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Vani goes silent 

Musings by Shekhar Nambiar 

Bol Re Papihara from the 1971 Jaya Bhaduri starrer Guddi rings vividly in the ears of people of the era who can recall the song.

The voice that rendered the song was found dead at her Haddows Road apartment in Chennai on Saturday. Vani Jairam was 78 and was recently nominated for the Padma Bhushan award.

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Adept in many languages 

Her death brings back memories of her rendition 

of the ghazal maut bhi furqat me tal kar reh gai in perfect Urdu.

In a career spanning nearly five decades, the veteran singer had some 10,000 songs and a thousand films to her credit. She had the good fortune of singing for famous music directors such as Ilaiyaraja, M S Viswanathan, K V Mahadevan, Madan Mohan, and O P Nayyar.

Vani Jayaram, in her early years as singer

Recipient of awards

Recipient of the National Best Playback Singer award thrice, she won state awards in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Odisha.  

She sang with a voice that was unique and distinct from playback singers of her time.

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Trained in Hindustani vocal

After her marriage, she moved to Mumbai seeking a transfer in the bank she was working. Recognizing her talent, Vani’s husband initiated her into Hindustani classical music and she became versatile in various gharanas. Her mastery in whatever she took up was evident in the way she sang.

She rose at a time when S Janaki and P Susheela were riding the wave in South Indian cinema and Lata Mangeshkar, of course, was the reigning queen in Bombay and the rest of the country. Yet she remained humble and led a life of solitude after her husband’s death.

Vani Jayaram with Lata Mangeshkar

During the seventies and eighties there was scarcely anyone, young and old, man or woman, who didn’t hum her ever popular Guddi song.

Full credit to the girl born in Vellore and who left home after obtaining her degree from Queen Mary’s College to be in Bombay after her marriage.

A class apart

Her range was tremendous and the voice timbre was superlative and discerning. It stood apart clearly distinctly from other voices – that of a Lata or Susheela. In Hindi, Suman Kalyanpur had that distinct voice quality, easily distinguishable from Lata Mangeshkar and her other contemporaries.

Vani Jayaram with husband

Vani’s versatility was such that she had sung in 19 languages including in Tamil, Malayalam, Hindi, Telugu and Kannada. Among actors whom she had given voice for included Jayalalithaa.

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Her passing will cast a pall of gloom among legions of fans across India but more so in Chennai and the rest of South India. 

As Bol Re Papihara is aired for some time by radio stations now there will be several among us who will shed a tear or two recalling Vani’s contribution to music and film songs.

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Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar Nambiar
Shekhar is a communications professional who has spent a good deal of time in international organizations and in the development sector. As he puts it, it's been an "exciting journey" for him, beginning his working life as a journalist, with some of the best editors and professionals, before venturing into public affairs and then forays in the private sector. He believes "every day brings new challenges, achievements and success, and the key is to play a small part in whatever it is that you're doing". He tries to keep pace with new tech, and learn a new word a day, of course, "Gen Z lingo!"

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