Sonu Nigam Curated
Playback Singer & Composer
CURATED BY :
You might be inspiration for many aspiring singers. Any message for them?
No messages to anyone, just good wishes and best wishes and God Bless every new comer, keep working hard and stay positive and believe in Good Karma and Believe in good intent!
You have spent more than two decades in the industry. How do you look back on your journey so far? What has been the biggest change and the biggest challenge?
As of now I've spent close to 30 years in the business and 41 years of being on the stage. I've seen a lot of changes, when we were doing small little shows in Delhi way back in 1977 -78 to 91 when I came to Bombay, so all that time there weren't many opportunities in Delhi, you know to express music. All you could do was small wedding shows or kisi ka Birthday or cocktail parties or whatever, so that was the only option. In 91, when I came to Mumbai, Films were being made, Kumar Sanu ji, Udit Narayan ji, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, SP Balasubhramanyam, Vinod Rathod, Alka Yagnik, Sadhana Sargam, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Anuradha Paudwal, they were all at their peak and I was 18 years old back then. So, it took me very long to establish myself, because there weren't any reality shows. So, all you could do was stand outside people's offices and beg for work, literally beg, I use the word beg without any hesitation because yes, it is begging.... Sir Kaam de do Sir kaam de do. Which is begging of course. Back then we didn't have Any Sa Re Ga Ma which I started eventually in 1995, it was almost like my contribution when I saw my own self go through so much struggle. God made me the catalyst in establishing something like music competitions on television screens in India which became such a rage and if you notice, the five and a half years that I hosted Sa Re Ga Ma it was all very dignified very classy, I kept the decorum of you know the respect factor, the poise that you have to maintain when you're hosting the show with so much talent, with so many seniors around you, there are 10 celebrities of you know the veteran celebrities, whom you consider the God of music sitting and I have to introduce all of them and I have to give respect to all of them, nobody should feel let down, so it was obviously very very difficult that time. but at the same time, you know something good happened, lots of new singers got opportunities, they got recognition, they didn't have to stand out of people's office and negotiate with the gatekeepers and the watchmen and security people to go inside and talk to the boss. They became famous overnight, like Shreya Ghoshal didn't have to do any struggle at all, she came to Sa Re Ga Ma and Sanjay Leela Bhansali spotted her and she got her due. So, she didn't have to do what we had to do. That was one amazing thing. Now there are so many reality shows, people start getting recognition they start doing concerts, they have cars, they have homes, houses, they wear brands which is very very good and they become popular. I'm very happy that music has now become an open business in terms of technology at that time, I came at a time when we used to record songs with 150 to 110 to 120 musicians and we would do live singing in Mehboob studios with Laxmikant Pyarelal, I'm the only one from this generation who has done this, who has experienced this. Today, I can record a song in the hotel room, on my computer with my own microphone. I know all the technology and I can sing a song and it can become a part of any big movie, a multi crore movie, International stuff or whatever just by sitting in a hotel room or even a bathroom, so this is how technology has changed. And I'm enjoying, witnessing all this process and eager to see what's new in store, in terms of technology and business!
At the age of 76, living legend Amitabh Bachchan is still rocking. Can you compare him with any other Bollywood actor(s)?
People like Amitabh Bachchan are born one in a million, so nobody can become that, ofcourse everyone has their own state of mind and principles of living. He has chosen to work hard and to be seen, to be heard, to rock, that is his priority and that is his prerogative. Comparing him with anybody else is unfair to everybody else. Because, the bottom line is, you do the things that you want to do. Some people work hard, some people don't want to work hard, some people want to access life, some people want to sit quietly like Gulzar sahab. He is not into social life, he doesn't talk to people, he doesn't go for an interview (people interview him), he doesn't come to television shows and all. That's his choice of life. So how can I compare Gulzar sahab with Amitabh Bachchan ji, Amitabh ji is doing what's best for him. Gulzar sahab is doing what's best for him, Dharmendra sahab choses to be in his farm house and come out with videos doing farming and agriculture. That's his choice. So comparing two people to each other is unfair. And music industry, Asha Bhosle ji choses to work very hard, she's still working, she's singing, she's performing, she's rocking. Everybody has to decide their own destiny.
