Sharmistha Chatterjee: ‘Adapting world music for a Hindi series was his (Sanjay Leela Bhansali) master stroke’

14 April,2024 07:13 AM IST |  Mumbai  |  Sonia Lulla

From being a backing vocalist in Bhansali’s Saawariya to a lead singer in Heeramandi, it’s been a long journey for Sharmistha, who calls her latest song, Tilasmi bahein, “the music of the tawaifs”

Sharmistha Chatterjee

Recognised as the first Indian lead singer to feature in Coke Studio Pakistan, Sharmistha Chatterjee is set to present her latest work in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Heeramandi. Asserting that "the music of the tawaifs" has been an abiding interest of hers, Chatterjee, who rendered Tilasmi bahein, says the music "revolves around the genre that I explore".

"This belongs to [the genre of] world music. The style that we explored is a fusion of elements from the Middle East and Spain. There's a bit of Arabic or Bulgarian music too. When I first went into the studio, I was told to explore the song as I desired. Initially, the lyrics didn't sit well, and I had to work on a part of it. But, because I was associated with the song from [the beginning], I could truly enjoy rendering it. The emotions of the character were conveyed to me. I was made to understand that it was about the power of womanhood, and celebrating it."

Sinha stars in the song composed by Bhansali

Chatterjee's association with Bhansali traces back to 2006 when she came on board as a backing vocalist for Saawariya. "That was my first time working on such a large [set], and recording with a large group." To be "pulled out from a bunch of voices" and chosen as a solo vocalist for his film is certainly a defining moment for her. "For this number, the idea was to completely surrender to the director's vision. Doing that was important in this case because we didn't have the visuals before us. The song was shot after I sang it. I am experimental and enjoy world music. And while there may be many people who are skilled in it, adapting the genre to make it appropriate for a commercial Hindi project is something only Mr Bhansali could do. It was his masterstroke. He has an amazing ability to understand the audience, and is extremely passionate about everything that he does, especially the project's music. Even though he has heard a lot of Bollywood music, he has the mind of an explorer and wants to [know more about] the classical and semi-classical genres. He will use his vision to find something new and extraordinary each time."

It's perhaps his tendency to introduce a hint of novelty in his work that enables Bhansali to lead singers out of their comfort zone. "In the industry, singers are usually [bracketed] and called for the same kinds of songs. But, because of him, I got the opportunity to do something I hadn't done before."

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