A playback singer in today’s times! How do we quantify their success? Most of them arrive, deliver a hit or two and leave the scene. India has seen legends like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, Yesudas, Mohd. Rafi, SP Balasubramanium, S Janaki, K S Chitra, Sonu Nigam, Hariharan, Alka Yagnik and few others who thrived for DECADES. Their era of live recordings and musician-singer partnerships ended long back. If we look back at the past 15 years, how many new artists survived the ever-changing trends? One gem of an artist introduced by director Sanjay Leela Bhansali in 2002 made it through and became the princess of Indian playback singing – SHREYA GHOSHAL.
What made Shreya’s career flourish like nobody else’s? What sets her apart from the bandwagon? The following, I’d say:
Strong base in Indian classical music
It is said that in today’s film music, you do not necessarily need a classically trained singer behind the mic. I beg to differ… Shreya’s strong understanding of the technique and the medium is what ranks highest in her list of merits. How many young female singers in Bollywood can convincingly belt out a “Mere Dholna Sun”? Well, I’m not too sure. Here is one gorgeous, gorgeous semi-classical number, which happens to be an eternal favourite:
Film: Bobby Jasoos
Music: Shantanu Moitra
Lyrics: Swanand Kirkire
Excellent prowess at mastering languages
Established singers from South India, KS Chitra and Hariharan could grasp this skill. But they mostly remained visitors to the Northern film industries, although the former used to sing quite often in the 90s’ Bollywood. Look at Shreya Ghoshal today! She is a household name even in Kerala’s interior villages. I have seen tea shop owners raise the volume of the radio with a retort, “Shreya’s song!”. Passengers in public buses hummed along when the speaker blurted out Neelathamara‘s “Anuraga vilochananayi” and commented “Hi… Shreyayude pattu” (translates to – Wow, Shreya’s song!). As a Malayali, I will reiterate it is TOUGH to pronounce our words. In her second Malayalam film itself, Shreya challenged herself with two complex semi-classical tracks set to tune by M. Jayachandran. I won’t claim her diction to be absolutely flawless in each of her songs. But Shreya, definitely, is MILES AHEAD of other singers from North Indian states to have attempted Malayalam songs. Here goes my favourite Shreya Ghoshal track in Malayalam:
Music: M. Jayachandran
Lyrics: The Late ONV Kurup
The film industries in Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana equally love her silken voice. At times, I feel she kind of fills the void left by the late Swarnalatha in Tamil film industry. Slightly similar in voice texture, Shreya’s ‘Munbe Vaa’ from Sillanoru Kaadhal and “Unna Vida” from Veerumandi could have been Swarnalatha’s songs. Among her Telugu songs, my personal favourite would be “Merupula Merise” from Chintakayala Ravi. As for her numerous Kannada hits, “Gaganave Baagi” from Sanju Weds Geetha takes the cake.
The heroine’s voice
This is something she has been blessed with. As long as Indian cinema remains, our leading ladies will be portrayed as feminine, graceful and elegant – all that Shreya Ghoshal’s voice epitomizes. From Aishwarya Rai Bachchan to Shwetha Menon, her voice rendered expressions that many of them couldn’t bring out effectively on screen. One particular song I remember is the following one where the actresses contribute nothing while Shreya’s angelic voice do the needful!
Music: Anu Malik
Lyrics: Rahat Indori
And the good ones? Plenty of them… here goes a top favourite! Shreya’s voice gleams in Amrita Rao’s sparkling eyes just as the moonlight does.
Music & Lyrics: Ravindra Jain
Co-singer: Udit Narayan
Great chemistry with co- singers
What is Indian film music without romantic duets? While she makes a scintillating pair with the likes of Arijit Singh and other new singers, her songs with established singers like Hariharan are equally delectable. Her honey-tinged voice also complements well with female singers. Her partnerships with Hariharan, Sonu Nigam, Sunidhi Chauhan and of course, AR Rahman, remain my top favourites. Here’s one song I will never get tired of listening!
Film: LOC – Kargil
Music: Anu Malik
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Co-singer: Sonu Nigam
Versatility with genres
Mushy romantic songs? CHECK!
Classical tracks? CHECK!
Brazen item numbers? CHECK!
Playful ched-chaad tracks, sad ditties, devotional songs…. Shreya has done it all.
She is adept at changing her scale and voice pattern to suit her songs. Music director Sandesh Shandilya expected her to sing in a tone different to the usual for the melodious ‘Sarphira Sa Hai Dil‘ from Love U… Mr. Kalaakar and Shreya nailed it perfectly. Watch Shreya sing a Rajasthani Meera bhajan at a Malayalam reality show. Not to forget she is of Bengali origins!
Video Courtesy: Mayur Khandelwal
In the following song, we have Shreya croon a jazzy number composed by none other than AR Rahman for the much-overlooked soundtrack – Blue.
Music: AR Rahman
Co-singer: Sonu Nigam
Lyrics: Abbas Tyrewala
The case of versatility rests here!
Endeavour to revive ghazal and Indipop
I grew up in the 90s when the Indipop scene was at its peak. More importantly, we had lovely ghazal albums being released by the likes of Jagjit Singh, Hariharan, Gulzar, Javed Akhtar and others. Today, commercial music is synonymous to films. Shreya put her immense popularity to good use and came out with a beautiful ghazal album which had about 7-8 golden melodies. She could have brought out an simpler album of love songs but this is what she chose to. Respect! Listen to the songs of ‘Humnasheen’ below:
Music: Deepak Pandit
Lyricist: Manoj Muntashir
Her singles have always been delectable, be ‘Le ja le ja re…” from Ustad & The Divas or ‘Yeh kya hua‘ from Tera Mera Pyar. Cover versions of Lata Mangeshkar’s ‘Lag jaa gale‘ and Kishore Kumar’s ‘Mere mehboob qayamat hogi‘ sound pristine in Shreya’s voice.
Moving live performances
Oh yes! I have heard her perform live. Live wire, is the word. She’ll either set you on a melodic trance or wow us with her fantastic improvisations (hear her perform Ghajini’s Kaise Mujhe live!) Well, we knew this from her reality show days. Here is one of her early stage performances:
Show: Saregamapa 1999
Song: Suniyo Ji Araj Mhari (Lekin)
Today, Shreya turns 32 and she already has 4 National Awards for Best Playback Singing in her kitty. With numerous popular awards and a dedicated annual ‘Shreya Ghoshal Day’ in the American state of Ohio (June 26), Shreya is the reigning princess of Indian film (which isn’t just Bollywood) music. She debuted with a chart-busting soundtrack (Devdas) and 14 years later, she’s busy collecting trophies for her incredible work in Bajirao Mastani. I’m pretty sure Shreya is going to be the last of her tribe to have a career traversing decades. Time? Age? Whatever they are!