I've had marital problems in the past, but I am sorted now: Sonu Nigam
Sonu Nigam, the silken voice behind such hit numbers as Abhi mujh mein kahin, Sandese aate hain and Kal ho na ho, hasn’t been part of too many Bollywood blockbusters of late. Now, Mannat, his new hit from Daawat-e-Ishq, has again put the spotlight on the singer.
In a freewheeling interview during a stopover in Delhi, the versatile singer opened up about composing for films, his marital problems, the demise of his mother and why he’s a bit of a YouTube fiend. Edited excerpts:
You have been very vocal about the singers’ rights issue. What is your take on it?
It is quite simple. Singers can ask for money from a hotel or a restaurant, or a TV show which is making money playing their song. But they can’t ask producers or music companies for money in such cases. The performance right stays with the artist. If my song is being played and somebody else is making money out of it, I deserve to get a share of it.
Some people have painted you as a mercenary. But you have not charged money for many songs.
I’ve become the face of the Copyright Act controversy. So, a music company decided to ban me. So, I have not got songs in the last couple of months.
The song Hangover in Kick, sung by Salman [Khan] was originally sung by me. He was made to dub that song by the company. Then, two songs that I sang for Shekhar Suman’s Heartless were dubbed on the insistence of T-Series. Later in David Dhawan’s Main Tera Hero, Yeh galat baat hai, which I sang, was dubbed by Javed Ali.
Money is not such a big issue. I have a problem when someone asks me to sign a document unconstitutionally.
Tell us about the Klose To My Soul concert tour...
We took a 56-piece symphony orchestra to the United States and did about 20 shows at iconic venues such as the Nassau Coliseum in New York and the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.
I have also been composing for films. Percussionist Bickram Ghosh and I have given music for Jal and Sooper Se Ooper. Next, we are doing Happy Anniversary, which is likely to feature Amitabh, Abhishek and Aishwarya.
Your six-year-old son Nevaan, sang for Lata Mangeshkar’s album Sarhadein in 2011. Chip off the old block?
That was the first time he experienced the microphone and he was just two. Lataji told the composer, “Sonu ka beta to gaata hi hoga”. I began singing at four and Nevaan has started even younger.
How did you learn to sing?
My father Agam Kumar Nigam and mother Shobha Nigam, who passed away last year, were both singers. My parents had a love marriage since my father was a Kayastha from Agra and my mother from Garhwal.
Very early in my childhood, I realised they were performing at programmes, weddings and birthdays. When I saw my parents sing on stage, it came naturally to me. When my dad used to sing Kya hua tera vaada on the stage, I began singing too.
Friends from Delhi’s J D Tytler School remember you as a bright student…
My childhood was full of studies, riyaz, doing programmes and practising on the harmonium. We were not really rich kids so our parents couldn’t afford to give us guitars and keyboards. Therefore, we made the most of what we had.
I did not have a tabla or conga, so I practised on a bench and my fingers became strong. We didn’t have the luxury of cars and multiple musical instruments that my son has today. So, we were hungry. Hungry kids work harder.
You landed in Bombay at 18. Tell us about the initial struggle.
I used to drive a rickety scooter. My apparent competitors at that point were singers twice my age. Kumar Sanuji, Udit Narayan and Abhijeet were all more than 20 years older than I was. Also, composers were not as friendly as the new guys who jam with newcomers.
I’ve spent hours sitting on shoe racks waiting to meet music directors. I don’t regret it now, but at that point, it was quite terrifying. One incident at Sudeep Studio stands out. I had sung many songs for T-Series. Of these, I had great hopes about two of them being used in a film.
But they were dubbed by somebody else. I was so shattered I started sobbing. I went to music director Usha Khanna’s house and told her my song had been dubbed. She asked me to take heart. She very lovingly said my time would come.
In an interview, you said you had a colourful youth. In what way?
When I came to Bombay, my friends were in college and I didn’t get to go to college. By 19, I had my first hit. When I started getting slightly popular, the female interest around me grew. I met with a lot of wonderful women of different mindsets, qualities and nationalities.
