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Interview Hindi

Sonu Nigam: Music companies come to me when their singers are unable to sing a song

The singer gets candid on his career, current musical scenario and return to Twitter while speaking about his new talent management venture. 

Keyur Seta

Sonu Nigam has been one of the more celebrated singers in Hindi cinema, impressing music lovers and giving hits to big stars for close to 25 years now. He is now aiming to nurture raw talent by being the face of the new venture Playworx Music by ITW Playworx. 

In an exclusive conversation with Cinestaan.com, Nigam spoke of his new role, his career, chances of returning to Twitter and being seen more often behind the mic. He also shared his views on the current musical scenario. Excerpts:

What exactly is your collaboration with ITW Playworx to form Playworx Music?

Their team thought my ideas can be included with theirs. They then thought we can work together. I have been in this industry for so long, so I try not to take stress. I work with people who are like-minded and think on my level. It’s not that my level is great. But I am a considerate type of person. I want people to behave with me the way I behave with them. So it becomes easy to work. I can’t work with a mannerless, arrogant person. The attitude of ITW people is very simple. 

There are a lot of things that can happen in music, but they don’t, because our attitude is like lakeer ka fakeer. It’s like a herd mentality. If something is working, we will blindly run behind it till it gets finished. For example, if a song has ‘daru’ in it, we will include ‘daru,’ ‘vodka,’ ‘tequila’ and do its maa ki aankh. So, there is a lot we can do in music. We will work towards it together. ITW is already an established name. And even I am not inexperienced.

You said you would be giving guidance to upcoming singers.

A lot of boys and girls come to me who are just directionless. They sing so well and they are sincere students of music. Two names are on the tip of my tongue but I won’t take them. Nobody is giving them work although the two brothers sing very well. We would like to get such people on board who are not getting film songs and have no path. People should say these are real artists. I know other people will snatch them from us (laughs). But that’s okay. At least our reputation would be that we chose them. Like an ISI mark. I want to become the ISI mark of music and entertainment. 

The musical scenario and the type of music has changed drastically from the time you started. How do you look at this change?

Every era has a good scenario. I am not the type of person who thinks, ‘It was very good in our time and right now it’s rubbish.’ This is negative thinking. Unimpressive work happens in every era. It happened then; it happens now. So, I feel it is wrong to say that one era was superior. Of course, our gurus like [Mohammad] Rafi saheb, Kishoreji [Kumar], Lataji [Mangeshkar], Ashaji [Bhosle], Manna Dey saheb, Hemant Kumarji, Talat Mahmoodji, Mahendra Kapoorji, Geeta Duttji, [KL] Saigal saheb, were superior. We can’t compare anyone with them because we have come from them. No matter how big the child becomes, mother-father will always be bigger than him. 

When I was new, there used to be live music. I am the only singer in this generation who has sung live with 100-150 musicians in Mehboob Studios. This cannot be claimed by Shaan, Kay Kay, Kunal Ganjawala, etc. I have been lucky. I have seen that and now I am seeing this [era]. In today’s [technically advanced] times, if one has to utter the word ‘aankh’ then you can [digitally] punch ‘aan’ and also ‘kh’. Today it’s so easy. Even a besura can become a singer. But there are also a lot of advantages. 

A lot of people are of the view that it is difficult to distinguish the voices of male singers today. They sound similar and you can’t tell who exactly is singing.

Yeh toh hai (laughs). Even I find it difficult. But it will get sorted out. Once they become established, there will be some clarity. I feel those who are controlling music should let singers grow. Because of so much variety, hardly anyone is getting optimum work. Arijit Singh is getting a lot of work, which is good, because he has gone ahead in the race. But those who are behind him aren’t getting optimum opportunity to use or explore their potential. I am not saddened because of this. I feel it will happen. What is good will surely outshine. It is impossible to stop talent. Just give them some time. 

You have been in the field for almost 25 years now. How do you look at your journey?

