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Realising a dream

Mahalakshmi is carving a niche for herself as a playback singer. She is the voice behind many songs in different languages and is collaborating in international ventures as well.



TUNING IN: Mahalakshmi believes that classical training is essential. — Photo: P.V. Sivakumar

SHE DREAMT of being a playback singer from childhood. She channelised her energies in this direction. From jingles she graduated to solo renditions. And so emerged Mahalakshmi, one of the `stars' in the musical firmament today. She has an album to her credit and has done a couple of international projects. Today, her life is packed with numerous recordings in different languages.

When one meets Mahalakshmi one is struck by her down-to-earth attitude and commitment to music. "I didn't think I would reach so far. Although studies were a part of life I wanted to become a singer. I started by singing jingles and this laid the ground for singing in films. Although it took some time to get into playback singing it's been worth the wait.''

Mahalakshmi, like most singers, has been trained in classical music. She has learnt Hindustani music under many gurus Pandit Gobind Prasad Jaipurwale, Gautam Madhusudan, Ratan Mohan Sharma and is still learning it. This has surely provided a strong foundation and helps her in her singing efforts. She in fact advocates all wannabe singers "to get some kind of classical training - vocal or instrumental.'' Since she grew up in Mumbai she was exposed to different genres - classical, ghazals and films. "I was tuned to music from the beginning. My mother sings Carnatic and being the youngest of four sisters I got the opportunity to listen to what all my sisters heard - from old Hindi melodies, ghazals to Beatles. My family has been a tremendous source of support and encouragement.''

Singing in different languages came naturally to her. Being in Mumbai was an added advantage as she could pick up many languages. "Even the language we speak is a mish-mash of everything,'' so it was not difficult singing. Recordings started with Ilayaraja for the film Poonthottam and A.R. Rahman (Alai payuthe, Mudalvan) and others subsequently followed. Bollywood too beckoned and today she is a familiar name there as well. Mahalakshmi, like all other Bollywood singers, renders songs in Tamil and Telugu as well.

Mahalakshmi has been in the news for her maiden album. Why did she feel the need to do it? "When you sing for a jingle, you sing for a product, when you sing for films you sing for a character, a face, in a serial the title song encapsulates the story and it is only in a private album that one gets an occasion to express one's own thoughts and expression. It provides a format to explore various issues and facets of your personality musically.'' The album is a mixture of various genres (including Latino, hip-hop, reggae) which are of course Indianised. About her experience she says "it was nerve-wracking working on it. I was used to singing one or two songs in albums or films. Here I had to render eight and it was a challenge to sustain the interest of the people. That feels great. I am happy with the appreciation I have received. It's doing O.K. though I would also want the sales to pick up."

Mahalakshmi has tried singing in other styles as well. In Mann ke manjeere (Shubha Mudgal was the famous voice in this) she attempted to portray different moods of the women, she has sung for Bhupen Hazarika's Ganga and other albums like Dance Masti and Instant Karma. A few international assignments add strength to her singing efforts. "I've done an album Ha with Talvin Singh which does not fall into any format and is rather abstract. I also sung for Deep Forest and the name of the album is Music Detected and a song Tere bina dil nahin lagta in memory of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan.'' She is keen on singing for international projects.

Her forthcoming Bollywood assignments include Chura liya hai tumhe, Bas yun hi, Kuch na kaho, Armaan, Kyun ho gaya na, Qayamat and Mumbai se Aaya Mera Dost. She has been singing for well-known music directors of the Telugu film industry as well like Manisharma and Vandemataram Srinivas. Her other singing ventures include Marathi, Gujarati, Assamese, Bengali and Kannada.

Mahalakshmi has started doing concert tours in the country and abroad. She will be travelling with A.R. Rahman's Unity of light concerts to other cities as well. In Hyderabad she shared the platform with Lata Mangeshkar. "Sharing a platform with one of the legends I have grown up listening to is a wonderful feeling. Rahman is a musical genius,'' she says. People who have inspired her include Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali (she is a connoisseur of ghazals) Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle.

Does she envisage herself composing music some years from now? "I like to. I keep composing something at home and junking it. I have to pick up the confidence to do so. But I want to compose for my albums myself in future.''

With more than 200 songs under her belt, Mahalakshmi is modest enough to admit "it is a share of big luck being in the music industry. It is certainly a gratifying feeling. I want to be recognised as a good artiste.'' And she has certainly achieved that tag.

RADHIKA RAJAMANI

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