The Nightingale in Godâ€™s Own Country- Part 1
I promised I would return with a sequel to the â€˜Ode to a Nightingaleâ€™ that had appeared in April to celebrate Janakiâ€™s birthday and to commemorate her completing 50 years in film music. And with a view to have a sense of completion in the sequel, I set about documenting her career in other languages in brief. But I soon gave up the attempt in sheer frustration, for Janakiâ€™s stupendous achievements in each language defy any attempt at abridgment. Hence, here I am with an inevitable attempt at a detailed look at the divaâ€™s career in each language. Let me begin with Malayalam, for even while Tamil and Telugu cinema chose to offer Janaki only sporadic employment in the 50s and 60s, (that she made the best use of the opportunities that came her way in these languages is another point altogether!), it was Malayalam and Kannada cinema that embraced the young singer and welcomed her unreservedly.
Soon after her first Tamil and Telugu songs, Janaki made her debut in other languages like Malayalam, Kannada and Sinhalese. I remember reading that she had sung film songs in six languages in her very first year! With her innate flair for languages and phenomenal grasping skills, this would not have been a daunting task for this extraordinary woman. Many of you would remember a vividh bharati programme called â€˜madhur geethamâ€™ between 4.30 and 5.30 in the evening that was devoted to film songs from the four southern languages with the announcements in Hindi. As a child I used to listen to it immediately on returning home from school, before running out to play, and I still remember being filled with wonder at Janaki being a regular feature in all the four languages, day after day.
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â€˜kEshaadhi paadham thozhunnEn, kEshavaa, kEshaadhi paadham thozhunnEnâ€¦â€™ Lines that floated serenely in the air in the temple precincts and made me stand still with inexplicable bliss when on a pilgrimage to Guruvayoor. My friend from Cochin who accompanied me informed that this famous devotional song can be heard everyday, not only in Guruvayoor, but also in most temples all over Kerala. I was particularly intrigued, for the piety-soaked voice that had sung those lines was Janakiâ€™s. And much later my search for the song unfolded the fact that this was originally a movie song (pagal kinaavu/ 1967), composed by B.A. Chidambaranath and sung by Janaki. But the composition had long outgrown the cocoon of a film song, and over the years has metamorphosed into one of the best-loved hymns in Malayalam!
Janakiâ€™s first song in Malayalam was for the movie â€˜minnunathellaam ponnallaâ€™ (1957/ Kerala Arts), recorded at the AVM studios. The song was â€˜iruL mooduyagO en vaazhvilâ€™, written by P.N. Dev and composed by S.N. Chami. Malayalam is a difficult language for any outsider to master, but Janaki got the accent and the rich niceties of the language right within no time. However, ever humble, Janaki acknowledges, â€œMalayalam was a challenge indeed. But I worked hard on the language and managed to get the pronunciation right under the guidance of composers and lyricistsâ€. In this connection, Janaki recalls an ardent fan of hers called Leela Chacko. Apparently during those early years, Leela used to call her up everyday, and Janakiâ€™s daily conversation with Leela resulted in significant improvement in her Malayalam. I happened to watch a part of music show titled â€˜Little Mastersâ€™ in one of the TV channels two weeks back, and was delighted to see a group of talented children sitting with Janaki in the lawns of her beautiful house and sing in her presence and seek valuable guidelines from the venerable veteran. To a question from a child about singing in other languages, Janaki replied with a twinkle in her eye that languages are easy to master, especially when one is young, and that each language has certain key syllables and the secret lies in mastering them. How simple it sounds!
Janaki gained so much proficiency in the language that she soon sounded like a native Malayali. And even while singing in the language, she has employed subtle variations in accent and pronunciation to suit the particular region/ caste/ religion of the character. So much so that I have some friends from Kerala here who look at me pityingly whenever I assert that Janakiâ€™s mother tongue is Telugu! I have even heard that Janaki once objected to a tune when the rhythm set by the composer resulted in the word â€˜maadalaâ€™ in the line â€˜maadala poo pOloruâ€™ being wrongly emphasized as â€˜maddalaâ€™. The composer, who was not a Malayali, looked askance at her insistence, but when she explained that â€˜maadalaâ€™ meant pomegranate while â€˜maddalaâ€™ referred to a folk percussion instrument, he readily changed the rhythm to Janakiâ€™s satisfaction. The composer was none other than the venerable Salil Chowdhury and the song, the unforgettable â€˜shaarikE en shaarikEâ€™ (swapnam/1973).
I have listened to some of Janakiâ€™s early numbers in Malayalam and they were indeed a startling revelation, for I was quite unaware of her rich legacy in the language. Her duet with A.M. Raja, â€˜raakuyilE raakuyilEâ€™ from the movie â€˜minnal padayaliâ€™ (1959) composed jointly by P.S. Diwakar and Ranganathan for instance, is a tantalizing treat from a bygone era. Two other enthralling songs from the same movie have managed to survive the ravages of time as well- the memorable SJ solo â€˜valayalitta kochchu kaigaLEâ€™ and the dainty duet â€˜poovanamE pudhuvanamEâ€™ where PBS and Janaki usher in the magic that only they are capable of.