During a concert tour in Israel, I first realised how popular I had become. As soon as we came out of the airport, the women who were swooning over Chunky Pandey left him and showered me with kisses. My face was plastered with lipstick. I quite enjoyed that phase. I still get a lot of female attention and like it. Who wouldn’t?
ON SONU'S PLAYLIST
There are many more singers around today. How much of it is a function of sound engineering?
Technology is helping non-singers become singers. So much so that even Salman can sing today. Despite that, the respect for good singers has gone up. In their hearts, people love singers such as Suresh Wadkar, Hariharan, or Sukhwinder Singh and me. It is God’s way of compensating me.
Which are the new singers you like? And what’s your USP?
Javed Ali sings very well. So do Arijit Singh and Benny Dayal. Keerthi Sagathia has a very nice voice suited for songs with a folk touch. Then there are the wonderful Sufi voices such as Kamal Khan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
The advantage I have over other singers is that I can sing every genre that they can sing. I’ve sung ghazals, semi-classical, high-pitched romantic songs and English songs. You have to support your talent. So, I work hard to stay versatile.
Your acting career wasn’t spectacular. Any regrets?
A lot of film offers came my way. I chose Jaani Dushman because I thought there were so many others in the cast such as Sunny Deol, Suniel Shetty, Akshay Kumar, Arshad Warsi and many others. How wrong could all these people go together?
Unfortunately, it went on to become one of the most hilarious movies of all time. So I understood I was not meant to experience success as an actor at that point.
You have sung for the biggest names – the three Khans and Hrithik. Who are you closest to?
I am very fond of Shah Rukh. When I die, I hope the news channels play my song picturised on him from Kal Ho Na Ho: Har ghadi badal rahi hai roop zindagi.
People say you have become more spiritual over the years…
The moment you say you are spiritual, you cease to be spiritual. Then it becomes religious or something for which I need people’s opinion. I don’t need anybody's validation. I am settled and sorted in life despite the turbulences.
I’ve had marital problems and people know about it. We are still together and my wife is a wonderful girl and we have a child together. But people are aware that we have had issues in the last 12 years that we have been married. Despite all that, in my mind and heart, I am sorted.
Is your son a calming influence?
Yes, he keeps the family together. If it wasn’t for my son, I would probably have – very respectfully and without any negativity – told my wife that it isn’t working out. But our beautiful son wants his parents together. My wife is a wonderful human being, but people grow apart.
We are both mature people. We stay together and fulfil our responsibilities towards each other. If it wasn’t for my son, I would have been on a different orbit. I would work six months and then go for six months to my mother’s village in the Himalayas perhaps.
Have you come to terms with losing your mother to cancer?
I have never told this to anyone, but those who are close to me and my friends know this. My mother’s disease and her eventual death have taken the wit out of me. Earlier, my sense of humour was so strong that I used to be the life of the party. My mother’s demise has taken away that humour from me.
I cry a lot in my dreams when I see her. I have gone intrinsically more on my mother than my father. My father has given me his enviable voice and his temper. But my mother gave me that tehzeeb. Pair chhuna, izzat dena, muskurana, tameez se baat karna, woh mummy ne mujhe sikhaya.
Whatever I am known for, if at all, is because of my mother. I miss her terribly. I wish I could have seen her growing old. She was just 63. I would have wanted to see her at 80. Par nahin dekh paye unko.
What’s a day in the life of Sonu like?
It depends. I am not a boring person. People call themselves disciplined, I call sticking to one routine every day boring. I sometimes go to bed at 1am, on other days, I sleep at 10am. I spend the night either doing riyaz, or watching documentaries on YouTube.
There is so much information about science, philosophy, history and spirituality there. I am a bit of a YouTube fiend. My wife sometimes gets annoyed when I spend entire days watching documentaries. Otherwise, my schedule is flexible, depending on my commitments.
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From HT Brunch, September 7
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