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Singer who strikes a chord

A Tamilian who made good with her encounter with Malalyalam



Magical voice P. Madhuri

As you are greeted with a ‘namaskaram’, the lilt in her voice strikes you. Little wonder that P. Madhuri’s very name connotes sweetness. So, a singing career must have been a natural corollary. But she has a different take. “Though I was trained in classical music, performances were restricted only to household pujas as my orthodox parents were averse to singing in public.”

And when she got married at 13, became a mother by 16 and was bogged down by domestic chores, it seemed her talent would remain unheard.

The only outlet was the plays she enacted with other housewives for a hobby, after moving to Delhi from Tiruchirapalli when her husband V. Jayaram moved there. What began as a pastime turned into an amateur drama troupe that toured other cities. Music critic P. V. Subramaniam, popular as Subbudu, heard her sing on stage in Chennai and his rave reviews prompted G. Devarajan, the top Malayalam music director, to watch one of her plays. “Devarajan was on the lookout for a new singer then. He liked the high pitch in my voice and suggested I sing for films,” she recalls. He made her sing an old P. Susheela number Himavahini... hridayaharini...

“He felt my Malayalam pronunciation needed refinement and insisted that I learn the language to get nuances right,” adds the singer, who also got support from her husband.

Before long they were in Chennai and Devarajan groomed her in the cinematic techniques vital for playback singing, before giving her a break with Kasturi thailamittu... in Kadalpalam in 1969. The big moment came with Priyasakhi Gange in Kumara Sambhavam the same year.

“Incidentally, the song was meant for P. Susheela and I sang only the track as she was very busy. When producer Subrahmanyam heard it, he liked it so much that he retained my version,” she informs us. The song’s popularity and her winning the Kerala State Award for best singer made her a regular for Subrahmanyam’s films, besides getting her opportunities from other composers including M.K. Arjunan, Salil Chowdhary, A.T. Ummer, K. J. Joy, Shyam, Kannur Rajan and Raghukumar in Malayalam. However, her most fruitful association was with her mentor, the inimitable Devarajan.

And what about her mother-tongue Tamil. “My first Tamil song was a qawwali-type song with S. Janaki in Inaintha Kaikal for M. S. Viswanathan,” says Madhuri, who also sang for other music directors like K.V. Madhavan, Shankar Ganesh, Soundarrajan etc.

In Telugu, she sang mostly for dubbed films, the prominent being hit films like Mary Mata and Swami Ayyappan. Likewise was her foray into Kannada and Hindi films.

Then the inevitable question about the difference in the musical scene props up. “Now there’s too much stress on fast beat and language gets distorted to fit the western tunes.” She welcomes change, but feels not at the cost of melody and diction.

The veteran of over 7,500 songs is glad that many singers are entering the field thanks to supportive parents and umpteen music shows on TV. “If I had all that luxury, I could have started much younger and been better placed,” she sighs, regretting that her career began in her late 20s.

However, she disapproves of the tendency to imitate established singers. “Originality will pay in the long run,” she emphasises.

Any lacuna in her illustrious career? “Yes, I never got the opportunity to sing for a genius like Illayaraja.”

Away from the scene after recording for the last time in Meesa Madhavan, she is content with the fact that an ordinary housewife like her ended up with many evergreen hits to her credit. "All thanks to my guru Devarajan master and the overwhelming support of my Malayalee fans," Madhuri wants to go on record.

E. SURJIT

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