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Wedded to music

In a couple of months singer Manjari will get married. She tells K. PRADEEP that it will not change things as far as her music goes


There’s still so much to learn, so far to go


Photos: Thulasi Kakkat

Arian’s aria Manjari says her heart lies in classical music

Manjari is an Arian, assertive, enthusiastic, energetic, confident. But this Arian’s straight-to-the-point approach is often mistaken for overconfidence, enthusiasm as rashness. Blame it on the stars!

There have been occasions when people around have tried to pull her down, pointed fingers at this ‘attitude.’ But Manjari is not one to be so easily put off. This confidence comes through when Manjari speaks, when she sings.

“I’m very emotional and this is what I don’t like about myself. Of course, you do get upset, especially when someone says something nasty just before a show. But I never show it on stage or in my singing though it has often left my mother in tears. I’m a firm believer in God. This gives me an inner strength,” says Manjari who has made amazing strides in her career in quick time.

On song


Ask her about all that talk of her marriage with a naval officer and Manjari does not hide behind a veil of coyness. Very self-assured, she even talks of her after-marriage plans. “Yes, the wedding is in April. His name is Vivek Prasad and he is a fighter pilot in the Navy. He likes music a lot, which makes things easier for me. Those days are gone when the wife is expected to only sit inside the house, cook and swab. I know that in this very competitive career a singer needs to be right there when the call comes. I need only a couple of days’ notice, which you usually get, to be ready for the recording. I’ll not miss an opportunity.”

Singing is only one of her ‘activities.’ In Muscat, where she did her schooling, Manjari was part of every event. “That was fun. I was into dance, singing, badminton, and all kinds of things. I did roles in musicals like ‘The Sound of Music,’ The Wizard of Oz,’ and ‘Mary Poppins.’”

Her first stage show was with the Kolkata-based rock band ‘Shiva,’ which was on a Gulf tour. “I was in class eight then. I sang just one song….” Manjari is interrupted by her mother, Latha, “She had to be virtually pushed on to the stage. She was always like that, a bit lazy, needed to be prodded. She was a good dancer, but we, my husband and me, thought her singing was better...” Manjari laughs and continues, “Now it is photography, regular badminton, glass painting, I love to do up the house, and cooking…”

Seeing a few surprised faces around Manjari continues, “Really, I do a lot of cooking these days. In fact, Das uncle (K.J. Yesudas) tasted one of my chicken dishes, said it was good and that my future husband was a lucky man…” Manjari breaks into loud laughter.

Yesudas is not just a good family friend; he is Manjari’s role model. “Das uncle used to come home whenever he came to Muscat. I remember how my sister and I played Monopoly, which he invariably won. He is certainly a source of inspiration, encouragement and my favourite singer. It was he who told me about a raga in my name and taught me a composition in it. He always insisted on correct pronunciation and the importance of imparting emotion to the words in the lyrics.”

Language no bar

Despite lack of formal training in Malayalam, Manjari has not found singing in the language a big problem. “Speaking Malayalam at home helped. It is not that I can read novels and literature in Malayalam. But I don’t have any problem when it comes to reading a song.” For this singer with a distinct voice her film debut came out of the blue. Manjari took part in Symphony, a television show on Kairali, and even compered a live music show. “These shows gave me the break. I first sang for Ranjith’s ‘Hello,’ which for some reason was not released. But singing offers came in the film ‘Vamanapuram Bus Route.’ Perhaps the most significant of them was Raveendran Master giving me a chance to sing in ‘Vadakunnathan’ (the song ‘Paahi paramporule…’ was noticed) and then Rajeevnath called me to sing for the film ‘Moksham.’”

State award

Manjari went on to win the Kerala State award for best singer for her song ‘Mukilin makale…’ in the film ‘Makalkku’ and has sung for almost all the eminent music directors in various South Indian languages. “A dream come true was singing for Ilayaraja sir. Long back I had gone with my father [Babu Rajendran] to Chennai armed with a CD of my songs to meet the maestro. This did not materialise. Then later I get this call for the film ‘Ponmudipuzhayorathu.’ I was also fortunate to sing in his symphony ‘Thiruvasagam’ and for many of his films.”

Playback singing has given Manjari name and fame but her heart lies in classical music. Trained in Hindustani by Ustad Khalid Anvar Jan, who hails from Pakistan, and Carnatic by Syamala Vinod, Perumbavoor G. Ravindranath and K. Omanakutty, Manjari, a postgraduate student of music from Government College for Women, Thiruvananthapuram, now sets apart a sizable chunk of her time for concerts and ghazals. “Last year especially was good. There is so much pleasure when you sing a concert, so much scope to improvise.

It also calls for a lot of hard work. There’s still so much to learn, so far to go.”


There’s still so much to learn, so far to go


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