The rendering ‘Kasthuri Thailamittu Mudi Minukki...’ still keeps the young and the old crooning which brings with it the rich ethos of a bygone milieu. It was with this song in ‘Kadalppalam’ that music director G Devarajan led her into the world of filmdom.
Madhuri was passionate about music from childhood. Born into a traditional Brahmin household in Tiruchirapalli to G S Vemban and Sarada little Sivagnaanam yearned to sing. But it did not sound right for a Brahmin kid those days to take up singing seriously. Though she had to suppress her passion, she tightly held on to her hopes. Fortunately,
Sivagnaanam got married to Jayaraman at the age of 13 who stoked the fire in her belly. He encouraged her to pursue her passion and even went on to rechristen her as Madhuri, who later came to be known as P Madhuri.
Having done her last recording for ‘Elavathur Kayalile’ for the 2000 release Meeshamadhavan, the playback singer is heading for a second inning through ‘Thrissurkaaran’ directed by Ananth Krishna. “I trust the composing and song mixing are in the final stages. The recording will be completed this month-end before I leave for Canada to join my family,” she says.
Looking back, the yesteryear nightingale who sang some of the evergreen melodies in the early 60s owes her success to the two men who she says guided her and stood by her through thick and thin. “If it were not for my husband I would never have seen a world outside my courtyard. If I’ve made a mark in my career, it’s all because of Devarajan master, my guru,” says Madhuri who was a dedicated theatre artist in her younger days.
“In the early years of our marriage, when we were in Delhi, I happened to be part of a drama troupe formed by a few of my neighbours. Jayaraman pushed me to the stage and I performed on several under the banner of ‘South Indian Theatres’, says Madhuri who settled down in Kozhikode recently.
It was in one of those drama performances that Devarajan happened to see Madhuri. “The drama had a few song sequences and I was the singer of the troupe. After Master heard me sing, he enquired through a messenger whether I was interested in singing for movies,” Madhuri reminisces.
This turned out to be a ray of hope for the young couple who eagerly approached Devarajan Master the very next day. “But luck did not favour me. It was disheartening when Master told me that I wasn’t fluent enough in Malayalam and that I would be given a chance only if I mastered the language, a shocker for a Tamil girl,” she says.
But grit and determination were her middle names and Madhuri was bent on overcoming the hurdles. “This ordinary housewife, a mother of two, with nothing more to ponder than cooking and household chores suddenly dreamt of achieving her lifetime ambition. I was ready to put in any effort and with Jayaraman’s support I picked up Malayalam in three months’ time. To pep it up he even made me act in several Malayalam plays and within two years I could speak the language with ease,” she says.
Thus she received a thunderous applause for her debut in 1969 which was a spontaneous hit. Soon Devarajan-Madhuri combination began to create ripples in the music industry. She began to enjoy more space in Devarajan compositions, formerly enjoyed by P Susheela and S Janaki.
“Till 1986, I had a golden time. I sang just a few songs for other directors because most of the time master equipped me with his schedules.” And needless to say melodies as ‘Innu enikku pottu kuttham’ ,’Priya Sakhi Gange’, ‘Bhoomiye Snehicha’ are hot favourites even now.
With two state awards for ‘Prananathan enikku nalki’ in 1973 and ‘Rakkili Padi’ in 1978, Madhuri says she was disappointed when her ‘Innu enikku Pottu Kuttham’ didn’t fetch any major accolades. “Master appreciated the shrill pitch of my voice and he believed it was apt for the song. I remember doing a lot of rehearsals until I could satisfy my mentor. No doubt, this was the most challenging song I ever had. My training in Hindustani helped me largely,” she says.
And have the new songs pampered her ever? “I don’t think I can ever sing the new generation compositions. The songs may make you dance or hum just once. But I bet, not one will be remembered 10 years down the line,” Madhuri says.
At 72, the singer is busy with a few stage shows abroad under the banner ‘Voice of Calicut’ and a few more recordings have been already scheduled. “I don’t think I’ve wasted any time during my 13-year break. For a true singer, even her kitchen is a recording platform. I have been singing always, even then, now, and hereafter,” she concludes.