Even as Salim-Sulaiman have gone from strength-to-strength in the last few years, Salim Merchant, one-half of the duo, has been enjoying his moment in the sun individually too.With Madhur Bhandarkar’s Fashion (2008), Merchant tried his hand at singing, and now, two years later, he’s singing for other composers as well. Most recently, Merchant has lent his vocals to the song, Aye khuda in the Shahid Kapoor-starrer, Paathshaala.
But Merchant insists he’s not a singer. “I can’t imagine how it happened. I know I had an ability to sing to an extent, but I never imagined singing for other composers,” he smiles. “I have a songwriter voice, not a playback voice. I do have a lot of limitations, but I guess I have something good too.”
Although the first soundtrack that featured his voice was Ashiyana, Merchant reveals that the first song he was asked to sing was Kurbaan’s (2009) Ali maula. “I had sung the scratch version of the song for Karan’s (Johar) approval, and we wanted Rahat (Fateh Ali Khan) to sing it,” he recalls, “But Karan insisted that I sung the song, so I gave it a shot.”
“I was a bit scared though,” he admits. “I liked the song personally and it was my first, so I didn’t want to mess it up. But Sulaiman’s always pushed me to sing, so that’s given me encouragement. Honestly, I’m wary of singing because I know what a trained singer can bring to the table.”
Singing organic songs
Merchant laughs when asked if he now has trouble deciding which songs he’d get other singers on, and which he’d sing himself. “You know, most of the time, it’s the producer or the director who wants me to sing,” he smiles.
Merchant, who first sang on the background score of Wake Up Sid (2009) for Amit Trivedi, feels his voice can be used only for ‘organic songs’.But he’s, in fact, the newest entry in a long-list of ‘unconventional’ voices that are in playback singing today.
Be it Vishal Dadlani and Suraj Jagan’s hard rock voice, or Shilpa Rao and Kavita Seth’s deep vocals, ‘conventional’ playback voices are all but out of vogue. Merchant has his own take on it, “Certain songs require freshness, because it’s a novel concept or a new actor,” he explains. “Even though an experienced singer will perform the song better, there’ll be a certain kind of staleness he/she may bring to the song. But a new voice keeps the song is fresh.”
For his compositions and background numbers, Merchant himself has experimented with a number of fresh voices, apart from his own, like Naresh Kamath, Shruti Pathak, Mahua Kamat, Rishika Sawant and Sonia Saigal. At the same time, the singer-composer doesn’t discount the importance of established singers too. “For example, when we composed Shukran Allah for Kurbaan, we knew that the song is perfect for Sonu Niigaam,” he says.
“I really feel that some songs are made for some people. If you don’t give it to them, the song doesn’t sound right. In fact, sometimes, when I’m composing, I’ve already pictured Sukhwinder’s (Singh) voice in my head, since he’s my favourite singer.”
Next up, Merchant will be scouting for new voices, as a judge on the upcoming season of Indian Idol. “I’m playing Randy Jackson,” he winks. “Honestly, I couldn’t believe the number of people who turned up for the auditions of the show. I’ve already thought of calling two-three of the singers to sing for us, because they have enormous talent”
Merchant also says that he was “overwhelmed” with all the love of all the contestants for Salim-Sulaiman songs. “I had no idea that our music had affected people in such a way. It was a very satisfying experience to see that our songs had penetrated the small towns too,” he smiles.
As composers, there’s a lot on Merchant’s platter. They’ve just scored for another upcoming Yashraj film, and have created the background music for Kites and I Hate Luv Storys. The long awaited John Abraham-starrer, Aashayein, is also going to release soon.