The 1993 show Antakshari brought the nation together. Every week, families waited for the show to be aired to sing their old favourites and new hit film songs. The music-based show was hosted by Annu Kapoor from 1994 to 2005, along with co-hosts such as Rajeshwari Sachdev, Pallavi Joshi, Durga Jasraj, Renuka Shahane and Shefali Chhaya, among others. The show was the brainchild of Gajendra Singh.
With three teams — Parwane, Mastane and Deewane — Antakshari had rounds such as Prelude, Dhun and Remix, etc, which put contestants to the test.
The show was also shot in foreign locales such as Dubai, London (UK), New York (USA), etc. It was one of the first shows to introduce the concept of celebrity specials. Annu, who became a household name with Antakshari, says 12 years is a long time to be associated with one show. “Ankatshari turned my life around. It was a home-grown concept and steeped in Indian culture,” he says.
Annu sang “more than 4,000 songs” during the show. And while he met numerous fans over the years, there are some compliments that he still holds dear. He says, “A fan once said, ‘Aap hamari sanskritik dharohar hain (you have promoted our cultural heritage)’. For me, that was like getting a Bharat Ratna. People told me that my conversations about national integration, the Hindi language and our culture were inspiring.”
Recipe for success
Pallavi, who was on the show for five years, feels it was bound to be a “success”. She says, “It had intrinsic Indian values. But today, such games have taken a backseat.” Pallavi was a bit sceptical about singing on the show. “I didn’t know if I could sing on stage,” she says. Pallavi was nervous before shooting the first episode, and “couldn’t leave the makeup room”. She adds, “I sang ‘Tohra mann darpan kehlaaye’, but my mother, a music teacher, told me that I sang badly.” She later got suggestions from musicians on the show on the kinds of songs that suited her voice. She would sing three songs per episode, and rehearse for two days before the shoot.
Pallavi feels her equation with “Annuji was the best”. She says, “We joked a lot, but the worst part (about working with him) was when he sang. Once he started singing ‘Ishq ishq’, which was a 13 to 14-minute song. Another time, he sang ‘Saj rahi gali meri ma’ and turned to me. I sang the chorus line, and then I was stuck singing it throughout the song,” she says.
In loop mode
Pallavi recalls how Gajendra once wanted them to sing the song ‘Mere dil ka woh shehzada’, which neither of them wanted to but had to. “Annuji told me that we will sing the song so many times that he will never want to hear it again. We shot for that episode on a stage created on a pond. Annuji jumped into the pond while I was singing. I had to keep singing the song till he returned,” she says, with a laugh.
Ask him about how it was to work with multiple co-hosts, and Annu says, “I adjusted with everyone. I never tried to patronise or overpower anyone, contrary to the reports in the media. Only Rajeshwari and Renuka spoke in my favour back then.”