She grew up listening to Lata Mangeshkar’s music, and has sung hit songs for many Bollywood films. But Begum Parveen Sultana prefers being called an Indian classical singer, and not a playback artiste.
Now, however, the Padma Bhushan recipient, who recently performed at a city concert titled Tradition, with popular santoor player Pt Satish Vyas, doesn’t sing for films anymore. Here, she tells us more.
You had sung ‘Kaun gali’ from Pakeezah (1972). How did you get that offer?
I was just 15 at that time. Naushadji (Ali; composer) had attended one of my concerts. After the shows, he asked me if I would sing for him. That’s how I got the film. I was very young, and I had just come [to Mumbai] from Assam. At that time, I didn’t know who I was singing for. Now, when I look back, I realise that I worked with great personalities.
Why don’t you sing for Bollywood films anymore?
I don’t like Hindi film songs. I think there is nothing in those tracks that challenges your talent. There is no classical base. Singing for Hindi films is like caging a talented bird. I have worked with composers like Madan Mohan and RD Burman. I sang ‘Humein tumse pyaar kitna’ for Kudrat (1981), which was composed by RD. He asked me to sing the track in my style. He allowed me to develop the song on my own. I have also worked with Ram Narayanji, Rais Khan and Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia. Those days were different.
You have grown up listening to Lata Mangeshkar’s songs...
Lataji’s voice is God’s gift to all of us. I think even God must be a great fan of her voice. I have been listening to her since childhood, and I’ve learnt a lot from her. There cannot be another Lata Mangeshkar. Her expressions and voice are exceptional. Many classical singers want to imitate her.
You are a Hindustani classical vocalist. How do you take care of your voice?
Doing riyaaz is like shining your shoes, or brushing your teeth. Missing riyaaz for a day is like taking the singer in you back by 50 days. I used to practise for about seven hours every day. It is not possible to practise for those many hours today, but I still do riyaaz for three hours. I also keep listening to good music and watching classical plays.
Do you think the younger generation takes classical music seriously?
The future of classical music is really bright. I’m glad that youngsters listen to good music. I remember [seeing a lot of young] people queuing up for a morning raga concert that was held at the Gateway of India a few days ago, at 6.30am.