'Must prove them wrong'

Updated: Jul 06, 2020, 07:09 IST | Sonia Lulla | Mumbai

With a ghazal reality show, Pankaj Udhas, Rekha Bhardwaj choose action over words to promote a genre they have been told has limited reach

Rekha Bhardwaj and Pankaj Udhas
Rekha Bhardwaj and Pankaj Udhas

Days after they kick off the third edition of a talent-hunt show, that seeks to give a platform to ghazal singers, Pankaj Udhas and Rekha Bhardwaj make a case for the genre they have pursued from a young age. It has a limited audience, they are often told, and yet, year after year, their inbox is brimming with videos of young musicians recreating their ghazals, rendered several decades ago.

Like the show’s latest edition that has gone online, the duo too takes to a virtual platform for this conversation, interrupted by abundant laughs and poor connections.

Rekha: You have been associated with the Khazana Artist Aloud Talent Hunt for long. How has the talent evolved, over the years?
Pankaj: [When comparing the talent that] I have seen around me since I was a child, and the kind that I see today, there is no doubt about the fact that the young generation is innovative. They are adept at learning all kinds of skills associated with music, and are quick learners. I believe, we have already received 100-odd entries for this year’s event. There is a misconception that youngsters don’t sing ghazals. They have a keen interest in the genre.

Rekha: That ghazals are under-represented is also a misconception.

Pankaj: It is under-represented by certain media. There has been a revival of the radio, and people spend a lot of time listening to it. But you never hear ghazals on the radio. I am not saying it should be played for 24 hours, but it could be for a few hours at least.

Rekha: In the past, Music Radio had channels dedicated to each genre, and it was wonderful. But it shut down after two or three years.

Pankaj: Yes, and it also had a dedicated audience. So, the genre, and the artistes representing it, need a medium. Today, we are devoid of support from radio and television. In the past, channels would feature ghazals too; now that contact is also gone. Print [media] still devotes some time to ghazal singers.

I recall, I had a nazm called Aur ahista kijiye batein. It would play 20 times on channels like MTV and Channel V. That gave the song a boost; it reached so many singers. In fact, after 22 years, I still get tagged in social media posts that showcase youngsters singing it. So, that’s the reach that the media has. With Khazana, we’re making sure this form reaches out to people and creates a buzz.

Pankaj: I know you’ve grown up in an environment where poetry and music [was encouraged]. How did you get into playback singing?
Rekha: I was brought up in Delhi, where music was celebrated. My father loved it, and would have musical gatherings at home, one or two times each month. They would go on from 8 pm to 4.30 am, and that is where I was exposed to ghazals. Initially, I would learn from my sister, and after her marriage, I joined the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya [classical music institution]. When I was in college, I already knew I wanted to pursue music professionally, and learn classical music and ghazals. I topped my BA Honours course in classical music.

I knew my limitations — a low-pitched and heavy voice, and was not trained for playback singing. Often, when Vishal [Bhardwaj, husband] would compose a song, he would make me sing it to get a perspective of whether it was suited for a male or female singer. That is how I bagged a few songs in his films. But, Namak ishq ka was a turning point. After that, people started calling me for their songs, and, by then, I had also matured as a singer.

Vishal had [directed] the video of Tere ishk mein, and [even though] no one knew me, [many copies of] that album were sold. Gulzar saab had written the poem. They say, these songs could have been written and composed [only] for me, and they cannot recreate it.

Rekha: Where does your passion for ghazals originate?
Pankaj: It’s a long story. In fact, I want to share my journey of over 40 years, with everybody. I started writing my memoir. It is interesting and unusual. I come from Gujarat, so, my mother tongue is neither Urdu nor Hindi. Gujarati was the only language spoken around me. But, two things played a role in getting me interested in music. My father was fond of it, and would come home from work and play the Esraj, because he liked it. As a child, I would look forward to that. Also, my brothers had already started singing. That is what attracted me towards it. At some point, it became a passion. As a young kid in Rajkot, I had the chance to listen to Mukeshji, Manna De, and Talat Mahmood sa’ab, live. I would insist on going to their concerts even though I didn’t know them to be [the maestros that they were]. I was influenced by the radio, which would be on when I’d return from school. In off-peak hours, they’d play Ghazals, and that would excite me.

When I came to Mumbai, I was exposed to maestros, and started learning Urdu. I fell in love with the language. People can’t write off this form of music [ghazals]. I’m sure you’ve been asked why Ghazal didn’t get its rightful place. My blood boils at this question. I am inspired to keep working towards furthering the genre since we must prove that this is not the case.

Rekha: How do you think the internet has affected the business of music?
Pankaj: It has had a two-fold effect. As far as music’s reach is concerned, the platform is fantastic, because music is taken across the world in real time. But, in India, we haven’t started monetising it. A [promising] song can go viral and is heard by many people, but the income generated is little. An artiste puts effort into making a single, and is not proportionately compensated. That can only happen if money comes in from the people who download [and consume] the songs. Any creative work needs to be supported by money.

Pankaj: What advice would you give artistes who are eager to take to this genre, or playback singing?
Rekha: You need to have an understanding of [who you are] as an artiste. Playback singing is different from singing Ghazals, but whether you learn western or Hindustani music, you have to love and learn the craft. Practicing daily is essential. You need to have the kind of passion that a warrior does when pursuing whatever it is that you choose; perseverance and patience will take you far. The average kids today are very talented. After singing in reality shows, they tend to think they’ve arrived, and stop working on enhancing their craft. That’s when things take a turn for the worse. [Without practice], they [will] end up singing in small-time shows. So, the work that you have to put in, can’t be ignored.

My father loved music, and would have musical gatherings at home. They would go on from 8 pm to 4.30 am, and that is where I was exposed to ghazals Rekha Bhardwaj

Watch the video of the interview on mid-day.com

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