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I was lucky to be cast right everytime: Shilpa Rao

Singer Shilpa Rao credits music composers for believing in her talent and giving her a variety of songs to sing

When singer Shilpa Rao met director R Balki for the first time, his instant reaction was, “ Do you have the licence to sing?” One look at Rao and you can imagine why he must have said that. Twenty- eight- year old Rao is small and petite and can pass of as a teenager any day. But her frame belies the powerful voice, which has songs like Tose Naina (Anwar) , Khuda Jaane (Bachna Ae Haseeno), Ishq Shava (Jab Tak Hai Jaan) Manmarziyan (Lootera) and more recently, Malang (Dhoom 3) to its credit.

Shilpa Rao shares a great camaraderie with her contemporaries. Pic/Amit Jadhav
Shilpa Rao shares a great camaraderie with her contemporaries. Pic/Amit Jadhav

Nine years ago, when Rao decided to pursue her love for music and moved to Mumbai from her hometown Jamshedpur, the city was a mild cultural shock for her. But it didn’t take long for the 19- year- old to fall in love with it.

“ The city never judges you. When I went to meet people with my demo, they never asked me where I am from or why I have come here. All they were interested in, was work, and that is a very healthy way of working,” says Rao.

Her entry into Bollywood was via Tose Naina Lagey from Anwar , but it was Khuda Jaane from Bachna Ae Haseeno , that really made people sit up and take notice of her versatility.
“ Bachna... was a giant of a film, and that’s why it was noticed more. But Tose Naina is very close to my heart. It had the first song innocence which I don’t think I can replicate,” says Rao, who adds that she is often asked by audience in live shows to sing that song and she has ended up singing it more than once at shows. “ People associate with it,” she adds.

Although she has rendered a number of songs in various genres, it’s difficult to categorise her voice. Tell her that, and she bursts into a happy laugh. “ That’s cool, isn’t it?” she asks. And that’s something she credits the music composers with. “ Whether it’s Vishal- Shekhar, Pritam or Shankar- Ehsaan and Loy, all of them have cast me well,” says Rao. Recalling the time she was asked to sing Khuda Jaane , Rao says she had never sung a romantic song prior to that, but it was because of Vishal and Shekhar’s belief in her ability, that she could manage to do a great job. “ The same goes for Pritam when we did Malang . He told me that sometimes, you should just leave it to the song. So these are things you learn while working with these guys,” she adds.

With her Hindustani classical base, Rao felt she could do much more and collaborated with bands and artistes such as Agnee, Parikrama and Karsh Kale, on shows like The Dewarists and Coke Studio . “ My father, who is also my guru and my best critic, would keep telling me, that he’s taught me much more and I should explore that. Thanks to these collaborations, I have been able to do things that I have learnt and grown up with,” she elaborates.

Last year, she collaborated with three jazz musicians, one from Netherlands and two from New York and they took the show on the road. “ We got an amazing response from wherever we played.

Everytime we played at a Hard Rock Cafe in any city, it was met with a packed audience,” she recalls. The singer plans to extend the collaboration to this year as well. “ It’s great to see musicians like Vishal Dadlani and Papon straddle both films and non- film music. In that sense, film music and non- film music are growing together,” she concludes.

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