Singing sensation

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Singing sensation

From participating in college events and singing jingles to belting out Bollywood chartbusters, singer Mahalaxmi Iyer has come a long way with intense hard work and dedication. Srabanti Chakrabarti writes

She has been in the music industry for more than a decade and a half. And the list of songs she has sung is virtually a list of chartbusters in the last decade. Yet the humility she displays is exemplary, and a far cry from the boisterous Bollywood nature. In a way, Mahalaxmi Iyer is different, very different from the rest of the maddening crowd.

Sample a list of songs she has sung in the past — Ae Ajnabi from Dil Se, Kabhi Sham Dhale from the film Sur and Bunty Aur Bubli’s Chup Chup Ke or Bol Na Halke Halke from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom — the list is endless. It all started very early in life for Mahalaxmi — her late mother being a Carnatic singer. Unfortunately, due to the conservative set up of the Iyer household, Mahalaxmi’s mother could not continue singing post-marriage, but she ensured that her daughter did. “We were all born and raised in Mumbai. My mother discovered very early that I have the voice for music. Though I had heard a lot of Carnatic music from my mother, I started my formal training in Hindustani classical only when I was 10. At home, however, it was a fun musical atmosphere. We were four sisters and all of us were quite inclined towards music. While one of my sisters would only listen to classical music, the other would enjoy English songs. My first guru was Pandit Gautam Madhusudan.”

The climb

During her college days, Mahalaxmi became the student of Pandit Rattan Mohan Sharma, and also came under the tutelage of Suresh Wadekar. 

Recalling an incident, which occurred during her growing up days and around the time when the film Love Story was released, she says, “There was a competition, where we had to sing a song from the film. Though I was underage for the contest, I was identified as a young prodigy and was allowed to participate by Rajendra Kumar, the producer of the film. I sang Teri Yaad Aa Rahi Hai and won the second prize. That was the first time I got the confidence to perform on stage.”

However, Mahalaxmi had to wait for a few more years till she realised that she could make a career out of music. “It was during my college days that I realised that music can be my career. Fortunately for me, my professors also encouraged my talent. I soon became a known performer at all college functions and won several awards. That was when I started getting offers for dubbing and singing jingles. I later got accustomed to working in a recording studio. That experience was awesome.” Mahalaxmi’s first jingle was in Malayalam.

“I realised my affinity towards other languages. Although my mother tongue is Tamil, I started singing in Marathi, Gujarati and Bengali. I worked with the best of talents like Louis Bank, Leslie Lewis and Ranjit Barot. As I have said earlier, the ad world is the best platform for any new singer. I have learnt so many things here — connecting with a listener in just two minutes is not easy. You have to make them happy, sad and make them feel every other emotion in just a couple of minutes.”

The talented singer feels it was because of this foothold in the jingle world that she did not have to ‘struggle’ much in the film music industry. “Before I started with my playback singing, I was already singing jingles, title songs for television shows and a number of regional films.”

Big break

Mahalaxmi’s first Hindi film song was for Shankar Ehsaan Loy in the film Dus. But due to the sad demise of director Mukul Anand, the film got delayed. So her first released Hindi film song was the superhit Aye Ajnabi, composed by A R Rahman. Then followed Suno Gaur Se Duniya Walo. However, she thinks it was her song in the film Sur — Kabhi Sham Dhale by noted composer M M Kreem that changed her position in the industry. “With this song, I really established myself in the industry. It had different versions by different singers, but somehow my song became quite popular and the filmmakers also wanted a fresh voice.”

“It is strange when people say that I belong to the group of Shankar Ehsan Loy and A R Rahman, but that is not true. I have sung for Vishal-Shekhar, Anu Malik and many other composers,” she says.

What does she have to say about the new crop of singers today — there seems to be a plethora of talent. “When I started, there were five singers around us. After some time, it became 15, and today, it feels like 100 singers around. Competition is healthy though. But the work that happens is sometimes not very satisfying.” Giving an example, Mahalaxmi explains, “Earlier singers would know for whom they are singing. But today, they don’t.” Somewhere, this does affect quality.

So, what’s next in the pipeline? “Music has opened my eyes. Earlier, I was only a singer, but now I am learning other aspects as well. Recently, I composed a few songs. Let’s see how I can take this forward. I also love to teach music and hope that someday I can impart my knowledge. I would like to do workshops for music students all over India,” she says with a smile.

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