What changes did you see in the last few years in context to Indian Idol?
I would not like to just sight example of Indian Idol, I would like to talk about all the shows currently that are going on television, over the last 6-7 years there has been amazing singers. God gives talent and god brings equal amount of talent and caliber and quality in every generation. So there singers, there's no derth of good singers, they're coming in all the shows. What I do not really connect with, I don't critisize it, I'm not ooposing it, I just say, I don't connect with the drama that happens, you know the unnecessary laughter, unnecessary over exuberant expression of jubilation. It's just the over pretence that the judges have to do and to go through. For instance, I'll give you an example, I am currently touring with Neha Kakkar in America and she told me, 'Sir, were you in a bad mood when you came to Indian Idol?' I said No, not at all. She said that all of us felt that you were not into your elements. And I understood exactly why she was saying that. Because for them the default state of being a judge or being a guest in any show today is over the top talking, over the top laughing, screaming, reactions, responses and for me, when I come to a music show, my whole default state of being is sanctity, class. There is certain way I think a musician should behave. When you are hosting the show or when you are being a part of the show or when you are a guest on the show. For me it was the last time I came to Indian Idol was with the people who actually started, saw me and my initial days. Anu Malik, JP Datta, Javed Akhtar, so one senior, all were seniors. And I absolutely make sure on how to behave in front of my seniors. But to the generation today, feels that you can be exuberant over the top, even with in front of the people who've actually seen you and if you don't do thatz you're in a bad mood. So this is the change that I've seen over the years in Indian Idol and all over formats, and since I cannot connect with it, I don't know if I can ever be a part of it again.
Any fond memory of Indian Idol?
Indian Idol was commenced by us in 2004 and when we started Indian Idol, the directors told me it's based on the show format and gave me a book of Simon Cowell which was called 'I don't mean to be rude' and can you imagine I am the only one who read that book and I know the entire essence of it, the Idol format. When I do something, I do it with a lot of integrity. Indian Idol was a great platform and I for the first time in my life, saw the reverence that I held in the hearts of people even though I just 30 at that point. At a very young age, I saw people crying while meeting me, touching my feet, hugging me, sobbing in front of me. That was my first humbling experience of seeing the love that I had from people. I really enjoyed the first two seasons while being at it and then I had to move to America, my son was born in 2007 in America. I then almost left India for a couple of years, I was coming and going . Then my mother got cancer and I got back to India. Then I never left again. Then I seated my foot permanently over here. I gave away my green card in America. So doing Indian Idol 2 years back was also fun to be back with Anu Malik and Farah Khan.
It’s an election season in India. Did you get any offer from any political party?
Yes I did get offer from a political party but I'm not going to be disclosing it. And yes I express my inability to contest, at this point I'm not ready, but who knows in the future what God wants to do to show me or make my journey go through.
Given a chance, would you like to try your luck in acting once again?
After a point in your life, you realize that you don't do anything, you don't try, you're just going through a journey. So when I got offers to act in films, it was a part of my journey you see, I never made any films for myself. It was never my priority. Yes, it was a good experience. I've acted in movies as a child also when I was a kid, I did Hum Se Hai Zamana, Pyaara Dushman, Kaamchor, Betaab, Taqdeer, so I was all new to the camera but when I became older, when I became a singer, my only idea was to become a singer, just to remain a singer. After a lot of persuasion from people, I was offered Tara rum pum, the movie that they wanted me to act in earlier. Dev Anand sahab came to me twice but I was not at all keen on acting, so I refused everybody. In 2001, I started getting too many offers and I realized that public wants me to act in films. Since there was no guidance, I always believe in destiny, I was destined to choose films that were never meant to make it big or were some films which did not have a very good standing and positioning and branding. So the movies still not do well but yes, as long as people appreciate the fact that I have some common sense when I came in, people have seen me acting, doing comedy, doing stuff on interrogation, award functions, hosting. So they knew that it's just a matter of getting the right subject. And if I'm destined to, I will. At this point of time, I have no intent to act in any film.
What are your current films/songs?
