Vani Jairam – Popular Playback Singer of ‘Guddi’ fame

Vani Jairam (1945 – 2023) was a popular female playback singer of yesterdays, who predominantly worked in South Indian Film industry. She also owns a few hit Bollywood songs to her credit, apart from singing in Marathi, Odia, Gujarati, Haryanvi, Assamese, Tulu and Bengali languages. This singing legend has sung in 19 languages and has recorded more than 10,000 film songs apart from singing thousands of devotional songs.

Vani Jairam is a winner of numerous accolades including three National film awards in best playback singing category, 4 state awards, 1 Filmfare award and many more. One week before her death, on the occasion of 75th Republic Day, her name was announced among the list of Padma award winners. She was honoured with Padma Bhushan, the first Padma award, after a long wait of 50 years of her singing career.

On 4 February 2023, the acclaimed playback singer was found dead at her residence in Nungambakkam, Chennai. She had an injury on forehead. It was her wedding anniversary day, and she was living alone in her apartment even since her husband passed away in 2018. The couple had no children.

Vani Jairam was born as Kalaivani into a musical family in Vellore, Tamil Nadu

Kalaivani is her birth name. She was born on 30 November 1945 into a family in Vellore with 9 kids. She was the 5th daughter to Duraisamy Iyengar–Padmavathi couple. Both her parents were trained musicians, and Vani received her early music lessons from her mother followed by Ranga Ramunaja Iyengar. She learnt Muthuswami Dikshitar kritis from her guru. Later she took formal lessons in Carnatic music from Kadalur Srinivas Iyengar, T. R. Balasubramanian and R. S. Mani. Since young she was also attracted to Hindi film songs, and later learnt Hindustani music too, which helped her a lot in singing Bollywood songs. In fact she began her film journey with Bollywood films before fully switching to South Indian cinema.

She was married into a family of musicians

Vani completed her school and college education from Chennai, and started her professional career as a banker with State Bank of India, Chennai. In 1967 her job got transferred to Hyderabad. After she decided to concentrate on singing, she quit her banking career in the 1970s. She married Jairam in 1969, and moved to Mumbai.

It was Jairam who persuaded Vani to get trained in the Hindustani classical music and she enrolled under Ustad Abdul Rehman Khan of the Patiala gharana, who taught her Thumri, Ghazal and Bhajan. Same year she gave her first public concert too. Very soon she resigned her banking job and took music as her profession. Her mother-in-law, Padma Swaminathan was also a musician and daughter of activist F. G. Natesa Iyer. Famous violinist and musician N. Rajam is her sister-in-law. So, she received full support from the family to pursue a musical career.

She recorded a Marathi album with singer Kumar Gandharva in 1969

In 1969 composer Vasant Desai happened to listen to her voice and offered her singing aside famous singer Kumar Gandharva for a Marathi album. Thus she recorded her first ever song in Marathi language, “Runanubandhacha“. Vani Jayram continued singing classical and devotional songs, both for filmy and non-filmy albums, for which she is popular among North Indian listeners. Meera by Pt. Ravi Shankar is one such exceptional work, which gave her the prestigious Filmfare award for best playback singing in Hindi.

Vani’s film career started with Guddi in 1971

Evergreen classic, Bole Re from Guddi

She had made up her mind to pursue singing in Hindi films when she was barely in her teens. She was a huge fan of Hindi songs who loved listening to hit numbers on Binaca Geetmala. But she kept it as a secret wish initially. It made her mom a little bit sad as she wanted Vani to pursue Carnatic music. Just like she dreamt, she joined Bollywood and the songs composed by Vasant Desai, catapulted her to dizzying heights overnight.

Guddi which marked the screen debut of Jaya Bhaduri also marked the playback singing career of Vani. She is still known in Bollywood for the couple of songs – Bole Re Papihara and Humko Mann Ki Shakti Dena recorded for the film, though she sang 300 songs in Hindi. She received occasional hits through Pyar Kabhi Kam Na Karna Sanam in Ek Mutthi Aasman, a duet with Mukesh composed by Madan Mohan, and Teri Jheel Si Gehri Aankhon Mein, a duet with Nitin Mukesh in Dhuen Ki Lakeer. By that time she became busy with south Indian films, and mostly recorded Bhajans or songs belonging to mythological films in Hindi, for which she is known for. Yet she got opportunity to record songs with Madan Mohan, Jaidev, Kalyanji-Anandji, Naushad, Laxmikant Pyarelal, R. D. Burman, OP Nayyar, Bappi Lahiri and many other legends belonging to the era, though she had only a few songs to her credit.

