New Delhi: Born in Jamshedpur, Jharkhand, Shilpa Rao got the environment of music since her childhood. Playback singer Hariharan inspired her to take up music as career. The success of 'Tose Naina Lage' from Anwar gave her the fame and confidence to go far in the area of playback singing. IBN Live talks to Shilpa extensively about her musical career so far.
Q: How did the journey from Jamshedpur to Mumabi began?
A: I finished schooling in Jamshedpur and then joined college in Mumbai. I was learning music since I was a kid and came to Mumbai primarily for music. I started looking for work in Mumbai and then started doing advertisement jingles. I came in contact with music directors like Vishal-Shekhar, Rajat Dholakia and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and the journey started.
Q: Had you started singing at your school Little Flower only?
A: No no, I never won anything at school. I was an average kid when it came to studies. Average in the sense that 70-80% was quite average in my school, a lot of brainy people were there. Music and singing were not very sought after things. Whenever I used to tell people that I sing they used to ask back 'that's ok but what do you do otherwise'.
I was 13 when I decided to take up music as career. I met Hariharan in Mumbai and he infused some confidence in me that yes I can also do well. I had not thought that I will become a playback singer but the inspiration from Hariharan uncle made me take my work more seriously. After that everything changed for me. I would practice; I would learn and do everything by myself.
Q: That means the decision of moving to Mumbai was deliberate.
A: It was. After a point you know that you are done with Jamshedpur. There is nothing much left here to explore. Of course, the quality of education is superb there but education was not the sole purpose of moving to Mumbai.
Q: What were you studying in Mumbai?
A: I was doing a course in statistics and then I did my masters. Nobody knew in college that I sing also.
Q: How did the professional playback singing star?
A: My first song was for the movie Salaam-E-Ishq with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. He called me for the song and said let's try and see how it works. I had a little idea about the song but they were very enthusiastic about it. In the end Shankar said there is a little more to add to this song, so come again tomorrow and we will record the whole song again. Then Nikhil Advani listened to it and liked it. Akshay Khanna, who was performing on the song, also liked it and thus it started.
Q: But Anwar was already a hit till then?
A: I recorded Anwar later but the song released before Salaam-E-Ishq.
Q: 'Tose Naina Lage' from Anwar had become an instant success.
A: There are some songs that you listen to for the first time and know that it's a good song and I am not talking in terms of hits and flops. The response was really good. I could not ask for a better debut. A big part of the credit goes to FM radios which were settling at that time and RJs did not have much pressure about what to play and what not to play. They used to play 'Tose Naina Lage' and 'Maula Mere Maula' a lot. RJs were the people who actually made 'Tose Naina Lage' big.
Q: How do you rate 'Ek Lau' from 'Aamir'?
A: 'Ek Lau' is very very special to me. One can't even imagine how important that song is for me. That was also the starting of a good friendship with Amit Trivedi and Amitabh Bhattacharya.
Q: I am glad that you mentioned Amit Trivedi and Amitabh Bhattacharya. Tell us some more about your association with Amit and Amitabh because you have done some really good songs with them.
A: We are this bunch of musicians who want to do something new in any which way. There is not any particular speciality. It's just that we use to think alike.
Q: Think alike on which subject?
A: As in music influences. We used to have discussions about innovative songs.
Q: I have heard that Amitabh's working style is quite unusual.
A: He is unusual and we knew this from before. We are friends since five-six years now. We used to do jingles at that time thinking someday we will work together.
Q: That means a lot of spontaneous changes.
A: In a way yes, like when we were doing the song 'Saali Khushi' from Dev D. It was 'Saari Khushi' initially but we realised that 'Saali Khushi' will do better but of course the credit goes to Amitabh for such original lyrics. Similarly, Amit had the basic tune of 'Dhol Yara Dhol' in his mind since a long time. Shellee was also a very good friend so we requested him to write lyrics, and then we went to many people with that demo. I knew Anurag Kashyap since the time he was writing 'Gulaal'. He heard me and said we should definitely work on 'Gulaal'.
Q: 'Aisi Saza' from Gulaal was very different.
A: Yes. Gulaal song was pretty intense.
Q: Then came two smash hits 'Khuda Jaane' and 'Mudi Mudi'.
A: Bachna Ae Haseeno and Paa songs were liked by the audiences. Mudi Mudi was special because I was working with stalwarts like Illayaraja sir, Balki and Swanand Kirkire.
Q: It seems Anurag Kashyap has a liking for your voice.
A: We started with Aamir, then came Dev D. Aamir went unnoticed. Some people messaged me two years after the release of Aamir that I saw the film on TV and it was really good.
Q: Does the knowledge of script and character help in striking the correct mood?
A: Nowadays directors like to sit with singers. Siddharth Anand likes to hang out with singers explaining things about the script and characters. Anurag Kashyap also gives a lot of insights about the mood and feel of the songs.
Q: What type of co-singers do you prefer?
A: The song decides who will be the co-singer. The trends in music are also changing very fast now. It does not matter who the singer or composer as long as everyone is trying to come up with a good song. Recently, Vishal was composing a sufi song when I said how will I fit into this sufi character, then he said you do what you are best at. Just sing as per your mood.
Q: Any particular composer you would like to work with?
A: I want to work with everyone.
Q: Is your struggle over now?
A: You can never sit back and think that ok I have made it and now I don't need to do anything.
Q: What are your future projects?
A: I am really looking forward to 'English Winglish' from Ladies vs Ricky Behl. Then there is 'Ek Main Aur Ek Tu', Shakun Batra's directorial debut. I just want to offer the audiences something new.####
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