Nitin Kumar and Salman Ali on playing mentors: Deciphering their skills is our job

Updated: Aug 12, 2019, 08:41 IST | Sonia Lulla

'Bachpan ke dost' Salman Ali and Nitin Kumar discuss playing mentors to aspirants of a music reality show, only months after they themselves were one

Nitin Kumar and Salman Ali on playing mentors: Deciphering their skills is our job
Nitin Kumar and Salman Ali

One among a wave of infinite participants waiting to audition for Indian Idol 10, Salman Ali recalls being approached by a co-aspirant. While he didn't instantly recognise him, the person who tapped on his shoulder was his "bachpan ka dost" Nitin Kumar. Except that, before Idol had them call truce, their childhood friendship had taken a five-year sabbatical. Kumar suggests that a third person had something to do with their falling apart, slipping in that piece of information as quickly as he brushes it behind us. Ali draws us back to the event. "Nitin had put on so much weight that I couldn't recognise him. When he approached me, I was like: 'Tu kaun hai, bhai?' When he introduced himself, Ali chided him with a: 'How much did you eat?'"

Put together before us as part of this interview, it is easy to see that their banter aside, this duo always has one another's back. Untouched by the arrogance that could attach itself with the kind of stardom they've received, they are both precisely the way viewers have known them to be, ever since their brush with fame eight months ago. Except that their phones buzz too much, and they are easily distracted by them. And all the travelling ("Sometimes I'm in London, and Salman is in America") has had a grooming effect on Kumar when compared to the way he was presented in Idol.

Also Read: Indian Idol 10 winner Salman Ali: My struggle to make a mark in Bollywood begins now

It was during one such professional trip to London that the duo had been told that they were selected to mentor the children of an upcoming music show. But why only them, and not the other equally deserving candidates of Idol that had set their place among the top five? "When a show is made, many factors are considered. In this case, people love seeing us together. We're friends; we have a friendly banter on camera and also a playful rivalry. [The host channel] knew that the reactions from the audience would be good if they paired us up," Kumar reasons. He doesn't deny that jumping from playing contestant to teacher in a matter of months could frazzle the most competent. "I told Salman, we're still learning; how will we teach? He said the children were already talented; we'd only have to guide them."

Although only 21, Ali seems to know enough about teaching, courtesy his experience of mentoring young children in his village (Mewat in Haryana) — free of cost — before Idol came his way. Apart from drawing from his journey on Idol, he points to several factors when discussing tutoring the children of Superstar Singer. "When sitting with the kids, we feel like we've become fathers. The children respect us. We take their responsibility seriously, and don't compromise on it owing to our shows or other commitments. When we sit with them, they have an urgency to share what they feel. Singing comes later; first, they want to talk. If you instantly start teaching them, how are you different from the teacher in school? Unless a child feels like he's at home when with you, he will not invest [in the art]. If he doesn't want to sing today, let him be. Tomorrow, he may sing better than you."

The first 30 minutes of a 60 to 90-minute session with each member of the team is spent in conversation, says Kumar. "As far as song selection goes, we decide the numbers based on their skills." Asked if judging children so early into his own career is daunting, Kumar says, "It's easy for us. It's our job."

Also Read: Indian Idol 10: Shah Rukh Khan requests Salman Ali to sing My Name Is Khan song Sajda

But they are dealing with children, and both of them have made peace with the fact that not everything they say will be followed when it's time to roll. "Sometimes we teach them something, but, on stage, they surprise us," says Kumar. Ali reveals how Tapolabdha Sardar from his team struggled to nab a sargam that she was set to perform as part of one act. "No matter how hard she tried, she was struggling to get it. I was so stressed! But, during the performance, she left it out, and performed an alaap instead. That switch was done so beautifully that it seemed like that was how the song was designed." Kumar confesses to being left similarly surprised ever so often by a participant of his team as well. "No matter what I teach Shoaib Ali at the technical rehearsal, he'll do something else on stage. If I'm performing with him, I am usually caught off guard during the act."

We're compelled to ask them if tutoring was always the career opportunity they aspired for when making Indian Idol 10 among the most successful editions of the franchise with their performances. "When we were on Idol, we didn't think about anything else. We only wanted to make the show great, because whatever we have, it is because of the show. We don't believe in letting opportunities slip, because we don't have godfathers who will take us the extra mile. We have to do it all on our own, and are hence taking small steps to achieving our success." Bollywood has already welcomed them, and they hope that many more projects from the industry land in their laps. Meanwhile, they're making the most of their time as touring artistes, hopping aboard flights so often that they've lost track of "subah aur shaam". Has their practice taken a back seat? "Not at all. We're constantly practising; whether that's on flights or before shows. It's on, 24x7."

Also Read: Nitin Kumar of Indian Idol floors Shahrukh Khan with his unique dancing skills

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