You have earned great repute as a singer in a very short span of time? How do you look back on your musical career thus far?
A. It has been a quite beautiful journey and I guess it’s been 15 years for me in the industry now. I had lots of different experiences in singing and we have some amazing talent here, be it my seniors, my contemporaries or the new people who have joined the industry. The journey has been very fulfilling indeed and I love what I do. And I believe that I have a lot more to do and explore in the future. As an artist you have to keep growing every day. I think there is a lot more to learn.
Q. You have done playback for many prominent films. Which according to you was the most significant film of your career? A turning point of sorts.
A. I think each song for me has come as a turning point in my life. I think Devdas definitely changed my life, as it was my first film. It was a big film and it was a huge success and the songs were that of a nature which gave me that opportunity where I could sing great songs. These were not just any songs. Devdas was indeed an experience: two years of being a part of a film which was so huge. And in so many ways, I learned a lot. And I was too young back then, and it was like a crash course for me. I think for me the song “Chikni Chameli” is equally important because I was singing something which was out of my comfort zone. It is equally important as an artist to experiment with different genres. Losing your inhibitions is also important sometimes as a performer, an actor or a musician. Every song is very important. Even the simple ones, like “Jadoo Hai, Nasha Hai”, as you have to get the expressions right. You have to understand that each film gives you a different array of music and it should sound right. Such was my journey, but I have enjoyed all these songs.
Q. Do you think Bollywood still tends to compromise a lot when it comes to good content and high-quality music?
A. Agreeing to it would not be being nice to my industry as I am also a part of it. But I also think that every film is now an exercise in how to create a blockbuster. It’s always about the number it garners at the box office, and because of that many a time, the makers and the people who have put in the money are too scared to take any risks. So sometimes you see that the music is repetitive and compromising, or whatever you say. And sometimes there is a misjudgment on what people really like. I know people really like to have a good time in night clubs, on dance floors and such music also has a lot of intricacies and there are lot of things in it. But there are very few who can do it very intelligently and beautifully. There is a general lack of songs sung by female singers and secondly, the kind of songs that you can listen to in your private time are also few and far between.
But at the same time, I do feel that there are new initiatives being taken in shows like Mixtape, and I am quite happy to be a part of it. A label like T-series taking such an initiative is commendable as they are in a position and have the power to really promote interesting music and bring good musicians together. Bringing good artistes together and giving them the freedom to do what they want is really something great. If every singer takes part in such initiatives, then collectively, we can change the scenario.
Q. Could you tell us more about the songs which you have performed for Mixtape?
A. We actually had a very tough time in making the choice. After hours of selection, we came up with “Sunn Raha Hai Na Tu” from Aashiqui 2, and “Rozana” from Naam Shabana, which I personally like very much. And the song came out so beautifully—the blending is so good that you would feel that it’s a new and fresh song. You won’t feel that it’s two songs mixed together.
“A lot of dynamics have been changed. Now, there are songs composed which are not in the film but are used as promotional songs. Then there were no YouTube and smartphones or any digital platforms back then. The only way of listening to music was through CDs and cassettes. We never thought that we would have something like apps where you could listen to live songs.”
Q. You are a trained classical singer. How different is it to sing a classical song as compared to a regular Bollywood number?
A. If you are doing pure classical music, like Hindustani music, you have to go for various ragas and you would take at least one hour to perform one raga. But nowadays, people don’t have the patience. The pace of life has changed. And classical music is something which can really connect with the Indian audiences. It’s very fulfilling. When you would listen my Mixtape song, you would realise it’s not the original song. When you sing for a film, you always have to keep in mind that it is going to be played in a cinema and it’s rather for a character in the story and therefore, for film, Aashiqui 2, I had to cut down the classical nuances by 60%, as she is not a trained singer in the film. But for Mixtape I did not have any of these boundaries. It’s a great composition and can be sung in many different ways. So, I had the liberty of bringing classical nuances into it, keeping the soul of the song intact. There are many different ways to do a song, but sometimes it’s not possible to do so in films unfortunately. That’s the only barrier.
Q. You come from a reality show background. Today, there is no dearth of singing reality shows on television. But there are only a handful of singers from such shows who manage to make it big in Bollywood. Are all these reality shows still able to help newcomers?
A. This question is asked to me in every interview of mine. But I must tell you that people have understood what is the exact meaning of reality shows now. It is a great platform that gives you a stage where the whole world is watching you. It’s an extraordinary experience. People are able to hear you and notice your talent, which is the exact purpose of reality shows. It doesn’t promise that it will make you big. The only reality of these reality shows lies is the fact that you will be heard, and now you have to take this as an opportunity to explore yourself. Once you are popular and you know your merits, you don’t have to go through that struggle of proving yourself to everyone again. But at the same time, if you are not sure what you want from your career or from your life, everything will be lost. Because what happens after winning a show, usually people or singers get busy in shows and concerts, and that’s how the tie-ups are with the channels. And money is coming in. Plus they are not mentored about choosing the right path. Also, many are carried away by the limelight, and soon it is already too late, the opportunity is already lost.
Q. Have you noticed any major changes in the film industry from the time you first arrived here as a professional singer?
A. A lot of dynamics have been changed. Now, there are songs composed which are not in the film but are used as promotional songs. Then there were no YouTube and smartphones or any digital platforms back then. The only way of listening to music was through CDs and cassettes. We never thought that we would have something like apps where you could listen to live songs. Today, music is so accessible. I also think that sometimes we have too much content, and the listener is confused about what kind of music to listen to and where to find such music. Sometimes you get a little lost when everything is available at the click of a button. Digital music is very new and a lot will change in the coming years.
Q. Which is that one song of yours that you really like to hum when you are alone?
A. It is very difficult. Ask anyone around me, who knows me very well, and they will tell you that I never hum my own songs. I listen to other people’s songs, and usually you will see me humming older songs of Lata ji and Asha ji. Nowadays, I am into creating my own songs, so I keep humming those ones which are not yet released. I am doing some independent music and that is where all my focus is now.
Q. Who are your idols from the history of Indian music? Musicians you would have loved to collaborate with?
A. In the past, I would have wanted to work with Madan Mohan saab, and lyricists like Sahir Ludhianvi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Anand Bakshi ji, R.D. Burman saab. And I wish I would have born a decade ago and had the opportunity to work with such extraordinary people and in a time when music was considered in its golden age. Being in a studio with these people would have been like a dream coming true.
Q. If some youngster is today considering training himself or herself in music, how should they go about it?
A. First, it is very important to get your basics right from some guru and I am talking about the basic introduction to music for a beginner who wants to learn music. Better to start early as your muscles are forming and vocal chords get used to the practice and training. It’s better to start in your childhood. If you are learning Hindustani music, then it’s very good and start exposing yourself to good music and don’t listen to whatever is playing on the radio or at some party. Expose yourself to that music from which you can learn the nuances. For me, it was always listening to Lata ji, Asha ji and Geeta Dutt ji. And I started following their musical notes and also listened to classical music like thumri, ghazal, and started replicating them. Then the time comes when you start having your own music coming to you, and you completely have your own interpretations because you have heard the best. Everything has been absorbed by you and I feel that is how a musical training should be.