Interview Hindi

Instead of 10,000 songs, I want to sing just 10 or 15 that will be remembered forever: Antara Mitra

Singer Antara Mitra speaks about her latest song 'Mehrama' and discusses trends in the Hindi music industry.

Suyog Zore

Antara Mitra began her singing career with a reality show, Indian Idol 2. Though she has sung only a few songs in Hindi cinema so far, she came into the limelight with the release of her duets, 'Gerua' and 'Janam Janam', with Arijit Singh for Shah Rukh Khan's Dilwale (2015).

Born in a small town called Muslandpur in West Bengal, Mitra always had keen interest in music. Her father being a music teacher helped.

The singer made her debut in playback singing with the film Speed (2007) and went on to sing chartbuster numbers like 'Bheegi Si Bhaagi Si' from Raajneeti (2010) and 'Saree Ke Fall Sa' from R... Rajkumar (2013). Her latest song, 'Mehrama', has become a rage among listeners, garnering 28 million views in just one week on YouTube.

Antara Mitra spoke to about the making of the song and also shared her opinion on the trends in the Hindi music industry. Excerpts:

How did you get your first break in Hindi cinema?

So, I was in Indian Idol. Right after the show I got an offer to sing a song called ‘Loving You’ in a film called Speed (2007). The most amazing thing about that song was that it was a duet with Mr Sonu Nigam, who was my judge on Indian Idol, so it was a surreal experience. I was so new that I did not think of how big the film is, how it is gonna do. I sang the song and it became popular.

You have sung many songs for Pritam, including your latest 'Mehrama' from Love Aaj Kal (2020). Can you tell us about your equation with him?

I started singing songs for him and, later on, started assisting him in the studio. I work for him, so I’m also an employee. He is an excellent person who is a true musician. All the qualities and characteristics of a musician are in him. He is forgetful, he is restless, sometimes he is very calm and composed. He is also very particular about his work.

Though he is a huge star, he never makes you feel that. Pritam-da is very approachable. Even after reaching such heights I have never seen him throw a fit or show any attitude. Me, in fact, all of us who work with him have learned a lot. How to conduct yourself even after reaching such heights of success. Pritam-da not only has had huge impact on my music but also on my views about life.

Can you tell us more about your new song 'Mehrama' and the experience of the recording?

So, the song is from Love Aaj Kal (2020) and the first part [the original Love Aaj Kal (2009) album] was also composed by Pritam-da. When Love Aaj Kal (2009) was happening 11 years ago, I was associated with Pritam-da and used to be around when the album was being composed. I was much younger then. I have seen [filmmaker] Imtiaz [Ali] sir and Pritam-da and [lyricist] Irshad [Kamil] sir working together for the old album.

Now, after 11 years, Love Aaj Kal has come again with Sara [Ali Khan] and Kartik [Aaryan]. It is a delightful experience to be part of that whole legacy of this trio of Pritam-da, Imtiaz sir and Irshad sir. It is a beautiful combination to be a part of. Everybody dreams to be in the company of such great people, great artists.

I got the chance to sing this beautiful track called 'Mehrama'. The song is actually the soul of the film. It talks about the story which all of us can relate to. The lyrics are so beautifully written by Irshad sir, sometimes I wonder how he does that. The longing for the lover is there in the song. It’s a beautiful track and the first time Darshan [Raval] also got a chance to sing for Pritam-da. I’m glad people are loving the song.

Until now, all your songs have been duets. When will we hear you sing a solo number?

I just want to sing some good songs and that’s what I have focused on. I do not want 10,000 songs in my discography, I just want to sing 10 or 15 good songs that people will remember. It doesn’t matter if those are solo songs or duets or chorus, I don’t really care. I just care about the whole product.

I strongly believe that people don’t remember the song because it has been sung by some great singer, they remember the song because they liked it. So if you are part of a good song, people will automatically remember you.

That’s what I believe. Not that I don’t want to sing a solo song. [But] I am very very happy with the kind of songs I have got as of now. As I said, I want to be part of 10 good songs in my life which people will remember forever.

