produced by Jaykumar Pictures, the film was directed by S. S. Rajan and saw the debut of music director R. Parthasarathy. ‘Kunnukku naere minnidum thaarai…,’ a duet with P. B. Sreenivas, is now considered Janaki’s first film song. In her very first year, Janaki is estimated to have sung 100 songs in six languages, which was a record of sorts in those days.
Among these languages was Malayalam. Playback singing in Malayalam was just gaining a foothold at that time. Most of the music directors were still experimenting with new voices and relying on popular Hindi and Tamil film tunes. Information on films, stars, songs singers, lyricists and music directors of that period still remains cloudy.
There are two versions of Janaki’s first Malayalam film song. While many records state that she first sang for the film ‘Minnal Padayali’ (1959), many film historians maintain that Janaki had sung much earlier. They believe that her first Malayalam film song was ‘Irul moodukayo vaanil….’ from the film ‘Minnunnathellam Ponnalla’ (1957). It was an imitation of the famous Hindi song by Hemant Kumar, ‘Mera dil ye pukaare aaja...’ from the film ‘Nagin.’
During those early years, when most young singers found the going tough, Janaki was fortunate to find opportunities in various South Indian languages. In fact, there was a strange similarity in her progress in Tamil and Malayalam. For instance, it was in the Sixties that Janaki established herself firmly in both these languages. Her song ‘Singara velane vaa vaa…,’ (‘Konjum Salangai’) where she matched the nagaswaram of Karaikurichi Arunachalam, note for note, became a sensation. There was no looking back for her in Tamil.
Similarly, the Sixties was a landmark period for Janaki in Malayalam films. It was during this time that she sang for eminent music directors like B.A. Chidambaranath, K. Raghavan, V. Dakshinamurthy, G. Devarajan and M. S. Baburaj.
If Janaki’s distinct voice stood out in the song ‘Kanan nalla kinavukkal….’ (‘Bharya’), it was the haunting Baburaj melody, ‘Thaliritta kinakkal…’ (‘Moodupadam,’ 1963) that made people sit up and take notice.
From then on Janaki, despite the presence of illustrious contemporaries and gifted young talents, went on to become an integral part of Malayalam film music. She virtually dominated the scene from the late seventies to early eighties winning the State award for best female singer in 1972, ‘76, ‘77, ‘79, 1980, ‘81, ‘82, ‘83 and ‘84. Thrown in between was the National award in 1980 for her ‘Ettumannoor ambalathil…’ (‘Oppol’).
There is nothing that Janaki has not tried with her voice. The versatile singer has sung in a child’s voice ‘Kokkamandi…’ (‘Chiriyo Chiri’), imitated a drunkard in the Tamil song ‘Paapa peru malli…’ (‘Ooru Kotta Dhilli’), sung in a male voice in the film ‘Nenjathai Killathae,’ film and lent her voice for a old woman in the film ‘Uthiripookal.’
Janaki has written the lyrics for numerous Tamil and Telugu songs and even composed music for the film ‘Mouna Poraatam’ (1988).
The first song she recorded after completion of her 50 years as a singer was for the Kannada film, ‘Premigagi Na.’ This was a duet with Hariharan. And Janaki proved that there was so much more music left in her. The only hitch she felt was that she could not hold her breath as long as she could some 30 years ago.
The voice, the feel, the tenor still continues to fascinate. For after all Janaki was made not for an age but for all time.
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Gems from Janaki
l ‘Unarunaru unnipoove…’ ‘Ammaye Kaanan’
l ‘Vasanthapanchami…’ ‘Bhargavi Nilayam’
l ‘Kesadipaadam…’ ‘Pakalkinavu’
l ‘Suryakaanthi…’ ‘Kattuthulasi’
l ‘Manasasarasa…’ ‘Pooja’
l ‘Oru kochu swapnathin…’ ‘Tharavattamma’
l ‘Manasamani venuvin…’ ‘Moodalmanju’
l ‘Ennale nee oru…’ ‘Sthree’
l ‘Vaakacharthu…’ ‘Iruttinte Athmavu’
l ‘Kadavathu thoni…’ ‘Murapennu’
l ‘Kannil kannil…’ ‘Danger Biscuit’
l ‘Chirikyumbol koode…’ ‘Kadal’
l ‘Manathinmuttathu…’ ‘Karuthapournami’
l ‘Madhura pratheekshtan…’ ‘Bhagyamudra’
l ‘Varumallo raavil…’ ‘Kannur Deluxe’
l ‘Kanmaniye…’ ‘Karthika’
l ‘Oru mayilpeeliayi…’ ‘Aniyathavalakkal’
l ‘Naadha nee varum…’ ‘Chamaram’
l ‘Oru vattam koodi…’ ‘Chillu’
l ‘Thumbi vaa…’ ‘Olangal’
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