Monday, April 2, 2007

Interview: Playback pedigree - Alka Yagnik in Karachi

On her first public visit to Karachi, at the invitation of a satellite channel for a private function, Alka Yagnik had the opportunity to interact with the media as well as the city’s socialites. Back again in the city last week on the invitation of Friends of Apwa for a concert at the Mohatta Palace, her memories of her previous and latest visit are similar to that of other visiting Indian celebrities. Here, she talks to Images in an exclusive interview about her first-hand experience of interacting with people this side of the Wagah border.

“The love and affection I have been shown here is something I will cherish forever. I had been looking forward to visit Pakistan for a long time, to meet people and gauge how they are different from us. On this trip, I got the opportunity to do so and found out that we are so alike. I feel very much at home here,” she says.

About the fact that it seems she didn’t find our audience lively enough, Alka dispels any such notion. “Not at all! I just thought they were holding themselves back, when they actually wanted to dance. It was written all over their faces. I believe they had been told to show restrain, whereas I wanted them to have a good time.”

Unlike her counterpart, Abhijeet, who gets distracted by too much movement, Alka has no such issues with her audience and says, “As long as they aren’t disrupting the show, I enjoy it too. Here, of course, I knew there would be no problems with the audience, but often in India, I have to request people not to dance as they tend to get all over the place and go crazy.” Also, she feels that Indian audiences mostly want to hear fast numbers, while here, people wanted to hear all kinds of songs.

Justifying her selection of repertoire for the performance, which comprised a number of duets that she sang solo, Alka says, “Most of my solos are item numbers, so I had to balance them with the duets. People keep telling me I didn’t sing this song or that, and that I should have sung more. But I sang more than 20 songs, so I tell them that it’s good they are yearning for more and that they’ll call me again.”

The Gujarati-speaking Alka talks without a trace of accent that may reveal her origins. She explains, “Although I am Gujarati, we never spoke the language at home. My mother’s hometown was Banaras and my father grew up in Aligarh, so my parents spoke basically in Hindi and we grew up speaking either Hindi or English. I was born and brought up in Calcutta so I also know Bengali very well. As for singing, I’ve sung in all the regional languages, including Gujarati.”

Alka says she was intrigued by the majestic structure of the Mohatta Palace. “One couldn’t ask for a better backdrop — it was romantic and beautiful and the weather was so pleasant. It was a dream scenario for any artiste to perform in.”

Having sung for practically the entire spectrum of Bollywood’s female actors, Alka says there isn’t anyone left she is now keen to sing for. However, she says that she would have loved to sing for the late Madhubala and Waheeda Rehman, but quickly ****, “But I feel no one could have suited them better than Lataji. She is a class apart, and I could definitely not have done a better job.”

Alka says that her voice suits Madhuri Dixit and Juhi Chawla the most, and from the present crop, Rani Mukherjee, in spite of her husky voice. “Ideally, her voice should have been like mine, as she has such a delicate frame and face that you don’t expect such a heavy voice. Even Rani says that my voice is more suited to her than her own. In the song Kya Bolti Tu from the film Ghulam (1998), you can hear my laughter but everyone thinks it is hers as it sounds so natural.”

‘We are living in the age of item songs, so much so that while the films of yesteryear would have six romantic songs and only one item number, today the reverse holds true. However, this is a phase we are going through and the era of melody and romance will return,’ says Alka

Raving about Pakistani TV plays, Alka says she is a big fan, especially the late director Shehzad Khalil’s Tanhaiyaan. “I plan on buying quite a few CDs of Pakistani television plays to take home with me.” Having been somewhat in touch with Pakistani films (she has done playback for quite a few of them) she feels saddened by the fact that our film industry is in such dire straits. “Earlier, I was not willing to sing for Pakistani films as they wouldn’t give me the credit, but later I sang for quite a few, including Khulay Aasman Ke Neechay and Reema Khan’s directorial venture, Koi Tujh Sa Kahan.”

Alka admits that playback singing is difficult, “It has lots of constraints and has to be commercially viable, so that the common person can relate to it and sing it as well. We are constantly short of time and there is no opportunity for rehearsals as we run around to meet deadlines.” And yet, she wouldn’t trade it for anything else. Says she, “It has the widest exposure. People take to film music immediately, and it has a lot of glamour attached to it. In India, playback singers are more in the public eye than album singers. Their lives are far longer than that of the actors they sing for and they remain with the public long after the actor on whom the song is picturised is forgotten.”

Alka has worked with the top music directors of Bollywood such as Laxmikant-Pyarelal, Kalyanji-Anandji, A.R. Rehman and R.D. Burman as well as the relatively new lot. But when it comes to identifying one that she finds most creative, she becomes diplomacy personified. “They are all very talented in their own way and have their own individual style.” However, she does admit that she doesn’t understand the music of “the very new crop of music directors. It has become very noisy and techno. We are living in the age of the item songs, so much so that while the Indian films of yesteryear would have six romantic songs and only a single item number, today the reverse holds true. However, this is just a phase we are going through in Bollywood and the era of melody and romance will return.”

Being primarily occupied with film songs means Alka has not explored too many genres of music, although she has taken out a few albums. However, she admits she wants to explore the genre of semi-classical and religious songs. “When I got the chance to sing for the remake of Umrao Jaan, I grabbed it with both hands because it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sing ghazals for films. I plan to sing the Geeta, as I have never sung religious songs.”

Inspired by her mother and later, Lata Mangeshkar, she says she grew up “listening to Lataji’s voice and although the tonal quality of my voice is very different from hers, people find our voices similar, because I have observed her nuances very carefully. I note how she says a particular word, how she sings and whether it is subconsciously or consciously, I have adapted her style into my singing.”

It is said that a part of a person’s greatness is admitting his/her limitations and acknowledging the source from where they draw their strength. It is no wonder then that Alka Yagnik has acquired the respect she enjoys in the Indian film industry and oozes self-confidence in her vocal talent and art form.

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