Her first song as a singer was from the Assamese album Zubeenor Gaan in 1996.
Mahalakshmi made her playback debut with the film Dus in 1997, but the film never completed and released due to the sudden passing of the film’s director. The album however was released in 1999 as a tribute. She sang the track Ae Ajnabee with Udit Narayan for A. R. Rahman in Mani Ratnam‘s Dil Se.. which was her first release as a playback singer and considered to be her debut. Mahalakshmi continued singing for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and A.R. Rahman in many films which followed.
Since then she has also sung many serials, jingles, and original albums. She was part of several successful soundtracks such as Mission Kashmir, Yaadein and Saathiya and worked with some of the biggest music composers like A. R. Rahman, Shankar–Ehsaan–Loy, Vishal-Shekhar, Jatin-Lalit and more.
She was known for her performances in songs like “Kabhi Sham Dhale” from Sur – The Melody of Life (2002), “Har Taraf” from Rishtey (2002) and for hit songs like “Chup Chup Ke” from Bunty Aur Babli (2005), “Aaj Ki Raat” from Don: The Chase Begins Again (2006) and “Bol Na Halke Halke” from Jhoom Barabar Jhoom.
She sang on the Academy Award winning song “Jai Ho” for A. R. Rahman in the film Slumdog Millionaire (2008). Specifically, she sang the Hindi words between the short “Jai Ho” chants, as well as portions of the verses (most of which were sung by Sukhwinder Singh).
In the past, she rendered background vocal to the very famous Ghazal of Pankaj Udhas named Aur Ahistaa. She has also rendered her voice to many private album remixes notably Aaja Piya Tohe Pyar and Baahon Mein Chali Aao, which was originally rendered by the legendary Lata Mangeshkar.
Mahalakshmi comes from a Tamil musical family. Her mother is a Carnatic classical singer. She began learning Hindustani music at an early age as did her three sisters, Kalpana, Padmini and Shobha. Iyer grew up in Chembur, Mumbai, and is a graduate of R. A. Podar College of Commerce & Economics, Mumbai.
Awards and honors
- Alpha award for Best Playback for Adhar
- Maharashtra Kala Niketan Award for Suna Yeti Gharaat
- 2016 Filmfare nomination for Best Female Playback Singer – Tamil – “Un Mele Oru Kannu” (Rajini Murugan)
- Best Play Back Singer Maharashtra State Award for Datle Dhuke (Time Pass)