Wonderful; beautiful. It couldn’t have been better because when I had come here, I had never imagined that my posters would be sold. Posters of singers were never seen. I was so surprised. I myself bought a few of my posters. God gave this to me in 1997-98, which is such a big deal. I have been very lucky. God has been kind.

I also saw some debacles. It’s not that everything was smooth. I have seen bad times too. But I never became negative from the inside. Some people feel troubled even though they are not facing bad times. They are always tense. I am not like that. In case I feel tense, I allow myself to be that way for 1-2 days. That’s why my journey has been pretty nice.

You are the only established Hindi film singer from your era who has been singing regularly in Marathi cinema. What is the reason for your fondness for it?

Oh yes! I say this openly. If someone feels bad, it is his or her problem. Barring South India, whose music I am not well versed with, I feel only two states have proper listeners — Maharashtra and Bengal. People from these two places take music seriously. Marathis listen so intently and straightaway point out if one sings a false note. They sit like critics. Bengalis also listen to music and learn dance from childhood. It’s not that it doesn’t happen in Punjab. But to see music inside your veins in the level of society is seen among Marathis and Bengalis. That’s why I enjoy singing in Marathi. 

I consider myself very lucky to be staying in Mumbai. When I was new to this city I used to tell people that they don’t know what Delhi is. I was earlier in Delhi. From there to Mumbai is a culture shock. Over there you see gundagardi but here people stand in queues for buses. This is the culture. I think in the entire country this is the only place where it happens. Do they still stand in queues?

They do, but only in a few places.

It seems people from the North have come here (laughs). No disrespect to anyone. There were always queues when I was new. So, I am really happy to be here. I am very much familiar with Maharashtrian culture. I am connected too much with it. All my close friends are Marathis like Sanjay Chitale, Pramod Chandarkar, Vijay Shivalkar, Prashant Gore. And my big brother Sachin Pilgaonkar too. He was the one who gave me my first break. I have a lot of love and respect for him. I am singing all songs in his next Marathi film, Ashi Hi Aashiqui. I will soon be singing its next song. He has composed the music in the film. 

Which are the other upcoming films where you have lent your voice? You aren’t seen singing regularly now.

I have sung in the upcoming Sanjay Dutt biopic. I also have a few more. But don’t be hopeful that I will sing a lot now. These days, only those singers who are part of a music company’s management team get more songs. They will give opportunities to only those who can help them earn a lot through shows. It’s a business decision. I have no problem with this. So, one shouldn’t expect those singers who are not affiliated to any music company to get more songs.

They will come to me only when their singer is unable to sing a particular song. Like ‘Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin’ [from Agneepath (2012)], which is a tedha song. I had sung in Sarbjeet (2016). When their singer wasn’t able to sing ‘Main Dardon Ko Paas’, Bhushan Kumar called and asked me to sing. So, they come to me for specialized songs. But don’t expect Sonu Nigam to become the topmost running singer again. That will never happen now. 

You have fans all over the world who would love to hear from you regularly. So, have you thought about returning to Twitter?

No no. I am a very clear person. Once I leave, it’s over. There is no tension in life. I am not dependent on anything. Like, what would happen if there was no Twitter? It doesn’t matter. I had seven million followers but I still left. Why should I tell people what I am doing? (Laughs.) It’s good that there is a purdah now. I am happy. I am on Facebook because there is a closed group over there. But I am not anywhere else. Plus, there is no time.

Threats have become a big issue on social media in recent times. In fact, threats have even reached national television like we saw in the Padmavati case.

Anybody is saying just about anything to anyone over there [on Twitter]. I once visited Mr Amitabh Bachchan’s page and was shocked to see the kind of things people write to him. Aise kaise? What kind of freedom of expression is this? You just can’t say anything to anyone. I feel Twitter is gutter. It’s gutterati.

I feel threatening is wrong. It shouldn’t happen. But we will take the benefit of social media for ITW Playworx. It’s a good medium to reach out to people. But I don’t endorse social media on a personal level.