When it comes to talking about, thinking about my current film songs, I think I've gone much beyond that. I've sung so many songs that I don't even keep a track, I didn't realize when 'Has Mat Pagli Pyar Ho Jayega' became so popular. I didn't understand when 'Sapna Jaha Dastak Na De' from Brothers movie became so popular. I've been done songs which come but the films don't work, I had a beautiful song in the movie Milan Talkies composed by Rana Majumdar, written by Amitabh Bhattacharya called 'Shart'. The movie didn't do well, the song got lost. So yes, there are alot of songs, it keeps coming. I've sang in multiple languages. My singles thankfully like 'Aey Zindagi' I sang and then Asha ji, Shaan, Abhijeet Bhattacharya ji, Suresh Wadekar ji, Alka Yagnik ji, we all sang solo versions and that did very well. My song 'Tota' with Meet Brothers did very well. My single 'Shiv Shankara' has got millions of views. So yes, I've been lucky. My MTV unplugged sessions I sang, ghazals has been the talk of the town. So it's been very interesting, I've worked harder my entire life then I did the last 6-7 months.
Where do you find yourself as a singer?
As a singer I know that I work hard and I know my pluses and I know my minuses. And nobody can be completely perfect. Only God is the epitome of perfection. So, yes I've been fairly very hard working. As a singer I've evolved a lot, but in terms of my standing as a singer, I think I'm one of the luckiest singer in the entire world. I've had an impeccable career of as I said 41+ years of stage singing and now this is my 28th year of being in Mumbai and almost 27 years of being famous. Very amazing career, amazing times. God has been very kind. I've seen so many people who come and go. I've seen 3 different generations of singers and change of music from analog to digital. So amazing, it's been great. And I feel very very honoured.
How was your working experience with T-series in the initial stage of your career?
So I've answered the T-series question already before with Gulshan Kumar ji and it was a good experience. And I still miss Gulshan Kumar ji alot and I had a very affectionate relationship with him. I can never forget his eyes, his smile and the love that he had for me.
We have heard that your son is very close to music; does he get any training for music?
Well, my son Nevaan is a very gifted singer, thankfully fortunately. But at the same time, there would be no obligation of him to follow what his father has been doing, because infact I would be very happy if he does not pursue music. And he does something new, bring some other acumen in the family. But he is more into western music, he has what you call (in Hindi we say) Ganda bandhwana from the guru. When you get almost like baptized to a guru for the first time, from the guru for the first time. So he's done that from my ustad, Ghulam Mustafa Khan sahab also. But then he's into western music completely. He is just out of the world when he sings English and I'm very happy that he's doing that because then there's no comparison, although I have a lot of English stuff but I am primarily known as a Hindi singer, Indian singer singing in Indian languages, so I'm happy that he's singing something which I am not particularly known for. That is just a part of me, not the whole of me. And yes, he's not getting any training from anywhere. I want him to learn by himself. I didn't get any training myself during my childhood, I only started learning very late in life. So, one has to have his own keenness to learn. There's no point forcing anyone to go sudden rush called practice hard or whatever. If he's meant too, he will do it himself.
Have you chosen singing profession by your own or influenced by the family member(s)?
Music was my choice. Of course I had the backing and the consent and approval from my family also that Music ultimately what I wanted to be was always left out to be.
Who is your favourite Bollywood playback singer and why?
I would say, my favourite singer everybody knows is Mohommad Rafi sahab. He will always remain my primary inspiration. But I've always maintained the fact that I'm someone who has listened to alot of singers, so there are lot of gurus of mine. Lata Mangeshkar ji, Asha Bhosle ji, Kishor Kumar ji, Manna Dey sahab, Hemant Kumar ji, Talat Mahmood ji, Mahendra Kapoor ji, KL Sehgal sahab, then the ghazal singers Ghulam Ali ji, Meti Singh sahab, Anoop Jalota ji, Pankaj Udas ji also Talat Aziz sahab, the classical singers I've been very much influenced by Salaam Ali Khan sahab, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sahab, Bheem Singh Joshi ji, ghazals ofcourse Hariharan ji, Suresh Wadkar ji, Maqrooz, SP Balasubrahmanyam, Yesudas ji.. I've listened to all of them. Western music I've listened to in my times waa George Michael and Michael Bolton and of course Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, even LucianoPavarotti. So many great singers. Gulshan Kumar ji was the one person I always wanted to meet when I was growing up. Because first of all, we had this Delhi connection. I just knew that somehow I just meant to meet him one day. And it so happened that it took me one year to catch his attention but when he got my attention, it was magic because he liked me alot and he could see that I was an honest person. Even though we didn't have an contract, he had just verbally told me not to sing cover versions for anybody else. He said you can sing film songs for other people but please don't sing cover versions for anybody else. And I maintained that promise, that commitment to him. I was offered so many deals with the better companies back then, Tips and Venus and HMV, at that point it was bigger than T series. T series was hardly taking any film. Gulshan ji had a lot of issues with producers and all, so he did not take too many films and all. So I didn't have any film work, but I just maintained that promise to Gulshan Kumar ji. I didn't sing any cover versions for anybody else. Although I missed out on 5-6 years of film singing because of that. Because I became coined or typecasted as a T series artist.
