by Amanjit Dhillon Bollywood’s Melody Queen Returns Toronto: Alka Yagnik, the renowned Bollywood singer, first burst onto the playback singing scene as a child and after her breakout hit “Ek Do Teen” from the film Tezaab, there was no looking back for this star. Nowadays you can see her as the popular and charismatic judge on the television shows Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge and Star Voice of India. Alka recently returned to the GTA after a three year gap to perform for her adoring fans and I had a chance to chat with the singer backstage before her big return to the Canadian stage. Alka was running late for our interview and as I waited patiently for her outside her dressing room, I met Aafia Anjum, Director of Mirage Entertainment, the company putting on Alka’s show. “She’s very media friendly,” Aafia advised. When I asked why her company chose to bring Alka to Toronto for their big Light Up Toronto event, Aafia couldn’t imagine bringing anyone else in. “It’s her humble attitude, the way she interacts with the public. Today we have planned a very special entry for her and she (Alka) really wants to interact with the public…she is all about the audience and what they want to hear. And of course, the beautiful voice she has.” Suddenly, the door to Alka’s dressing room swung open and Alka ushered me inside, shooing out her makeup and hair team so that we would have privacy for our interview. Dressed in a pale yellow anarkali with delicate purple embroidery with her light brown hair casually loose around her shoulders, she greeted me warmly as we launched right into the interview. Interview We are here backstage at your concert and you’re about to go on stage. Any last minute nerves? Last minute nerves are always there. I’ve done thousands and thousands of concerts all over the world. So those butterflies in the stomach are always there in every show…initially. Once I’m on the stage, then in about five, seven minutes I warm up and then I’m fine…I’m totally in control of it. So does it always feel like the first time on stage? I know you have been performing sine you were a child so do you still feel like the way you did the very first time you stepped on stage? Yeah I do Doesn’t change? I think that’s because I want to do well, I want my audience to be happy so there’s always a little bit of nervousness always. And I have performed many times in Toronto over the years…my last trip was 2009 and now I’ve come back after three years. We recently lost the great Yash Chopra and you did a lot of work on the songs from his films. You once said he was the man who really understood the romance in songs so what does his loss mean to you and to the industry? It’s a huge loss for the industry. It’s like losing one of our strongest pillars so I think the film industry is on shaky ground as of now. He was a superb director, producer and a very warm down to earth genuine man…the entire industry loved him. Of course it’s a very big big loss and for the era of romance. He made romantic films as no one else did. So the way he portrayed romance made you feel like falling in love over and over again when you watched his films. So I think the era of those really intense romantic films has gone and it’s very sad. Now speaking of different eras, I think it’s interesting that when you started out, it was often a very difficult journey and now you are a judge on many Indian singing reality shows. Do you think these shows make it too easy to put so many people in the market that are just okay singers? Do you think the industry needs to go back and make it more difficult so that only the very best singers make it into the market? It’s easy to become a playback singer now because technology had advanced vastly so whereas we had to do live singing from beginning to end and in one go and not make any mistakes, now we can record word by word, part by part. So it makes a lot of non singers, you know, they are able to do singing because they can be recorded in bits and parts. Recording has become an easy game now. And if one of the songs becomes popular then the singer is an overnight star. So playback singing is child’s play now as compared to what it was when we started out because we didn’t have any technical help. And yes it has thrown a lot of singers into the market but it’s become a jungle with everybody fighting with each other and pushing each other because there is more supply than there is demand. But of course, not all make it. Few make it. Yes I am judging on reality shows and there is some really good talent also which we find through these shows. But then again, a reality show is no guarantee for your success for any artist. We give them a platform where they can showcase their talent…their voice can reach out to the whole world. But ultimately who makes it and who doesn’t depends on the kind of hard work and of course your destiny and being at the right place at the right time. There are so many factors that do count. And it takes stage presence as well. Let’s talk about the emotions in songs. You are very well known for singing as if you are going through what the heroine is going through in the film. How much does emotion play in your career? Do you have to get yourself into a place where you feel very vulnerable and open so you can fully express the emotion of the song? See the thing is my audience is very important for me. My performance depends on the kind of audience I get. The people in front of me, their reactions, our connection, our bond. The first song is always a bit jittery because I’m just getting my bearings right and then I warm up to the audience and they warm up to me so the entire evening is sort of a joint performance. If I have a great audience then my performance goes up by leaps and bounds and I have fun myself. If I have fun, I perform better. What song is your favorite to perform? My all time favorite is very difficult to say…they are all my babies, I can’t chose one from all of them. (Laughs) What about Choli Ke Peeche? Several fans told me tonight that was their favorite song. Choli Ke Peeche?? Oh that’s a bit of a naughty song…I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite but its one of my most popular songs. A fan outside wanted me to ask you this question. Will there be any chance of seeing you in films? They love your singing. You’re great on TV, you have a face for TV. Any thoughts on films? Basically I’m a very shy person. When I’m on stage singing my songs, I’m transformed. Those two to three hours, I’m a different person. Otherwise, I’m very reserved, shy. I’m not the kind to take to the camera as well as I take to the mic. So no. The thing is today we are all in front of the camera so people get to see me anyways…so I think they should be happy with just that. (Laughs) Canadians love you and based on the sold out show tonight, they can’t wait to see you perform live. Any message you have for your adoring fans? I would just like to say thank you so much for all of your love and encouragement over the years. I have completed more than twenty seven years in the film industry now and it’s all because people want me here and it’s their love. They want me so I am here…I have a packed house today so keep loving me the way you do and I won’t let you down.