You once said in an interview that you are fine with the singer being replaced after s/he records a song. Has your opinion changed over the years?

I am [still] fine with the singer being replaced after they have sung the song. What I am against is a singer not being informed about the change. It should not come as a surprise to the singer. The singer should be informed that s/he is being replaced by another singer. That is one practice everyone, the producer, director, music director and whoever is associated with the project, must follow.

When the singer is informed that your voice is getting replaced, the singer becomes a little relaxed. Nobody is sulking about it. All professional singers have faced a situation where their voice has been replaced by another. And it's okay, it's part and parcel of this business.

But I think it is time to adopt the practice of informing the person that unfortunately your voice is not being kept for the final version. I know there are a few singers who have felt really bad about it and voiced their opinion about why they were not informed.

We are human, so when you inform the singer in advance about their voice being replaced they won't mind much. Everybody moves on. But if we are not informed, what happens is that we keep our hopes high and wait for the song’s release, and finally when it releases we come to know that it has been sung by someone else and then it hurts.

You are a product of a reality show. You participated in Indian Idol season 2. But in your time there were only two or three reality shows. Now the number of shows has grown exponentially. What do you think of reality shows today and their impact on artists and audiences?

I believe reality shows are a good thing. There are more good aspects than bad aspects to them. A reality show is the reason I am standing here today. It has given me a lot. Obviously there are some negative aspects to reality shows, but they are easily outweighed by the positive aspects.

There are many positive things about a reality show that nobody points out. Today a reality show gives you 'face value'. You can start doing live shows after you have come out of a reality show. And with the advent of social media, the initial trouble surviving in a city like Mumbai becomes remarkably easier if you have appeared in a reality show.

I know that some people who became popular because of reality shows later disappeared, but it could be because they got too consumed by live shows or did not pay too much attention to studio recordings. Once you balance both, it is easier than coming alone from a different city and struggling for a chance. You don’t know anyone, your father is sending you money and, of course, Mumbai is a very expensive city. So, unless and until you are from a very well-to-do family or very well connected, it becomes very hard.

I think reality shows have opened up that area for people who live in small towns far from Mumbai. I myself came from a different city. I would have never survived in Mumbai if there was no Indian Idol which gave me an identity and face value. It's not like everybody has to do playback singing. There are people who have come as reality show contestants and eventually become actors.

At times reality shows are way too harsh, but as a grown-up, I think reality shows are a great platform. They have given us Neha Kakkar, Monali Thakur. Even Shreya Ghoshal and Shekhar Ravjiani were SaReGaMa contestants, Sunidhi Chauhan was a Meri Awaaz Suno contestant. In those times they were called singing competitions, today they are called reality shows. It is the same concept, same format. Almost 60% of the singers working in the industry now have been part of one or the other reality show.

You have been part of the Hindi music industry for more than a decade. What has changed in the industry, especially in the music, since you made your debut?

A lot has changed! The musicians who were working when I made my debut have retired. A new bunch has come in with new sounds. The music in cinema has gone from just being a typical 'Bollywood' dance song to more global. Rock, pop, EDM, funk, all those different genres are now being incorporated in 'Bollywood' music. The stereotype that only one particular kind of voice suits the hero or heroine has gone out. So it is a very good time to be in the industry, I must say.

Do you think like actors and actresses, singers also get typecast sometimes?

It used to happen a lot, but thankfully the situation is a lot better. Mostly because the independent music scene has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years. YouTube and other social media platforms have played a huge role in that. Even if you are not getting to sing a particular kind of song in films, you can record a song on your own and put it up on those social media platforms. You can become popular by only singing songs on YouTube.

Many times singers who sing for one music label are prohibited from singing for other music labels. What do you think of this practice?

I don't know whether it actually happens, but if it is happening then the artist needs to take a call. You cannot all the time blame other people for it. I think the artist may be signing a particular contract that prohibits him/her from singing for other labels. He should work independently. If you have talent, people will eventually call you.

At the end of the day, it's the music director who decides which voice will suit which song. If the singer is really talented, I don't think any music label will try to change [the chosen voice]. The music label only thinks about whether the song will be a big hit.