When Lata Mangeshkar opted out of Gulzar’s project, she got opportunity to record songs with Pandit Ravi Shankar for the first song. Of 13 songs recorded, Vani Jayram sang 12 songs. The track Mere To Giridhar Gopal was immensely popular, and also bagged her Filmfare award. She received Filmfare nomination for “Ayri Main To Prem Diwani” song too. After that she mostly received bhajans and similar kind of songs rather than romantic tracks. Her beautiful songs in Bansi Birju, Hai Re Saajan Mosey Kahe Kare Barjori and Aaya Hai Koi Khayaal composed by Vijay Raghav Rao also failed to make any impact. She recorded Mora saajan souten ghar jaaye of Pakeezah for Naushad.

Vani Jayaram recorded her first Malayalam song for Salil Chowdhury

‘Vaalkkanezhuthi’ from Picnic – A duet with Yesudas

When she got first offer from Malayalam, she was already a known figure in Hindi film music, after the success of a couple of songs in Guddi. Sourayoodhathil Vidarnoru from Swapnam was her first Malayalam song, and since then she remained one of the most popular playback singers of Mollywood, recording thousands of songs in this language.

After Swapnam, she recorded Chitra Varna of Ayalathe Sundari, Padma Theertha Karayil of Babumon, Maamalayile Poomaram of Aparadhi etc. She recorded maximum Malayalam songs with Sreekumaran Thampi – M. K. Arjunan team, and Yesudas. Most of the songs have a ‘Kerala’ touch and still hold a nostalgic feel.

She recorded maximum hit  duets with Yesudas. Though they sang together in all south Indian languages, big hits belong to Malayalam. ‘Maavin Kombiloru Maina’ from Pravaham was their first recorded song. Their second duet ‘Vaalkkanezhuthi’ from Picnic is perhaps the most popular one. Yesudas calls her a purist, and they recorded their final song for the movie, Action Hero Baiju. With 1990s, she turned less active and in 2013, made a glorious comeback recording Olanjali Kuruvi aside Jayachandran. She also owns countless hit songs in Tamil, Telugu and Kannada.

Vani Jairam – Top Hit Malayalam Film Songs

Though Malayalam was not Vani Jayram’s mother tongue, she was perfect in Malayalam dialect and has received opportunity to record songs with almost all leading music directors of 1970s, 1980s and even in 2000s. Even after years, her voice never faded. Best instance is the couple of songs she recorded for Abrid Shine movies, which became immensely popular, and also bagged her a nomination at Filmfare awards. Some of Vani Jairam’s most popular Malayalam songs are listed below.

