In a strange twist of fate, two days after Sankarabharanam’s director K Viswanath’s death, one of the lead singers of the movie, Vani Jairam passed away, leaving everyone in shock. Over the last two days, songs from the 1980 classic were still being played on all channels and media and no one could have foreseen that the voice behind those immortal melodies that won her a National award for the best playback singer would also be silent shortly.
Vani Jairam sang in 19 languages — leading with Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, Oriya, Telugu. Almost every song she rendered in Telugu films became popular earworms. The wide range of her songs — from classical and romantic melodies to racy dance numbers — made her a popular pick by directors.
She made her Telugu film debut in Abhimanavanthulu in 1973 with the song Eppativale kaadhura... a dance number for which Kuchipudi dancer Sobha Naidu put in a rare screen appearance. Telugu audience, who had only heard Vani Jairam’s ‘Boli re papihara’ and ‘ Hum ko mann ki shakti dena’ from the Hindi film Guddi (1971), welcomed her into the fold and music directors were game to use her unique voice for special songs in their films.
Her song ‘Ennenno janmala bandham…’ from Pooja (1975) which she rendered with S P Balasubrahmanyam is an all-time favourite of aspiring singers on music reality shows. Her songs ‘Ningi nela okataayene’ and ‘Poojalu cheya poolu techaanu…’ remain hummable beyond that generation. In Chakravarthi’s music direction, Vani Jairam sang ‘Nuvvu vastavani brindavani..’. in Mallepoovu (1977), a sang that stood out in this remake of Guru Dutt’s 1957 Hndi film Pyaasa.
‘Nuvvadigindi enadaina kadannana’, an Ilaiyaraaja composition from Vayasu pilichindi (1978) showcased a shift in her renditions from a sober quality to a bubbly cheer. ‘Oka brundavanam…’ in Gharshana the (1988), ‘Minneti Sureedu’ and ‘Sagara sangamame’ in Seethakoka chiluka (1982) are other significant songs of Vani Jairam
A disciple of Cuddalore Srinivasa Iyengar, Vani Jairam was trained in the most complicated Carnatic ragas at a young age and this strong foundation came in good stead when she was given the classical songs for Sankarabharanam. Her rendition of ‘Dorukuna ituvanti seva’, ‘Brochevarevarura’ and ‘Marugelara’ was appreciated by the music connoisseurs and won her the first National Award. Her ‘Aanatineeyara..’ another classical rendition from K Viswanath’s Swati Kiranam (1992) won her the second National award.
Maintaining a low profile, the versatile singer expanded her repertoire beyond films and recorded songs in classical, semi-classical, bhajans, devotionals, ghazals and light music genres.
Well-educated, the Chennai-born Vani Jairam shifted to Hyderabad after marriage and worked at SBI, Secunderabad branch for a while before she started devoting her time to singing.
Active at events and shows on television, Vani Jairam brought warmth and cheer with her presence and advice to aspiring singers.