Periyone singer Jithin Raj: Blessy sir's instructions made my rendition more evocative

The playback singer about his newfound recognition after the release of Aadujeevitham and his experience working with AR Rahman
Periyone singer Jithin Raj: Blessy sir's instructions made my rendition more evocative

In one of the most unsettling moments of Aadujeevitham, which is now doing unprecedented business at the box office, singer Jithin Raj's comforting vocals surface like a soothing balm for the heart. His voice, infused with pathos, skillfully captures the emotional depth of the scene. It is supported by minimal instrumental accompaniment and lines that emphasise the protagonist, Najeeb's suffering and longing for his loved ones. Since the release of the film's soundtrack composed by Academy Award winner AR Rahman, the seasoned vocalist hailing from Malappuram is on cloud nine as his soulful rendition of Periyone has garnered him a newfound recognition, especially in his home state.

Jithin has had a passion for singing since childhood and began performing on stage since fourth grade. Though he learned music from various teachers, he attributes his possible penchant for singing to his grandfather, who used to sing folk songs. After gaining exposure through a few reality shows, Jithin reached out to many music composers at the start of his career, hoping for an opportunity. Looking back on his ten-year journey, Jithin says, "I wouldn't say I have struggled a lot, as I have been fortunate to work with many great composers despite initially being desperate to find work."



Jithin's first breakthrough came after moving to Chennai when Tamil composer D Imman offered him a duet Pidikkuthe, with Shreya Ghoshal, in the film Sigaram Thodu (2014). It paved the way for the singer to have more collaborations with Imman, with whom he has associated the most. "Working with Imman sir is always fun. He is an amazing human being and has always been supportive. At the start of my singing career, he had more confidence in my potential than I had in myself," Jithin credits, adding, "Also, he was extremely happy after listening to Periyone and proud that I got to work with Rahman sir." Being a multilingual singer over the years, Jithin also had the opportunity to collaborate with many other esteemed composers such as Ilaiyaraaja, Vidyasagar, Yuvan Shankar Raja, and M Jayachandran. In Malayalam, despite lending his voice to veteran actors like Mammootty and Mohanlal for the tracks in Thoppil Joppan (2016) and Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol (2017) respectively, he went largely unnoticed in Kerala until AR Rahman zeroed in on him for all five versions of Periyone from Aadujeevitham.

Jithin's introduction to AR Rahman's studio happened through a recommendation from singer Srinivas when he was tasked with recording the Malayalam rendition of O Sona from the Hindi film Mom (2017). Soon he became a backing vocalist for many other tracks composed by Rahman. Reflecting on the experience of meeting AR Rahman for the first time while he was creating the initial hook of Periyone, Jithin shares, "Rahman sir was looking for a Malayalam singer for Periyone. Luckily, at that time, I was there in his studio to do the backing vocals. While talking with him, he curiously inquired about my roots, prompting me to sing a Mappila song. He also asked about the adjectives for praising God in my native language, which inspired him to create the initial verse of the song, 'Periyone En Rahmane, Periyone Rahim'."



Jithin mentions that during the making of the track, he maintained constant communication with the Malayalam lyricist, Rafeeq Ahammed, seeking clarification on the lines. It was also likely a first for him to sing a song that was composed after the lyrics were written, an unconventional practice nowadays. Ultimately, it was director Blessy's suggestions that moulded his rendition into what we hear now. Jithin adds, "Blessy sir briefed me about the situation of the song in the film. It appears when the protagonist is going through a helpless situation. After the first recording session, he told me that my voice needs to be more evocative to convey the rawness of that character's unimaginable pain. I followed Blessy sir's instructions to the best of my ability." Being not much of a reader, Jithin read Benyamin's novel only after the recording of the song. "I was very curious and managed to finish it in a single stretch before the audio launch. It is also the only book I have read completely."

Speaking about the uniqueness of Rahman's working style, Jithin explains, "Usually, music directors tell you exactly how they want a song to be rendered. But when we recorded Periyone, Rahman sir did things differently and let me do things my way. I could express myself and share my ideas on how to render the song the way I felt it. Actually, it was his sound engineers, who are highly skilled musicians themselves, that provided me with suggestions on enhancing the feel of my rendition."

During the audio launch of Aadujeevitham, Jithin was in for a pleasant surprise from the composer when he performed Periyone live on stage. He recalled, "While I was preparing to sing, the instruction I got was that Rahman sir might come on stage to sing the initial verses, and I would have to back up accordingly. But as I was in the middle of singing, he came from behind just like that, and I went awestruck. His aura ignited a whole new energy on stage."

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