Etho Janma Kanpanayil from Palangal

  1. Valkannezhuthi from Picnic (1975), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Sreekumaran Thampi, Music: M. K. Arjunan
  2. Thedi Thedi Njan Alanju from Sindhu (1975), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Sreekumaran Thampi, Music: M. K. Arjunan
  3. Maanasa Sancharare from Shankarabharanam (1980), Lyrics: Sadashiva Brahmendra Swamy, Music: K. V. Mahadevan
  4. Manjil Chekkerum from Raktham (1981), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: R. K. Damodharan, Music: Johnson
  5. Karuna Cheyvaan from Gaanam (1982), Lyrics: Irayimman Thampi, Music: V. Dakshinamoorthy
  6. Etho Janma Kanpanayil from Palangal (1982), Lyrics: Poovachal Khadar, Music: Johnson
  7. Olanjaali Kuruvi from 1983 (2014), Co-singer: Jayachandran, Lyrics: B. K. Harinarayanan, Music: Gopi Sundar
  8. Pookkal Panineer from Action Hero Biju (2016), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Santhosh Varma, Music: Rajesh Murugesan
  9. Peythalinja Nimisham from Captain (2018), Co-singer: P. Jayachandran, Lyrics: B. K. Harinarayanan, Music: Gopi Sundar
  10. Thiruvona Pulari Than from Thiruvonam (1975), Lyrics: Sreekumaran Thampi, Music: M. K. Arjunan
  11. Kurumozhi Mulla Poove from Ee Gaanam Marakkumo (1978), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: O. N. V. Kurup, Music: Salil Chowdhury
  12. Manassin Madiyile from Manathe Vellitheru (1994), Co-singer: Chithra & Solo Version, Lyrics: Shibu Chakravarthy, Music: Johnson
  13. Dhoomthana from Thomasleeha (1975), Lyrics: Sebastian Joseph, Music: Salil Chowdhury
  14. Aashada Maasam song from Yuddha Bhoomi (1976), Lyrics: Mankomb Gopala Krishnan, Music: R. K. Shekhar
  15. Seemantha Rekhayil from Aasheerwaadam (1977), Lyrics: Bharanikkavu Sivakumar, Music: M. K. Arjunan
  16. Kizhakkonnu Thuduthaal and Thappo Thappo from Puzha (1980), Lyrics: P. Bhaskaran, Music: M. K. Arjunan
  17. Sourayoodhathil Vidarnoru from Swapnam (1973), Lyrics: O. N. V. Kurup, Music: Salil Chowdhury
  18. Olangalilulayum from Sandhya Mayangum Neram (1983), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: O. N. V. Kurup, Music: Shyam
  19. Manjadi Kunnil from Manjil Virinja Pookkal (1980), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Bichu Thirumala, Music: Jerry Amaldev
  20. Manjani Kombil from Manjil Virinja Pookkal (1980), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Bichu Thirumala, Music: Jerry Amaldev
  21. Naadan Paattile Maina from Raagam (1975), Lyrics: Vayalar, Music: Salil Chowdhury
  22. Onnaanam Kunnil Mel from Air Hostess (1980), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: O. N. V. Kurup, Music: Salil Chowdhury
  23. Saugandhikangal Vidarnnu from Mahabali (1983), Co-singer: Krishnachandran, Lyrics: Pappanamcode Lakshmanan, Music: M. K. Arjunan
  24. Sangamam Ee Poomkaavanam from Koodum Thedi (1985), Co-singer: Krishnachandran, Lyrics: MD Rajendran, Music: Jerry Amaldev
  25. Padma Theertha Karayil from Babumon (1975), Lyrics: Mankombu Gopalakrishnan, Music: M. S. Viswanathan
  26. Manathe Marikurumbe from Pulimurugan (2016), Lyrics: Rafeek Ahmed, Music: Gopi Sundar
  27. Aayilyam Paadathe Penne from Raasaleela (1975), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Vayalar, Music: Salil Choudhry
  28. Swarna Meeninte from Sarpam (1979), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, SPB, Susheela, Lyrics: Bichu Thirumala, Music: K. J. Joy
  29. Panjavarna Kilivaalan Thalirvettila Thinnitto from Kannappanunni (1977), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: P Bhaskaran, Music: K Raghavan
  30. Ponnalayil Ammanamadi from Devadasi (1979), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: ONV, Music: Salil Choudhary
  31. Muthum Mudi Ponnum from Prema Geethangal (1981), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Devdas, Music: Johnson
  32. Devi Sridevi from Premabhishekam (1982), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Poovachal Khadar, Music: Gangai Amaran
  33. Mazhakkala Megham Onnu from Premabhishekam (1982), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Poovachal Khadar, Music: Gangai Amaran
  34. Veene Ninne Meettaan from Bharya Oru Manthri (1986), Co-singer: K. J. Yesudas, Lyrics: Bichu Thirumala, Music: Kannur Rajan

Vani Jairam – Some interesting and less-known facts

1. She started singing for AIR, Chennai at the age of 8.

2. She is fondly called Vani Amma in the film circle, as well as by fans.

3. She recorded her first two duets with Yesudas for Sreekumaran Thampi – M. K. Arjunan team.

4. After she recorded Olanjali Kuruvi aside Jayachandran making a glorious comeback, film director’s and music director’s eyes were filled with tears. This soulful melody became one of the top chartbusters of the year.

5. Her popular song Bole re papihara set on Hindustani raga “Miyan Malhar” finished 22nd in radio countdown show, Binaca Geetmala’s annual programme in 1972. Also, she received Mian Tansen Award for Best Film Playback Singer of ‘Classical Song’ in Films.

6. She used to shuttle between Mumbai and Chennai for her recordings, and many recordings in both cities were done on same day.

7. She received three National Awards for Ezhu Swarangalukkul (Apoorva Raagangal), different songs for Shankarabharanam and Anathineeyara Hara (Swathi Kiranam), 2 for Telugu and one for Tamil. Shankarabharanam also earned her Nandi Award for Best Female Playback Singer.

8. She received Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Female Playback for Azhagae Unnai Aradhikkiren and Gujarat State Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for Ghoongat. Despite recording numerous hit songs in Malayalam, she never earned a Kerala state award.

9. Kadaloor Sreenivasa Iyengar, guru of her elder sister was once surprised to see the grasping power of 5 year old Vani that he taught her a few Dikshitar kritis. Throughout her professional career, musicians and her co-singers have always acknowledged her grasping power (to learn songs). 


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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