Mano burst into the TFM scene with 'shenbagmE shenbagamE' in 'enga ooru
paattukkaaran'. When the hgihly succesful 'vElaikkaran' followed that,
Mano became the second most sought after singer in the industry. But for
a long time he was treated no more than a very successful SPB clone,
thought when he wanted to he could sing with a very distinctive voice of
his own (e.g. shenbagamE, vElai illaathavan thaan, vizhiyil puthu
kavidhai padithEn etc.). For a while, which was his most successful
period of this phase, he was considered the voice of Rajinikanth.
With the phenomenal success of 'mukkaala' in
kadhalan and songs from 'uLLAththai aLLi thaa' he has now come again
into the lime light and is undoubetly one of the most successful singers
presently. He has established himself as a signer who could sing in all
kinds of wierd voices and carry it off.
Some of his hits include:
- Thooliyile aadavantha - Chinna thambi
- Raajaathi Raajaa (many songs)
- shenbgamE - enga ooru paattukkaaran
- vaa vaa vaa - vElaikkaaran
- vizhiyil pudhu kavidhai - theerthakkarayinilE
Picks up after slow start
The year was 1994. The song on everyone's lips was `Muqabla
Muqabla' from the film ``Kaadhalan,'' (music by A. R. Rahman).
Suddenly everyone was talking about playback singer Mano who had
finally arrived and hit big time. For Mano long considered a
clone or carbon copy of S. P. Balasubramaniam the song proved to
be the turning point of his career and gave him a well deserved
break. There has been no looking back since then and hit after
hit followed with ``Thillana'' in Muthu, (music by A. R. Rahman,)
and a string of hits in ``Ullathai Alli Tha'' ```Azhagiya
Lailaa,'' I love you love you,'' ``Adi Anarkali.'' Music by
With a track record of 16,700 songs in 15 languages Mano with his
robust voice, that has body, that emanates from his lungs and
traipses across the octaves with effortless ease, not to forget a
range and versatility that is amazing is currently riding the
crest of a wave of success.
About the songs in ``Ullathai Alli Tha'' Mano says ``Sirpi tried
composing something different and all the songs have become hits.
Some of the songs like the `Azhagiya Laila' have an Arabic
flavour reminiscent of the `Aye Shabbha' song which I did in
``Karna'' under music director Vidya Sagar.
Mano believes that the success of a song depends to a great deal
on team work. ``Even if a rhythm box is missing it will affect
the song. Before singing in a changed voice we must make sure it
is suitable for the situation. If we try doing that in a
melodious song like `Oh Priya' it will spoil the whole song. It
will amount to making fun of the song.''
Asked if he expected `Muqabla Muqabla' to become such a
tumultuous success, Mano says ``Rahman asked me to do something
different by changing my voice. He wanted a little variety and he
said you can do something that will make people sit up and ask
who the singer is.''
``I mimicked a few voices and he liked the duplication of R. D.
Burman. He asked me to continue to sing in the same voice. When I
was recording something told me the song was going to be a hit
the beat, the sound and rhythm. But I did not expect it to be
such a success. I rendered that song in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi.
It has given me new life. If in a year a playback singer gets the
opportunity to sing three or four songs like this he can stay in
the hearts and minds of the people. We sing so many songs but I
am really happy to have sung one that captured the fancy of
people both young and old. For that I am truly grateful to
Mano does admit that there is a strain when one sings in a
different voice. But with my experience I am able to mask that
strain. And it all melts once the song becomes a hit. But the
real problem starts only then. Because when we do live concerts 0};3
we will have to render the song with the same verve in front of
the audience. During a recording we can sing in bits and even if
it does not turn out well we can bunch it and then mix it. We
cannot do it in a live stage performance. If a song becomes a hit
we will have to practice extra hard to render it with the same
perfection during a live performance.''
Mano has had solid grounding in music having learnt Carnatic
music for over four years from leading vocalist Nedanuri
Krishnamurthy. He makes it a point to practice for 45 minutes
every day. ``Once I do that I can sing any range without any
difficulty.'' A versatile artiste Mano plays the piano and the
harmonium which he learnt from his father who was attached to the
Vijayawada station of All India Radio. He never misses live
concerts as they are a great encouragement ``I am able to see for
myself how people react to the song. Their applause is like a
tonic and will keep me going for years.''
