It’s surprising when an artiste of immense calibre such as Shubha Mudgal reveals that she hasn’t sung much for Bollywood films because she believes it’s a “specialist’s job”. The singer, who has made a name with classical and independent music, comes across as witty.
When asked if classical music is as popular as it used to be in the past, she quips, “If you are kind enough to feature me in your publication, then it probably is.” Shubha also reminisces about her hit single, ‘Ab ke sawan’. Excerpts from the interview:
We don’t see you singing for Bollywood often. Do you consciously choose to not take up Hindi film songs?
Playback singing is a specialist’s job. I am not trained for that. Therefore, I have sung for films only when the film or its director or music composer required a voice trained in Hindustani music. But, as I said earlier, I have not specialised in playback singing. Hence, I have no regrets about not having sung more often for films.
Watch: Shubha Mudgal’s song Ab Ke Sawan
Your single ‘Ab ke sawan’ is still fondly remembered. What are your memories from the era when pop music dominated the industry?
I always smile to myself when I remember how Pradeep da (Pradeep Sarkar; director) conned me into appearing in the music video for ‘Ab ke sawan’. I was trying my best to somehow stay out of the music video. Pradeep da assured me that all I had to do was come to the sets for a few hours, hold my palm out, and wait for a drop of water to fall onto my palm from above, as I sang “aisay jam ke barasay”.
I reluctantly agreed, stuck my palm out when he said, “Action”, and found myself drenched in artificial rain on a cold winter morning in Surajkund (a reservoir in Faridabad, Haryana). Unfazed by my shock and horror, Pradeep da turned around and announced another take of the same shot, as I shivered in the cold.
You have carved a niche for yourself with classical music. Do you believe there are takers for this genre today?
Well, if you’re still kind enough to be featuring me in your publication, then obviously classical music does continue to have a few takers. But jokes apart, classical music does have a larger audience today than it did a century ago, when it was presented more as chamber music in jalsas (gatherings) that had audiences of about 150 members approximately.
Classical music is often infused with western melodies. Do you think it takes away from the authenticity of the former genre?
I think hybridity has its own charm. However, we can’t call the hybrid form classical music. As long as we accept that fact, there is no harm in bending, mixing and experimenting.
Do you believe artistes have as much chance of gaining popularity through independent music like they do with Bollywood?
Music associated with Bollywood has always had a huge fan base in India, and now, across the world. Therefore, it is pointless to expect other niche genres to have a similar audience. But, I believe that music in India is hugely diverse and varied.
Similarly, the musical tastes of the audience are also varied. The challenge lies in matching audiences that prefer niche genres, not in getting attention from the mass.
Has your strong voice ever proved to be a hindrance when it comes to romantic tracks?
I believe my solid training in music equips me to use my voice in many ways. So, I don’t feel handicapped in any way, but I also believe romance need not always be soft. Can’t it be strong and passionate too?
Watch: ALi More Angana by Shubha Mudgal
What kind of a response do you receive when you perform on an international platform?
Indian music is well received in many parts of the world. People have worked hard to build an audience for it. But by and large, it is the Indian community who attends concerts of Indian music overseas. Rarely do you see a majority of non-Indian listeners at Indian concerts.
Why did you decide to take up the role of a curator in the upcoming festival?
I was invited to be a curator for the music events at the Serendipity Arts Festival. I accepted the invitation as it gives me an opportunity to try and present the music I am studying and love dearly.