From the upbeat Darling (7 Khoon Maaf; 2011) to the lilting melody Ab Mujhe Koi (Ishqiya; 2010) and the sassy Namak Ishq Ka (Omkara; 2006), singer Rekha Bhardwaj has carved a niche for herself in an industry that has often relied on conventional, high-pitched voices.
Eighteen years later, the National Award-winning singer has now managed to break away from stereotypes. But, she still prefers quality over quantity.
We speak to her about her journey in Bollywood, why she feels indie music tends to be sidelined, and more.
Q - Since your debut in 1997 (she sang Ek Woh Din in Chachi 420), you haven’t sung too many tracks. Are you being choosy?
A - A singer does not decide the song that comes to him or her; it’s the music composer, director and producer’s choice. I’ve been fortunate to be offered songs that the makers feel that only I can deliver. So, I don’t say no to any song. It’s very rare that I get an offer where I don’t feel that the lyrics are something I would like to sing.
Q - You entered the film industry at a time when your voice was considered unconventional by Bollywood standards. When did things start changing for you?
A - Initially, only my husband (Vishal Bhardwaj; filmmaker and music composer) offered me songs because he felt that only I would be able to sing them. In fact, from 1997 till Omkara in 2006, I sang only five-six songs, and that too, only for Vishal. But after Namak Ishq Ka, things started changing for me. Earlier, I never strived to become a playback singer because I don’t have a thin high-pitched voice that our ears were tuned to that time. But after that song, the era of the base voice began. The time was right, and that started getting me work.
Q - Apart from being a talented film-maker, your husband (Vishal Bhardwaj) has great musical sensibilities as well. Has his musical understanding ever influenced you?
A - Because of Vishal, I have been part of sessions that taught me how film music is composed, conceived, recorded and dubbed. I got exposed to film music technically. And with my classical background, I was able to learn that process fast.
Q - You’re part of the new season of MTV Coke Studio, which promotes non-film music. Several artistes grouse that the popularity of film tracks has led to independent music being sidelined. As someone who has dabbled in both, what is your take?
A - It’s true that Bollywood music is big in our country. But this scenario is only good for people who find success on that platform. After becoming popular in Bollywood, they get in a position to promote their non-filmi music as well. In my case, I now have a wider reach for my works in the genres of sufi, thumri, ghazal etc. However, I feel it’s important to have a solid platform for parallel music too. With the digital space, things are getting better, but it will be great if parallel music reaches a wider audience.
Q - Do you feel that technology in the music space promotes mediocrity by making the less-talented sound better?
A - It’s not just because of technology; mediocrity has been part of our music scene all this while. If you look at the eras gone by, even there you will find music that is mediocre. Actually, we support mediocrity in every aspect of our lives. As a society, we don’t try to grow. There are people who want even talented people to come to their level and do mediocre work rather than trying to enrich their knowledge and do better. This is very sad.
Q - Is there any change that you would like to see in the Bollywood music space?
A - Whatever is happening around us is a reflection of our society. If there is music that offends people and still becomes popular, that is not entirely the fault of the artiste who is making it. I feel that society needs to grow. There should be aesthetics in whatever we do.