Janaki then sang â€˜mangalam nerukaâ€™ for V. Dakshinamoorthi in the movie â€˜seethaâ€™, which marked the beginning of a endearing and enduring relationship between the exacting composer and the gifted singer. Swamiâ€™s albums like umminithanga/1961, sathyabhama/1963, susheela/1963, sree guruvayoorappan/1964 had some exquisite numbers by Janaki. Over the years, the revered Swami summoned Janaki repeatedly to do justice to his intricate compositions like â€˜kadhayoNNu kEttuâ€™ (Cochin Express/1967), â€˜vidilla nyaanâ€™ with Kamukara Purushothaman (Lady Doctor/1967), â€˜padunna puzhaâ€™ (padunna puzha/1968), â€˜vaikathashtami naaLilâ€™ with Yesudas (bharyamaar sookshikkuka/1968), â€˜kaNNil kaNNil nOkkiyirunnaalâ€™ (Danger Biscuit/1969). Kanoor Deluxe/1969 had the famous Janaki solo â€˜varumallo raavil priyathamanâ€™ and the jaunty â€˜ee muhabathendoruâ€™ where Janaki is serenaded by PBS and Yesudas on either side. The same year saw the release of another brilliant album â€˜pooja pushpamâ€™, wherein Swami gave Janaki the solo â€˜mOhamO dhaahamOâ€™ and the duet with Yesudas â€˜raaja malligE.â€™ kalpana (â€˜amrithavarshiniâ€™ with L.R. Eswari and â€˜kunnathE poomaramâ€™) and sthree (â€˜ÃnnalE neeyoyoruâ€™ and â€˜kavitha paadi raakuyilâ€™) were Janakiâ€™s songs for Swami in 1970 that held the listeners captive. â€˜govardhanagiri kayiluyarthiâ€™ (marunaattil oru malayali/1971), â€˜valampiri sankhilâ€™ (maya/1972), â€˜oru chumbanam oru madhu chumbanamâ€™ (driksakshi/1973), â€˜abhinavajeevithaâ€™ (poimukhankaL/1973), â€˜aalOla neela viLochanangaLâ€™ with Yesudas (veendum prabhatham/1973) â€˜chale chalichaâ€™ (udhaya/1973), â€˜mullapoompallilO mukkuttikkavillilOâ€™ with Yesudas (arakaLLan mukkakkaLLan/1974), â€˜pournami chandrikaâ€™ (alakaL/1974), â€˜manadhoru kavadiyattamâ€™ (chumaduthangi/1975), â€˜ellaam neeyE soureâ€™ (sreemad bhagavad geetha/1977) – Janaki continued to gladden the heart of the venerable master with her impeccable performances. In the 1982 movie â€˜gaanamâ€™, Dakshinamoorthi extracted some intricate classical numbers from SJ such as â€˜sindoora vigrahamâ€™ and â€˜aalaapanam aalaapanamâ€™ (a stellar ragamaalika with Yesudas, this one!). The musical â€˜ente mOhangaL poovaninjuâ€™ had Janaki rendering some challenging compositions of Swami like the lilting duet with Yesudas â€˜nananju nEriya patturumaalâ€™, the dazzling solo â€˜thamburu thaanE shruthi meettiâ€™ and the melancholic duet with Yesudas â€˜aashaada meghangal nizhalukalerinjuâ€™. The crowing glory, of course, was when Swami picked Janaki to match vocals with trained singers like Balamuralikrishna and Yesudas in the in the Tyagaraja krithi â€˜raghuvaraâ€™ wherein Janakiâ€™s swift, spellbinding swara repartees to Balamuralikrishna and Yesudas are truly awesome, considering how negligible her formal training in classical music was. She would repeat this feat under Ilaiyarajaâ€™s baton when the movie was remade in Tamil in 1986 as â€˜isaipaadum thendRalâ€™.
