‘Fame is a state of mind’

He may be the voice behind some of Bollywood’s most romantic numbers, but Arijit Singh veers away from the limelight as much as he can. He talks to Nandini D Tripathy about his musical journey

When Arijit Singh says, “I don’t like being called a celebrity,” you can’t help but marvel at the irony. Arguably one of the most-loved male playback singers in Bollywood today, he is hardly bereft of attention – whether it comes from fans or from his colleagues. As he sits down with us for a candid chat, it isn’t hard to imagine, however, why he steers clear of the spotlight anywhere beyond the confines of a stage or a recording studio. Quiet, reflective and rooted, he lives for music, not for fame. “Sometimes, fame is a state of mind more than a tangible reality,” he says rather philosophically, and adds, “I have always enjoyed a life away from the glitz and glamour of showbiz; to me, the Indian entertainment industry is, like any other creative business, a space where creative minds come together to make something extraordinary.” Excerpts from the interview:

The beginning

“My mother introduced me to music,” Singh tells us, reminiscing about his first tryst with melody as a child. “I began with three gurus – the first taught me Rabindra sangeet; the second, how to play the tabla; and the third helped me hone my vocal skills. I was drawn to music from the very beginning,” he recalls, adding, “I imbibed many invaluable lessons from my mother and my gurus. The most important among them was that I must always be true to my music, and it is because of this lesson that I am here today.”

The struggle

While Singh’s prowess as a playback singer is all-pervasive across radio stations and personal playlists, not many are aware that he dabbles in music production too – something that helped him make inroads into Bollywood as a struggling musician, working as an assistant music programmer to the likes of Vishal-Shekhar and Pritam. “I will always be grateful to have had the opportunity to work with some of the best music directors in India. My first few years in Mumbai really added to my repertoire as a musician,  much before I came into my own as a singer,” he shares. Has he ever considered becoming a music director himself? “At the moment, I am focussed on my playback assignments and live shows. My first India tour, in collaboration with MTV, was an unforgettable experience and I’d love to create more such memories!” he affirms.

The labels

While being referred to as “the most romantic voice in India” must be flattering, one can’t help but wonder if a wariness of labels has ever influenced his choice of songs. “Honestly, it feels great to be identified with something that distinguishes me from others. Besides, all such epithets are simply expressions of love from people who like my work. They don’t influence my decisions, but only empower me to deliver better,” he says, adding that his ultimate goal is to be a dynamic musician. “I remember, when I had just started out as a playback singer, I would see every new song as an extremely difficult task to accomplish. I would think a lot and would want to do exactly what the music director asked of me. I have realised with time and experience, however, that it is important to be organic. Even if you’re working with a genre you’ve worked with a hundred times before, you need to create something unique with it.”

The process

Labels and chartbusters aside, it can quite fairly be said that a number of Singh’s songs stand testimony to his versatility. Five songs come to mind as fine examples: “Phir le aaya dil” and “Saawali si raat” from Anurag Basu’s Barfi! display two distinct palettes in tone, emotion and style; “Binte dil” from Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmaavat has Singh giving his voice a Middle Eastern lilt; “Ae watan” from Meghna Gulzar’s Raazi has his voice resounding with patriotic spirit; and “Bachche ki jaan loge kya” from Umesh Shukla’s 102 Not Out has him tapping into his fun side as he sings for Amitabh Bachchan for the first time! “All these variations come from the music directors I work with, and their hunger for perfection. Also, I’ve always felt that it is extremely important for a singer to understand the context of the songs he/she is lending their voice to. Every song is placed within a situation, and I must evoke the right emotions in the listeners. Besides the technicalities, this is a major consideration I bear in mind,” he says and adds, “When you listen to a song you can connect with emotionally, you tend to enjoy it much more.”

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