Vani Jayaram
Vani Jayaram Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Popular Indian playback singer Vani Jayaram, who has sung in multiple languages in a career spanning over five decades, died on Saturday. She was 78.

The singer, according to Indian media reports, died after sustaining injuries to her head at her residence in the southern metropolis of Chennai. Jayaram, who has lent her voice to more than 10,000 songs, is the recipient of many an honour, including the Padma Bhushan, India's third-highest civilian award. She has won the national film award for best playback singer thrice, and awards from many state governments.

In terms of versatility, career length and impact on the country's cinema and pop-culture, Jayaram's nearest peers are the legendary singers SP Balasubramanyam and Lata Mangeshkar, both of whom died in the last few years.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed his condolences on Twitter later in the evening. He remarked that Vani Jayaram's death "is a major loss for the creative world".

Jayaram née Kalaivani has sung over 10,000 songs in her illustrious career. She has songs in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam, Hindi, Urdu, Marathi, Bengali, Bhojpuri, Tulu and Oriya to her credit. Her hallmark was that she could switch between languages effortlessly.

A trained vocalist in Indian classical music, Jayaram has also recorded thousands of devotional songs and performed concerts across the world regularly.

Jayaram's popular songs include 'Kelviyin Nayagane' and 'Yezhu Swarangal' from the landmark Tamil film 'Apoorva Ragangal' (1975) and 'Bol re papi hara...' from the Bollywood film 'Guddi' (1971).

Born in 1945 in Tamil Nadu, Jayaram made her singing debut in the Hindi film 'Guddi'. Her soulful rendition of the song 'Bol re pappi hara..' made her an overnight sensation across the country.

Jayaram had recorded three songs for the film, directed by the yesteryear great Hrishikesh Mukherjee. However, it was 'Bol Re Papihara...', a song that lent voice to the actress Jaya Bachchan on screen, which was an immense success. Her popularity knew no bounds from then on.

Among the Hindi movies that she sang for included 'Pakeezah', the music for which was composed by Naushad.

She would go on to sing in India's multiple film industries and forge collaborations with composers of different eras and regions, including MS Viswanathan, KV Mahadevan, GK Venkatesh, Naushad, OP Nayyar, V Dakshinamoorthy, Rajan-Nagendra, Vasant Desai, Ouseppachan and Ilayaraja.

Her popularity rose to stratospheric heights following the success of the Tamil movie 'Apoorva Ragangal', which is considered a landmark movie for many reasons.

Two reasons stand out: An atypical cameo by Rajinikanth in his cinematic debut, and Jayaram's two songs that cemented her place in cinematic history. The songs fetched Jayaram her first national award. From then on, she cemented her reputation as the go-to singer for "difficult" and classical songs, thanks to the training early in her life.

During the peak of her career, Jayaram crooned alongside many of her leading peers — SP Balasubrahmanyam, PB Sreenivas, P Jayachandran, KJ Yesudas, Mohammed Rafi, Asha Bhosle, Dr Rajkumar, TM Soundarrajan — among a microscopic few.

Movies that she sang for included 'Swati Kiranam' and 'Sankarabharanam' in Telugu; 'Aaina', 'Solwa Saavan' and 'Chhalia' in Hindi; 'Bhuvana Oru Kelvi Kuri', 'Oru Kaithiyin Diary' and 'Vaidehi Kaathirunthaal' in Tamil; 'Ariyapedatha Rahasyam', 'Aasheervaadam', and 'Thiruvonam' in Malayalam; and 'Hosa Belaku' and 'Bhakta Prahlada' in Kannada.

In a strange twist of fate, Jayaram's death preceded that of the filmmaker K Viswanath, who directed the 1980 Telugu hit film 'Shankarabharanam'. Jayaram's singing played a vital role in the success of the movie, which is considered a cult classic to this day.

Also read:

He was so creative: Aruna Irani remembers K Viswanath

Legendary Telugu filmmaker K Viswanath dies at 92 

Jayaram has also collaborated with artistes, including Pandit Birju Maharaj, with whom she has recorded bhajans, or devotional songs. She has also collaborated with the Odissi dancer Kelucharan Mohopatra.