Planet Bollywood
“There is one major difference between A. R. Rahman and all other music directors…†–Madhushree (an interview)
- Amanda Sodhi           Let us know what you think about this article

With a voice just as sweet as her name, Madhushree has lent her voice to many memorable compositions in films such as Moksha, Yuva, Aayitha Ezhuthu, Kal Ho Naa Ho, Anbe Aaruyire, Kuch Naa Kaho, Guru, Rang De Basanti, Aalwar, Unnale Unnale, Sivaji, Tehzeeb, Jodhaa Akbar, Mukhbir, Kisna, Swades, Saathiya and Welcome to Sajjanpur. She recently came out with an album, Lagi Lagan which does a commendable job of presenting thumri sangeet in fusion format. I, Amanda Sodhi, present you with an in-depth interview on with Madhushree in which she shares how she got her break in the music industry, her first meeting with A. R. Rahman, her experience of working on Lagi Lagan, and much more. What are you waiting for? Read away!

How did you decide to pursue a career in music?

My family pursued me from my childhood to be a singer, a classical singer. In fact, my father, Shri Amarendra Nath Bhattacharya was a very good singer. After completing my college, I applied for a job at ICCR (Indian Council For Cultural Relations) and I got selected for Surinam/ South America to teach classical music. I was totally unaware of my future line. In Surinam I became popular by singing for the first time film music and I started enjoying it very much. After completing my terms in Surinam, I was thinking to settle in Holland, but Holland is a very cold country (laughs).

It is said that you got your entry into Bollywood playback singing through Kumar Sanu’s recommendation. Tell us a bit about this.

I was still doing my teaching in Surinam, when I landed in Kolkata to record a ghazal album, where I met Kumar Sanu in the same studio…he was rocking at that time. He heard my voice, praised me a lot and suggested that I give a try in Bollywood. He also told me that my voice is very much suitable for playback. So, I took his advice and without telling anybody I took my tanpura and a small bag with some cloths and left for Mumbai Nagariya.

You’ve lent your voice to a lot of A. R. Rahman’s compositions. Tell us about how you initially got your first song with Rahman. That must have been a really exciting moment!

That’s true. It was exciting! I was fighting to get a break in Bollywood and let me tell you it is not easy to get that, because when things are going on their way, nobody bothers to experiment and take a chance for anybody. But, there is one man who always in each and every project gives chances to newcomers: A. R. Rahman! When I heard this, I then made my goal to reach A. R. And, luckily I was recording a jingle at 4D Studio and I heard that A. R. is coming to some recording for Lagaan in the same studio. So, I waited for him from noon and finally meri intezar phal laya! I waited for 10 hours to meet him through Mr. Brij Bhushan and finally got introduced to him. He made me sing lots of things and I sang for more than a hour a mix of things…classical...light and filmy, and he called me after 1 year for "Naina Milayke” in Saathiya.

In addition to Hindi you also sing really well in Telgu and Tamil. Is it difficult to sing in another language?

I am a Bengali, so all other languages are unknown to me. Tamil singing for me was the most difficult and challenging singing. In the beginning I was fighting against the language, but slowly I started enjoying and loving the language and more because of my fans all across the world.

You come from a musical family. Since childhood you have been trained in classical sangeet. Tell us a little bit about your training. Also, do you still do riyaaz on a regular basis?

Yes, everybody in my family sings and as I can remember, I performed at the age of 5. Initially, I took classical training form my father and after that he sent me to Shri Amiya Ranjan Bannerjee from whom I learned classical sangeet for 9 years. After that, I took thumri training from Pandit A. T. Kanan. All riyazi voices have to practice daily for at least 1 hour to be in form. So, I do riyaaz daily for some time, but days when I have too many recordings then I do not do riyaaz.

While there are a lot of people who have a great voice and want to sing, not every voice is suited for playback. What do you think is the differentiating factor between a good voice and a voice appropriate for playback singing?

Which voice is suitable for playback which one is not is not an issue these days. Every kind of voice is used for playback singing. Previously, there was an image that only Lata, Asha, Rafi Sahib, Mukesh, Kishore type of voices were suitable. As you see, today there are so many types of voices doing playback. Yes, there is one thing very important about playback voice: it should have a screen presence in the voice, which I call "khanak."

There are so many music reality shows and you also took part in one, Jhoom India, which you won along with Sachin Tyagi. Tell us your views regarding reality shows.

Reality shows are all major adaptations of foreign shows. There are pluses and minuses of these shows for the artists. The plus point is that they get a platform to show their talent, from where they get fame and finally shows. The minus point is that most of them do not have any basic music training and they get hyped by the channel and the media. After the show nobody takes care of them the way it happens during the reality shows. So they get a lot of frustration. After all, it is a corporate money-making business.

