Playback singer Arijit Singh has broken into the big league with back-to-back hits
Twenty-three years after the music of Mahesh Bhatt-directed Aashiqui shot composers Nadeem-Shravan and singer Kumar Sanu to fame,director Mohit Suri was looking for a new voice for the soundtrack of its sequel. For a film hinged on music,it was crucial that Suri found the new-age yet soulful singer that he was looking for. Along with composers Jeet Ganguly,Ankit Tiwari and Mithoon Sharma,he zoomed in on 26-year-old Arijit Singh. In a studio in Andheri,Singh recorded Tum hi ho,with bass vocals and a basic backbeat,that went on to top the charts,with eight million hits on YouTube.
If the success of the number took him by surprise,more validation followed in the form of the rambunctious Dilliwali girlfriend and the melodious Kabira from Ayaan Mukerji’s Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani that released in May. When we meet Singh in his apartment on the 16th floor of a gated enclave in Mumbais Andheri,he is fiddling with his digital audio workstation,keyboards and outboard effects,working on a song to be played at the IIFA awards at Macau. The last couple of years,he says,has been one of the more satisfying phases in his career. In between mixing a Vishal Dadlani track composed by music director Pritam,he tells us how producing music is something he has come to enjoy besides singing. Composers like my voice and I enjoy singing,but what I really love is producing and programming music. One needs to have fun with what is being done, he says.
Singh first came into the public eye during a reality show called Fame Gurukul on Sony television,where he lost the finals. I was 18 then and the show put me out there. It gave me the chance I needed to stay back in Mumbai, says Singh,who would spend long hours in the programming room of Fame Gurukul in between recordings to learn how to use audio set-ups and arrange music.
For a boy who grew up in Murshidabad in Bengal,where he was only allowed to play and learn classical music,Singhs introduction to Bollywood music was slow and hesitant. His mother,a music enthusiast,enrolled him for lessons when he was three. Rajendra Prasad Hazariji,my guru,was very strict. I was not allowed to listen to a lot of things,including ghazals. He would say that if you want to learn something pure you have to give up other genres, says Singh. But sometimes,the eight-year-old would catch Bollywood songs playing on the radio in some other part of the house,and slowly learnt to identify golden oldies by Kishore Kumar,Mohammad Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. What I hadnt thought was that I would go on to sing those songs, says Singh.
Surprisingly,it was his guru who encouraged him to apply for the reality show. The scope of classical music in a place like Murshidabad is very limited. One day,much to my surprise,guruji told me to go try my luck out of Bengal. He said,if I didnt strike out,Id be stuck there all my life teaching music to kids, he says. After the competition,Singh returned home and began working in the Bengali film industry.
An offer to record an album from Kumar Taurani of Tips had Singh hotfooting it back to Mumbai. But the album took almost a year to be recorded,mixed and mastered and was eventually never released. Taurani thought that the time wasnt right to put out an album. But he kept paying me a salary,which after a while I was embarrassed to take,since I wasnt doing anything, says Singh,who finally decided to pack up and return to Kolkata and continue in the film industry there. But a call from Pritam in 2010 altered things. The composer needed an assistant and Singhs name was doing the rounds among his Bengali friends. That one call changed my life, says Singh. He went on to work with him in films such as Bodyguard,Mausam and Cocktail and sing popular numbers in films like Crook (Challa),Agent Vinod (the love ballad Raabta) and Anurag Basu’s Barfi! (the lilting Phir le aaya dil). A song demands more than just the voice and texture. It requires sincerity and soul and that is what Arijit brings to the recording studio, says Jigar of the composer-duo Sachin-Jigar.
His return to Mumbai coincided with the time when a wave of experimental directors was making inroads into Bollywood and the music industry was reflecting the change. Singh fit right into this new mould. Working with Pritam had honed his programming skills his job involves casting the right singer,singing scratches and programming for Pritam. It was one of these scratches sung by Singh that made director-duo Abbas Mastaan take him on board for the fast-paced number Jhoom Jhoom (in the film Players). Phir le aaya dil was also a scratch version for other singers to listen to and audition for,but Pritam retained his original recording. Arijits vocal texture is brilliant. The way he emotes and the soul he puts into each song is exemplary. Also,since he is so good with production and programming,it makes my job as a composer easier. He knows exactly how a song needs to be sung, says Shekhar Ravjiani of the composers Vishal-Shekhar. Singh had sung Dua for them in Dibakar Banerjees sharply-executed political thriller Shanghai. The way I see it,I think his humility is what makes him credible. All he knows is music and that is what makes him a real musician, adds Ravjiani.
While his voice is an ideal fit for romantic songs,with traces of popular musicians KK,Atif Aslam and Papon in it,Singh wants to experiment with different genres. When one has had rigorous training in classical music,no style is difficult. I understand that the audience identifies my voice more with soft romantic numbers,but I am here to try different things, says Singh,whose wish list includes singing for AR Rahman and Ilaiyaraaja. His current assignments have him busy recording for Vishal-Shekhar,Pritam and Mithoon Sharma for a slew of untitled projects. When he gets some free time,it is to fiddle with his latest possession,a Canon 5 D Mark III camera. I love gadgets,so whenever I have money,I buy new ones. The programming head of Fame Gurukul had once told me that if I ever have the money,I should buy a programming set-up,not a car and a house. The set-up will get me all of that anyway. Thats what I am aiming for, he says with a grin.
But eventually,Singh wants to be a composer. Javed sahab (Akhtar) had once told me,Pehle singer ban jao,phir composer bhi ban jaana. Im following his advice, he says.