1973 February 1—it was an unforgettable day for Vani Jayaram. That was the day she made her singing debut in Malayalam cinema. Unexpected and joyous! Before going there let’s go back in time.
The 5th born of Doraiswamy and Padmavati (they had 9 children) in Vellore, Kalaivani grew up with music. The 7 svaras were her toys. If her mom played the Veena, all her sisters used to sing. Though she was taught music from the age of five, her father felt that was inadequate for her. And that had something to do with the astrologer’s prediction that she will be a big singer in the future. That’s why after her 4th grade, the family shifted to Madras to pursue her music training. While she trained under T R Subramaniam and RS Mani, she also simultaneously started singing at Kacheris in Chennai. After finishing her degree in Economics from Queen Mary’s she started working in a bank. When she got posted in Secunderabad, the family shifted there. It is after her marriage to Jayaram who was the Executive Secretary of Indo-Belgium Chamber of Commerce that her singing career slowly took flight. Jayaram who was a Sitar player and music lover gave up his job to take care of Vani’s musical career. To train under Ustad Abdul Rahman Khan, they shifted to Mumbai. When Ustad told her that she has a unique voice and should concentrate more on her singing, Vani quit her job and decided to learn Hindustani under the Guru for a year. It was Ustad Abdul Rahman who helped Vani Jayaram make her beautiful voice more beautiful through voice culturing.
When life pursued music
It was after listening to Lata Mangeshkar's songs regularly that she felt drawn towards playback singing. During that time, due to the insistence of Ustad Abdul Rahman, music director Vasanth Desai attended one of her kacheris. He was fascinated by her voice and rendition style. The very next day he made her sing for a Marathi drama. She sang ‘Runanubandhama’ with the famous singer Kumar Gandharva and it instantly made her a hit in Maharashtra. After a few days, Vasanth Desai again called her home. There she met Hindi filmmaker Hrishikesh Mukherjee and lyricist Gulzar. It was an invitation to sing for Jaya Badhuri for the film ‘Guddi.’ Vani couldn’t believe her ears. When they said her name Kalaivani might pose some problems in Bollywood, they decided on Vani Jayaram. After all, it was Jayaram who gave completion to the singer Vani.
Guddi’s recording was on December 22nd, 1970. It was Vani who sang three of the songs in the film. When these songs became hits, she was invited by some of the top-notch Bollywood music directors like Naushad, Laskhmikant Pyarelal, Jayadev, OP Nayyar, Madan Mohan, Kalyanji Anandji, and RD Burman. That time she was called to dub Samboorna Ramayan in Hindi. Manna Dey and Vani were the singers. It was at that time that people from Madras came to know that Vani Jayaram was from South India. They organised a kacheri at the Madras Music Academy for her. Soon famous Tamil music director M Subhaiyya Naidu invited her to sing in a Tamil film.
Though she sang ‘Ponmayana Kaalam’ for the film ‘Thaayum Seyum’, unfortunately, the film never got released. And the very next day, that is 1973, Feb 1, she got a call from Producer Sivan from Kerala—to sing for a film called ‘Swapnam.’ Vani later recalled how she instantly wanted to take a flight to Kerala when she heard that it was Salil Chaudhary who was composing music for the film. Even before she desired to be a playback singer, she was a fan of Salil Chaudhary after listening to his songs in 'Madhumathi' and other films. And she always dreamt of working with him one day. It was just a coincidence that it took a film like 'Swapnam' to eventually manifest her dream. In 2016 she sang in ‘Pulimurugan’ (Manathe Marikarumba) and 'Captain' (Manathe Marikarumba) in 2018. Her last Malayalam song was for the film 'Madhaveeyam' in 2019.
The Musical journey
Kalyanam sougandhikamanu bhoomi’
The minute Malayalees heard this song written by ON V Kurup and composed by Salil Chaudhary, they fell in love with Vani Jayaram. And for nearly a decade she was a constant in Malayalam cinema. She has sung over 620 songs in Malayalam.
Though her first Tamil song didn’t release, when her second duet ‘Oridam Veridam’ with TA Soundara Rajan in the film ‘Veetukku Vandha Marumakal’ composed by Subaiyya Naidu and ‘Mallikeyen Mannan Mayangum’ in the film Deerka Sumangali’ composed by MS Viswanathan became hits she became popular in South India. Vani Jayaram who has sung in 19 languages including, Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi, Telugu, Bengali, Kannada, Gujarathi and Odiya has worked with some of the greatest musicians and singers of that time including Muhammad Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, Manna De, Hemant Kumar, Talat Mahmood and Mahendra Kumar.
In 1972, she won the Gujarat government’s Best singer award for ‘Humgad’. Later she won a National award for the Tamil film, ‘Apoorva Ragangal’ in 1975. She won National awards for Telugu films 'Sankarabharanam' (1980) and 'Swathi Kiranam' (1991) composed by KV Mahadevan. And she won several state film awards from Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Andhra Pradesh, and Gujarat. It is just unfortunate that the Kerala government ignored her contribution to Malayalam music.
She was one of those rare singers who remained consistently solid in all her 40 years in the music industry. That was proved without a doubt by her flawless rendition of ‘Olanjali Kuruvi’ in the film '1983' (2013).
For Vani, music was also the balm that helped her to forget the sad reality that she had no children. She would often spend time with school children. Through the ‘Jai Vani Trust’ she actively worked towards funding education for girls as well as in providing protection for them.
Vani Jayaram always said that if she had a chance she would again love to be reborn as Vani Jayaram, the singer. She clearly never had nor envisaged a life beyond music.