You made your playback debut in Bollywood with Nadeem Shravan. Shravan Rathod ji left for his heavenly abode this year. What are your fondest memories with the composer duo?
Sadly, we lost Shravan ji. I was in touch with him. He had also visited my official residence in Delhi quite a few times in the last few years after I shifted to the Capital for political reasons. He has always been a warm person. He used to go out wearing good clothes, apply good perfume, and wear various stylish sunglasses. He was a great music director! We have had RD Burman and others in the golden era of Indian music. But there was a time when music directors took a back seat in the mid-’80s when the star culture started growing. Nadeem-Shravan became so big at the time that they insisted on having their picture on the posters of the film. They delivered so many back-to-back hits that music companies were happy to put their picture on the posters and hoardings.
I remember Nadeem bhai signing a note and giving it to me after I sang, ‘Aati Hai Toh Chal Tu Mere Saath Mein’ for ‘Saath Rang Ke Sapne’ in 1998. He wrote, ‘To my dear panther’. I have cherished that gift and have it framed and displayed in my house. Losing Shravan ji is a personal loss for me and a great loss to the music industry as well.
After your sabbatical, you came back with ‘Shayera’. How did that happen?
I have never been on a sabbatical. I have been busy with many other things but it would be very disloyal of me to not respect the free gift that I got from God, and the legacy that I have got from my family. I believe that I am at the best of my singing abilities right now; even my colleagues tell me that I sound much better now. As a singer, I think your voice reaches its peak in the mid-’40s, and keeps growing. If you keep doing your riyaaz, you can be good till your ’60s. We have seen so many legendary singers do that. Asha Bhosle ji is still doing it in her ’80s. She can sing anything even today.
I came back with ‘Shayera’, which was a fantastic experience. But I am disappointed that FM and TV music channels do not play non-film music like before. Be it me or Hariharan ji, Shaan, Sonu Nigam, Lucky Ali and others.–people still remember us for our early music videos. We have come up with music even after that, but people barely get to listen to it because it doesn’t get played much. It is very cruel for them to decide that they will not play non-film music. Bollywood music should not be the only arena where newcomers can showcase their talent.
A lot of new and talented singers have emerged from reality shows. They earn fame and money but what after that? Very few of these reality stars have ventured into Bollywood music. They are capable of doing independent music but they have to be supported to ensure that they do get a chance. There is only good music and bad music. If the song is good, people will get hooked to it. Not leaving enough space for independent music is pretty sad. I hope it changes.
You can check the song on Youtube. I don’t buy views. The comments from my colleagues will speak volumes about the song. It should have been much more popular. But, of course, I cannot compete with big music labels for whom 800-900 million views is not a big deal today.
From amongst the new crop of singers, who do you think has the most potential?
The best thing that has happened to Bollywood in a long time is Arijit Singh. I have not seen a more versatile singer than him. He is someone who can emote every emotion with much elan. I don’t aspire to be a music director, but if I did, I would make sure I sing at least one song in the movie and the rest 2-3 songs will be sung by Arijit; he is that good. He has been singing his best; he has a great present and I am sure it will transcend into a great future as well. I look forward to hearing many more gems from this great talent.
Apart from him, I feel Jonita Gandhi is a good singer. I love the way she sings. Even my four-year-old daughter loves her voice. Jubin Nautiyal and Ash King are good too. There are many who are waiting to get a chance.
Lately, the music industry has been plagued by accusations of music mafias and favouritism. You have been long enough in this industry to know the truth. Have you experienced any such thing in your career?
I don’t really want to comment on this. People who have been in the industry know it. Be it nepotism, casting couch or music mafias–there is a little bit of everything in the industry. We cannot deny it.
Does your daughter Sharmilee have singing aspirations?
Yes, she has completely immersed herself into music. I am really grateful to Pritam for taking her under his wings and giving her an opportunity to learn and work with him in close quarters. She is also singing, along with learning the other things that go on in the studio. She is assisting him and is a part of his team. I am really looking forward to her making a career in music and making us all proud.
Even my younger one is extremely connected with music. I often see her taking a mobile and singing the song ‘Manike Mage Hithe’. I am not going to force them into this but it would really be great to see both my daughters make a career in music.
The trend of independent music is back. How do you look at it as a singer?
I am happy that the independent music trend is back. However, the album culture is not going to be back, but so be it. One single in one year is good enough. Let’s be hopeful that all these unfair practices of not playing non-film music on FM and TV channels are rethought. There is no reason to believe that independent music is not going to make a big comeback.
Who has been your all-time favourite female co-singer?
Alka Yagnik ji is definitely my all-time favourite female co-singer. I have sung a lot of songs with her. I have also sung some great songs with Shreya Ghoshal.