Sukhwinder Singh is best known for foot tapping hits like Chaiyyan chaiyyan and Jai ho. And even though the latter won an Oscar this year, the singer tells HT Café that he would rather do a few quality songs than many mediocre ones
Tell us about your experience of working with A R Rahman?
With him, it’s teamwork all the way. He always gives you the scope for improvisation.
Why didn’t you pick up the Oscar for the song Jai Ho!?
Singers don’t get the Oscar. It’s the composers who get it.
Your association with Rahman began with‘Chaiyan chaiyan.’ How did that come about?
I was in Mumbai when I heard the songs of the film ‘Roja,’ which was A R Rahman’s first foray into music. I really liked the way he had composed the music for the film. And then I got the opportunity to sing ‘Chaiyan chaiyan’ for Dil Se. I consider this song as the one that gave me the first big break in Bollywood.
‘Dhan Te Nan,’ is a ten-year-old song composed by Vishal Bharadwaj and written by Gulzaar. Did you know about this when you were approached to sing it for Kaminey?
No, I didn’t know about the song’s origins, but when I completed recording the song, I casually asked Vishalji the name of the film. When he said that he had named it Kaminey, I was shocked.
Did you ever sing a song that was copied from some other number?
I don’t remember singing any such song. There are some people who are masters of piracy. Geniuses don’t copy because they are constantly inspired. There are so many old songs that can inspire us.
Can you give some examples of ‘inspiration’?
There are so many. Take Chaiyan chaiyan for instance. I first heard it at a dargah. The Quwwal was singing a similar song, but in a different way. This is inspiration. I believe there can be similarity in the patterns of songs, but the originality of a song will always remain.
Can you say that Vishal Bharadwaj is inspired by R D Burman’s compositions?
No, he is inspired by music alone. We have all accepted Rahman because he came up with a new style and we all know that his is very different from others. Similarly, Vishal Bharadwaj is different. He has a great knowledge of music.
When we talk about the ’60s and the ’70s, there were only a handful of singers like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosale, Kishore Kumar, and Mohammad Rafi. However, there were lots of good songs, unlike today, even though we have many more singers.
I don’t think there was any kind of a monopoly in the ’60s and ’70s. Nobody can sing like Lataji. She is one in a million. However, lesser number of films were released during those days, therefore composers could concentrate on the quality of music. The singers were also repeated, as producers didn’t want to take any risk, with new singers.
Do film producers take that risk now?
No, not really. These days, a lot goes into making a composition work. That is why I am very busy even though there is less work. We have the talent now but nobody can match up to the singers of the past.
What’s your take on remixes of old songs? Is there any future in them?
Such remixes are on their way out, even though the idea was a good one. I got inspiration from a lot of songs that were remixed. But inspiration is different from just picking a song and adding beats to it.
Why don’t singers make a union to protect the royalty of their songs to prevent such remixes?
We need someone who can give form to this idea. Everyone has to come on the same platform. We need to sit together and discuss, otherwise there will be lot of problems. The money for a song’s rights should go to the right person.
How much do you earn from singing?
I sing for free so many times. In 2008, I sang only nine songs. I live a very simple life and prefer to live the songs I sing. If I had been a singer of the ’60s, I would have had more than 100 songs because, in the ’60s there were about 25 genius composers, whereas now, there are only four.
But at some level, it’s a job. You also have to earn.
There are other singers, who are singing well and getting opportunities. But, I need to be comfortable with the person I’m working with. He shouldn’t behave like a boss and must be a colourful and jolly kind of a person.
What do you think of Himesh Reshammiya’s brand of music?
He is a very good composer. He has done a lot of shows. Ultimately, his practice will reflect. He is not a great singer but has improved over the years. I have heard one song from ‘Radio’. He has sung it very well.
So when do we see you becoming an actor?
I have done a film. It’s going to be released soon. But I can’t talk it about now. I will discuss it at the right time.
What do you do apart from singing?
Music is everything to me. I just enjoy everything and try to relate it to music.
Compiled by Prabal Bhardwaj