His title track from Tees Maar Khan, sung in 54 different voices, is getting him a standing ovation everywhere, be it the Lucknow Mohotsav, concerts in Hoogli and Belgaum or the Comedy Circus finale. “Everyone wants to hear me sing it live,” smiles Sonu Niigaam, who’s recently returned from a concert tour in the UK.
Unfortunately, while on the All Is Well tour, he learnt that his mother is seriously unwell. Now, he has cancelled all commitments that would take him away from the country for longer than a couple of days.He’s put his plans of cutting an English album on hold. In 2003, he had recorded Spirit Unfolding but before he could release it, he got busy with Indian Idol and could not go to the US to market it. "At the time it was a trendsetter but times changed. I want to move on," sighs the singer. "I’d planned to collaborate with American artistes. But for that I have to spend time in the US. This year I’ve been in India for Chhote Ustaad and now, I can’t think beyond praying for my mother who’s been detected with cancer."
Niigaam had also planned to set up a band, Nirvan, with DJ Gaurav, guitarist and composer of Dus Kahaniyan and Knock Out: “We met a couple of months ago and decided to make music together. Our band will play at my solo concerts. We also want to come out with an album soon.”
Meanwhile, a unique album, Time Travel, with voice aligned with erstwhile singers in yesteryear Hindi songs, released on a couple of Nokia handsets. Encouraged by its 1 million sales, Niigaam wants to turn this the eight-song album into multiple CDs comprising 50 songs.
He’s also in talks for an Indianised X Factor, a TV talent show franchise that originated in UK. “All my musical shows, from Sa Re Ga Ma and Music Ka Maha Muqabala to Chhote Ustaad, have done extremely well. I like the format of X Factor and the people who are handling it. We’re in talks,” he admits.
He’s open to another season of Chhote Ustaad too. “During my concert in Karachi a bomb exploded, narrowly missing wiping out my family. It upset me but I can’t hold it against that country. It’s unethical to boycott any artiste,” he reasons, adding that Chhote Ustaad helped improving ties between India and Pakistan because unlike the opinionated 21-plus group, children don’t discriminate on community, nationality or creed.”
Niigaam himself is a proud father to Nivaan who at three sang with Lata Mangeshkar. “It was a ‘sargam’ that made it even more difficult,” he beams. “He’s a good boy who always wakes up with a smile. I’ll support him in anything he wants to do.”
Papa himself hasn’t been doing much playback. There was a time when he had two-three nominations during the award season. “I’m nominated every year… Main hoon naa…, Kabhi alvida na kehna…, All izz well…, Shukran Allah…. But there were no awards till The Best Live Performer (Male) Award recently. The business has changed but good songs that require emotions and expressions still come to me,” he asserts.
Meanwhile, the overwhelming response to his stage performance at a recent award function has prodded Niigaam into giving movies another thought. He acted in half-a-dozen films as a child artiste, including Pyaara Dushman (’80), Kamchor (’82) Ustaadi Ustad Se (’83) and Betaab (’83).
Later, there were the forgettable Jaani Dushman—Ek Anokhi Kahani (2002), Kaash Aap Humare Hote (2003) and Love In Nepal (2004). “Except for Love In Nepal that didn’t get a proper release, all the other movies didn’t match my stature. So, I’m waiting for the right project.”
Reportedly, he’s interested in Aankhon Aankhon Mein, about a blind singer? “Yeah, there’s that one and three other offers too,” he admits. “But right now my mother is top priority.”