Bhangra has never been quite the same since Daler Mehndi’s chart-busting debut song Bolo Tara Ra Ra released at the peak of the Indi-pop era in 1995. Not only did the track made bhangra discotheque-friendly by means of redefining what was considered a strictly folk genre, but also paved the way for successes such as ‘Na na na re’(1997) and Tunak Tunak Tun (1998).
Singing for Bollywood was probably a natural progression for Daler, who, with his uniquely resonant voice, delivered hits like Rang De Basanti (Rang De Basanti, 2006) and Zor Ka Jhatka (Action Replayy, 2010).
Recently, after a long hiatus, he lent his voice to a gurbani (devotional song) in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag. In this interview, he talks about what’s plaguing the music industry and his upcoming projects.
How was the experience of singing the gurbani?
As a Sikh, I’d heard the gurbani before. But singing for Bhaag Milkha Bhaag came as a pleasant surprise. Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra (director) wanted me to sing the song. Shankar (Mahadevan) had already recorded it on a very high pitch. But the song also needed a lot of energy without compromising on the feel. I am good at that. I’m glad the song worked out so well.
Why don’t we get to hear you often in Bollywood?
Singers are paid badly in Bollywood. Big producers pay even worse. I charge a minimum amount of R5 lakh for a song and sometimes, when the producers plead, I accept R2 lakh. But I am not sitting in a market like other singers. I am not craving for work. I can’t plead to sing. Also, I want young singers to get work. Besides, like many others, I can’t go to a film awards event, and lip sync to a song.
Your brother Mika is doing well as a playback singer. What kind of bond do you share with him?
Mika is 10 years younger, so he is like my son. I am very pleased to hear him sing every other song in Bollywood today. He was bright in music since childhood. When he was 11, he used to play the guitar with me for seven-eight hours at a stretch. He has done about 500 live shows with me and that’s the reason why he doesn’t require any further training from me.
We’ve heard that you have a good chemistry with Amitabh Bachchan also?
Bachchan saab is very fond of me and we share a great bond. I really admire him. It was because of him that I got to sing ‘Na na na re’ (Mrityudata; 1997). He had called me and said that he wanted to work with me. I had already composed the track with the punch line and Samir (lyricist) penned the lyrics later. Bachchan saab wanted this song to materialise at any cost.
You’ve been known for your unique vocal texture for over two decades. How do you take care of your voice?
I’ve always been careful about my voice and look after it with a lot of commitment. I’ve never consumed alcohol or succumbed to any addiction. Most singers drink alcohol and eventually lose their vocal texture. I believe the kind of food you eat also affects your voice. Since I belong to the Patiala gharana, humein jitna gaana sikhaate hain, utna hi khaana bhi sikhaate hain (an equal amount of importance given to singing and eating). My diet includes lassi and ghee-laden paranthas. I never diet.
What are your upcoming projects?
I’ve sung around five to six Hindi songs that will release this year. I’ll also be launching my album in September.
Do you have any plans to act in a movie?
I really want to act, but that’ll happen only if I’m offered good money. I don’t want to invest my money and watch the films in the theatre alone.
You’ve established yourself as a versatile singer, but which genre is your favourite?
Though I enjoy sufi songs, bhangra-pop fascinates me the most. I love to see people enjoying and dancing. It’s also a great exercise and freshens up your mind.