When did you realize first that you should try your luck in singing?
It never happened like that. I was born to a family of two singers, my father and my mother, my father's name is Agam Kumar Nigam and my mother is and was Shobha Nigam, though she left us 6 years back. Both of them fell in love because they were singers. They met in Mumbai, it was Bombay back then. They were from 2 different casts, so they had a run away marriage. Then I was born in Faridabad. Then my father moved his base to Delhi from Faridabad, where he was from. My mother, father, me and my sister, we moved to Delhi. When I got my consciousness, suddenly I saw music all around me. My father singing and my mother singing and I thought by default I was attracted to stage and I wanted to sing and I have been singing since I was 4, so it's been about 41+ years of professional singing. It was never like that. During my school days, I was pretty good as a student, there were other options to be a scientist, to be an IAFS officer to reach the IAFS, so many things. But eventually when my voice opened at back when I was aged 14 and a half when I was matured, that's when I, also my mother, my father and my entire family decided and then we finally decided to move to Mumbai after my 12th standard to pursue music.
What is ‘Music’ according to you?
Music is a part of the whole that I'm made-up of or constituted of. What actually music is - discipline to randomness, that's any piece of art is a discipline to randomness. A discipline to the randomness of sound and time and space, because Rhythm is based at time, music is melody, sound is vibrations. So, when you put discipline to it, that's music. But to me, music is the way I think of music is. It's the whole of what I'm made-up of. It is the partial expression of what that whole of me is.
Can you define yourself in one line?
One who has found himself. That's how I would like to define myself
What Sonu Nigam said about his family?
We are in the process of moving into a new house in Dubai. This city has been my second home for quite some time now. I even have my studio here and my family, too, has shifted base. In fact, my son Nevaan is studying here. So, I will keep shuttling between Mumbai and Dubai.
What Sonu Nigam said about returning India after lockdown?
If I come to India now, I will be quarantined for 14 days. So, given the fact that I am busy with a lot of charity work here, it does not make sense to come back and get quarantined.
For whom did you enjoy singing in 1990's Govinda or Salman ?
Do you think it’s a good time for artistes and musicians to come up with newer creative concepts and experiments?
Yes. I managed a live concert from Dubai to be streamed worldwide which received spellbinding response from the world. We didn’t monetise it. It’s an expenditure that I incurred. If we’re able to devise a plan to get a return on investment, then we’ll surely create a new medium for entertainment.
There is a lot of fake news and rumours that are floating around which is creating a lot of panic. What do you think is the best way to battle the panic?
Even the scientists are trying to figure out what the true nature of the Covid-19 is. Thus there are bound to misinformation and ambiguities. I don’t dig too deep into all information. Just on a very superficial manner, I stay in touch with the updates regarding the virus. It’s my personal belief that what you empower too much, becomes your reality. Nothing can be predicted with confidence at this point. All we can do is minimise our expenses and get down to the ground realities.
How are you making the most of this time of social distancing?
I’m comfortably parked in Dubai with my family. I spend my time bonding with my to-be teenager son, working out with him, teaching him and my wife cycling, practicing music, listening to Osho, searching facts and mysteries on web, watching movies and praying. I believe that though it’s important to spend time with family, it’s more important to spend time with your own self. One who is not comfortable in his own company is in the wrong company.
In our busy schedules where we are constantly hustling, do you think slowing down was much needed?
