Article Bengali Hindi

Indian classical music can never be mainstream, says Arijit Singh at IFFI 2018

The reticent singer manages to speak about his directorial debut, Sa, and recalls how his guru pushed him to participate in the reality show Fame Gurukul in 2005.

Photo: Shutterbugs Images

Mayur Lookhar

When the screening schedule of the 49th International Film Festival of India (IFFI) was released, we came across a Bengali film, titled Sa, directed by one Arijit Singh. To our surprise, this was indeed the famed singer's directorial debut.

The man can sing like a dream but can he also direct a film? Singh is media shy and barely gives interviews. When he does, his replies are mostly monosyllabic.

An unscheduled press conference was announced on 21 November but was cancelled by the time the news reached us. But not to worry, Singh was scheduled for a conversation with Pratap Batra on 22 November at IFFI. Fans and media waited with bated breath to hear the singer speak.

Unfortunately, the conversation turned out to be one dull hour spent in a packed auditorium. While Singh was expected to be reticent, it was really the poor moderation by Batra that ruined the session.

Batra started by asking Singh about the film, but the next moment the moderator was more interested in listening Singh sing. It took a question from a journalist and a PR professional to get Singh say a few words about his film.

Sa chronicles the life of a simple family in West Bengal, in the aftermath of the mass migration following the birth of Bangladesh.

Commenting on the presence of eminent musicians in his film, Singh said, “I always wanted to do this. The film is about Indian classical music, so we needed them. We have Ustad Rashid Khan given his voice to the film. Anoushka Shankar has played the sitar. It was nostalgic, Ustad Rashid Khan has played the sitar too.”

The film also has Singh’s son in the cast, but the new director says he hadn't planned this. “We were struggling to find the main director. We started shooting. We didn’t know who to cast for the role of the child,” said Singh. After a long unsuccessful search, it was suggested that Singh cast his son. While he didn’t it take seriously at first, Singh realised he had little choice.

"He was with us during the shoots. He had gotten used to local kids around. My son did well, he exceeded my expectations. He usually sleeps by 10pm, but here we shot in the night too. Though he was cranky, he managed it. I’m really proud of him," the singer-director said.

When asked about the process of filmmaking, Singh wasn’t clear in his speech, but did say that he and his team were excited when they shot the film. Singh described his film as a visual expression of novels, and so studied a lot of literature in the process.

While Singh barley spoke about his film, the singer did reveal that it was his guru who pushed him to participate in the reality show Fame Gurukul in 2005. Though Singh had lost, the show gave him the attention he needed to build a career on.  

“It was not just my decision to participate in the show. My guruji pushed me into it. He had a journey in his life, and he had some little things to prove to some people. May be those people weren’t even alive then. He was looking for a student. I was 16-17 [years old] then. He wanted things to happen for me. He said that here you will only learn. So, he always pushed me to go to Mumbai," Singh said.

Knowledge of classical music only helps a singer grow, but it’s not easy to find an audience. Singh, however, observed that classical music was never meant to be commercialized.

When asked if classical music can ever find a place in the mainstream, Singh said, “Classical music can never die. It is not meant for a performance, it is to understand music. You can try, but Indian classical music can never be mainstream; it is for meditation, for transforming your thought, for concentration. It is more internal.”

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