For many artistes, it takes a lifetime to bag a Filmfare Award. For you, it’s been 12 years since you started out as a playback singer in Bollywood. Are you overly happy with this top-notch recognition or you feel it’s a little late in the day?
I started my career in the year 2002. So technically, it has been 15 long years of my dedication to this music industry. Seriously, I never dreamt of being a playback singer. For me, getting a Filmfare Award was a bonus. You know, I have always fancied a Grammy and I look at winning this prestigious Filmfare statuette as a stepping stone to my final destination. Whether or not it is late in the day, I am nobody to judge that because I believe, all good things come to when you are ready for them.
Is it important to be in influential camps or under the aegis of a godfather to get a plum break at the right time at the right place, because in the age of abundant talents, often the industry loses out on a bonafide vocalist due to lack of proper scope, exposure and backing?
Well, I don’t believe in camps. Neither do I subscribe to the concept of godfathers. I only stick to talent and determination. I have always lived by example. I was never mingling into social circles with a sugary voice, begging for work. I have never played by the rules. Yes, I have paid the price for that in terms of taking my own time to make my own mark. But that’s my belief system and I think it clicked for me though most people initially denounced my ideologies and thought I was too much of an idealist.
Till recently, the debate on star-kids versus rank newcomers from outside was raging on. What’s your take on this? Even you had made inroads through a competition and never got an easy launchpad like a home production. Were you ever treated like a stranger on the industry’s threshold when you were a fresher?
See, I can only speak for myself on this issue. As an individual, I can never go asking around for work inside the industry as I just cannot massage people’s egos. I truly believe that your inner abilities should emerge in front of the mike and not by chasing people. Yes, I have felt like an outsider and I actually felt like I didn’t exist for this music industry. I don’t know the exact reason behind this but I don’t harp on those feelings anymore. I am more dedicated towards my work and creating music because that’s what makes me happy.
Singers like you, Anushka Manchanda, Jonita Gandhi, Sona Mahapatra, Nandini Srikar, Shilpa Rao, Kavita Seth have a wonderful tonal quality at the base which is a far cry from the hitherto reigning sickly-sweet, shrill voices. Do you think such sonorous texture and huskiness are instrumental in redefining the yardsticks of mainstream playback in the present times?
I have always had a husky voice with a sort of volume at the base and I think, initially this wasn’t widely acceptable. Back in 2002, when my professional journey took off, my voice was labelled as a pop diva’s thing and hence, offers hardly came my way for mainstream singing. I did bump into a lot of people enquiring if I had a bad throat or simply brushing me aside with the remarks that I do have a beautiful voice but maybe it doesn’t match the popular tastes. Although actresses were sporting short skirts but the kind of voice ruled on public demand was a silken, satin, feminine one. So, I don’t know if that is a trend and I don’t care either if it is one. Fact is, I am here to stay and I think my voice is an asset. It sets me apart from the crowd. It gives me an identity and I love it. Today, I have learnt to use it as a tool and mould it in my advantage to croon with power. When I sing, I feel every note and I hope to ring the same bell in people’s hearts. So yes, I would like to call my vocals a soulful expression.
How tough is it to sustain as an independent artiste in the blitzkrieg of Bollywood movie music which enjoys a monopoly to outshine and eat into the spaces of other platforms of music?
It is tough dear. Well for that matter, nothing that you desire in life comes easy on your platter. I guess good things always tag along with a price, which is to work really hard to sustain not just as an independent performer but as an artiste in any given industry. So I fathom, we need a bit of both. It is actually very important to effectively balance the two out. I think after delivering a lot of labour, witnessing failures and possessing a tenacity of not giving up easily and being absolutely obstinate, I have been able to pedal both at this point of my life.
Is any album/single in the works?
I am constantly working on singles. So, you may definitely expect a string of songs coming out this year. It would comprise some Punjabi folk and a slew of originals along with lots of collaboration planned out for the remaining year. So hey, there’s loads coming up!
What musical genres or which artistes you generally prefer listening to? What or who’s currently on your I-pod?
My musical choices are eclectic. From pop, pop rock, classic rock to a bit of hip-hop, dance music and jazz, I have a generous mix on my playlist. The artistes am currently tuning in to are definitely my favourites. To overcome a lousy day, the best of Billie Holiday works wonders. I just love lending an ear to her. Among the current artistes, I like some music of Kendrick Lamar, Charlie Puth, Ariana Grande, Sam Smith and Adele. The two artistes from our generation that I really worship are definitely Beyoncé and Pink. It’s not just because they are great singers but because they are great performers as well. My all-time favourite as most aficionados of the 90’s would agree is none other than the king of pop Michael Jackson.
