Article Hindi

Faced rejections for my low-pitched, melancholic voice: Rekha Bharadwaj at Habitat Film Festival

Rekha Bhardwaj enchanted the audience at the 13th Habitat Film Festival with anecdotes from her career and brief performances of some of her famous Hindi songs.

Photo: Habitat Film Festival

Prateek Rawat

The 13th Habitat Film Festival is hosting a series of masterclasses with eminent personalities from Hindi cinema. The festival invited critically acclaimed and immensely popular singer Rekha Bhardwaj for one such session at the India Habitat Centre in New Delhi.

National Film Award and Filmfare Award winning Bhardwaj is an Indian playback singer and live performer. She has sung songs in Hindi, Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, and Malayalam, and rose to fame with tremendously popular film songs like 'Namak Ishq Ka' from Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara (2006), 'Sasural Genda Phool' from Rakeysh Omprakash Mehra's Delhi-6 (2009) and 'Phir Le Aya Dil' from Anurag Basu's Barfi! (2012), among others.

Bhardwaj has been trained in music by Pandit Amarnath of the Indore gharana.

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At Habitat Film Festival, she was engaged in a conversation by Kaveree Bamzai from India Today magazine. Talking about her career, Bhardwaj expressed her gratitude to her husband, acclaimed director and composer Vishal Bharadwaj, and veteran lyricist Gulzar for their constant encouragement and support.

Kaveree Bamzai and Rekha Bhardwaj

Commenting on the struggle of finding her place within the Indian film industry, Bhardwaj said, “I did not have a conventional high-pitched voice like the legendary Lata Mangeshkar and many [other] traditional playback singers. I have a deep and low-pitched voice infused with melancholy. This led to a lot of rejections in the early stages of my career. The music labels would sign up for an album and then inadvertently back out. It filled me with anger and depression. However, I took all this vengeance and channeled it into my riyaaz [practise].”

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Bamzai steered the conversation by turning the masterclass into an eclectic performative afternoon. She discussed the making of eleven of Bharadwaj’s Hindi film songs and the singer obliged the audience by singing verses from each of them.

Discussing the quality of her voice and the distinct energy it generates, Bhardwaj said, “There is an inherent melancholy in my voice. It is an inherent pathos which comes from the singing of folk music, unlike classical singing. This pathos or the inherent slowness of my voice and my singing emerge from the day-to-day monotony and slowness of life that folk music captures.”

Bharadwaj sang verses from 'Tere Ishq Mein' from her Ishqa Ishqa (2005) album, 'Namak Ishq Ka', 'Raat Ke Dhai Baje' from Kaminey (2009), 'Sasural Genda Phool', 'Badi Dheere Chali Raina' from Ishqiya (2010), and others. The mesmerized audience often tapped or clapped to the beat of her singing.

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She discussed how 'Namak Ishq Ka' was a turning point and allowed her to explore her potential as a singer, how 'Sasural Genda Phool' made her a household name, and revealed how 'Badi Dheere Chali Raina', composed in raag Lalit, tested her prowess.

On what makes her music so eclectic and intimate, Bhardwaj opined, “In my music, it’s the collective energy of everyone involved from the playback to the listeners which makes it work. Sometimes, you don’t need to speak a word at all and can connect soulfully with people through music.”

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About what lies in the future, Bhardwaj revealed that she has been working on her own compositions and bandish. She plans to release an album of these compositions later this year, perhaps in September or October.

“The upcoming album is a result of all that I have learnt and experienced throughout my life,” said Bhardwaj, adding, “There is a longing in our lives that never quite goes away, no matter the happiness or the occasion. I have tried to capture that loneliness and my journey in these songs. You might even say this is my attempt to find the route to the divinity of music.”

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Habitat Film Festival