I truly believe that the real story of our lives is unbeknownst to us. I guess, humanity needed to be shaken up to refocus its attention on the basics. The biggest perk I see is that people must be ashamed of wasting their precious time and energy in hatred and bitterness on the pretext of religion and nation.
What are your thoughts on the 21-day lockdown?
It’s an imperative move and extremely essential for a country with a mammoth population like India. I hope people understand its seriousness, as according to my father, people still are taking morning walks and jogs. Shops are still open and people are loitering around on roads. It’s extremely shameful of us to not learn our lessons from Italy.
Which is your favorite all-time retro song?
How do you bring varieties while doing live concerts everytime?
Could you share your memories of your first live concert?
For how many years are you performing on stage?
Do you enjoy performing live outside India?
“I don’t plan to open any music company”
Asked if he would like to start his own music company, Sonu told IANS in a recorded response: "It's not easy to run a music company. It is very difficult to make a music company big. So, we respect all the people who run music companies as much as everyone should respect everyone's professions. "Actors should respect directors, directors should respect producers, singers should respect composers. Music companies should also respect everybody else. It's a world of interdependence. At this point, I don't plan to open any music company but yes, in my entire life without being in a music company, I have supported a lot of new singers...not because I wanted to become an 'ustad' or a godfather but because I felt their talent needed to be brought in front like Sunidhi Chauhan and many more."
Did you want to become a singer since your childhood days?
I began learning when I was only three and a half years old because my parents, Agam Kumar Nigam and Shobha Nigam, sing. But I wasn't always bent on becoming a singer. When I was a child, I wanted to become a scientist. Then I wanted to become an astronomer. Still later, I wanted to join the Indian Foreign Service because I wanted to travel around the world.
When do you get time to practice?
I sqeeze in time whenever I get. Sometimes I practice before I begin recording. Sometimes I practice before shows. If ther's nobody sitting next to me on flight, I begin with my riyaz. I also keep a harmonium in my car so that I can sing during a long drive.
You have fans all over the world who would love to hear from you regularly. So, have you thought about returning to Twitter?
No no. I am a very clear person. Once I leave, it’s over. There is no tension in life. I am not dependent on anything. Like, what would happen if there was no Twitter? It doesn’t matter. I had seven million followers but I still left. Why should I tell people what I am doing? It’s good that there is a purdah now. I am happy. I am on Facebook because there is a closed group over there. But I am not anywhere else. Plus, there is no time.
What do you like doing the most among singing, acting and performing in concerts?
I like all of them. i don't believe in only doing one thing stubbornly. I am the only singer whose song "Bijuriya" has become famous along with its dancing steps. Along with singing, i love to compose and program songs. They all are part of my heart. Its tough to count on any one song as my favourite.
You were singled out in the industry for some professional issues. How difficult was that phase?
I don't get scared of anything because, I firmly believe in God. To begin with, the issue was not clear to anyone of us and then, the press didn't help either. People still ask me if I have started getting royalties from music companies. But the point is, singers cannot claim royalties from music companies. Initially, the issue was not understood by many people, but when our stand got clarified, even the labels realised that it was not that big an issue. Now, contracts are drawn on a consensual basis.
Are you concerned that more actors are taking to singing their own songs in films?
Everybody's entitled to do whatever they feel and there is so much recording technology you can make a non-singer sound like a singer, so why not take advantage of such technology? There are lots of non-singers worldwide, not just in India. There are a lot of singers who cannot sing to save their lives. We have to accept it, but thank God there is such a thing as live shows. It's only when people are faced with live shows that the world gets to know how good or how bad they are.
You collaborated with Jermaine Jackson in a tribute song for Michael Jackson. How did Michael Jackson influence you musically?
All true artists in the world from all countries and all genres are influenced by Michael Jackson. There were music videos before Michael Jackson and there were music videos after Michael Jackson. He brought such a huge change in the marketing and positioning of the music video. His contribution was unparalleled. He passed away and we were all very saddened. I remember around that time I felt that I wanted to write a song in his memory... I would be honoured to collaborate with Michael Jackson's brother on that. Everything fell into place automatically. I didn't have to really work for it
Indian artists are often seen collaborating with Western artists. Why do you think there is this interest in Indian acts in the West and why is it important to you to record with Western artists?
