Who can not forget the high octave-high pitched classical dance song ‘Singara Velane Vaa,’ from the film ‘Konchum Chilankai,’(1958) under the musical composer S M Subbaiah Nadu? And When both the film and the celebrated song came out, it marked the birth of a singing sensation. And when it was rendered in Telugu as ‘Nee Leela Padeda Deva,’ in the Telugu film ‘Muripinchu Muvvalu,’ the reputation of a new singer S Janaki, spread all over India.
Janaki was born on April 23, 1938 to Sreeram Murthy and Sathyavathy at Palapatla, in Guntur district, Andhra Pradesh. She was inspired by the music programmes on All India Radio. She was initiated into music by Paidiswamy. Winning the second prize in a music competition conducted by AIR in 1956, was the turning point in her life. It spurred her to pursue music.
Like the many up and coming singers in South India for whom Lata Mangeshkar had been a source of encouragement and inspiration, S Janaki too was motivated by this great singer who was a store house of knowledge and singing style.
Janaki began her singing career as a Staff artiste of AVM. In 1957, when AVM Studios, Chennai, was on the lookout for a new female voice Janaki went for the audition and sang Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘O Sajna…’ before music directors R. Sudarsanam and Govardhanam. They were so impressed that Janaki was promptly appointed as a staff artiste.
Like Lata Mangeshkar, for Janaki too the entry into the film playbnack scene began with a false start. If Lata had her first song edited out of the film, Janaki’s debut film in Tamil,‘Vidhiyin Vilayadal’ (1957) was not at all released. However a Telugu version of this film was released later for which Janaki rendered two songs. The first Tamil film to be released with her songs was ‘Magdalanaattu Mary.’ Produced by Jayakumar Pictures, the film was directed by S. S. Rajan and saw the debut of music director R. Parthasarathy. ‘Kunnukku naere minnidum thaarai’ a duet with P. B. Sreenivos, is now considered Janaki’s first Tamil film song. In her very first year, Janaki is estimated to have sung 100 songs in six languages, which was a record of sorts in those days.
Among these languages was Malayalam. Playback singing in Malayalam was just gaining a foothold at that time. Most of the music directors were still experimenting with new voices and relying on popular Hindi and Tamil film tunes. Information on films, stars, songs singers, lyricists and music directors of that period still remains cloudy.
There are two versions of Janaki’s first Malayalam film song. While many records state that she first sang for the film ‘Minnal Padayali’ (1959), many film historians maintain that Janaki had sung much earlier. They believe that her first Malayalam film song was ‘Irul moodukayo vaanil….’ from the film ‘Minnunnathellam Ponnalla’ (1957). It was an imitation of the famous Hindi song by Hemant Kumar, ‘Mera dil ye pukaare aaja...’ from the film ‘Nagin.’
During those early years, when most young singers found the going tough, Janaki was fortunate to find opportunities in various South Indian languages. In fact, there was a strange similarity in her progress in Tamil and Malayalam. For instance, it was in the sixties that Janaki established herself firmly in both these languages. Her song ‘Singara velane vaa vaa…’ (Konjum Silangai) where she matched the nagaswaram of Karaikurichi Arunachalam, , became a sensation. There was no looking back for her in Tamil.
Similarly, the Sixties was a landmark period for Janaki in Malayalam films. It was during this time that she sang for eminent music directors like B.A. Chidambaranath, K. Raghavan, V. Dakshinamurthy, G. Devarajan and M. S. Baburaj.
If Janaki’s distinct voice stood out in the song ‘Kanan nalla kinavukkal….’ (‘Bharya’), it was the haunting Baburaj melody, ‘Thaliritta kinakkal…’ (‘Moodupadam,’ 1963) that made people sit up and take notice.
From then on Janaki, despite the presence of illustrious contemporaries and gifted young talents, went on to become an integral part of Malayalam film music. She virtually dominated the scene from the late seventies to early eighties winning the State award for best female singer in 1972, ‘76, ‘77, ‘79, 1980, ‘81, ‘82, ‘83 and ‘84. Thrown in between was the National award in 1980 for her ‘Ettumannoor ambalathil…’ (‘Oppol’).
The versatile singer has sung in a child’s voice ‘Kokkamandi…’ (‘Chiriyo Chiri’), imitated a drunkard in the Tamil song ‘Paapa peru malli…’ (‘Ooru Kotta Dhilli’), sung in a male voice in the film ‘Nenjathai Killathae,’ film and lent her voice for a old woman in the film ‘Uthiripookal.’
Janaki has written the lyrics for numerous Tamil and Telugu songs and even composed music for the film ‘Mouna Poraattam’ (1988).
The first song she recorded after completion of her 50 years as a singer was for the Kannada film, ‘Premigagi Na.’ This was a duet with Hariharan.
Janaki was last heard in her adopted mother tongue Malayalam film ‘Chanthupottu,’ 2005 directed by Lal Jose and played by Malayalam hero Dileep. She sang a lullaby ‘Aazhakadalinte,’ for veteran South Indian actress Sukumari.