Joined: 26 April 2006
|SINGER | INTERVIEW||
With an acting innings that began in a Kamal Hassan film, a music innings that took off with Magnasound, then a leader in its field, and a playback career that began with A.R.Rahman, Vasundhara Das began right at the top. She speaks of her dual art in a frank chat with Screen. Excerpts;
Did you always want to take up both careers?
No, the acting part just happened when I was fresh out of college, and I decided to take up the challenge. I thought that at the end of the day I could use my actor status to promote myself as a singer if I did well as an actress. Your first film as actor was Hey! Ram. Do you belong to Chennai?
I am from Bangalore, and that's a city that let's you be who you are. It is also a city that allows all-round growth. My parents were very fond of music, as was my family. My grandmother was my first guru, and she was very keen that someone in my family took to music, because she herself was a part of the Gandharva Mahavidhyalaya in Delhi. I was the youngest of 7 cousins. She had aspirations for all of us, and I made it! (Laughs). So who taught you music later?
Like all grandchildren, I never took my grandmother seriously as a teacher! I then learnt under Lalita Kaikini in a proper school, which was great fun because there were other students with me that made for a competitive spirit and made school much more fun. After that I became a student of Parmeshwar Hegde, with whom I am learning till today, and he really changed my life. In what way?
He really surprised me.I was always receptive to every kind of music, and he would be initially very irritated with my other musical activities and my experimentation because he thought I was not focussed enough on what he was teaching me in classical vocal, like khayaal. But then he realized that my attention to other music was not making me go haywire. And then he began to listen to what I was doing outside his training, And that acceptance of who I was became very important for me. He realized that my interest in music was beyond just one style of genre.And that in turn made me more responsible about learning from him as well. What about learning Hindustani music?
But all my teachers were from the Hindustani school, not Carnatic! Even though I was based in Bangalore, by birth I am a Hebbar Iyengar from Tamil Nad, so that even the dialect we speak is a mix of Tamil and Kannada, a sort of mid-way affair.
Well, I completed my Economics and told my family that I would like to take a year off for music, to understand whether the ground realities would be a congenial scenario for me: I wanted to analyze objectively whether I could do commercial music as a profession. But my family had heard stories about the big, bad world of Mumbai so they did not want me to come here. They told me to go to Chennai instead. I approached Magnasound there in 1999 and they signed me for the album Meri Jaan. I also began playing with bands - the rock scene is big there. What took off first, your singing career or acting?
One day, Pravin Mani, who had been signed on as the music director of my album, suggested that I meet up A.R.Rahman when we were going somewhere and he had to drop off something at Rahman's studio. That's how I met Rahman we had a nice chat.
Since I was playing in bands I had been getting offers to act, which I thought was pretty absurd because I had no experience whatsoever! But then the offers get more serious. I was approached by Kamal Haasan, and my family suggested that when people of that stature call you, the least I could do was go and meet them. Kamal-ji took my screen test and I was approved and signed. I had to begin shooting three days later!
And then Rahman sent for me, for "Shakalaka Baby..." in Mudhalvan. When two doors had opened almost simultaneously I saw no reason why I should not do both at the same time. But I decided not to lay down conditions, like insisting on singing all my songs as an actress. And then came Monsoon Wedding in Mumbai.
Yes, I had come to Mumbai for some work connected with my album, which was still under production. Through a common friend, I met Gurinder Chadha who was casting for Monsoon Wedding and landed the role. I was lucky to get great poeple in my earliest ventures. Shaad Ali directed by first Meri Jaan video - it was his debut too. Then came my Tamil film Citizen with Ajith, which was a huge hit. That was the first ever time that I actually got to sing two songs for myself! I did sing in a couple of other South Indian films but not for myself. So right now you are having the best of both worlds.
(Laughs) Well, it's nice to be recognized all over the world. I have been doing shows and have a fan base even in Sri Lanka. I also had a major hit in Ravanaprabhu, my Malayalam debut opposite Mohanlal, which has been the biggest Malayalam hit in the last 15 years. I was thrilled that I was recognized in an obscure town in Spain as the bride from Monsoon Wedding. You have sung in several Mumbai films. Which was the take-off point?
Though technically my first release was Lagaan, followed by Nayak, my first Mumbai recording was for Anu Malik's Aks. Rakeysh Mehra called me to sing 'Aaja gufaaon mein...'. Frankly I was a bit hesitant, wondering if it was an auspicious start to a Mumbai career by singing a song that was about hell! But then I thought it would be fun and very different!(Laughs) I thought that I could explore what too many other songs do not allow. I was also getting to work with Anu Malik, Ranjit Barot as the arranger, and Gulzar-saab as the lyricist, and so I did it! And they were so happy with it that they added the song that really proved a big hit, 'Rabba rabba...' , at the last minute. Do you find any difference in the working styles down South and in Mumbai?
Oh they are miles apart in presentation. I have sung in Main Hoon Na, Aankhen, Paisa Vasool, Dhoom, Salaam Namaste, Alag, Saawan, Dosti, Talaash and other films. And you have yet to sing for yourself in a Hindi film?
Yes! I am doing a song in my forthcoming film as an actor, Eik Dasstak but I do not think that I will be enacting it. Yes, I have also sung for myself in the Kannada film Lankesh Patrike. Do you approach singing for yourself and for others differently?
The only difference is that I tend to be over-critical of myself as singer when I am participating in the shooting of that song. (Laughs again). But frankly, I am enjoying the different directions that I am following simultaneously. Why are there no albums coming up?
They will. Right now I am busy with different kinds of music. I have just come back from USA after collaborating on Global Rhythms a programme from Miami, Ohio and East Michigan University that invites artistes from different countries each year.Rahman, Shekhar, a cello player from Chennai and I were invited this year. There was a 90-minute concert where Rahman arranged a 150-student choir and we sang in Hindi and Tamil. In July, I will be performing in London with an artiste named State Of Bengal and Taufiq Qureshi for BBC. I have also performed with a Rajasthani folk band named Maharaja and Vishal-Shekhar. This was a unique experience with some non-film and classical singing included. I have collaborated on some other music projects as well. I am singing playback too. And what about the acting front?
After Eik Dasstak I am doing Kudiyon Ka Hai Zamana and Patthar Bezubaan, inspired by the Mathura Rape Case, as a superintendent of police.
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