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'A saturation point had been reached'
There isn't any trophy that Shalmali Kholgade (pictured on the left) didn't win last year. Adjudged and voted the best female singer at almost all award functions, those trophies proudly adorn the shelf at her parents' home in Powai. For someone who had decided to study vocal theory in Los Angeles, Bollywood playback, according to Shalmali, was a "freak accident". And having her very first song become one of the biggest hits of 2012 was another. TOI-Crest tries to find out what makes this giggly and chatty 22-year-old special.
You started your career with a hit song, Pareshaan, and then followed that up with Daru desi, another hit song. How did it all come together?
Pareshaan was a freak accident. I was planning to go and study vocal performance abroad and had applied to courses with demos that I had prepared. A week later I got a call from a friend who was working with Amit Trivedi at the time and he asked me to quickly send him a demo. I told him that I only have English ones. I was asked to send them nonetheless. That day itself I got a call to come to the studio. I seriously had no inclination towards becoming a playback singer.
What did Amit Trivedi say about your voice?
He told me that Pareshaan would be a hit (laughs). I don't know what he heard in the demo but he found the voice he was looking for. And honestly, I didn't have to make any extra effort. I just sang it the way I thought I should.
You juggle contrasting styles with great ease - soft numbers like Pareshaan as well as high-tempo songs like Lat lag gayee. Tell us something about your music influences and your training.
I haven't had any formal training as such but I was lucky enough to be born into a musical family where all kinds of music were encouraged. My mom is a classical singer and teacher and I of course was taught by her but I could choose whatever I wanted to listen to. I have an older brother who is a big rock fan so I grew up listening to '80s rock and pop alongside Kumar Gandharv and Kishori Amonkar. In college, I had a band called 'What Men Bleddy' - all the band members except me were Goan. So I think the texture of my voice reflects my influences. It's a blend of Western and Indian classical.
Do you instinctively react to a song? Are you told how the song will be shot or on whom? Does that help you prepare?
Yes, sometimes you hear a song and your voice changes, like you're playing a character. It happened with Lat lag gayee. I just sang it like that in the first go itself. But my approach isn't always the best. When I first sang Daaru desi, it was sung in this very bold voice but Pritam (Chakraborty) asked me to mellow it down. It's funny, a couple of months ago, I used to prefer spending time with a song but now I feel that the first and immediate attempt is often the best. Most times we aren't told who the song is going to be shot on but the music director always has a very specific vision for his song and as a singer I have to try and meet that.
What accounts for the success of the new female voice - yours, Neeti Mohan's ?
How well that girl throws her voice! Neeti has such an amazing texture to her voice. The reason why singers like us have got the chance and choice to sing is because a saturation point had been reached...it's like when you keep hearing one band for a long time. Today music directors are keen to experiment. The whole approach and outlook towards Bollywood music has changed. So a film soundtrack could have African influences or trance elements. . . the voices are varied. I'm part of a generation that grew up listening to everything and I'm all for experimentation.
Do you think that older listeners are alienated by the film music of today?
My mother's generation is perhaps the right bracket and the only one I can answer for. Maybe they don't like too much instrumentation but the music is still driven by melody. I think if the melody is good they will like it.
Are there any genres that you wouldn't touch?
The lyrical content of the songs I sing is something I'm very strict about. I'm very conscientious about it. Any song that commodifies women is one I don't sing. I have had to turn down songs which I felt were derogatory. Music directors understand my reasons but they have a song to record so they find someone who will sing it for them.
You have a busy schedule apart from recording sessions. You sing with Mikey McCleary and his band Bartender.
I absolutely love singing for Bartender. I wait for Mikey to call me for a recording or rehearsal for a show. I will always make that a priority, even over Bollywood.
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