How and when did you decide to become a singer?
I used to participate in singing competitions when I was a child and one of the judges of a competition (who later also happened to become my guru) recognized the talent in me and told my parents that I needed to take music seriously. I began my foray into music when I was in 3rd Standard and I have been a classical singer since then. I guess I could never leave music as my parents would literally deny me food if I didn’t practice every single day.

But when did you decide to make singing your career?
It was a hobby for a very long time. It became a career option when I realised I was pretty mediocre in most other things. Singing seemed to be the only thing I really excelled in. So, by the time I was in 12th Standard I decided that singing was for me. I went to several gurus and also performed in several talent shows. The attention I received at these competitions and shows convinced me that I could be a playback singer.

Where did you grow up and what kind of influence did your upbringing have on your music?
I am originally from Ottapalam in Kerala, but I was born and brought up in Chennai. So my memories of Kerala are that of the annual one month vacation that I would spend there. Going to Guruvayur, picking up music cassettes from the local stores; that’s one of my favourite memories from the time. Since I was surrounded by classical music in Kerala (most music at that time was largely based on Carnatic), it became my biggest influence. But thankfully, I also listened to a lot of Illaiyaraja’s compositions, so I had other influences too. Learning Carnatic was a special thing for me as my parents do not come from the tradition. I have just heard that my grandfather used to play the harmonium and I cherish that musical instrument thanks to him. I still have it with me.

Are you interested in other genres of music?
I love experiencing and experimenting. Something I realised when I moved into this profession. While in college we used to collaborate with other musicians and we had a fusion band. That’s when I explored folk and rock, and how they can fuse with classical. I think the best thing about film music is that it is not confined to any particular genre but is a wonderful mix of everything.

What was that one song of yours which is really special to you?
After singing around 950 songs, I have learnt to not get too connected to the song after you finish the recording. So while I am singing a song, that song is everything to me. But once I am out of the recording studio, I sometimes don’t even remember that I have sung that song. That’s a system that I have developed for myself and it has worked for me.

Which was that one song which was really hard to sing or crack?
I remember this one song I had sung, which was not hard to sing but I had got a cold and never knew that I would get an opportunity to sing this beautiful melody. The song was called Sollitaaley, from the film Kumki, and it was for Imman. There was a certain emergency for me to finish the song and I didn’t know what to do, so I just went with the flow. Imman somehow loved my nasal tone (thanks to the cold) and I also won the State Award for the year 2012 for that same song. Since then I have believed that things happen for a reason and always prefer to go with the flow.

What was the first song you recorded?
I had started my career as a chorus singer and happened to meet the legendary Mani Sharma. At first I got a chance to sing as the chorus for him and then as a solo artiste. After hearing me sing, he said, “how the hell will I know that you sing like this if you go and stand in that crowd?” At first I didn’t understand whether he was giving me a compliment or shouting at me till he told me that he had a song for me. He made me sing every line of that song and tailored his composition to fit my voice in that song. This was one of my most cherished moments in my entire film music journey. So, my first recording was the song Ye Penne from Aasai Aasaiyai which was also actor Jiiva’s launch film.

Is there any one song that you wish you had sung instead?
I really love Elangaathu Veesudhey sung by Sriram Parthasarathy. I always sing this beautiful song in my shows. I also really like almost all of Anirudh’s compositions; I really like his energy and the way he sings. Anirudh’s songs are somehow lucky for me because all the songs he sings in Tamil, he always makes me sing them in Telugu and appreciates the way I sing them.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
It’s a really tough question for people like me because I take things as and when they come. I like to enjoy and explore whatever comes my way. I am currently in a phase where I am trying to figure out what more I can do other than playback singing and how I can expand my career — keeping that in mind, I am sure my future would be super-fun and fantastic!

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