Chai with Manju: Singing Superstars – Anuradha Palakurthi

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Photo by Rasik Mehta
Photo by Rasik Mehta

Anuradha Palakurthi mesmerized the audience in a Boston Sargam show recently by singing in 14 genres. She also proved that there is no expiration date on talent and we can always pick up where left off.
How were you introduced to singing?

My earliest memories of family comprise of beautifully sung mom’s lullabies, old classics on the radio, my late brother’s classic rock tapes and my father’s commentary on Carnatic music. My father was an art critic for Hindu, Shankar’s weekly and Indian Express. So, my introduction came through growing up in a music-loving home.
Did you have any formal training? If yes, from whom, and at what age did you start?

I’ve trained in Carnatic music from the age of 5 with various teachers — starting with Padmalakshmi teacher in Delhi (I used to call her just that); Chintalapally Ramachandra was my coach in Bangalore; and after a long hiatus, I restarted under the guidance of Geetha Murali.

I continue to be a student of this great art form.
When did you first perform on stage and what song?

When I was five years old I sang “Vande Mataram” dressed as Bharat Mata — a role I would be asked to perform for national events for the next several years.
What do you think is unique about your approach to singing?

That is for the listeners to decide. I do not change the arrangement of the original composer and singer and try to the stay as close to the original as possible.
How do you prepare before going on stage or before a performance?

I do not speak to anyone and try to go through the performance in my mind, constantly.
Which artist inspires you the most?

By far it is Lata Mangeshkar. I am in awe of her complete dedication to this art and her almost-godly ability to get the exact blend of skill, technique and emotion. Every single song of hers is perfect.
Which performance did you think was your best or most satisfying?

The best has to be the one in Pilani because of which I ended up marrying Prashanth.
I can never forget a session with Dr. Rajkumar at his home in Bangalore (one of the most iconic South Indian actors and probably the most humble person I’ve ever met).
And I need to add playback-singing experience as well.

For sheer entertainment value, I think the recent Boston Sargam Bollywood show comes close.
I had to sing 14 songs of different genres (classical, folk, contemporary, sufi, jhinchak) with different dance styles (Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Kathakali), of varying emotions, set in different languages and portraying different religious/cultural influences. That performance needed to represent the soul of Bollywood that goes through all of the above differences seamlessly.
Did you ever think of singing as a profession?

I grew up imagining it and am happy to have sung professionally.
How do you balance your passion for singing with work, family, etc.?

Because my family always comes first, I lead an “unbalanced” life.

I could have turned professional just after marriage with a supporting husband who was willing to put my prospective career over his nascent one. However, life took us across continents and his business and three kids (one with special needs) needed mom at home. I have no regrets and am actually delighted with the life choices we made.
What are some of your future goals?

New England has seen a significant upgrade in the quality and quantity of Indian performing arts in the recent months. I would like to support the new crop of energetic organizers in a better manner. I am trying to define a more precise what, how, who and when for this idea.
And finally, here is her instant response to Rapid Fire Questions:

Music is … emotion.
Fame is … dangerous.
Money is … a cushion.
Secret of a good marraige is … communication.
My best quality is … patience.
My biggest fear is … losing my family.
My biggest strength is … family.
My next show is … “Madhubala” in February 2013.
My last word for Chai with Manju is … grateful for Chai.

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