You’ve sung quite a few memorable songs for various music directors including Rajesh Roshan, A.R. Rahman, Vishal-Shekhar, Shantanu Moitra, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, M M Kreem, Himesh Reshammiya, etc. Have you observed that all of these music directors have a different approach to music composition and working with singers? If yes, please tell us a bit about your observations.

What matters during a playback singing is: 1- There is a situation which has to be expressed by a song. 2-You have the music director with his way to compose that situation with particular lyrics and he at that time keeps in mind which singer will sing this composition. At moment he has already incorporated the ability of the singer. And, every composer has a different approach to a composition. There is one major difference between A. R. Rahman and all other music directors. A. R. always tries to utilize all the qualities of the artists. He gives them the opportunity to express their own capabilities to the compositions, where the others stick to their final version.

While I’m sure all of the songs you’ve sung must be dear to you, is there any song in particular which is your overall favorite?

As you mentioned, every song is dear to me. But, “Hum Hain Iss Pal Yahaan” is the closest to my heart.

What songs are you listening to these days?

I am very choosy about my listening choices. Anything good and my favorite Mohammad Rafi Sahib, who is the complete playback singer.

You recently came out with Lagi Lagan, your debut album. Tell us how Lagi Lagan came into being? Is Thumri your favorite genre of classical sangeet, as the songs in Lagi Lagan are all thumris?

Romantic genre is my favorite and there is lots of romance in thumri singing. Robby Badal was after me for a long time for doing a thumri album and finally he got his chance to do Lagi Lagan. It all started when we had a meeting with Mr. Shridhar of Sony BMG for an album and Robby at the time let them listen to some romantic tracks, but because of the changing music market, he wanted some different things to hear and at that point Robby told them "why not a thumri album?” And, Shridhar was very excited about this idea, so started the album from there.

How was it like working with Robby Badal, who has composed the songs in Lagi Lagan?

Completely different than any music director, because we are husband and wife (laughs). We rehearsed each and every track on a click track in our music room first and after that we went to the studio to sing the song still on the click track. After that Robby cut and pasted the song, we gave it to the arranger. In close coordination we tried to finish each and every track as you hear on the CD. Robby is a very talented composer and I am very lucky to have worked with him. It was a very different and good experience. I regularly sing for all kinds of music directors, but with Robby it was very different. We were both very demanding with the work and we had lots of differences and that made the album very unique.

Out of all the songs in Lagi Lagan, which one was the most challenging for you to sing?

"Barsan Lagi".

How important are the lyrics of a song for a singer? Have you ever been taken aback by song lyrics presented to you?

Very important for me. I think a good song should start with good lyrics. I believe that lyrics in a song has the first place, and then the composition, and then, third, the voice. Yes, if I find something not right with the lyrics, I oppose.

Tell us your process for recording a song…for example, do you just walk into the recording studio and see the lyrics for a song right there and then and record it? Or, do you like to hear the situation of the song in the film before singing to convey the right emotions?

I always ask the music director or the director about the situation of the song. And not that only because everybody knows my ability as a singer, they give mostly difficult songs, so I ask them to give the song in advance, so that I can prepare it better and I can give more in the song than a fresh at the same time one. I also like to know the name of the actress on whom the songs will be pictured as I always try to give the character of the person in my singing.

What changes would you like to see in the music industry? For example, there are lots of cases of lifting tunes, ghost composers and ghost lyricists.

I would really like to see some good compositions coming up in Bollywood, especially for female songs. I think that ghost writers and ghost composers will exist for always. It is your decision what you want to do with your creation.

What do you think is the key to being a successful playback singer in India ? For example, we see many wonderful singers suddenly disappearing like Kavita Krishnamurthy Subramaniam and Anuradha Paudwal.

Kavitaji and Anuradhaji were both very successful at a time and everybody gets that opportunity to experience the success. There is no golden rule for being successful in Bollywood.

What advice do you have for aspiring singers? What about for aspiring NRI singers?

For a singer you need to have a good voice, talent and the convincing power to reach towards your goal in general. For NRI singers, my advice is don’t focus only on playback singing, but try to make your own identity…make your album and try to send this to all music directors.

What are some of your forthcoming projects?

There are some films with A. R. Rahman, Shantanu Moitra, Jeet Ganguly, a song which I am very excited about is "Chintuji" where I have an excellent duet song with Roop Kumar Rathod. There are some very exciting projects I am working on, but let it be a surprise!

Are you working on another private album these days?

Yes I am working a couple of albums. One, is of course with Robby Badal, again. It will be a very romantic album in today’s trend. Also, I am very open to different ideas on songs from all over the world.

Is there anything else you would you like to tell our readers?

There are so many things I would like to add, but one thing which is very sad in the Bollywood industry is that even though songs are highlights in films the artists of the songs are always neglected. I think it is the job of the media to give each and every artist the attention, what they have earned! You are doing a great job through your by highlighting artists. All the best to you all. Great job!

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