In perfect harmony

In perfect harmony
At home, Vani Harikrishna is a busy housewife and mother. At 11 am on a Wednesday morning, I find her managing her household, having just sent off her son to school. But outside, Vani is a songbird, flitting from one tree to another, trying to find that perfect spot to croon her heart away.

Vani has a beautiful ‘vani’. Throughout our conversation, her honey-coated voice brings to fore her underlying emotions, aspirations, and even struggles. We begin at the beginning. Vani tells me she was born into a family of singers. Calling her parents her first gurus, she says that they taught her the basics of classical music. It was her grandpa, the famed music composer of Kannada film industry, G K Venkatesh, who led her on into the world of playback singing. “When we would go to Chennai for holidays, we would accompany him to his studio where he used to arrange small bits and chorus for Ilaiyaraja. We used to sit there all day and watch them work their magic. Grandpa schooled me in the nuances of music, including the early morning riyaaz, basic jumping notes, the art of kirtane and more,” Vani explains.

Ditching education for music, Vani and her melodious voice went on to perform in orchestras. It was also in one of these orchestras that she met her husband V Harikrishna, one of the top music composers of the industry today.

In 1993, Vani bagged the opportunity to sing her first playback song, but unfortunately, the song didn’t release. In 1997, she sang a duet with L N Shastri, but that wasn’t enough to seal her reputation as a singer. Vani says, “My big break came with ‘Madhuvana Karedare’ in 2008, for which I even bagged the State award. But then, there were no offers for almost two years after that.”

Of challenging projects

But soon, Vani found herself singing songs such as ‘Maleyali Jotheyali’, ‘Hesaru Poorthi’ (which is her favourite), ‘Mussanje Veleli’, ‘Kanna Muchche’ and more. Vani makes it very clear that she hates being typecast. She says, “Once I sang ‘Mussanje Veleli’, everyone started offering only ‘pathos’ songs to me! I want something different, something challenging. I haven’t had a single challenging project so far.”

The conversation naturally veers towards the topic of women singers in the Kannada film industry when Vani says, “Since this is a hero-dominated film industry, female singers don’t get as many opportunities as male singers. And whenever there arises a need for female singers, music directors and producers always look towards Mumbai. The fact is that we have so many talented singers here, but when you don’t give them opportunities, how will they be able to show their talent?”

Is this why there are very few female music composers too, I ask. Vani, who herself has composed music for three films, states, “Yes, and also the fact that many times, even when the director or producer has no knowledge about music, he would want a very particular music. This requires us to compromise with our musical sensibilities.”

Coming to her personal life, Vani has many wonderful things to say about her husband. But she is quick to point out that he is a man of few words, which is why it was quite difficult for her to realise that the keyboard player she kept meeting at orchestras was actually in love with her. “I am very innocent when it comes to matters of the heart. But one day, he came to my mother for lessons in veena and told her that he wanted to marry her daughter,” Vani blushes.

So, what kind of conversation does an innocent woman have with a man of few words? “Music, of course! One common thing between us is that we both love Ilaiyaraja’s music,” says Vani. But as close as these two music-lovers are at home, things take quite a turn when they step into the recording studio. “I only sing once or twice a year for him, and he gives me only those songs that are completely in sync with my talent. I can never sing when he’s in the studio, as I fear his criticism. So, an engineer records my voice and sends it over to him; and then he sends his feedback over the phone,” says Vani who loves listening to ghazals, old Hindi melodies and bhajans in her free time.

Looking ahead

Undeterred by all the household responsibilities and reality restrictions, Vani has many aspirations hidden beneath her smiling demeanour. For starters, she wants to compose and direct a music video of her choice, on her own. Then, she wants to do shows that will feature all kinds of songs: vachanas, bhajans, film music and more. Naturally, you would expect a music school also down the line. “Let me get a little older first,” she laughs. “In 20 years, I have sung only some 30 songs or so! Moreover, I feel I still have a lot to learn myself. For instance, I want to learn Western vocals. I want to compose and sing songs that appeal to all age groups, like Raghu Dixit. I want to contemporise Dasara Padagalu for the younger generation,” she goes on.

Nevertheless, Vani still does her part for aspiring singers by being a part of the SaReGaMaPa music reality show. She says, “People today are lucky as they have a platform to exhibit their talent and also learn from the best in the industry. Through such initiatives, we are creating a bank of quality singers right here.”

As we bid goodbye, Vani gets back to her household demands, instructing people in that honey-coated voice yet again!
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