The late 50’s fifties saw the entry of a 19-year old singer capturing everyone’s attention with her magical voice, easily traversing thehighest and the lowest octaves with ease. Sishtla Sreeramamurthy Janaki, popularly now known as S Janaki had the looks that could light up the silver screen. Yet she chose to stay behind it lending her voice to almost all the leading ladies of her times, across all south Indian movie productions, for starters.
Though her debut ( first released movie) was Citadel’s Magnalanattu Mary (1957) – a duet with PB Srinivas, what shot her into prominence in Tamil was Konjum Salangai (1962). Legend has it that S M Subbiah Naidu, who was in the look out for a singer to sing his challenging song Singara Velanin Deva for the film Konjum Salangai (1962), where the singer had to match or rather compete with the Nadaswaram, was recommended this young lady’s name by none other than P Leela, a proficient classical vocalist herself who was offered the song in the first place. With not much of classical training, young Janaki’s performance got noticed by the South Indian film fraternity.
Singara Velane Deva from Konjum Salangai (1962).
In her early years, her brilliant cover versions of Lata Mangeshkar’s songs on stage were quite the rage, and her rendering of Rasik Balama from Chori Chori (1956) was famous for those times. As I remember, her first movie as a playback singer in Tamil, Vidhiyin Vilayaattu unfortunately never saw the light of day.
S Janaki sang her first song in Malayalam, Irul Moodukayo for the movie Minnunnathellaam Ponnalla (1957), composed by S N Ranganathan, which was a note-for-note rip-off of Hemant Kumar‘s Mera Dil ye Pukarey ! Post the release of this film, she managed to get a smattering of compositions from V Dakshinamoorthy and K Raghavan, but it was never a steady stream of work as it were, till Ninamaninja Kaalpadukal (1963) and MS Baburaj happened !
When M S Baburaj chose her for his melodies, they formed a natural team that kept churning out hits after hits. There is a third angle too to this team – P Bhaskaran. And most of the hits were from this trio. Out of the 576 film songs that MS Baburaj composed, 128 were sung by S Janaki and 94 of them were solos. Amongst the lyricists, she lent her voice to 235 songs penned by P Bhaskaran ( the highest ).
The beginning of their collaboration was a quite auspicious one, so to speak, with a Meera Bhajan – Mein tho Ghungroo, for Ninamaninja Kaalpaadukal (1963), quite profound, when you think about it, as MSB’s compositions always had this almost simplistic Hindustani leanings for most, and a full blown Meera bhajan was quite a brave foot forward for the 60’s.
Mein tho Ghungroo from Ninamaninja Kaalpaadukal (1963)
I believe it was Thaliritta Kinakkal from Moodupadam (1963) that shot S Janaki to popularity in Malayalam. If you take the first 10 popular songs ever in Malayalam movies, this song would definitely be there in the first 5 for sure. It was the combination of geniuses that made this song so popular. P Bhaskaran with his simple lyrics, yet poetic with M S Baburaj’s soul stirring composition and S Janaki’s magical voice which imbibed the true meaning of the song with her finer nuances.
Tharliritta Kinaakkal from Moodupadam (1963)
There are quite a few songs in the same genre. I can never say which one is my favorite. Oru Kochu Swapnathin from Tharavattamma, Vaasantha Panjami naalil from Bhargavi Nilayam, Anjana Kannezhuthi from Thacholi Othenan are those that come to mind first, and the best part is all these songs were penned by the one and only P Bhaskaran. The true feeling of longing (pining) for one’s loved one runs through all these songs. And they have a haunting quality. I have always felt, like in up North, where Madanmohan always reserved his best songs for Lata Mangeshkar, M S Baburaj too reserved all his classic songs for S Janaki.
Romancing the onscreen gods of Malayalam.
I think we should start with Thaane thirinjum from Ambalapravu (1970). Here the poet compares the moon to a lover who is tossing and turning in her bed in a sleepless night – one of the best romantic numbers ever !
Thaane thirinjum from Ambalapravu (1970)
The rest come in a torrent – Avidunnen gaanam kelkkaan and En Praananayakane from Pareeksha (1968), Swarna valakalitta from Lakshaprabhu (1968), Aaraadhikayude from Manaswini (1968), Vaarmazhavillinte from Raathrivandi (1971), Kavilathe kanneer kandu from Anweshichu kandethiyilla (1967), the list is never ending.
Appeasing the real Gods in Malayalam films.
Though his songs are generally based on Hindustani raagas, one song he composed in a typical Carnatic style is a devotional – Vaakachaarthu kazhinjoru from Iruttinte aathmaavu (1967) !
To my knowledge ( and delight, of course ), some of the best devotionals in Malayalam movies are by this trio – Thaamarakumbilallo and Paavananaam from Anweshichu kandethiyilla (1967). In Paavananaam attidaya, MS Baburaj proved that even in the church bells there is music. Maybe he was the first to use church bells in the BGM.
The Nightingale’s saddest melodies.
Iru kanneer thullikal and Eeranuduthu kondambaram – both from Iruttinte aathmaavu (1967 ) could be rated amongst the best in sad songs Malayalam film playback has ever produced. Iruttinte Aathmaavu (1967) also has the rare fete of all the 4 songs sung by one person – S Janaki. Pottithakarnna from Bhargaveenilayam, Idakkonnu chirichum from Olavum Theeravum are just a few to name.
The Duets of S Janaki in Malayalam films.
Coming to some beautiful duets out of the S Janaki – MS Baburaj collaboration, we have Poovukal chirichu from Rathri vandi (1971), Ezhuthiyathaaranaanu Sujatha from Udyogastha (1967) that occupy pride of place in my selection.
A quick runthrough the gamut of emotions that S Janaki brought alive for the onscreen queens, makes one realise how the numbers increase manifold each time another sonic gem or a musical note that had hitherto left unexplored in one’s usual lisening chores in discovered. The above was just a quick run through, at the risk of repeating myself again, of my favorites from the trio S Janaki – P Bhaskaran and M S Baburaj.