A versatile singer who balances work and home is finally getting heard. Rekha Bhardwaj on her journey so far
When Delhi-6 director Rakeysh Mehra first heard Rekha Bhardwaj sing, he told her husband, filmmaker Vishal Bhardwaj, "Aise lagta hai jaise 400 saal purani awaaz sun rahein hain (it seems as if we are listening to a 400-year-old voice)." The reticent A.R. Rahman promised Rekha a solo song because he "didn't want to waste" her in a chorus song.
Such accolades are hard to come by in showbiz. But they do to Bhardwaj-she of the soothing voice and earthy notes. Be it the sensuous Namak from Omkara, the raw Phoonk de (No Smoking), the harkats of Ehi thaiyaa motiya (Laaga Chunari Mein Daag), the mischief of Genda phool or the seductive Raat ke dhaai baje (Kaminey), Bhardwaj is on a song.
But when we catch up with her on a busy morning, music is far from her mind. Her 14-year-old son, Aasman, wants to know the exact date when he had chicken-pox and typhoid so that he can fill an admission form. The cook wants to know what to make for "sir". A minute's discussion reveals that her film-maker husband will be having "dalia and moong dal" for lunch while for the rest of his crew who are in the office for a meeting will be served "aloo palak and bhurji."
"No matter how successful you become, household chores never leave you," says Bhardwaj, who takes her home as seriously as her songs. And even though she admits she's "managing only 2.5 hours of riyaaz when she should be doing four hours", she doesn't regret playing wife and mother. "I love to cook. Vishal says that when I cook, he doesn't fall ill," she says. But when she's recording, she "switches off" from the world.
Bhardwaj's songs may have only recently become popular but her tryst with music began when she was a child. "My father was very keen that my sister and I learn classical music. We didn't cut cakes on birthdays, we used to have baithak where we were encouraged to sing thumri, ghazal or bandish," she says.
At the age of 12, she enrolled at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and studied under the tutelage of Pandit Amar Nath, who advised her to eat well for the "strength for your voice to come out". Later, she graduated in music from Delhi's Hindu College. The learning is still on. In fact, she's looking forward for a trip to Delhi so that she could spend "five days in learning" from the seniormost disciple of her deceased guru, Amarjeet Kaur.
She also inspired her husband to pursue music seriously. "Vishal had a film background as his father was a lyricist but he wasn't serious about his music and was hell-bent on becoming a cricketer. He used to write ghazal whereas I was the star of the college," she says. A comment by her on his ghazal writing skills was conveyed to him by a common friend at college, motivating him to learn music. "He decided to learn music so that he could impress me," she says.
It was now Vishal's turn to inspire his wife to sing professionally. On her husband's insistence and Gulzar's encouragement, Bhardwaj released her Sufi-inspired album, Ishqa Ishqa in 2004. Though it got critical acclaim, Bhardwaj didn't get a single call for work. "I think people had this misconception that I will only sing for my husband," she says. Music director Shamir Tandon was one of the first ones to offer her a song for the film, Red Swastik. Vishal, of course, had used her voice in films like Jahan Tum Le Chalo, Maqbool and Chachi 420.
But the big hit was still elusive. "Vishal would say that it'll all change the day he comes up with a melancholic, soulful song." That was Namak. And the rest is history. Bhardwaj though, had almost backed out from singing it. "Vishal's pressure and the variations in the composition scared me. I backed out. Vishal played the recording of the rehearsal to me. That gave me confidence," she recalls.
That confidence is now reaping more hits. Her songs have earned her a cult following. She tells us of a man in Delhi who's so enamoured by Genda phool that he has started a business of distributing marigold seeds. "He wants me to come to Delhi to inaugurate it. It's like a Genda phool movement," she says.
She attributes her current fan following to Rahman, whom she admires so much that she "couldn't sleep the night before I met him and even bought a new kurta for the meeting. I found that so strange about myself but then it's Rahman," she says.
Though she loves music, she's not too comfortable with playback singing. "It was never my dream to sing for films. My ultimate aim is to learn classical music," she says.
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