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Meet Meghna Mishra, voice of Secret Superstar Insiya

The teenage singing sensation speaks exclusively to Cinestaan.com, shares her Secret Superstar journey.

Mayur Lookhar

At a time when songs are mainly used for promotional purposes, playback singers have become tiny cogs in the wheel of a successful film. But when a film revolves around a singing character, the playback singer, too, comes into focus.

Zaira Wasim is currently being hailed for her performance as the veiled singing sensation in Secret Superstar (2017). Aamir Khan and the supporting cast of Raj Arjun and Meher Vij, too, have been appreciated for their fine performances.

Secret Superstar review: This veiled sensation has something to sing and say

Amidst all the praise for the actors, one shouldn’t lose sight of the voice of the Secret Superstar, Meghna Mishra. The 16-year-old Mumbai girl has risen up the charts rapidly as a singing sensation. She has crooned some memorable numbers, with her performance especially in two tracks — 'Main Kaun Hoon' and 'Nachdi Phira' — good enough to make top-ranked singers proud.

Music runs in Meghna's blood. Her father Sanjay Kumar Mishra is a singer while her mother is a tabla player. 

Speaking exclusively with Cinestaan.com, Meghna Mishra shared her Secret Superstar journey, recounted the experience of recording a song in Aamir Khan's presence, hailed Zaira as a quick learner, and recalled her horror at participating in a reality show. Excerpts.

'Koi yeh batadey ke main kaun hoon'. A lifetime often goes by but most people don't get an answer to this question. I wonder at 16, do you have any inkling about what you have achieved as the voice of the Secret Superstar?

I think all this is the result of the struggle of my parents. They are thrilled that all the struggle they undertook has led to a good path for me. I have started my career with Aamir [Khan] sir, Amit [Trivedi] sir. These are people who value genuine talent. I would like to believe that I have achieved a lot working with such artistes.

There is widespread praise for the film, all the artistes, the reviews are good. I saw most of the artistes jumping for joy at the special screening. What went through your mind seeing those celebrations?

It was unbelievable. It was too hard to believe I was in the company of such celebrated people. The celebrations were also a realization that my life could only get successful from here on. I am happy I was involved in these celebrations. [Director] Advait Chandanji and all were thanking me for my contribution to the film. I am thrilled that the likes of Aamir Khan and Advait Chandan gave me the big break in my life.

As a schoolboy, I used to be petrified to participate in singing competitions. Accidentally, I managed to make it to the final of a Marathi singing competition. On the big day, stage fright got to me and I was all over the place. So I was stunned by your supreme confidence when you performed at the press conference of Secret Superstar. Did you feel no nerves?

Meghna Mishra (right) at the music launch of Secret Superstar

Yes, I was nervous as it was the first time I was facing the media. I gave pretty silly answers to the questions I was asked. I felt embarrassed, but then I felt I need to prepare better for the future.

I was nervous purely because I was performing with so many cameras on me. Performing in front of Aamir Khan, on the other hand, is very comforting. I was worried that I shouldn’t err. That’s a bad feeling. I looked up to my parents and gave my best. That released the nerves a bit.

But how was it when you were selected as the voice of Insiya? What went through your mind when you met Advait Chandan and Amit Trivedi?

Music composer Santosh Mulekar is close to our family. He had called my mother and asked about my age. I was going to turn 15 in a few months. He said someone will call and seek an audio clip of my voice. I sent a link of my lone YouTube video — 'Stay' song by Rihanna. Soon I received a text message asking us to report to a given address in a few days. Papa and I went there. We waited for hours. I had no idea that this studio belonged to Amit Trivedi. All I could see were the initials, AT Studios.

I was very nervous. Then the manager there made us feel comfortable. After a few minutes, I was asked to fill a contract. I had no idea what a contract is. I just filled the form. The manager then asked a staff member to call ‘Sir’. Amit sir entered the room.

Did you know who Amit Trivedi was?

No. But the face seemed familiar. He told me I had been selected as a singer for an Aamir Khan production. I was shocked. I then picked up the contract paper and started reading it.

So you had filled it without going through it?

(Laughs.) I then read in bold letters the mention of Aamir Khan and a new director. Zaira Wasim’s name was mentioned. Dangal hadn’t been released then, so I didn’t know who she was. I started to recall how I had a dream of becoming a playback singer. My father has struggled a lot. This [offer] was also a dream come true for him. This was a great opportunity and I already started to think positively, looking ahead to the future.

Which was the first song you recorded as a playback singer? How was that experience?

The whole team went to Panchgani [a hill station in near Pune in Maharashtra]. 'Sapne Re' was the first song that was recorded. We left early in the morning and reached there by 10am. The final recording of the song was done in the studio, but the composition and lyrics were created in Panchgani.  Amit sir had a mini studio in his room. He used to explain the song to me in the morning. I practised it for the rest of the day, and in the evening we recorded the songs. The whole team was made to hear the song, and then, accordingly, he would finalize it.

Were you travelling to finalize all the songs?

We finalized four songs in Panchgani. 'Nachdi Phira', however, was composed in Mumbai. We travelled back to Panchgani to finalize 'Main Kaun Hoon'.

