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Off the air with RJ Suchi

INTERVIEW Suchitra is Chennai’s hottest voice on radio. SHIV S KUMAR finds her as effervescent as she is over the radio waves

PHOTOS (COVER AND ABOVE) : R. Ravindran

TOUCHING LIVES RJ Suchitra

It’s not every day that an MBA decides to make a career as a radio jockey, but then Suchitra isn’t your average person; she chucked up, first, a job in advertising and then one in the IT industry to pursue a passion. She hasn’t look ed back since, and with good reason: today she’s probably Chennai’s hottest voice on radio, hosting a morning 0700 to 1100 hours breakfast show on Radio One.

“I’ve always liked radio as a medium,” she says matter-of-factly during an interview in the shady terrace of the trendy café, Amethyst. Work over, Suchi has just finished lunch with a young friend (singer Sudha Raghunathan’s daughter, who’s just finished her school exams) and is in a relaxed mood. She orders coffee for me, some cheesecake for dessert and the interview gets rolling.

Suchi talks about how she got to be a radio jockey in the first place. “It’s more personal, unlike television. It’s like you’re speaking to one listener alone,” she says about the medium.

In person, she is every bit as captivating and effervescent as she is over the radio waves. Dressed simply in a salwar and sleeveless kurta and sporting large ethnic earrings, Suchi is open, friendly and remarkably free of artifice.

We’ve fixed up the interview over the phone the previous day, after I’ve told her that I’m a fan of her ‘on air’ persona and used to listen to her, inviting the plaintive response, “But why have you stopped listening?”

Her face gets animated as she warms to the subject. “Radio is a science. You’ve got to know how to speak to the listener, how to hook them and how to keep them that way. If you don’t, you’ll lose them.”

Suchi explains: “You’ve got to grab their attention with a ‘spike’ and end with a ‘tease’ to keep them hooked. It’s all about how you phrase it.”

Ironically, Chennai’s best loved RJ grew up in Kerala. She did her schooling and college there, coming back to Tamil Nadu only to do her MBA from PSG, Coimbatore. And, yes, she is fluent in Malayalam (“It’s probably even better than my Tamil”) though it’s her Tamil that got her noticed in a big way.

She turned down offers of promotion — programming director, creative head — from other radio stations to continue what she loves doing. As she has grown in the industry, she’s also matured, she says. “Initially, we wanted to shake people up, we were quite aggressive. Now, I want to take up things that others don’t. I want to touch lives on a more personal level.”

“I don’t know how many people there are out there listening, judging and evaluating. I don’t know about the gold coins and mobile phones that other shows are dangling at the end of the proverbial stick. When I talk, there is only one person listening. And when I switch on my mike to talk, I want to make them laugh, think, act….. and believe.” Suchi’s other great passion is singing. From her first song, ‘Uyirin Uyire’ in Kakka Kakka with music director Harris Jayaraj, today she’s done over 75 songs in films. But she isn’t satisfied. “I want to sing for at least five music directors this year,” she confesses. She hasn’t had any formal classical training, something she’s remedying now by getting Western classical training with Augustine Paul of the Madras Music Association.

Her commitment here again is striking. “I don’t just give my voice and leave; I contribute a lot to the song,” she stresses. Suchi would love nothing better than working with a collaborative music director, who’ll allow her the freedom to make her own contribution.

Her favourite song? ‘Enna Solgirai’ from Thavamai Thavamiranthu: “a beautiful song,” she says. The popular ‘Yammadi Athadi’ is also a favourite; ‘Kutti Pisasu’ in Kaalai is another.

She’s also done a film cameo in Mani Rathnam’s Ayitha Ezhuthu. “I didn’t sing anything in it though,” she hastens to add. And played herself (RJ Suchi) in one scene in Madhavan’s JJ.

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