You reach a point in life when you don't work for money and you don't work for fame. You work to make a legacy. When I came to Bombay from Delhi to become a singer 20 years ago, my aim was to become just a singer and primarily a playback singer. As a singer I thought I would be popular and people would recognise me all over the world and just being a singer I enjoyed the stardom of any other superstar in the world. I have been able to do such a variety of work and travel the world with it so God has been really kind to me. People have been really kind to me. I have built my career on this desire to do different things. The real learning and the legacy lies in trying out new things. I have done so much television. I pioneered television in India. I have worked on films. I have done the collaboration with Jermaine Jackson. Even though this is the beginning, India is going to collaborate with the world. Our sound has really gone leaps ahead from where we were five years back and India is definitely a great market for the world.
You collaborated with Britney Spears for the song ‘I Wanna Go.’ How did this collaboration come about?
I have a very close friend who has been instrumental in getting a lot of collaborations done. We've got to know each other personally in the last two years. We were waiting for the right opportunity. When they told me about the song I said, 'Of course, it would be a pleasure'. So we worked on the song with DJ Lloyd. We completely changed the sound and added everything to the song except for Britney's vocal.
क्या आपने कभी अपने संघर्ष के दिनों में भावनात्मक रूप से टूट गए?
What is your favourite subject?
Do you remember the day when you met R.D. Burman for the first time?
Which is your favourite song?
How was your experience acting in films?
From singing songs at small wedding ceremonies in Delhi to becoming “The” Sonu Nigam today, how has your journey been?
You are also known for mimicry of different artists. How it came to you?
You learnt music from Ustaad Mohammad Tahirji. What is the one thing that makes a good Guruji and a good student?
Did you have any dreams of pursuing a career in the sciences?
You did your first stage performance when you were four years old. Do you remember how it felt like?
मंच पर आपके अनुभव कैसा रहा?
अलग-अलग गायकों द्वारा एक विशेष गीत गाकर और एक फिल्म में सर्वश्रेष्ठ संस्करण रखकर संगीत उद्योग में एक प्रवृत्ति चल रही है। इस बारे में आपको क्या कहना है?
What is the best and worst part of Sonu Nigam?
आपके अनुसार कौन सा अभिनेता आपकी आवाज़ के लिए सबसे उपयुक्त है?
मंच पर काबू पाने के लिए आपकी क्या सलाह है, जो बहुत सारे महत्वाकांक्षी गायक और कलाकार का सामना करते हैं?
Do you feel that songs are now written and composed keeping the business potential of the concerts and shows in mind?
Not really. Singers like Nitin Mukesh and Usha Uthup have not sung many popular song in the past two years, but they rock concerts and music shows. Sab performance ki baat hain.
You tried your hand at acting, but it did not work out. What do you think?
Since I am not a star kid, there was nobody around to tell me that my debut film Love In Nepal was ridiculous. Nobody guided me and told me how to go about it. Wahan par hum logon ko kaccha khana pada. During my struggle as a singer I met many people, good and bad. Some guided me and some were really badtameez. But what counts in the end is your struggle and how you achieve your goal. You have to be in constant touch with the industry people, you have to see what's happening around you. You have to make yourself visible on various platforms. It is a combination of many things. I think I was the one who belled the cat and paid the price for it. Today there are many singers who act too.
Reality shows bring many talents from various corners of the country to the fore. But very few singers get opportunities to sing for Bollywood movies. Why?
It depends on the individual and his journey. Everything cannot be served readily on a platter. Reality shows can bring some potential talent into the public domain. But after that it is the talent, perseverance and vision of the individual that helps him or her chart a path to victory. I remember how Shreya Ghoshalwould go from one producer to another after her stint with Sa Re Ga Ma. Even after singing for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Devdas she would go to music producers and composers to make herself known in the industry. Same goes for Sunidhi Chauhan. It’s the perseverance that counts. But in spite of that, some people make it, many don’t.
There was talk that Sonu Nigam was on a sabbatical. Is that true?
