Kunal Ganjawala was noticed first with O humdum suniyo re in Saathiya and consolidated his career with Bheegey honth tere from Murder and Janaab-e-aali from Bardasht. Screen chats up the singer, whose recent outings are in Tum Milo Toh Sahi, Sadiyaan and Raavan
It’s 15 years since you first hit the playback scene with Saajan Chale Sasural.
Oh, that was just about two lines. The credit for introducing me goes to Ranjit Barot, who took me to several people in the ad circuit and also gave me work himself. Lesllie Lewis was the first to give me workâ€“the hugely-popular jingle Doodh doodh for the Operation Flood campaign in 1993. Nadeem-Shravan gave me a couple of lines in the film you mentioned and a song in Saat Rang Ke Sapne but the song that drew attention was A.R.Rahman’s O humdum suniyo re from Saathiya. Around that time Anu (Malik)ji had also given me songs in Ab Ke Baras and Badhaai Ho Badhaai while Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy gave me four multi-singer songs in Yeh Kya Ho Raha Hai.
Post-Lakeer in 2004, you never sang for Rahman till Raavan.
But that’s Rahmanji. After singers make it big, Rahman moves on to other newcomers. He never used KK for years till recently and has not taken Sonu Niigaam for a long while. That’s how he treats us male singers at least – he gives them a launch-pad and then leaves them to their own. Rahman also likes his singers “ready”, that is, he wants those who know their job and are quick on their uptakes, because he has no time. Rahman also is one of those very few composers who genuinely listen to demo tapes from fresh voices whenever he has the time. I am now singing again for his Hindi version of Boys – I had sung some songs even in the Tamil version.
I have seen only two music directors who look at new singers with this approach – Rahman-sir and Anu Malikji.
And Anu’s Bheegey honth tere breakthrough.
Anu is in the true sense a music director and has given the right breaks to so many talents. After Saathiya, Anu called me up to congratulate me. “You are fantastic, Kunal, and I promise you that your next big hit will be with me!” That was in 2002. During Diwali 2003, he called me for a song recording the same evening. I was in a dilemma. Our family building downtown was due for pull down and it was to be the last Diwali the joint and extended family would be celebrating together. I called up Anu’s arranger Bipin Panchal, who simply said, ‘Come, or you will regret it. It’s a very important song and Anu has been fighting for you! We will leave you in an hour!’ I learnt the song in 30 minutes. Anu made it very clear that I was to make the song sound different. He said that Sayeed Quadrisaab, the lyricist and he had re-created the Pakistani song by Najam. After that song, I never looked back.
Anu’s a star-maker, Anu creates patterns that others follows. He is the only composer who fights for his singers – like he did with a big name for Sunidhi Chauhan over the title-song of Ajnabee and set her on the fast-track by breaking her “item” singer pattern.
Did you relish the controversy that was there on Bheegey honth tere?
There was no real controversy over this song. Due permissions had been taken and credit and moneys given. Even the way we re-did the song actually gave the original artiste some publicity. That original song never became popular and has been long forgotten, while ours is a cult song now. We were at a show in Dubai where Najam made some snide remarks about Indians and me to the audience. But I publicly set the record straight!
You also became very busy from 2004.
A luck would have it, 2004 also saw Janaab-e-aali from Himesh(Reshammiya)ji in Bardaasht, his Gonna fall in love from Taarzan and three lovely numbers from Sandesh’s Uff!… Kya Jaadoo Mohabbat Hai. Himesh and Sandesh have been very loyal to me – I have sung about a hundred songs for Himesh – even more than Anuji- and Sandesh’s Woh jo bekhauf mohabbat from Tum Milo Toh Sahi and so many others have been such lovely songs. As for Himeshji, his Dil keh rahaa hai from Kyon Ki… is the song with which I open all my concerts, while the other huge songs include Lut jayenge (Aksar) and Dil vich lagiya ve (Chup Chup Ke).
Who else would you say contributed to your success?
Oh, I have met only fantastic people here! I have sung for composers big and small and senior and contemporary.
Taking a brief digression, your wife Gayatri Iyer, is barely heard this days.
I think that I must use this opportunity to tell you that she’s a West End actor and singer who performed for 18 months in London and was the leading lady of The Far Pavilions. Because of this she could not capitalise on the success of her songs in Black, Salaam Namaste and Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd.. R.Balki loves her voice and they have done a lot of advertising work together. But when he wanted to take her to Ilaiyaraja for Cheeni Kum she was in London and when he wanted her for Paa she had a serious acute disease. But now things are happening.
You too have been singing less off-late. Why is that?
All of us singers are getting less work, as music directors are opting to sing themselves! I see a trend coming where like in the West we singers too will turn into composers! Singers have to be cast. Kishore Kumar, Rafisaab and Mukeshji were cast. But I personally have no complaints. I have been getting some fantastic songs in Bengali – largely for Jeet Ganguly – and also in Marathi mainly for Ajay-Atul – mark my words, they will be the biggest names in Indian music in the next ten years! – and I have a great stock of film songs too, apart from my pop numbers. And that’s not too bad for a guy like me who, till 1990, did not even want to be a singer, or dream that he would ever make a living out of singing.
If the scenario is so clear and needs a change, why is no one initiating a change or even a necessary kranti?
That’s because unlike America we are not a true democracy! We need to speak our voices out much much louder! We need filmmakers who give music that same importance and let songs have a key participation in the structure of their films like Manmohan Desai, Nasir Husain and others did. Thankfully, a few names like the Roshans are still there.
Finally, we almost imitate the composer in so many songs, like in Sadiyaan’s Pehla pehla tajurba hain you sound so much like Adnan Sami, in So jaaoon main from Zeher like Roopkumar Rathod, and in Sabse peeche hum khade in Aao Wish Karein to Ankur Tewari and Mikey Mcleary. Do you need to go so far instead of being yourself?
In this matter, I emulate Lata (Mangeshkar)ji. She once told me that her foremost effort with diverse composers like Madan(Mohan)ji, Burmanda, Salilda, Laxmikant-Pyarelal or someone else was “Main unnka gaana gaaoon.” She told me that whenever a composer left her to be herself, she never brought in their inflections. Over a period of time I have realised that all our greatest playback singers have been great interpreters.
In Saawariya, Murder and Saathiya, I was given complete freedom. But to impart the structure and feel a song demands, I think that I should go close to a composer as possible. Mikey Mcleary and his co-composer Ankur Tewari are completely Western in their way of making a song. I could not add some completely diverse tenor to their song.