Listen to â€˜Ãniyurangooâ€™ by S.Janaki from vilakku vaangiya veeNa (1971)
Lyrics by P. Bhaskaran
Music by V. Dakshinamoorthi
Listen to â€˜aalapanamâ€™ by K.J.Yesudas & S. Janaki from gaanam (1982)
Lyrics by Sreekumaran Thampi
Music by V. Dakshinamoorthi
Perceiving the intrinsic worth of the young singer, stalwarts like M.B. Sreenivasan, K. Raghavan and B.A. Chidambaranath vied with each other in offering her challenging numbers that saw her ascend the firmament of fame. MBS took Janaki into his fold right from kalpadukal/1962 in which Janaki rendered that unforgettable duet â€˜tharil thararaOâ€™ with K.P. Udhayabhanu. In the same year, she sang â€˜ellaam kazhinju thelinjuâ€™ (swarajyam), â€˜valamnu valamnuâ€™ (kaNNnum karalum) and â€˜asavasanthamâ€™ (snEhadeepam) for MBS. Her duets with Kamukara Purushotaman, â€˜chandrantE prabhayilâ€™ and â€˜odum pava chadum pavaâ€™ in snEhadeepam retain their popularity to this day. Over the years, songs such as â€˜kaNNezhuthi pottumthottuâ€™, â€˜varum oru naaL sukhamâ€™, â€˜kanyamariyamE punyaprakasamEâ€™ (all from althara/1964), â€˜vaarmukilE vaarmukilEâ€™, â€˜thaazhathE chOlayilâ€™ (both from puthri/1966), â€˜rajahamsamEâ€™ (aparadhini/1968), â€˜chirukkumbOl koodEâ€™ (kadal/1968), â€˜aathiraakkuliruLLaâ€™, â€˜yamunatheera vihariniâ€™ (both from madhuvidhu/1970), â€˜araLi thulasi raajamalliâ€™ (iniyoru janmam tharu/ 1972) and â€˜swapnam kaaNukayOâ€™ (prathikaaram/1972) cemented the endearing bond between the composer and the singer. The high-pitched â€˜veLichchamE nayichaalum Bethlahemil kaalam koluthiyaâ€™ tuned by MBS, (vidhyarthikalE ithelE ithilE/1971) has Janaki adding gloss to the composerâ€™s famed choir arrangement. Besides these solos, Janaki has sung some memorable duets with Yesudas for MBS such as â€˜chandrapalunku maNimalaâ€™ (kanyakumari/1974), and â€˜swarnavigrahamEâ€™ (swarnavigraham/1974). â€˜viswamahaakshEtra sannidhiyilâ€™ (idavazhiyE poocha minda poocha/1979) is said to have fetched Janaki heartfelt accolades from the composer. â€˜oru vattam koodiâ€™ (chillu/1982) is another bewitching MBS composition that Janaki did ample justice to.
Listen to the award winning â€˜ettumanoorambalathil ezhunnallathu munnilâ€™ sung by S. Janaki from oppOl (1980)
Lyrics by P. Bhaskaran
Music by M.B. Sreenivasan.
Janaki was the favorite singer of composer K. Raghavan, and their collaboration has brought forth of some of Malayalam cinemaâ€™s most popular numbers. â€˜kothikallE kothikkallE rebeccaâ€™ from the 1963 movie â€˜Rebeccaâ€™ is such a simple, endearing number, recalling an unhurried, tranquil past, while â€˜karikkodi thanalathu kattilE kiLi peNNinâ€™ that opens with â€˜unarunaroo unni poovE unni poovEâ€™ from â€˜ammayE kaaNaanâ€™ of the same vintage showcases Janaki in her breezy, blithe elements. Decades have passed by, yet Raghavanâ€™s albums such as unniyarcha/1961, shyamala chEchi/1965, shyamalachEchi/1965, shyamala chEchi/1965, nagaramE nanni/1967, asuravithu/1968, kakkathamburaatti/1970, kurukshEtram/1970, ummachu/1971, anandasyanam/1972, pathiraavum pakalveLichavum/1974, kaNNapanunni/1977, thachOli ambu/1978, mamankam/1979, sandhyaragam/1979, kaattilE paattu/1982, nyaan oNNu parayattE/1982 and pallankuzhi/1982 brim with the undiminished exuberance of Janaki.
Listen to â€˜manjani poo nilaavuâ€™ sung by S. Janaki from nagaramE nanni (1967)
Lyrics by P. Bhaskaran
Music by K. Raghavan
B.A. Chidambaranath, who passed away recently, was another composer who managed to extract the best out of Janaki. Janakiâ€™s songs for Chidambaranath like â€˜kalithOzhimarennEâ€™ and the duet with Shanta P. Nair â€˜kadavathu thoniâ€™ (muRappeNNu/1965), â€˜karpoora thEnmaavilâ€™ (rajamalli/1965), â€˜viravalan kuruviâ€™ and the duet with Yesudas â€˜kungumapoovukkuL poothuâ€™ (kayamkulam kochunni/1966), â€˜OdakkuzhaLOchayumEâ€™ and the duet with B. Vasantha â€˜pathinEzhaam vayasinttEâ€™ (kalli peNNu/1966), â€˜oru thulasiâ€™ (Station Master/1966), â€˜nidrathan neeraazhiâ€™, â€˜guruvaayooril oruâ€™ and â€˜kEshaadhi paadhamâ€™ (pakal kinaavu/1967), â€˜OlOlam kavillullaâ€™ (kunjali markkar/1967), â€˜aalOlamâ€™ with P. Leela (sahadharmini/1967), her three duets with Yesudas â€˜mayilpeeli mizhigaLilâ€™, â€˜anjana kuLirâ€™ and â€˜andhimalarkkiLâ€™ (chattambi kavala/ 1969), â€˜Olam kunjOlamâ€™, â€˜thaamarappovEâ€™ and the duet with Balamuralikrishna â€˜neela neela vaanamithaâ€™ (kalippava/1972) showcase the talents of both Chidambaranath and Janaki.
Listen to the serene â€˜kEshaadhi paadhamâ€™ sung by S. Janaki from pakal kinaavu (1967)
Lyrics by P. Bhaskaran
Music by B.A. Chidambaranath.