We all know how this story progresses. That singer’s name is Arijit Singh, who not only left his mark on the Indian music scene, but also became one of the most successful and popular playbacks of all time. Today, Singh is among Bollywood’s most sough-after singers, the reigning emperor of Hindi film music. Every producer dreams of signing him up. And every major actor looks forward to lip-syncing to his voice. He has sung so many songs—massive hits all—that radio channels often have special slots dedicated to play only his number in a series.
Recently, Guardian 20 caught up with the playback sensation for a chat about his background, his early struggles in the music business, and his current string of successes. When asked about his decision to move to Mumbai after the Fame Gurukul debacle, Singh said, “I thought it [Mumbai] was the right place for me to work in, compared to the place where I lived. I love my hometown and that place is very good for practicing music and for living. But Mumbai was always the right setting where you could showcase your talent and try out new things. This was the city where there was work to do, and I think that was my motivation to shift to Mumbai.”
Singh belongs to a family where music runs in the blood. At a very young age, he learned to play the tabla, and had three musical gurus: Birendra Prasad Hazari, who taught him Rabindra sangeet; Dhirendra Prasad Hazari, who taught him musical instruments; and Rajendra Prasad Hazari, who gave him a good grounding in Indian classical music. Indeed, it was his gurus who insisted that he attend the audition of Fame Gurukul.
Besides this show, Singh, in his early days, also participated in another reality show, 10 Ke 10 Le Gaye Dilwhich included participants of Fame Gurukul and Indian Idol. Singh won the show, along with a prize money of Rs 10 lakh, which he invested in setting up his own recording studio and honing his music programming skills. “I don’t remember any challenges,” Singh said about establishing his own studio, “but yes, there were mostly technical challenges. I had to practice and go through the study material concerning music production. It was a necessary process to go through.”
Thanks to the experience he garnered working as a music programmer, and often freelancing with industry veterans, Singh has become among our most technically accomplished singers. The best of his songs—like “Muskurane” (from City Lights), “Kabira” (Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani), “Laal Ishq” (Goliyon Ki Raasleela: Ram-Leela) and “Sooraj Dooba Hai” (Roy)—reflect his technical mastery of playback as well as his knowledge of the fine points of music production.
The list of Singh’s professional accomplishments would, of course, be too long to mention here.
Singh has gone from strength to strength with every song. But in the Indian playback industry, success appears to be a seasonal commodity. There was a time when Udit Narayan enjoyed an unparalleled reputation as a playback great. But his time came and went. And his place was taken by another.
But it’s worth noting that he has now become a singer for whom accolades and prominent awards are banal occurrences. In 2014, he won the Filmfare Award for Best Male Playback Singer, and an IIFA for the song “Tum Hi Ho” (Aashiqui 2). At the Mirchi Music Awards 2015, he bagged the Best Male Vocalist for his song “Samjhawan” (Badrinath Ki Dulhania). At the 2016 Global Indian Music Academy Awards, he was honoured for his song “Soch Na Sake” (Airlift). And earlier this year, he won another Mirchi Music Award for the title song of the film Ae Dil Hai Mushkil.
Singh has gone from strength to strength with every song. But in the Indian playback industry, success appears to be a seasonal commodity. There was a time when Udit Narayan enjoyed an unparalleled reputation as a playback great. But his time came and went. And his place was taken by another—Sonu Nigam, whose own career’s trajectory followed the same rising and falling curve as his predecessors’. So is Arijit Singh, today’s big star, worried about what might happen tomorrow?
Singh told Guardian 20: “There is limited time for any playback singer. Your time is running out, and the industry is going to change. The actors are going to change. If today I am singing good melodious songs, then maybe, after a year or two, there will be some new singer singing other good and melodious songs.”
These days, Singh has become a part of a social initiative on mental health awareness, #EarForYou, organised by Mpower. He will be playing a benefit concert, titled GenM, to support this campaign at Mumbai’s MMRDA Grounds in Bandra on Sunday, 12 November.
About the initiative, Singh told Guardian 20, “I was offered to do this and, of course, this is very important. The event is not just about talking about mental illness. It’s about making people understand that there is something like mental illness and mental health. I think it is very inspiring to do something like this, and it is a kind of platform where people can come and enjoy, while at the same time learn how important it is to understand mental health.”
This is a three-hour-long sold-out concert, where Singh will be performing a setlist that features fresh numbers as well as the beloved classics. “I’m extremely thrilled to be a part of this initiative by Neerja Birla, Ananya Birla and their team at Mpower. With everything happening in the world right now, I believe that we all need to come together and stand up for issues that truly affect us. Every voice matters and I’m lending mine. Our entire team is trying to showcase a new live set. The GenM concert is special. More importantly, I get to witness people standing with me in support of the #EarForYou movement. It’s going to be a beautiful experience for everyone involved.”