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On a nostalgic note

Srinivas talks about his roots in Thiruvananthapuram.


ON A recent trip to Thiruvananthapuram, playback singer Sreenivas made it a point to visit University College where he did his graduation. "Many of the trees are missing. Otherwise, the place had not changed much. There was a mango tree that all of us used to gather under. We used to joke that we received enlightenment under the tree. That was missing."

Perhaps it was the visit that made him nostalgic. Instead of his career, albums, songs or music direction, he was in a mood to talk about his student days in Thiruvananthapuram and how it helped him to become a singer.

Sreevarahom days

"We used to stay in Sreevarahom. My father was working in AG's office. It was a joint family and my father's sister, Padma Narayanan, is and was my music guru. One did not learn music formally. It was all around you and one just imbibed it. Along with cricket and football, music was my passion in life. In those days, in the month of December-January (Margazhi), there used to be these bhajan groups that used to go around singing Thirupavais. I used to go with them. Concerts at the Navarathri Mandapam were a must. The greats in Carnatic music like KVN, Semmangudi used to regale rasikas at the Mandapam."

After Model School, Srinivas joined Arts College and then University College and was a regular participant and prize winner in the youth festivals conducted by Kerala University. "Kavalam Sreekumar, G. Vengugopal and I used to share the first three prizes amongst us. K.S. Chitra and I had sung a lot of duets."

His duets were mostly Hindi songs of R.D. Burman and Kishore Kumar. Sreenivasan was smitten by the scope and range of Hindustani music after listening to a cassette of songs sung by Hariharan. He started listening to Bhimsen Joshi, Kumara Gandharav and other great Hindustani vocalists and Ghazal singers.

"I once sang a Hindi song for a competition. Although I knew I would be disqualified, I decided to stick to the song."

After graduation, his job as a production engineer took him to Mumbai where he got little time to fine-tune his passion for singing. "I had hoped that I might at least see RD Burman or Kishore Kumar once. But that never happened," he recalls wistfully.

Inspiration

He says that K.S. Chitra's and G. Venugopal's success as playback singers inspired him to try and make his mark as a playback singer. "Venu put me in touch with Illayaraja and I gave him a cassette of my songs. After hearing it, Illayaraja told me `this is good. I will call you.' I was elated," he recounts.

However, when the call did come, a bad throat prevented him from singing and with disappointment writ large on his face he says, "I waited, but he never called me after that."

In 1992, while working in Coimbatore, he saw `Roja' and was bowled over by A.R. Rahman's music. "It was so fresh, sweet... I requested film director T.K. Rajeev Kumar, a friendfrom my college days, to get the address of the music director. When Rahman asked Rajeev, what kind of a singer I was, he told him that I was a bathroom singer. Then, it seems Rahman said, `If he is, send him immediately.' That was a lucky break."

However, Rahman made it clear that Sreenivas would have to be in Chennai as Coimbatore was too far. Soon, Srenivasan threw up his job and settled in Chennai.

"My wife supported me. It was a period of hope and hard work. Initially, I used to sing in the chorus. Then I graduated to jingles and finally film songs."

His first song was `Sorgam Enbathu Namakku'. `Minsara Kanavu' made his dream come true and soon he became one of the favourite singers of Rehman.

Awards followed and he made his debut in Bollywood as well with songs in films such as `Dil Chahata Hai,' `Lagaan,' and `Earth.' Albums such as `Ussele Ussele' and `Paarvai' proved his versatility as a singer. His songs for Malayalam films such as `Summer in Betlehelm,' `Pavithram,' and `Ustad' became hits.

As names such as Ashu (film director Aushutosh Gowariker), Rehman and Aamir pop up in the conversation, it is clear that the boy from Sreevarahom had become one of the stars of Kollywood and Bollywood.

SARASWATHY NAGARAJAN
Photo: S. Gopakumar

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