We have only one life. I don’t want to waste my life doing only one thing, like a mundane routine. I want to travel the world. I like to be alone sometimes. I love doing concerts too. I like to spend time with my family. I like to work out and keep myself fit. I don’t think I can do all these things once I turn 60. I don’t want to regret that I wasted my entire life doing only one thing: singing. I have done enough and I think I want to keep it exclusive and do other things with an equal amount of interest and enthusiasm. So I try to do as many things as possible.
You have been singing for over two decades now. How do you keep the interest level and energy up without being complacent?
I practice. I do my riyaaz regularly, without fail. You may pull off all the gimmicks in the world, but if you don’t deliver, you will be thrown out automatically. Though I don’t sing as much as I used to - there was a time when I would sing six or seven songs in a day - I am as excited about singing a song as I was 22 years ago.
Tell us about your struggle to reach the top. What lessons can today’s aspiring singers learn from it?
When I was struggling, I remember main subah se hee music director ke office jaake baith jaata tha, ki aap aao aur miujhe suno. I used to spend seven to eight hours without food and water at the recording studios and hope that someone would listen to me one day. And you cannot become tired of it. If you are passionate about it, it won’t tire you. Also once you start getting recognition, you can’t become complacent. I don’t have a godfather. So I had to make my own path and face the challenges on my own.
What issues is the music industry dealing with?
Today there are many software programmes available in the market that can make anybody’s voice melodious, which is a huge concern. But that can be dealt with, because originality and versatility cannot go unnoticed. But the real issue is that people don’t want to talk about singers. I know what Neha Dhupia is doing. I know what Celina Jaitley is doing or, for that matter, which party Virat Kohli is attending. But I don’t know what Suinidhi Chauhan is up to or which song Sherya Ghoshal is doing next. And that saddens me.
Do you think that singers don’t get the attention they deserve?
I think the media is predominantly responsible for why people don’t want to discuss music, musicians or singers. The media wants to discuss only cricketers or actors. Who’s wearing what. Which actor is hanging around with whom. These things are discussed and written about everywhere. Even radio jockeys talk only about movies and the actors on which songs are picturised. Rarely do they mention who has composed the number and the singer who has sung the song. Today, singers are not called to the music launch, which is ridiculous. Farhan Akhtar sings himself, but he did not bother to give credit to the singers in his own film (Don).
What is the best part about singing for Bollywoood stars?
Interestingly, Bollywood is the only industry where films and songs are interlinked. Bahar jo gata hain, wohi dikhta hain. Rihanna, Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson never sang for any actor. I think a song should be accepted for its lyrical quality and its music and not for the actor it is sung for. Sadly, here in India, just because an actor is very popular, no matter what he lip syncs, every track becomes a rage. But the best part is that a song can become popular very easily if it is picturised on a big star.
Many people say that it is difficult to distinguish the voices of male singers today, saying they sound similar and you can’t tell who exactly is singing. What’s your view on this?
Eh toh hai (laughs). Even I find it difficult. But it will get sorted out. Once they become established, there will be some clarity. I feel those who are controlling music should let singers grow. Because of so much variety, hardly anyone is getting optimum work. Arijit Singh is getting a lot of work, which is good, because he has gone ahead in the race. But those who are behind him aren’t getting optimum opportunity to use or explore their potential. I am not saddened because of this. I feel it will happen. What is good will surely outshine. It is impossible to stop talent. Just give them some time.
The musical scenario and the type of music have changed drastically from the time you started. How do you look at this change?
Every era has a good scenario. I am not the type of person who thinks, ‘It was very good in our time and right now it’s rubbish.’ This is negative thinking. Unimpressive work happens in every era. It happened then; it happens now. So, I feel it is wrong to say that one era was superior. Of course, our gurus like [Mohammad] Rafi saheb, Kishoreji [Kumar], Lataji [Mangeshkar], Ashaji [Bhosle], Manna Dey saheb, Hemant Kumarji, Talat Mahmoodji, Mahendra Kapoorji, Geeta Duttji, [KL] Saigal saheb, were superior. We can’t compare anyone with them because we have come from them. No matter how big the child becomes, mother-father will always be bigger than him. When I was new, there used to be live music. I am the only singer in this generation who has sung live with 100-150 musicians in Mehboob Studios. This cannot be claimed by Shaan, Kay Kay, Kunal Ganjawala, etc. I have been lucky. I have seen that and now I am seeing this [era]. In today’s [technically advanced] times, if one has to utter the word ‘aankh’ then you can [digitally] punch ‘aan’ and also ‘kh’. Today it’s so easy. Even a besura can become a singer. But there are also a lot of advantages.