Did Aamir Khan come to the recording studio?

No, only Amit sir and I were there in the recording studio. Aamir sir was there when the 'O Re Manwa' song was recorded. I was very nervous. He was there to guide me. He advised me to sing it in a husky voice. I had earlier sung the song in a clear tone, on a high scale. Aamir sir said this is a heartbreaking song and so I should sing it softly. He explained how it is to be done. He was seated there with the headphones on. I was scared, but I shut my eyes to sing. I slowed the track down and he kept saying I need to sing it more softy. I must have taken 8-9 takes for just one line. Only when I got the tone right was the song finalized.

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Did that moment feel as though the school headmaster was taking a class?

(Laughs.) No, but I was enjoying the moment. Here is someone I have seen on TV, and he turned out to be a great man. My parents are great admirers of Aamir Khan. They were thrilled to know about me recording a song in his presence.

When I listened to the 'Nachdi Phira' song, I couldn’t believe a 16-year-old was singing. Usually we associate such a performance with an experienced playback singer. This song goes from low to high range. How tough was it to get that right?

It’s all about practice, about how well you have been trained for it. Earlier the song had a different tune. I recorded a verse and it was sent to Advait sir. He wanted the song to be an entirely rock song. Amit sir agreed and after Advait sir left, he managed to create a new soft tune within five minutes. I recorded the song on my mother’s phone and it was sent across to Advait sir. Everyone liked the new tune.

Did this song drain you?

Yes, it did. The music is very touchy. Each time I sang it, I felt the agony of it. The lyrics, too, are emotional. We recorded most songs in a day. There were times when a few changes were made, as recommended by Aamir Khan. It wasn’t frustrating at all. On the contrary, I enjoyed it.

As a playback singer, you can do your job to the best of your ability, but it’s important that the actor who lip-synchs gets the soul of the track. What did you make of Zaira Wasim’s performance on 'Nachdi Phira'?

I used to rehearse this song and 'Main Kaun Hoon' with Zaira. She used to observe me while I sang. Then she sang it, asking me what she needed to do to get the lip-synching, the emotions right. Zaira is a quick learner. She took a couple of days observing me and then performed on the third day as I watched her. She really got into the soul of her character.

Music runs in your blood. Do you recall how you started your journey as a singer?

My parents hail from Ghazipur, Uttar Pradesh. My father is a singer while my mother is a tabla player. Music was part of the environment. I sang from an early age but to sit with Father and learn classical singing was totally different. People requested me to sing at social gatherings. The appreciation led Father to believe that it was time to formally train me as a singer. He started teaching me regularly when I was about 10-11 years old. I remember, though, at five, I used to sing a Lata Mangeshkar song, 'Unko yeh shikayat hai ke hum kuch nahi kehtein' — from Adalat (1958). My grandparents loved listening to this track from me.

Aamir Khan had mentioned that you were once rejected at a reality show. How old were you then? What went wrong and how tough was it to cope with that disappointment?

My parents and I never believed in reality shows. We never even contemplated participating in one. I was performing at the school annual day. I was in class VI then, competing for Witty Idol [at Witty International School]. One of the guests was an unheralded musician. He knew my father and it was he who filed my name for Indian Idol junior season one.

What you see on television, perceiving it to be round one, is actually the fourth round of the contest. There are three rounds before it, which are not televized. I had cleared the three rounds but was eliminated in the fourth. I was called at 7am. It was far from my house. The judges [Shreya Ghoshal, Vishal Dadlani] came late too. We were told to scream, made to run around, give 5-6 takes because the entry of the judges didn’t seem right. So, each time, we were running holding a flag in hand.

The stress took its toll on my voice. My turn came at 11pm, my throat wasn’t great and I couldn’t perform to the best of my ability. The comments by the judges hurt my mother. Papa, too, was upset, but at the same time he was happy I was out of it. All he said was that I should concentrate on learning at home than thinking about these reality shows. He also said there were no reality shows in earlier times, and yet talented singers got their opportunities. Arijit Singh also participated in a reality show and failed, but I guess the guy who won it, today we don’t know his whereabouts.

My father later informed me that the winners of these reality shows had also auditioned for Secret Superstar but couldn’t make it. It is strange that despite winning these reality shows, they are still required to give auditions.

Zaira is unsure if she would want to act for long, but I guess, after Secret Superstar, you have set high goals for yourself. Or do you just want to take things as and when they come in your life?

Well, I have little plans. Normally, a hit film should open the doors for concerts. But my father wants to limit these programmes to 2-3 appearances. He wants me to focus more on practice. From my parents, to Aamir and Amit sir, all of them have advised me that since I come from a cultural background, I should not go into vulgar songs, item songs. I can sing them, but I won’t get creative satisfaction. As of now, I have no film offers but I hope they will follow.

Singing is your primary passion, but what about education? Have you set goals for it, too?

Education... ah! I think after my 12tth, I would like to have a programming system at my place. I would like to have a mini-recording studio at home. There are many compositions from Father which I want to fill it with. After my class XII, I would like to take up education in music only.