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‘This award is special for me'


Sujatha, recipient of the Swaralaya-Kairali-Yesudas award this year, looks back on her track record in music, which began right from the days when she was Baby Sujatha.

Mentor and disciple: (from left) Sujatha with K.J. Yesudas; Sujatha feels she was lucky to be mentored by Yesudas.

Singer Sujatha is elated, having been chosen for the Kairali-Swaralaya-Yesudas award (2009). She has won several awards in her long career, including the Kerala and Tamil Nadu State awards for playback singers. “But this one is special. It is in the name of Das ettan [K.J. Yesudas],” says the singer who shot to fame in the seventies as Baby Sujatha, the schoolgirl who regularly used to sing with Yesudas in his stage shows all over the world.

She is in august company, as the previous recipients include stalwarts such as P. Jayachandran, S.P. Balasubramaniam, S. Janaki, Asha Bhonsle, Chitra, Hariharan, Sonu Nigam, Shankar Mahadevan, A.R. Rahman and so on.

Yesudas has been Sujatha's musical mentor. “Moreover the early training under Das ettan instilled a lot of discipline in my singing. I take extra care to protect my voice, avoid several tempting food and always try to dedicate myself fully to music.”

Child prodigy

In the Seventies, the child prodigy used to reel off popular numbers by Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle, Susheela and Janaki in Yesudas' stage shows, displaying technical perfection, ‘bhava' and above all a maturity of voice that belied her age.

She sang her first film song in 1975, followed by a song for composer Shyam in ‘Kamam Krodham Moham.' Then came ‘Aparadhi,' which had Salil Chowdhury as the composer.

Around this time, composer M.G. Radhakrishnan got her to record some melodious non-film songs for All India Radio. These songs (one such was ‘Odakkuzhal Vili”) continue to be sung by participants in youth festivals even now.

Sujatha debuted in Tamil films soon and sang for Ilayaraja in films such as ‘Johny,' ‘Kavikuyil' and ‘Ilamai Kolangal.' After her marriage in 1981, she took a break before returning in 1988 in Priyadarshan's ‘Kadathanadan Ambadi,' followed by the superhit ‘Chitram,' which had Kannur Rajan as the music director.

Being settled in Chennai, she used to sing jingles in the late Eighties for Rahman. Then he got her to sing ‘Puthuvellai Mazhai' in his debut film ‘Roja' in 1992.

Sujatha soon became a busy singer in all the South Indian languages. She has also sung for Rahman in some Hindi films such as ‘Pukar' and ‘Taal.'

Expressive rendering

A great fan of Asha Bhonsle, Sujatha seems to have imbibed Asha's expressive way of rendering a song. This, probably, is the trait that has helped her carve a niche for herself in South Indian film music. Her expressive and evocative rendering of film songs of all kinds – romantic, melancholic, comic, philosophical, fast, melodic or soothing – has made her songs stand the test of time. Her ability to infuse the correct shade of emotion even into a 30-second jingle makes her a favourite in the ad world too.

Sujatha's sweet voice has retained its youthfulness. She believes that every singer has to develop an individualistic style. She says she is happy that Shwetha, her daughter, is now evolving her own style.

“Apart from several hits in Malayalam films in the past couple of years, she has been singing in other languages too. She recorded a Tamil song recently for Rahman,” says the proud mother.

Perhaps it is her dedication to a task on hand that also makes Sujatha talk passionately about her experience as a judge in reality shows in general and Asianet's talent hunt for musically talented young kids in particular.

“I enjoyed every minute of the kids' performances. It was a pleasure to guide them to fine tune their singing and performances. These kids take the comments in a positive manner, as proved by their sincere efforts and steady improvement.”

Sujatha won the Kerala State awards for the best female playback singer in 1997 (for ‘Pranayamanithooval…' in ‘Azhakiya Ravanan'), in 1999 (for ‘Varamanjal…' in ‘Pranayavarnangal') and in 2007 (for ‘Bansuri Sruthi…' in ‘Rathrimazha').

Her recent song in Malayalam include the songs for Lenin Rajendran's forthcoming film, ‘Makara manju,' and ‘Pappi Appacha' under Vidyasagar, a composer who has given her a lot of hit numbers in Malayalam as well as Tamil.

Her ‘Poo Pookkum Osai…' (‘Minsara Kanavu') missed the National award in 1997 by a whisker. She is reported to have missed the 2007 National award, again quite narrowly, when her song ‘Thattam Pidichu…' in ‘Paradesi' was a hot contender. But Sujatha is philosophical. “If I am destined to get a National award I will get it one day!”

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