You are the only established Hindi film singer from your era who has been singing regularly in Marathi cinema. What is the reason for your fondness for it?
Oh yes! I say this openly. If someone feels bad, it is his or her problem. Barring South India, whose music I am not well versed with, I feel only two states have proper listeners — Maharashtra and Bengal. People from these two places take music seriously. Marathis listen so intently and straightaway point out if one sings a false note. They sit like critics. Bengalis also listen to music and learn dance from childhood. It’s not that it doesn’t happen in Punjab. But to see music inside your veins in the level of society is seen among Marathis and Bengalis. That’s why I enjoy singing in Marathi. I consider myself very lucky to be staying in Mumbai. When I was new to this city I used to tell people that they don’t know what Delhi is. I was earlier in Delhi. From there to Mumbai is a culture shock. Over there you see gundagardi but here people stand in queues for buses. This is the culture. I think in the entire country this is the only place where it happens. Do they still stand in queues?
Are you being selective now with your film projects?
Not really. After the issue of Copyright cropped up and some of my songs (Hangover) got redubbed, my attachment to Bollywood music reduced. Not that I am not singing -- I have my songs in Wazir and Raes -- but I don't count them. I sing if a friend asks me to, that's all. It does not give me any high unless the song is a challenging one like Sapna Jahan from Brothers or the title track of Kill Dil. Film music of course has its own joy, because your song gets promoted and an actor performs... so, a lot of hullabaloo is created. However, I wish to concentrate on independent projects now. Also, concerts are my lifeline because they help me connect with my audiences. I feel concerts are a singer's litmus test, because if you cannot sing for three or four hours continuously, then you need to work on yourself.
Is the struggle to enter the industry nowadays still similar to what it used to be in the past?
It’s a lot easier now. The struggle today can be for opportunities, but not for survival. For us, it was about survival. Now, an artiste starts getting shows quickly. When I came to Mumbai, my father had said, “You can perform at concerts in Delhi, but not in Mumbai. If you will do that, you will get lost in that scenario. You will make musician friends, you’ll have a girlfriend, and you’ll be happy with it. I don’t want you to be happy with whatever you have. You should stay hungry and focused.” I like what he taught me. He has a very big role to play in where I am today.
What is your take on the current state of Bollywood music?
It is very film-oriented. Everything is by the films, for the films, and of the films (laughs). Music should have some independent standing. With platforms like Coke Studio, etc. coming in, things are getting better. But I still miss the authentic ghazals that were composed in the past decades.
You are also a Bollywood music composer. Have you been composing any music lately?
Yes, Bickram and I have made some music together. We are thinkers of a certain level. We only like to work with people who match our wavelength and temperament. We took up a Bollywood film and finished making five tracks for it. But midway, we couldn’t understand why we were part of the project, so we opted out of it. For me, doing music is a process that I should enjoy. I don’t want to do something just for the heck of it.
According to you, how has the industry changed or evolved? Do you think it has been for the better?
When has world evolved for good or bad? It just evolves. Industry is part of the world. It experiences changes just like the entire world. As for music, earlier, technology didn’t permit just anyone to become a singer. You had to therefore practice hard to deliver. So there were lesser singers, and thus longer shelf life. Today, anyone can be made to sound pitch perfect and rhythm perfect. Thus there is a wide choice of voices. But shorter shelf life. Every age and era, has its advantages and disadvantages. I don’t criticise just for the sake of criticising. In fact sometimes I see the younger lot of musicians and singers more opinionated than the senior ones.
You have been a part of the industry for over two decades now. How has your journey been?
I have literally grown up in this industry.. I acted in films as a child briefly.. Then went back to Delhi with family to come back here again at the age of 18, this time singing as my target. I have learnt and evolved a lot. Honestly, I feel I don’t belong here as I am too real and straight to be in a world of Dreams.. Yet I enjoy every bit of the perks, and ups and downs involved in this journey. God’s been really Kind to me.