Sunday, October 04, 2009
COLUMN: TURNING POINTS IN LIFE
An opportunity to sing in childhood friend, Priyadarshan’s film, ‘Chithram’ was the biggest turning point in singer M.G. Sreekumar’s life
Photo: M.G. Sreekumar with wife Lekha
By Shevlin Sebastian
When M.G. Sreekumar’s father, the musician Malabar Gopalan Nair fell into hard times, the family moved from Haripad to Thiruvananthapuram, so that the children could get better opportunities. As a child Sreekumar studied in Model School.
During the lunch break, ice-cream sticks would be sold at 5 paise. “When other children would buy it I would stand and stare,” says Sreekumar. “I would ask my well-to-do friends if one of them could buy me a stick.” Sometimes they would oblige and at other times they ignored him.
Sreekumar’s classmate was the future film director Priyadarshan. With Priyadarshan, he would catch small fish from lakes, put it inside Horlicks bottles, and put it for sale for 5 or 10 paise. Once they managed to pass water through a pen and made a small fountain.
“We would hold a sale in our houses and charge an entrance fee,” says Sreekumar. The money they earned -- Rs 2 or 3 -- they would use to see films.
Sreekumar’s brother, the accomplished classical singer and music director M.G. Radhakrishnan, older by 18 years, would take him for concerts. The youngster’s job was to spread the sheets on the stage and play the tanpura. Sreekumar would be paid Rs 5 for each programme.
“At that time, my biggest desire was to eat paratha and mutton from a hotel in Kollam,” he says. Radhakrishnan would always oblige. Eventually, Sreekumar performed with Radhakrishnan in over a thousand stage performances in all the temples in Kerala for a period of 14 years.
It was only in Class 10 that he began formal music training from Cherthala Gopalan Nair, and later from Neyyattinkara Vasudevan. “But my biggest guru was my brother,” he says.
For Sreekumar music came naturally. “The moment I heard a raga I knew the tune. This knowledge was a gift from God.”
The gifted Sreekumar passed with a first class in B.Com in 1977 and spent two years working as an accountant in Libya. “It was very dull,” he says “There were no cultural activities.”
He returned in 1981, got a job in the State Bank of Travancore, and began singing in ganamelas with other groups. He was paid Rs 10 for a song. It was in 1983 that he got an opportunity to sing in a film, ‘Coolie’, directed by Ashok Kumar. Thereafter, he sang for another 15 films, but none of the songs made an impact.
Sreekumar’s turning point came when Priyadarshan asked him to sing three songs for the film, ‘Chithram’ in 1988. The other three songs were meant for K.J. Yesudas, but he could not find the time. “So I got the opportunity to sing all the songs,” he says.
This film became a superhit -- it ran for 366 days -- and the catchy songs were composed by Kannur Rajan. Sreekumar was paid Rs 26,000. “This was the first time I was earning such a large sum of money,” he says.
He bought a second-hand Ambassador car, which is still with him. “When I drove it for the first time there was a deep feeling of satisfaction,” he says.
Thereafter, his career took off and Sreekumar sang numerous hits in films like ‘His Highness Abdullah’, ‘Vandanam’, ‘Thenkasipattanam’, ‘Thenmavan Kombathu’, ‘Kilukkam’ and Kiridom’. Today, he has sung over 3000 songs in Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi and Telugu and won numerous awards.
Sreekumar’s next turning point came in 1994 when he had gone to Chennai for the recording of a song. At the airport, on his way back, he met the then Asianet owner, Shashi Kumar. At that time, Asianet had been on air for about six months. He asked Shashi whether he could do a musical programme on TV.
Shashi Kumar said he would give a response later. After a month, an official from Asianet met Sreekumar and suggested a project, similar to the present-day Star Singer, but at that time it was called, ‘Voice Of The Week’.
For the past fifteen years Sreekumar has been appearing regularly on TV, now anchoring the popular ‘Sarigama Padanisa’ programme on Sunday evenings. “I don’t prepare before the show,” he says. “I try to be as natural as possible, but I also tend to improvise.”
It was also in 1994 that he met his wife Lekha during a concert in Los Angeles. She was holidaying in the United States with her parents.
“It was an instant attraction,” he says. The families were against the marriage. So the couple lived together for six years and eventually got married in 2000 at the Mookambika Temple in Kollur, Karnataka.
“Lekha changed me as a person,” he says. “When you become a famous singer people praise you all the time. But she knows how to critically analyse my singing. Moreover, she looks after me very well. For an artist to perform well he needs to be at peace. Thanks to Lekha I am relaxed these days, even on the day I have to give a performance.”
Asked to explain his philosophy of life, Sreekumar looks out of the window of his plush apartment at Abad Marine Plaza, Kochi. Then he says, “There is a force in the universe. Whether it is defined as Hindu, Muslim or Christian, this power controls every living thing on earth, including my life, which has been a lucky and blessed one.”
(The New Indian Express, Kochi)