Till 2008, you were pretty prolific in films. Have you consciously scaled down your playback work?
The last big setup film for which I have sung is Dostana for which I rendered Kuchh kam. Before that, I had films like Race, Kismet Konnection, Love Story 2050, Drona and several songs in Ek Vivaah...Aisa Bhi. But trends are changing. Today, music directors and filmmakers are consciously not touching the regular voices like KK, Kunal Ganjawala, Sonu Nigam, Udit Narayanji and me.
Do you see this as a passing phase or a new, lasting scenario?
I don't know. As long as everyone out there is happy, it will last. But if this trend is prolonged, we will benefit because by that time we will no longer remain regular singers! (Laughs)On the plus side, we are seeing a few nice melodies and a part-revival in lyrics that have now gone beyond pyar, dil and diwana.
Do you really see a revival of lyrics? There is only a lot of English and Punjabi and virtually no new thoughts or depth.
On reflection, yes, I agree with you that it is more about newness and smart word-play rather than actual improvement or more substance. (Smiles wryly)
How much has this affected you personally?
For me, it's a nice, relaxed phase - and I am still recording something every day. A lot of my work is with new and nameless music directors and for me that translates as a lot more space and freedom as they are very receptive to my inputs about lyrics, music, vocal nuances and so on.
You have been always known and even admired by music directors as a singer who gives creative inputs to your songs.
I think that a singer must offer his honest inputs in a positive way. For one, I have to keep myself fresh and non-repetitious. For another, once a song is done, it's done, so if I can suggest improvement to any specific aspect, why shouldn't I do so before the song takes shape for posterity?
Your observation about regular playback singers being avoided is bang-on. What do you think about everyone from actors, pop singers and raw voices to music directors themselves increasingly facing the microphone?
(Shrugs) I do not want to sound as if grapes are sour for me. But I sometimes feel that the era of playback singing should come to an end. Softwares that ensure that actors sound perfect make even stars seem perfectly in sur - not just here but also in Hollywood. Remember that the playback system began because actors could not sing!! Today, music directors are even singing for each other. Maybe they are feeling the pinch that thanks to stage-shows being on the rise, a song is known by either the actor or the singer and not as their creations! Yes, I am happy that today's composers are genuinely friends with each other, but let's face it, playback singing is a specialised job with a lot of thought given to a song, apart from the brief from the song's creators!
Maybe it's all about song-budgets?
I don't think so. The composers who are singing themselves are all big names, so such constraints are unlikely. Besides, how much do we singers charge anyway? No, I see this as a specific trend.
Okay, playback singing, we concur, is a specialised job. What else do you have to say?
A film song, to me, is an expression of the emotions of a character in a situation. Therefore it should touch the heart. The right nuances should be there and that requires gaayaki. Look at a lot of Jatin-Lalit's songs, for example, in the '90s - they had these qualities, the singers were cast in the right manner and the songs were so simple that you could have removed all the instruments and still cherished the vocals and the tunes. To me, any form of art - including poetry and music - should by definition be about beauty and should reflect it. These qualities cannot be overlooked, but they are being sidetracked. There are so many alarming areas as well.
We are having voices who have atrocious diction. If proper diction has to be dispensed with, it can be done in an exceptional case dictated by character or situation, not as a norm! Agar ucchaaran theek nahin hai to hum gaane ko samajh hi nahin paayenge (We cannot understand the words if the pronunciation is incorrect)! Which is what is happening too frequently nowadays, and everyone is being encouraged because a few such songs work big-time, or are said to have done so because they are promoted on television and radio! There is no effort to correct this, because no one cares! Another area of trouble is that besura singing is ignored or found "cute" and excuses like 'natural raw voice' and 'novelty' are given. Obviously, the more conscientious people use pitch-correction software for these kind of voices. So when singers like us are recording and find ourselves imperfect at points, the music directors are resistant to pitch-correction for us, because they feel we are better! But if pitch-correction can help good singers sound even better, I feel that it should be used!
What about suitability of voice to actor?
Again by definition, playback means a voice that seems to be coming from an actor's mouth! I feel consternation when I hear or read of someone saying proudly, "Things have opened up now! A voice need not match the actor!" I find it illogical. Almost a decade ago, I had recorded Toone mujhe pehchaana nahin for Ajay Devgan in Raju Chacha. But when I watched the film, I was aghast! I realised that my thin voice wasn't suiting Ajay at all! From that time, I have always made a special effort - whenever I know which actor the song will go on screen - to modulate my voice. I have sung for Ajay in some songs later and you can see the results in those songs, like in Masti.
I think that this is not an "opening up" but an indifferent, easy way out!
True. Sometimes even the compositions do not fit the mood of the respective song.
You said it - and some of these songs are superhits !! It's bizarre. I think that certain basic fundamentals should not be changed just for the sake of change.
Do you think that if they had their way, they would change the order of the alphabet and numbers just to change something!
(Laughs) Yes. There is this recent soundtrack that has made a lot of waves along with the film - but it had everything wrong with it but worked! Moreover, most good playback singers are versatile, but today, if you are an all-rounder and advertise the fact, you could be in great trouble, because the need today is of singers, composers and lyricists who only have a specific forte!
How have you adapted to this hopefully-transient scenario?
Well, I have never said things like, "Singing is my bloodline, so I breathe music, live music or exist only for music!" So all this has given me the opportunity to try out other avenues of my personality, like freaking out on a television show that has nothing to do with music. The graph will always be downward, which is why the average song of yore will always be the masterpiece of today! As entertainment gets broader, all this is bound to happen and one must be prepared for it. But yes, film music and playback singing automatically have certain prerequisites and it's not nice to know that those are being defiled.
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