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From butterflies to ghalib (COURTESY : SCREEN)

INTERVIEW | SHARDA

From butterflies to ghalib

Rajiv Vijayakar
Posted online: Friday, April 06, 2007 at 0000 hours IST

Forty years ago, she was known as the ‘Titli udi’ girl. Spinning an enchanting web of hits from the legendary and then Numero Uno Shankar-Jaikishan, Sharda, or Sharda Rajan Iyengar to give her full name, sang in an array of big-banner films for heroines from Vyjayantimala and Sharmila Tagore to Mumtaz, Saira Banu, Hema Malini and Helen. Today, the songstress is ready with her 24-song double-album, also composed by her, on Ghalib.The singer with that distinctive voice is both in rewind and fast forward mode in an exclusive chat with Screen. Excerpts...
Where have you been all these years?
I was singing off and on till Shankar(of Jaikishan duo)-ji was alive, like in one of his last films, Kaanch Ki Deewar that released in 1986. After that I took a break. But the urge to sing was overriding. I also had composed a lot of songs and compositions kept reverberating in my head. So I began doing shows, mostly abroad, but also on invitation in India. Two years ago, I came out with an album for children, and now my double-album on Ghalib’s poetry will soon be out on my own label.

What kind of shows have you done?
There are three kinds of shows that I do - one in which I make a sort of guest appearance in orchestras. Then there are solo shows wherein I sing a mix of bhajans, ghazals and my own songs. The third is when I am invited by ashrams and other organizations - in these I sing devoti****songs. I have received various honours abroad for my singing.

What made you think of an album on Ghalib?
Some years back I was exposed to Ghalib and realized that his poetry went beyond the standard romantic ghazals - there were parts that indicated the influence of the Bhagwad Gita too. Soon, I found myself breathing, thinking and composing Ghalib. Before I knew it I had 24 compositions ready. I presented them to the Ghalib Foundation and they loved them. When I went to music companies, however, it was a different story! They told me that there is no market for the ghazal nowadays! So I am releasing the album under my own label. But what are we doing nowadays? Must we destroy everything good for the future generations using such excuses?

I am calling the album Andaz-e-Bayaan Aur - this is what Ghalib himself would say about his verse when he was actually criticized in his time for being different from the others!

The poems of Ghalib have been composed repeatedly over centuries , including in films. Were you not subconsciously influenced by these when you were composing them?
Not at all. As I said, the compositions just seemed to take birth as I was reading and understanding the poetry.



You always had a distinctive voice. How has it changed during the years?
My voice still has the same quality. But it has improved over the years and acquired maturity and a certain resonance or thanak, unlike so many other voices that have aged.

To what do you attribute this?
I am practicing and also teaching voice-culture, to which I was introduced some years back. This is something that is vital today, both for singers and those in other professions. A voice makes a major impression in every field. As a singer, it also involves learning good posture, breathing techniques, calculating the ‘throw’ of your voice and controling its power.

You are a South Indian. But you never chose a musical career down South.
I came from a small town in Tamil Nadu where I also learnt Carnatic music. Obviously in those days there was no television and no cinema halls in my vicinity showed Hindi films, but a nearby tea-shop would often play Hindi songs. Somehow I always had an affinity for Hindustani music. Even now, though I also like a lot of Western music, my favourite music is North Indian and Hindustani classical, though I have sung in Tamil and Telugu after turning a professional singer.

As for Hindi films, I would leave everything and run to the tea-shop if I heard one of my favourite songs played - my all-time favourite being ‘Jahaan badla wafaa ka’. My mother would get irritated but I had always wanted to be a singer, composer and even songwriter. I even made it a point to learn Hindi.

Your first song was for the Hindi film Suraj produced in Chennai. How did Shankarji discover you?
Contrary to popular belief, I was not a Shankar-Jaikishan discovery except in a technical sense. My husband and I were based in Teheran where there was a party at the house of the famous distributor Srichand Ahuja. Since the Indian community was limited, they requested me to sing as I was known for my singing. Raj Kapoorsaab happened to be there and he was impressed. He asked me why I did not take up professional singing. I asked him whether he would take me in his films. He told me that he would if I came down to Mumbai.

So I did a voice-test at RK Studios - in those days this voice-test or microphone-test was a must and anyone and everyone could not become a singer as they do now! - and the entire group liked my voice and singing. Rajji then sent to me to Shankar-Jaikishan.

Shankar-Jaikishan were ruling then. How long did it take for them to give you a break?
With Shankarji, the rapport was instant. We recorded ‘Titli udi’ for Suraj the very next day and ‘Chale jaana’ with Mukeshji a few days later for Around The World.

By then, S-J had split. Did you do any songs with Jaikishan?
No, they had not really split by then. But they were both very strong composers. They had worked all along in an individual way, like two lines starting from a point and coming together to complete a circle. I was to record some songs for Jaikishanji because he had promised me he would, but he was unwell. Then he passed away.

But Shankar and you deluged us with hit solos and duets.
Both of them, as I said, were kings then and all the songs that Shankarji gave me were tailored to my voice and style. But my tally of about 200 songs would have been far greater had I not faced a lot of manipulations from vested interests. Shankarji had to face a lot of pressures, and my songs would even be removed from films and blanked out from the radio. There were cases where soundtracks featuring my songs would not be available in music shops! Rajji had kept his promise and had recorded with me for Mera Naam Joker. But there was no song of mine in the final music score that came out!

Still, on the strength of the sheer power of your hits, did not other music directors call you? And why did you not approach them?
I realized that I would have to face this kind of politics no matter how well I sang or how popular my songs would become. I did sing for a few composers like Ravisaab in Sanjh Ki Bela and in a Gujarati film for which I won a State award. Usha Khannaji gave me songs, as also N.Dutta, Dattaram, Iqbal Qureshi, Surinder Kohli and Avinash Vyas. I also sang for Ajay Vishwanath. There were other regional songs that I did - I sang in Marathi, Punjabi and Bengali too.

Still, if things had been different, was there a wish-list that you had of composers?
I would have particularly liked to sing for Naushadsaab, whose compositions were always designed keeping in mind a singer’s voice and characteristics, and for O.P.Nayyarsaab. Nayyarsaab, I believe, wanted to call me but also faced pressures. The same was the case with Hemant Kumar.

You also got to sing with all the top male singers.
Yes, and I must say that all of them were perfect gentlemen and were very supportive and encouraging. I had a special rapport with Mohammed Rafisaab and Mukeshji, and I also sang with Manna Dey, Kishore Kumar, Mahendra Kapoor and later Yesudas and Suresh Wadkar, with whom I sang a duet in Kaanch Ki Deewar.

How much was your entry into music direction influenced by the politics you faced as a singer?
I was always into composing like I said. Not many people are aware that I was among the first to record Indian pop songs - HMV (now Saregama) had released Geet Manohari and Sizzler, two EPs for which I had composed and sung 4 such songs each.

Those songs were noticed by filmmakers and I got offers to compose music for several films, among them being Mandir Masjid, Maila Anchal, Maa Bahen Aur Biwi, Tu Meri Main Tera, Garibi Hatao, Hazaar Haath and Kshitij. It was in Hazaar Haath that I recorded a duet with Yesudas.

Why don’t you compose and sing in films now?
As a composer, I am more than willing. I think that I can provide just the right kind of music that is modern and yet has melody and soul. I do not like what passes off for film music these days, though there are some good singers around.

As a singer too, luckily the atmosphere is free now. I would love to sing if today’s composers call me.

rajiv.vijayakar@expressindia.com




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