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Music dominated the conversation when playback singer Sujatha and her daughter, Shweta, sat down for a Take Two. Sujatha, the winner of umpteen awards, preferred to take a backseat as budding singer Shweta explained what made her decide to follow in her mother’s footsteps in the highly competitive music industry. Although Sujatha made her debut as a child prodigy three decades ago, Shweta made her debut as a fullfledged playback singer last year. However, within a short time, she has proved that she is a chip off the old block. She has already sung in ‘Lion,’ ‘Vinodayatra’ and ‘Goal.’ Her forthcoming films include ‘July 4,’ ‘Ore Kadal’ and ‘Nivedyam.’ Saraswathy Nagarajan caught the duo on record as mother and daughter talked music.
Sujatha: When you were about two, you used to sing the Jhanda varishi ‘sa, sa, ri, ri, ga, ga, ma, ma…
Shweta: But I used it sing it as da, sa, ma, ma, da, sa, ma…
Sujatha: I recorded that and played it for Dasettan [K.J. Yesudas] who advised me to teach you music. And you studied music for a few years…
Shweta: But then I lost interest and switched to the piano. You never used to eat ice-creams to take care of you voice. Then I used to wonder if I wanted to do something that would deprive me of such goodies. But I loved playing the pi ano and I passed the Fifth Grade. Actually it was not a break from music. I used to sing when I was alone. I was quite shy then.
Sujatha: While doing your Plus Two, you participated in a few competitions and even won a few. Bhavatharani, Ilayaraja’s daughter, was one of your judges. She told me ‘Akka, you must train her voice. She has the talent to b ecome a good singer.’
Shweta: So, then I resumed my Carnatic music classes.
Sujatha: K.S. Chitra helped us find the right teacher. There was a perceptible change in your modulation and voice once Bini Krishnakumar started teaching you. She taught rare ragas, semi-classical songs, kritis … But do you now regret not having learnt music earlier?
Shweta: No, maybe my voice texture would have changed then. But I repent stopping my piano lesson. When I reached class ten, I decided to take a break to concentrate on my studies. I wish you had persuaded to continue my classes.
Sujatha: (laughing and protesting) In fact, Mohan [Sujatha’s husband] was very upset but I don’t believe in forcing children to learn anything. Unless a child enjoys singing, it is pointless to force the child to learn musi c. Music has to come from the heart and one has to enjoy that.
Shweta: Initially I opted for science for Plus Two but I wondered if I would be able to pay enough attention to music if I choose science. So, I changed to commerce.
Sujatha: We were abroad when I got an SMS telling us about the change in plans. Your intuition told you that you wanted to sing. I don’t think you planned to become a professional singer. It was last year that you finally took t he decision.
Shweta: I was planning to do MBA and I took a year out to prepare for CAT. I have always been enchanted when I see my mother and Dasamma singing on stage. Finally, I realised that it was singing that gave me happiness and satisfactio n. Once, I made up my mind, we sent demo cassettes to a few music directors and I got a few offers from Tamil and Malayalam directors. Kartik Raja was the first to give me a song in Tamil (‘Three Roses’) while Deepak Chettan [Deepak Dev] was the first to give me one in Malayalam and that is how I sang in ‘Lion.’ Being Sujatha’s daughter helped me get an opening. I knew that they would at least listen to the demo cassettes.
Sujatha: Yes, that was all the help I gave you. I support you but it is your talent, ability and luck that will shape your career. Before that, you sang the baby chorus for A.R. Rahman’s ‘Kuch Kuch Rakamma’ in ̵ 6;Bombay’ and the chorus ‘Acham ilai…’ for the film ‘Indira.’
Shweta: Yes, three of us kids sang that song with you.
Sujatha: I was not too keen on you becoming a professional playback singer. It is very competitive and one has to be focussed. I know the difficulties youngsters have in getting a break and staying abreast in this field. Moreover, whe n it is your child, you tend to underestimate or overestimate her. I wanted a professional’s advice and I usually turn to Srinivas to discuss such matters. He was impressed when he heard you. He advised me not to stop your music lessons. When the recording for ‘Lion’ was going on, Deepak called me over to the studio to listen to you. You were following his instructions but I could hear your contributions too. It was an unforgettable moment.
Shweta: The highpoint came when Raja Sir [Ilayaraja] called me to sing a number in ‘Ajanta.’ He was like a god when we were in college and to imagine I was singing before him and singing his composition…
(An eloquent sigh says it all.)
Sujatha: We were in Doha when I got your call. My feelings were a mixture of elation and apprehension. But the song, a folksy fast number, went on to do well and Raja Sir assured me that you had it in you to become a singer. You sang it in three languages.
Shweta: It is like a live recording when you work with him. One mistake and he will tell you to sing the whole pallavi or anu pallavi again. He asked me what else I could sing and I sang a semi-classical bhajan. Then Raja Sir called m e for ‘Vinodayatra.’ I could not believe my luck. But when I fell ill, I thought I had missed the opportunity to sing an Ilayaraja composition in a Sathyan Anthikad film.
Sujatha: But Raja Sir said he would wait for you and 10 days later you recorded for him. It was such a wonderful gesture on his part.
Shweta: Now I am working hard on my voice and modulation. I have realised that I will have to spend a lot of time to practise. I have decided to do MBA by correspondence from Symbiosis.
Sujatha: I believe that getting good songs to sing is a blessing and you have been lucky so far. Now, it is up to you to keep your voice in good shape…
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