Vijay Yesudas, who recently won the Kerala State Award for the best playback singer, is tenaciously following in the footsteps of his legendary father, K.J. Yesudas
By Shevlin Sebastian
One morning, when Vijay Yesudas was seven years old, he was getting ready to go to school in Chennai when he noticed that his shoelaces had not been tied. So, he ran to the living room where his father, the singer, K.J. Yesudas, was conversing with a group of people. Vijay propped his feet up on his father’s lap and asked him to tie the laces. “The guests were people who looked at my father like he was a god and always touched his feet,” says Vijay, with a smile. “They looked stunned at the lack of respect shown by a son to a father. They did not know that he was just ‘Appa’ to me”
At the Hotel South Park in Thiruvananthapuram, Vijay, 29, a shade under 6’, looks smart and confident, dressed in a brown shirt and denim trousers, as he greets the receptionist and the waiters with a cheery smile and a ‘Hi’.
There is the glow of success on his face as he has just won the Kerala State Award for Best Male Playback singer for the song, Kolakuzhal Viliketto from the Malayalam film, Nivedyam.
“I was surprised at winning the award,” he says. “In fact, I never knew I was a contender. I feel I have not reached the level of getting a State award, but, as my colleagues jokingly said, ‘Just keep quiet and accept it.’”
So, he will accept the award, but it has not been easy to follow in the footsteps of a father who is a legend. So, at what age, did he realise that his father is a great singer? “It was only when I became a singer that I became aware of what a huge career he has had,” he says. “I felt intimidated and scared.”
What did not help were the comparisons that people drew with him and his father and how he was falling short. “I asked myself, ‘Am I good enough?’” he says. “It was a frustrating period.”
But Vijay steeled himself and embarked on his career in August, 1999 by singing for the film, Millennium Stars, along with his father and Hariharan. Today, this album is regarded as music director Vidyasagar’s best work in Malayalam. Thereafter, Vijay has sung in Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Telugu, Hindi and Tulu, a total of 300 songs.
Asked which is his favourite language, he says, “I like to sing in Tamil because it is a sweet and rhythmic language, but in Malayalam, the songs are more melodious.”
In between all this, he got training in Carnatic music from Govindan Kutty, an alumni of the RLV Music Academy at Tripunithara and Hindustani Classical music from Ramamoorthy Rao, a disciple of Bhimsen Joshi. “It gave me a chance to expand my voice and I was able to take the high notes,” he says. “I sang for an hour and a half every day, but, to be honest, I am a little weak on daily training.”
He says he does not actually sit down and do a riyaaz. Instead, he sings to himself when he is driving or walking around the apartment in Chennai. “On the other hand, my Dad does a huge amount of training,” he says. “Singing is like breathing for him. I wish I could do that. It is amazing.”
Says music director M. Jayachandran: “My advice to Vijay would be to dedicate himself more to his singing. There is a fine timbre in his voice, which I like. In the middle octaves, he reminds me of his father.”
The father has had a powerful influence on the talented son. So, what tips did Vijay get from him? “Initially, he told me I should improve my diction and the feeling for a song,” says Vijay. “But he also told me that the feeling will come with age and from gaining experiences in life.”
Vijay says that what his father said was true. “In 2002, I met Darshana and had a four-year courtship before marrying her in 2007,” he says. “It was only after I experienced the feeling of being romantic that I could express it in a song.”
Vijay comes across as nice and easy going. Confirms his friend Krishna Mohan, 27: “He is a laid-back fun-loving person.” So, in the highly competitive field of playback singing, it might have been difficult for the relaxed Vijay to make a mark, if he had not been the son of Yesudas.
Vijay agrees and says, “It would have been tough to meet composers or music directors, even if you have talent. You need contacts to get the breakthrough.” He says things are easier now for new singers, because of the popularity of reality-based singing shows, where they are able to showcase their talents and draw the attention of directors.
But, despite the rising competition, Vijay says he is getting better as a singer and the indications are that he will uphold the Yesudas name for years to come!
Vijay’s Top Ten of Yesudas’ songs
Name of song Film Language
1) Kannae Kalaimaane Moonraam Pirai (Tamil)
2) Devanganagal Kayyozhinja tharakam —Njan Gandharvan (Malayalam)
3) Tendril Vandhu - Thendraley Ennai Thodu (Tamil)
4) Jab deep Jale Aana - Chitchor (Hindi)
5) Vellai Pura Onru– Pudhu Kavithai (Tamil)
6) Sagarame Shaanthamaaka Nee – Madanothsavam (Malayalam)
7) Poongaatru— Moonraam Pirai (Tamil)
8) Nenje Nenje – Ratchagan (Tamil)
9) Kya Karoon Sajini – Swami (Hindi)
10) Poove Sempoove -- Solla Thudikuthu Manasu (Tamil)
Following the parent
Like Vijay Yesudas, who is the son of a legend, K.J. Yesudas, there are other children of well-known artistes who are making their way in the footsteps of their parents. For instance, there is Shweta, the daughter of well-known singer Sujatha Menon. She has also bagged the Kerala State Award for best female playback singer for the song Kolakuzhal Viliketto from the Malayalam film, Nivedyam.
As a child, she was not interested in singing but when she took part in inter-school festivals, she felt her destiny lay in singing. Her turning point came when she sang for Deepak Dev’s Lion. Thereafter, the offers started pouring in.
Like Shweta, Vineeth Sreenivasan, the son of well-known Malayalam actor, Sreenivasan, was not interested in singing till he won a contest in Class eight in a schools’ youth festival. When the director Priyardarshan heard about this, he asked him to sing for his film, Kilichundan Mampazham.
Thereafter, director Roshann Andrews asked him to sing for his film, Udayana Tharam, in which his father was acting. The result: the song, Karale, karalinte, hit the top of the popularity charts and established Vineeth’s name. Thereafter, he has had several hits and his first movie, Cycle, in which Vineeth plays a hero, has also become a hit.
One of Kerala’s greatest lyricists was Vayalar Rama Varma. His son, Vayalar Saratchandra Varma did not have any writing ambitions. After college, he worked for 12 years in a distillery.
But the turning point came when he lost his job. He sat at home, read books and penned a poem, which he sent to K.J. Yesudas. This was set to music by Alleppey Ranganath and appeared in an album of Ayyappa songs.
His debut as a lyricist was in the film Ente Ponnuthampuran. Thereafter, he impressed with his lyrics for Mizhirandillum, Harbour, Achamakuttiyude Achayan, the super-hit, Chanthupottu, and many other films.
(Permission to reproduce this article has to be obtained from The New Indian Express)