Veteran playback singer Latha Raju still going strong

She has dubbed for various actors and acted in a few Malayalam films but it is the melodies she crooned that has helped veteran playback singer Latha Raju, celebrating her golden jubilee in cinema, carve her own niche.

She is still going strong, albeit in music albums composed by her husband, besides rendering devotional songs and doing stage performances.

Latha Raju's first song was in the 1962 Malayalam film 'Snehadeepam'.

"I used to go with my mother Shanta P Nair (popular singer in the 1950s and 60s) for rehearsals. Those days recordings were done after rehearsals. Music director M B Sreenivasan heard my rendering of a popular Mukesh song. He then suggested to the movie producer that it could be better that a child sing for a child."

The song,'Onnaam tharam baloon tharaam, oru nalla peeppi tharaam', picturised on Baby Vinodhini,was okayed in the first take itself, Latha, mother of popular playback singer, Aalaap Raju, told PTI.

"I got a remuneration of Rs 101 for the effort,"said Latha Raju, a recipient of the prestigious Kerala Sangeetha Nataka Akademi awards in 2008. The song is even now popular.

The same year she sang 'Thaatheyyam kaattilu thakkaalikkaattilu', picturised on Kamal Haasan as a child actor in his first Malayalam movie 'Kannum Karalum'.

Though she met Haasan at some functions years later, she never broached the fact that she did the playback for him in his first Malayalam movie. "I am an introvert in these aspects," she said.

Hers was a arts-cum-music inclined family. Her mother, a popular singer, had rendered the evergreen 'Thumbi thumbi vaa vaa', the first song penned by famous poet-lyricist Vayalar Ramavarma in the 1956 movie 'Koodappirappu'.

Her father Padmanabhan Nair was a radio dramatist. He was the first Malayalam newsreader for Akashvani in the 1940s, Latha Raju said, adding, he was conferred the state Sangeetha Nataka Akademi award for his contributions to broadcasting.

She is disappointed that her mother never got the recognition due to her. In fact, it was only when she passed away a few years ago that the media started making inquiries, she said.

"So when I think of that, I am not upset that people have not noticed that I have crossed the milestone of 50 years in the industry."

After her two songs became hits, there was no looking back.

Whenever there was a song to be picturised on a child, producers and directors would flock to her house, Latha Raju said.

Some of her popular Malayalam numbers include 'Pinchu hridayam devalayam','Manjakkilee swarnakkilee mayilppeelikkaattile varnakkilee' (film Sethubandhanam) 'Ividuthe chechikkinnale' (Azhakulla Saleena),'Chippee Chippee muthuchippee' (with Anto in Aranaazhikaneram),and 'Aaluvaappuzhakkakkareyoru ponnambalam' ('Aadyathe Kadha')

On the present day music and songs, she terms it "technology gimmickry."

"There is no soul for the music. Those days, we used to study the tune, the song and sing it at one stretch. The emotion should be sustained, only then the song becomes perfect. Now it is purely mechanical. But who is going to listen to me."

Besides Malayalam, she has rendered songs in Tamil, Kannada and Tulu.

She has also dubbed for actressess like Suhasini, Shobhana and the late Shobha.

Her dubbing for Sumithra in the 1973 film Nirmalyam directed by novelist and Padma Bhushan awardee M T Vasudevan Nair was praised by P J Antony, who won the national award for the best actor for his performance in the movie, and the director himself.

Since the mid-nineties, Latha Raju has been involved in home productions.

Her husband, J M Raju, himself a playback singer,produces music albums and family members--her son Aalaap Raju, who won the Filmfare Award in 2011 for the best male playback singer for his rendition of 'Enamo Aedho' in Tamil movie 'KO' and daughter Anupama, an MPhil in English Literature and corporate trainer besides herself render the songs.

Both Raju and Latha were and are still fans of music composer Salil Chowdhury and director Hrishikesh Mukherjee.

"Anupama and Alaap are movies directed by Hrishkesh Mukherjee," she said when asked about the unsual names for her children.

She still has her hands full, singing devotional songs, besides conducting stage performances.

"Raju and I have done 1000 stage performances in various parts of the world, including South Africa and the Gulf, probably the first such couple" she said.An album of Christian devotional songs was recently released.

She had retired as director (marketing) Akashvani-Doordarshan, Chennai in 2011 and is continuing in the same post as consultant at present.

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