Any national/international collaboration lined up?
An array of collaborations will be unveiled very soon, one of which is not my own venture but a project in association with a channel. Also, another lies on the anvil, surprisingly not with a singer but a very famous actor-dancer. This apart, some synergies are coming up at the national level. As far as international alliances are concerned, I would really love to deliver one but nothing is in the pipeline to speak of for the moment.
You also have an affinity with Punjabi folk songs. How did it get ingrained in your system?
I grew up listening to Punjabi folk songs sung by my mother, grandmother and all the women in the family. My mom and grand mom were great singers with a god-gifted voice. I think that element is in my DNA. Folk music is something that happened to me by destiny and I have a natural liking for it. I thoroughly enjoy while performing it and feel a sense of empathy and responsibility to take it forward and cement it into the hearts of the current generation. Folk as a tradition, should be carried forward I personally believe.
Do you want to someday produce good music in order to promote true and pure talent?
I am creating a sense of consciousness by producing high-quality, wholesome music. I like to think of myself as an idealist and a purist. With regard to springboarding other talents, yes! I keep trying to empower people on the digital podium. I also coordinated with a dancer from the USA on this front. She is a YouTuber and not many people knew about her. I had a wonderful opportunity to vibe with her and bring her aboard to connect to my songs. I do look forward to working with people of different capacities. I would also wish to team up with choreographers, who are great dancers or singers. Trust me, I love scouting talent and doing my small bit into that direction to render people with a real chance at art.
Currently, your version of ‘Dil Diya Gallan’ is also winning accolades all over. What’s so special about this song that it’s already a superhit love anthem and everybody’s humming it day in day out?
I think ‘Dil Diya Gallan’ is one of my favourite songs I have ever lent my vocal chords to. I absolutely love the composition and have even complimented Vishal and Shekhar sir on their magical score. I told the duo that I simply marvel at the way they set the song into tune and the words written by eminent lyricist Irshad Kamil too descend soulfully on the ears. I feel that I couldn’t have been more blessed to gain an opportunity to do a beautiful unplugged version of the melodious romantic number. Arranger Sameeruddin with whom I do all my folk songs deserves a line of special mention here. He has designed and produced the earthy sound and music of my spin-off of the chart-bursting track. It warms up my heart every time I perform it on stage and something always stirs me up internally when I sing that song. It is always a fulfilling experience.
Talk to us about your recent performance at Goa Fest 2018.
Performing at the Goa Fest 2018 was definitely a dream come true tryst for me. It is because the local audience is the kind of mob I, as an artiste, usually yearn to belt out songs for. There the masses understand my music, comprehend my eccentricity as an artiste, understand my bizarre fashion sense, appreciate the mismatch of audio-visual appeal that I put up while chanting out folksy flavours yet wearing wacky clothes at the same time. I would like to say that I am kind of in and out-of-the-box and they are open to it. They are the kind of audience that I love. Their applause still resounds in my senses! Besides, the organisers were admirably great and true blue professionals.
Tell us something about the success of your recent single ‘Chitta Kukkad’ that received over one million views.
‘Chitta Kukkad’ is one of my favourite folk songs and I have sung it in traditional lyrics. Punjabi Tappe singers originally sing this song in a question and answer format but I sang it in a more conventional way wherein I spoke about the importance of daughters in a family. The song has been on the to-do-list of my team for a very long time now and after my fans voted for ‘Chitta Kukkad’ on my Instagram against another folk song, we decided that we definitely gotta give it a go. It makes me immensely happy to see that the song was very well received. We did it absolutely acoustically with live percussions, live strings and live guitars to make sure that it is done very organically.
In today’s digital era, it’s a norm for every artiste to interact with their fans through social media. How active are you in this area? And do you also at the same time feel that too much proximity and exposure with celebrities might kill their fantasy and mystery elements?
I am very much active on social media, albeit not on all leading networking sites. I used to be quite regular though once. I am pretty updated on YouTube as that’s the best medium to connect with my fans via music. Currently, I am in love with Instagram. I think it’s because you get an outlet to let your fans see the real side of you. Earlier, the celebrities were like distant stars in the sky whom we loved a lot but never got a wind of who they really were. The general perception rules that on-screen personas or performers behind the mikes tend to be perfect but this notion can be misleading at times. I make a deliberate effort to spread the message of love and kindness plus launch a crusade against bullying, eve teasing and molestation. I believe in using my platform in the right spirit and be highly honest about it. I don’t really give two hoots about what people think about me. I am here to be me and I am really proud of who I am.