Less than eight years ago, a teenage girl impressed Sanjay Leela Bhansali so much that he made her the voice of Paro in Devdas. In 2009, she straddles the top stratum alone, with close contenders but no equals. Whenever that rare high-calibre song
is created today, Shreya Ghoshal is the first choice. Here’s the Prima Donna of playback in conversation with Screen. Excerpts
For many years, two or three singers shared the top slot in female playback. Now there seems be only you. How does that feel?
I don’t think that’s true, but yes, songs are being made specifically and specially with me in mind. From time to time there is always a change in the way music
is made and used, depending upon the kind of films coming out too. So I am somehow associated with the more melodious or soft kind of songs that require gaayaki.
What is your take on music today and which way do you think the winds are blowing?
I do not think that there is one genre of music anymore. There are lots of different films being made – interesting ones and some intellectual ones along with the mainstream kind. A lot of both kinds of films need music to support the specific story, and according to me, that means good music. For example, I think that Dev D had pathbreaking music.
But it suffered because the album seemed like a variegated compilation of songs. There was no thematic thread and no visual connect with a situation, which is increasingly being seen.
Yes, we are using songs more in the Western way and this does shorten the life-span of a song. So that proves what I am saying, that two parallel schools are running simultaneously in the way music is being used today in Hindi cinema.
What have you to say about the fact that the proper, true-blue playback singers’ ratio of songs has come down, and that anybody and everybody sings for Hindi films today?
I think that we proper playback singers have always been there in the best of songs. Yes, there is a lot of experimentation going on with things like voice, tones and singing and some of these voices are doing good work. Luck plays a huge role in a singer’s career and so does the quality and likeability of his or her voice and singing style. The good people among such talents need to come in too. But the trend is that people love every new voice, and I am amused when someone like Atif Aslam gets so much work. My own brother likes him but I cannot understand why and how. I suppose it has to do with some exotic new tenor, but for me there is no substitute for proper singing. And please do not misunderstand me – I have nothing against any nationality. Adnan Sami, for example, adds something to every song he sings and also is a very talented composer.
This phenomenon, luckily, is more among male singers, where even most of the music directors are singing.
True, but what a singer can add to a song a music director may not be able to match, despite the song being his creation. But it’s not as if Sunidhi Chauhan and I and all of us are all that lucky – we have very little songs to sing now, compared to the male singers! Tum Mileand Rocket Singh are examples where there is no female song at all!
What about the change in equation – first ranks the sound, hooks and grooves, then the novel voice and lastly the lyrical value and compositional calibre, when good music always has exactly opposite priorities?
I don’t think that good lyrics will ever go out of fashion. Yes, some people have this problem, but there are others who get around even this obstacle in clever ways. Like Vishal Bhardwaj adopts today’s trends in his own unique way and it sounds great – the music has calibre and is accepted. We have to understand here that a lot of the old songs were too loud and overdressed. The trend today is to keep sound arrangements sparse and clean, unless a huge sound is really needed for a song. A classic example of this is Himesh Reshammiyaji’s Radio.Today’s major music directors have brought in this really refreshing change. The right dressing for a song is important.
Having said that, I agree that today’s musical requirements are as much based on fixed ideas as in olden times – they want two songs for the pubs, one romantic track, one Punjabi and one hip-hop number, because that’s what works.
But does it? The most-promoted single or at best one more song works. Aren’t physical sales down because there is no album that has uniformly good songs? And they blame poor sales on piracy and digital downloads.
I completely agree. They have this wrong conception that a single ‘hit’ track will make an album work. But even the audience today really has no time to analyse a song and listen to it with rapt attention and eyes closed! We are in a really bad situation where some great songs go waste, so the joy of getting and singing such songs is diluted. For every Teri ore that works in Singh Is Kinng there are songs like Dil leke dard-e-dil (Wanted) and Tumne socha (Main Aur Mrs Khanna) that are sidelined, and for every Zooby dooby (3 Idiots) we have the beautiful Kyon, which I think was the best song in Kambakkht Ishq that was not promoted the way Om mangalam was! I have now got some good songs coming up in Dulha Mil Gaya and Chance Pe Dance. And Veer has really good music. Let’s see…
Would you agree that your songs in Radio are among your best in recent times?
Completely – it is one of the most frequently-played CDs in my home for a good while, and not because four songs are sung by me. Himeshji is amazing. The clean sound and interesting lyrics – even if they are not uber-cool – keep you hooked. I also do not agree with those who say that Himeshji is a non-singer. Shaam ho chali hai was a challenge for me as I have never sung so low in my career – it was challenging to sing in kharaj here. The contrast he has managed between my portions in Teri meri dosti ka aasmaan and his high-pitched segments is awesome.
He even gave you the superb Om namah Shivay in Banaras.
True again – and there is always a demand for that song in every show I do – it’s one of the very few devotional songs I have ever sung. The great thing about Himeshji is that the voice is prioritised in his songs, not the orchestration. Similarly Shantanu Moitra also likes to highlight the voice and I love his music for 3 Idiots. And though I like my song Zooby dooby my favourite is Behti hawa sa tha woh.
Three names that have nurtured you a lot are hardly active today – your first composer Ismail Darbar, Anu Malik and M.M.Kreem. Don’t you miss them?
Of course I do. Some of my best songs came from Anuji. Ismailji also gave me wonderful songs aftre Devdas. And M.M.Kreem is someone I have really missed, especially his music. He was such an intelligent man who has given so many touching songs. I am very happy that besides Pritamda’s Yeh ishq haaye for Jab We Met, I have won my other National awards for Kreemsaab’s Dheere jalna in Paheli and Ismailji’s Bairi piya for Devdas.
All these have been for Hindi films, though you sing so much in regional cinema too.
Yes, I have sung in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Marathi, Bhojpuri and others. In Bengali, my mother-tongue, I have been singing regularly, and there has been a surge of musicals there though the Hindi film industry has been going through a low phase. My film Antaheen’s music album had an unplugged sound that went against the trend and was more of an album. It was top of the charts for 27 weeks. The music is by Jeet Ganguly, who is doing a fantastic job.
He also gave you the lovely Jhilmil in the Hindi Cheenti Cheenti Bang Bang last year.
Oh, you remember that song? It was beautiful, a duet with Shaan.
That reminds me – somehow, Shaan and you seem to be getting the cream of melodious duets, usually together, but sometimes separately!
Yes, we have realised and discussed this!
Finally, what is the difference between Shreya Ghoshal and her Devdas, Jism and Saaya days and the Shreya of today?
Well, as a singer I have definitely grown. My voice has changed from the girlish tenor of those days and I have acquired some knowledge and experience and that makes me enjoy my work more. I am now able to give some inputs to a song, and this helps new composers especially while also giving me immense pleasure in contributing to my song. I can say this much with confidence – that I now have a sound of my own.