First of all, how are you coping with the lockdown-like situation?
I think we were more prepared for the first one, and now it’s getting a little (difficult). But, I just hope that everyone’s listening to the rules and staying safe. I think this time medically (the lockdown) has been a lot worse. So I hope that everyone’s just doing their bit and the best that they can do to be safe.
From singing various songs in multiple languages to winning hearts and awards… how do look at your journey so far?
It has been an incredible journey! There’s so much joy in living the dream, singing for films. I am very grateful and take so much pride in being able to do that every day. I didn’t think I would be making an identity, and a profession out of music. So, (I’m) happy that I’m getting to do that. I’m trying to make the best of it even during the first lockdown, and even now, I’m at it. This is a profession where the work never stops. You’re constantly working, whether it’s (during the) working hours or in the middle of the night. Inspiration comes at any time, so I think it’s our responsibility also to keep making music and keep spreading positivity.
In your debut song, ‘Raabta’, you got a chance to sing for Deepika Padukone and Sushant Singh Rajput…
Raabta was my first Bollywood track, so it was a really cool way of entering the industry. Deepika (Padukone) is the queen herself. She is one of the biggest actors in the country and it was such a big film. Pritam da was the composer of the song, so I don’t think anyone could have asked for a better debut in the industry, and I’m so grateful for that. I’ve been fortunate (enough) to work with such wonderful people. Whether it’s my friends, the engineers, the musicians in Pritam da’s families, the studio family, or whether it’s the other composers who I have gotten to work with. It’s really something (special) when you get to work with such great human beings. So, I think that’s the best part about these songs.
Nikhita, while you were working on Raabta, did you meet Sushant Singh Rajput?
Not when I was working on it, but I did go to the premiere of the film at YRF (Studios). So, that was when I met Kriti Sanon and Sushant Singh Rajput. It was just a five-minute interaction, but everything that happened (Sushant’s demise), it’s very heartbreaking, especially when you meet somebody, and you know how charming the smile is, and how bubbly is the personality. I think we live in a world where a lot of that is happening, so the only thing we can do is be careful and cherish the people we have around us.
During both the lockdowns, Bollywood lost some fine musical artists. Some of them committed suicide, while a few of them lost their battle against COVID…
Firstly, I think, it is not just the music industry; I think the whole world is going through this, it’s just that we are in the public eyes. So, I think everybody is suffering some kind of loss, even at this very moment. We are living in a time where everybody knows somebody either directly or indirectly, and everybody knows that the entire world is going through a loss. We can’t really stop it from happening. At the same time, we can do our bit by being careful and staying home. I think the only request for everybody is to stay at home and don’t overcrowd because the entire human race is going through an unusual phase. So, it is not all about Bollywood and the singers, and I think this is something that we all need to understand. I think it’s (coronavirus is) giving us a new perspective towards understanding the value of life, being kind to each other, and being good to our loved ones. Since you mentioned suicide and other mental health catastrophes that are happening, I think that is also a topic that has reached the surface. I’m happy that a lot of celebrities have spoken about it, which is great, and it’s important to address this issue. I think we do need to appreciate each other and keep each other happy because the power of happiness is underestimated so many times. Maintaining a positive attitude leads to a healthy life.
Even though ‘Jab Harry Met Sejal’ didn’t work at the box office, your song was immensely popular. How was your experience working with talents like director Imtiaz Ali, Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma?
The song, ‘Ghar’, is probably the most special song of my career. I’m so grateful to Irshad Kamil sir, Imtiaz sir, Pritam da, and everybody who made that song what it is. I’m only one aspect of it; the song has found its listeners on its own. ‘Ghar’ was the song that released after the film (got) released, and every other song got promoted before (the release). Even though the song was not promoted, it reached a lot of people. Now, the song has become an anthem for the lockdown, the magical lyrics are now more relatable. Thus, this song will always be special to me.
While working on the film, did you get an opportunity to know Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma?
Well, usually the process of understanding the plot is different for different songs because you end up recording different songs at different times. Sometimes the song is recorded even before the film is shot, sometimes it’s while the film is being shot, and sometimes it’s just before the release. So, you don’t really depend on each experience. Particularly with ‘Ghar’, the film had been shot or was still being shot, and I just had a brief about the style of singing. Since it’s a very Indian melody, they didn’t want it to sound like a ghazal or too classical, they just wanted it to sound real. They wanted to strike a balance between Western and Indian melodies. I think this is the only song that I have dubbed for. The track was ready, and I just kept singing it in a loop, around 20 times, and then, we just took the best take. So, I had no idea about the plot or the scene. Once I saw the movie, I got to see how the song really fit into the film and how it got picturised on Shah Rukh Khan and Anushka Sharma.
AR Rahman has been an integral part of your career. You also sang for Tamil, Telugu, and Bengali films. So, how do you manage to sing in multiple languages?