For Mano, born Nagoor Babu and rechristened Mano by Ilayaraja it
has been a long and arduous climb. Success was slow in coming but
he hung in there long enough to reach where he is today. The
child of Shaheeda, a leading stage actress in Andhra and a
musician father Mano was a child star to begin with although he
was interested in music from a very early age. ``I have acted in
lots of stage plays and had done about 15 Telugu films including
``Rangoon Rowdy'' and ``Kethu Gadda.'' In 1979 I was doing a
Telugu film for which M. S. Viswanathan was the music director
and S. P. Balasubramaniam was to sing for me. We were waiting for
SPB to arrive and M. S. Viswanathan's assistant who happened to
know my father asked me to sing. I sang a few ghazals and
everybody said the boy has a nice voice. They listened to me on
the monitor and M. S. Viswanathan asked me to come and join him
in Madras. I completed my work in that film, abandoned my studies
and worked with M.S. for two and half year as his assistant.''
Those were tough times. Mano was living in rented accommodation
and used to sing in hotels for a payment of Rs. 35 per day. ``I
used to save up all the money my parents sent me and manage with
what I earned. Whenever I felt like eating a good meal I used to
gatecrash into one of the numerous kalyana mantaps in T.Nagar. I
would exchange the coconut they gave at the wedding with the
vegetable vendor for some vegetables. Then in 1982 I went to
Telugu music director Chakravarthy to ask for a chance for my
brother who was a tabla player. We got talking and soon he wanted
to try me. MSV readily agreed; besides Tamil was a bit of a
problem at that point.
Once I joined Chakravarthy my fortunes changed. I worked as an
assistant and also used to render the dummy version before the
main singers mixed their voices. I must have sung 2000 tracks for
all the leading singers. In 1984 I got a break when a third voice
was required and I sang along with SPB and Susheela in the film
``Karpoora Deepam.'' Then there was a brief lull. I sang for a
Kannada film ``Hamsalekha'' in 1985. In 1986 I sang `Anne Anne'
in ``Poovizhi Vasalile'' for Ilayaraja. Other hits followed with p73
``Enga Oor Paatukaran'' (`Shenbagame,' `Madurai Mari Kozhundu
Vaasam') and ``Velaikaran'' (`Vaa Vaa Kanna Vaa,'
Soon I became busy and requested Chakravarthy to relieve me. For
the Vijayawada boy who came to Madras hoping he could at least
make it as a keyboard player and wondering if he could ever meet
Ilayaraja, actually working for the maestro was like a dream come
Mano does not take any great pains to protect his voice which is
his greatest asset. ``I eat ice cream, drink lime juice and ice
water.'' The only must is his 45 minute practice session. ``If I
get used to hot water and go somewhere where it is not readily
available I will have problems. I feel the voice should get used
to all kinds of weather conditions and food.'' He swims regularly
as he believes that swimming underwater improves his breath
control and his singing as well.
Mano loves listening to (and singing) ghazals by Mehdi Hasan and
Ghulam Ali of which he has a huge collection. Although most of
the songs that he has sung are fast and racy and he has done a
few semi classical numbers like `Athma Varaiyo' he believes he
will do well even if he is offered a full-fledged classical song
because of his firm grounding.
Although he has sung a few Hindi numbers for Gulshan Kumar in
``Aaya Sanam,'' ``Aaja Meri Jaan,'' ``Kasam Theri Kasam,'' ``Chor
Aur Chan,'' and would like to do more Hindi numbers Mano says the
problem is leaving at short notice when there is a Hindi song
recording. ``It is difficult for me to go and settle in Bombay at
this stage.'' The success that he enjoys has not gone to his
head. ``Everytime one succeeds or gets recognition one must take
it as a warning to do better the next time. If one becomes
arrogant downfall is certain,'' he observes.
Right now Mano is not keen on picking up the threads of his
acting career. ``Singing is my main vocation. A singer is half an
actor. He must get into the mood, visualise the sequence,
recapture the feelings of the hero as he stands before the