When Sonu Nigam’s latest Bollywood number, ‘Sapna Jahan’ (from Brothers) released, it became a chartbuster in no time. Recently, he also released a new version of the national anthem, titled ‘Jana gana mana — the soul of India’, with his creative partner, percussionist Bickram Ghosh. Sonu, who is one of the most celebrated playback singers in the country, continues to impress music aficionados with the same charm in his voice that he had when he started out. When we caught up with the singer at his Versova residence, he spoke about film music today, the new crop of singers, being selective, and more.
What is your take on the current state of Bollywood music?
It is very film-oriented. Everything is by the films, for the films, and of the films (laughs). Music should have some independent standing. With platforms like Coke Studio, etc. coming in, things are getting better. But I still miss the authentic ghazals that were composed in the past decades.
You are also a Bollywood music composer. What is happening on that front?
Yes, Bickram and I have made some music together. We are thinkers of a certain level. We only like to work with people who match our wavelength and temperament. We took up a Bollywood film and finished making five tracks for it. But midway, we couldn’t understand why we were part of the project, so we opted out of it. For me, doing music is a process that I should enjoy. I don’t want to do something just for the heck of it.
It is believed that senior singers are not offered enough work anymore as the sound of Bollywood music has changed.
The songs I sang for PK (2014) were different. Also, ‘Sapna jahan’ is a ballad, and a very new-age kind of a song. So, it’s not that the sound has changed in a major way and that we don’t suit it anymore. The thing is, people sometimes think twice before approaching a singer who has just taken a stand against the wrong practices of faulty contracts. During that period, I was the only singer who was not signing contracts. And thankfully, because of that, things have been rectified.
Is the struggle to enter the industry nowadays still similar to what it used to be in the past?
It’s a lot easier now. The struggle today can be for opportunities, but not for survival. For us, it was about survival. Now, an artiste starts getting shows quickly. When I came to Mumbai, my father had said, “You can perform at concerts in Delhi, but not in Mumbai. If you will do that, you will get lost in that scenario. You will make musician friends, you’ll have a girlfriend, and you’ll be happy with it. I don’t want you to be happy with whatever you have. You should stay hungry and focused.” I like what he taught me. He has a very big role to play in where I am today.
Will things be easier for your son, Nivaan?
It depends on what he wants to be. He is not as passionate as I was as a child. I used to be a hungry kid, he is not. I always wanted to become a singer who lasts for many years. This is also one of the reasons why I sing fewer songs today. I don’t want people to get bored of me.
You have also tried your hand at acting. What is happening on that front?
My first experience as an actor was not fulfilling, because I didn’t have any experience in terms of what to choose. I didn’t have a godfather. Now, I have learnt to say no. No matter how close the person is to me, I have learnt to turn the offer down, because a film is very different at the narrative stage, and very different at the final stage. Until I am absolutely sure of something, I will not venture into it.