I started my career with Rahman sir, with the movie ‘I’ (2015). It was a multilingual big-budget film, with Vikram as the protagonist. That was my first big solo, and then I sang a lot of regional songs. I worked with renowned composers like Anirudh (Ravichander), Harris Jayaraj, and wonderful composers. So, it is a very unique experience to sing in a language that you don’t speak, because you get to be someone else, but at the same time, it is difficult too. It’s kind of acting, where you are playing a character that speaks and sings in that language. I am so grateful to all of it because that’s what led (me) to Bollywood. I still sing for regional films.
Please tell me about your upcoming projects, what are you working on?
Like last year, I’m working on a lot of singles that I’ve composed and produced. Last year, I released a song called ‘Khudh Ko Hi Paake’ in association with MTV, which celebrated the LGBTQI community. There were many other independent songs that I’ve made and released last year. There was a single in English, a recreation of a famous bhajan. So, there’s a lot of new stuff in the pipeline. I’m also working on international collaborations as well. So, there is a whole bunch of music coming your way.
When you sing a qawwali or a bhajan, how do you identify and cater to your audience?
I think it depends on the song. I don’t really think too much about it, and I don’t want to confine myself to one singular kind of audience. I think my films (songs) have also been like that. Each song has been different from the other. Some have been very commercial, and I’ve done a lot of English collaborations with artists from abroad. Even there is a different audience (who) don’t listen to my Bollywood songs. So, I don’t really try to think about who I cater to. I just take each song as it is, and try to do it the best possible way.
The music industry has gone through an evolution of digitalisation. We have come a long way–from the tape recorder to online streaming…
Everything is being consumed online. For example, most of us don’t even have cable (television). We get entertained by these OTT platforms. I think everything is moving towards digital, and music is no exception to that. Although I have a mixed feeling (towards digitalization). You can’t really take away that feeling of buying a cassette or buying a CD. But the different kind of consumption of music gives more scope to the art and the artists. With audio streaming platforms, it’s so easy to put your music out there. So, I think it’s very empowering that everything is online which makes it more accessible and exciting. A lot of independent artists have emerged, and that’s one (of the) great things that has happened from digitalization.
Since you have collaborated with international artists as well, what is the one factor you like about the music industry of our country?
What’s unique about India is that we are very film-centric. This is one of the major differences between our country and other countries. Abroad, the music is consumed differently. Right now, we’re at a junction; where we are going towards that (westernized music) as well, and we are (maintaining to be) film-centric. There are a lot of new things happening in our country…in the music industry. Independent music is emerging, I think Punjab is a great example of that. There are a lot of independent artists, there is rap, and even hip hop is also growing, so we are living in an interesting time. I think it’s a time of change, and a time for (accepting) new things. So, as an artist, it makes it very exciting to be a part of that generation of music.
On one hand we are seeing the emergence of budding talented singers, on the other hand, we see veteran artists like Sonu Nigam, Shaan criticising the current scenario. What is your view on this issue?
I don’t know what to say about that because I’m on the same side of the story. But I think this is a question that probably directors, producers, and labels would be able to answer. I think what you are referring to, especially with Sonu (Nigam) ji is not to do with struggling with songs, but I think it was his argument with a label, and I think his relationship with that particular label. So, as a singer, I can say that there is a need for a structure. I think there is a lot of unionization for actors, for industry workers, for composers, and even writers to an extent, but (there is) not so much support for singers. So, where they are coming from is something that probably we will also face in a few years. So, I think the problem is probably there is no structure or no royalty system. However, as far as I know, that (issue) is coming into place.
I have joined IPRS (The Indian Performing Right Society) and other bodies. There is another Singers Association body that has been formed, so they are trying to reform the problem of lacking the structure. It’s (the music industry) not a government job or a job in a private company, where you know you get a pension or a salary. It’s a much-unstructured industry, and as singers, I think it’s the least structured for us. So, I completely understand and I hope that this is what you’re talking about. The structure is needed, and it’s great that generations before us are voicing this because I think they are making it better for us, and them. But I think it’s going to help us more, because now this is coming into place, and because it’s coming into place, it’s definitely going to help us and those who join the industry in the coming years.
It’s great that you opened up on this burning issue. Please continue…
A lot of veterans, a lot of renounced artists, who I look (upto), not just singers, but composers, writers have brought this issue of royalties and the collection of royalties (to the forefront). I have been reading about it and trying to understand this better. See, there’s no course like, how to be a singer. Nobody really educates you on these topics. But, the good news is that there are being bodies (who has been) put into place. The structure will look after the collection of royalties on whatever song you sing…even if it’s not yours, like a film song, where you don’t have (the right to) claim in the intellectual property. There is a system that is being put into place.
Lastly, one message that you would like to give to your fans in the current situation…
It is a very difficult time, and there’s bad news everywhere, there’s suffering everywhere. It’s just so important to act fast. If you’re feeling a little unwell, stay home, and distance yourself. If somebody is struggling, it’s important to act fast and to make sure that everybody gets medical care. There are very simple medications that are available. Taking the medicines on time is also crucially important because the hospitals are completely overflowing with patients. If you are sick, please take the COVID protocol medications, as prescribed in time. Don’t act with negligence, because things are escalating quickly. So just follow the rules, stay safe and stay positive.
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