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A tribute to Kalyani Menon
- VP Dhananjayan

August 4, 2021

We have a number of beautiful singers in the classical, semi-classical and playback fields of music. But very few excel with a devotional fervour tonal quality like M.S. Amma, T.M. Soundarajan, K.J. Yesudas, P.Leela to mention a few. Especially in Kerala, P. Leela's devotional songs reverberated in all temples. After her devotional singing, Kalyani Menon's voice was heard everywhere with that kind of devotional quality.

After her husband's sudden demise, she settled in Chennai with her two kids Rajiv Menon (the celebrated cinematographer and filmmaker) and Karunakaran (now a senior IRS official and former Kalakshetra Dy Director on deputation), to pursue her musical talent and slowly and steadily made a mark in celluloid field as well as in Carnatic field. In the year 1977/78 we were introduced to her by Dr. S.K. Nayar, a well known Malayalam litterateur, novelist and poet, heading the Madras University Malayalam department. She was being tutored by Mahavidwan Dakshinamurthi Iyer who made her sing in both Malayalam and Tamizh films. She indeed made quick success. Dr.S.K. Nayar involved us in a TV Malayalam drama (Prahlada Charitam) production and Kalyani Menon to sing a few songs.

Subsequently there came an opportunity for us to choreograph and produce a naatya production for Madras Doordarshan on the occasion of the centenary celebration of poet laureate Mahaakavi Vallathol Narayana Menon (1977). With the help of Dr. S.K. Nayar, we chose to do Vallathol's famous Kaavyam 'Magdalena Mariam' (Mary Magdalene - a Christian story). It was a full length one hour production. Kalyani Menon very willingly accepted our offer in spite of her being an up and coming playback and Carnatic concert artist. We engaged the then famous film music composer Vidwan Chitambaranathan to compose music for our production. He brought with him a young untrained boy from Kerala with an excellent voice. A simple humble Kalyani Menon had no apprehensions whatsoever to sing along with this untrained boy who later became the hot singing star of both Tamizh and Malayalam films. This is none other than Unni Menon.

Dhananjayan, Shanta, Nedumudi Venu, Kalyani Menon
Dhananjayan, Shanta, Nedumudi Venu, Kalyani Menon

Kalyani Menon used to bring her sons to our rigorous rehearsals at Bharatakalanjali thatched cottage every day spending a couple of hours singing and it is amazing Rajiv Menon remembers those songs even today. His interest in music and performing arts had its initiation from Bharatakalanjali class room, leave alone his mother's talent.

After the 'Magdalena Mariam' success, we made Kalyani Menon sing for us a few Padams which added lustre to our Bharatanaatyam performances. Then she started getting busier in the films and Carnatic concerts and gaining popularity in Kerala especially for devotional singing.

We continued our relationship throughout till the end. Rajiv mentored my son C.P. Satyajit into photography. He engaged us in many advertisement assignments and casted Shanta in his recent movie 'Sarvam Taala Mayam' along with Nedumudi Venu. The picture above was taken two years ago during the shooting of 'Sarvam Taala Mayam'.

Kalyani Menon passed away on August 2, 2021 aged 80. We will always remember the great soul, a very loving personality and cherish fond memories of her.

VP Dhananjayan
Naatyacharya V.P.Dhananjayan is the Founder/President of Bharata Kalanjali, Chennai.

Thanks, Dhananjayan Sir, for bringing back memories of Saar. Appreciate it! We are always thankful to you and Shantha chechi for staying so close to our family. Best regards,
- Lakshmi Nayar (Devi), youngest daughter of Saar (Dec 16, 2022)

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