Listen, It’s Shreya Ghoshal!
By Binoy Thomas
I couldn’t give up a chance to meet someone who can move my grandchild, like the way Shreya Ghoshal does. Every time she is in a bad mood or throwing a tantrum (my granddaughter Nyla, not Shreya who you will shortly learn is seldom in a bad mood and rarely ever throws a tantrum), hit the play button Chikni chameli… and she forgets everything and starts moving, even though she is yet to start to walk.
Well, here I am sitting next to her in a suburban hotel lobby, a day after her sold-out performance at Mississauga’s Hershey Centre, (promoted locally by Simi Mahajan of National Institute of Hair & Aesthetics and Mohinder Singh of Eglington Carpet), wanting to know more about the person behind the voice. I don’t want to disappoint the chikni fans, but dudes (that’s a term that Shreya used), the song is not on her No.1 list. “Not really,” she says of the monster hit. “I knew that it will become very popular. I have that sense to know which song is going to work, and I knew Chikni will.” And yet, Chikni is something that came her way, an item song, that Shreya interpreted to make it a classic hit. She is closer to the more intensely romantic songs that perhaps reflect her own personality, like Tum ko lekar… from Jism. She says that ‘jaadu hai nasha hai… from the same film is more popular, but she prefers the other. But don’t ask her for a song that she would like to be remembered by. First of all, she is, for all practical purposes, just about getting started even after a decade of super success. Second, that song has not been set to music yet. “I am yet to sing that one song that will define me, like Joan Baez’ Diamonds And Rust,” Shreya says.
Now, where did this girl who grew up in Rajasthan, born in a Bengali Hindu family, and learned the notes as a teenager in Mumbai, got to hit up on a legendary track like Diamonds and Rust? I have no idea. Maybe it just speaks to the way Shreya has been groomed all her life to be where she is currently, undoubtedly right on the top, threatening to topple the records set by her own idol – Lata Mangeshkar. Mind you, Shreya is still a distance away from the ‘nightingale of India’, but she has a whole lifetime, and fortunately, a whole lot of new languages, to display her considerable talent.
She is perhaps the only Bollywood based singer to have picked up a Best Song award in several other languages, like Tamil and Malayalam. And given the touchy nature of the purists in these language groups, it’s quite remarkable. She says, ” I think I have been blessed in that respect. I have been always a curious person, I listen carefully, to the different sounds. Initially, when I started singing in Tamil and Malayalam, it took a little while to get the hang of it, especially so since Tamil is a totally different root language, and not based on Sanskrit.” She writes down the lines in Devnagri script before she starts enunciating the words and it has apparently worked well for her.
Shreya Ghoshal had her first hit when she was barely 16 in 2002 thanks to Sanjay Leela Bhansali who offered her the song Bairi Piya from Devdas, and since then has made seldom a false note. Not just while recording, but in her career. It’s been a perfectly wonderful run so far, and despite the enormous success, she has enjoyed, I hear, that she is one of the most balanced stars in Mumbai. Is it all this chikni chameli’s work, or is there a bigger brain behind her sounds of success. Shreya likes the question and is even eager to admit the truth – yes! “There is a brain that works very hard, behind me, I may be the face, but the brain is my dad. He is the one who realized that I had talent, but needed to be groomed and guided in the right way so that my voice is heard. Every major decision in my life has been made for me by my dad. And my mother was the one who was always saving my neck if I got into trouble. Yes, I had a sheltered upbringing and it will continue to be. And that’s the reason I am well-balanced.”
She offers an example of how wrong things could’ve gone. Many young singers who rise up through the reality show TV route, often get inundated with offers very early on. She was one such stars, having won the sa re ga ma contest at age nine. “I know it’s very difficult to say no to such tempting offers at that stage in life, you’re blinded by all that fame and ambition. But you do not make the right decision. After I won the sa re ga ma, every day, I would get a call to do a concert. Of course not much money, but enough to be tempting. But my dad firmly rejected them, he felt it was not my time yet. So I didn’t go on daily concerts, ruining my voice. Instead I was able to keep my voice distinct, and allowed me to learn music more deeply. For any other person, it would have been very hard to resist,” she says.
Even after all this fame and fortune, Shreya is still their little girl, and that means, she ain’t no Madonna, her entourage is different in one thing. Yes, there are the musicians, the dancers, the singers and technicians, manager, but there is one more, as important, if not more important, person in the team. “One of my parents always travels with me,” reveals Shreya. “Somethings are essential for your well-being in this business and I think family is the most effective support. Then we have our Indian values, a little more protection always for the daughter!”
Indian voices, however good they are, always ride on the pretty faces on screen, what’s known as playback. They are to be heard, not seen. Shreya is certainly worthy of being heard, as well as, seen. She is sexy (I know her father will be a safe distance away from me by the time this comes out!) and has the potential to be a real singing star, who is both on camera and behind the mike. Shreya is not so sure as the music industry in India is still fully joined at the hip to Bollywood. But she is hopeful. “I think the time for independent music will start soon. There are lot of opportunities as the reach of the Internet widens in India.” She regrets that some once-popular genres are entirely being neglected in the current scenario, like ghazals and classical music. Ironically, its her mad Chikni fans that are drowning out those other refined sounds. “I guess, yes, the incentives are missing,” she admits.
As part of her on stage persona, she claims to have done her PhD in love songs. But that is just an act, there are love songs galore, but love…? Well, she smiles nervously, not quite expecting the question. “Personally, I am very a very homely person, (meaning, if any aashiq sends her red roses, she would promptly take it first to her mom or dad for approval!). When prodded, she says, “I am a very romantic person, otherwise I cannot sing effectively. There’s no denying it. But I also find love in many things, not necessarily in a person. There is time for that, a lot of time!” Spoken like a true daddy’s girl!
Photograph by Manohar Sagoo
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