Kumar Sanu: A special kind of music romance

The iconic singer speaks about Indian Idol 14, the pressure of mentoring young minds, key advice for singers and the reason he does not sing more often

Kumar Sanu

Mohnish Singh

MAGNIFICENT songs, multiple awards and amazing musical achievements mean Kumar Sanu needs no introduction. The massively popular music star ranks among the most celebrated Indian playback singers of all time and is the voice behind songs that defined a generation.

The once-undisputed ‘king of romance’ is currently judging the 14th season of hit reality show Indian Idol with Shreya Ghoshal and Vishal Dadlani and looking forward to his UK tour.

 Eastern Eye recently spoke to the iconic singer about Indian Idol 14, the pressure of mentoring young minds, key advice for singers, the reason he does not sing more often and why the quality of Bollywood music has declined in recent years. He also spoke about his up – coming international tours, a memorable recent fan encounter and the song closest to his heart.

After appearing on several singing reality shows as a guest, you are now gracing the judging panel on Indian Idol 14. What led you to take it up?

I wanted to be a part of such a show for a long time, to be honest. I was waiting to judge a reality show where I could show everyone the reality. So, when the makers of Indian Idol approached me for season 14, I could not say no and nabbed the opportunity with both hands. I am really thankful to Sony TV that they considered me for this season.

 What are your thoughts on your co-judges Shreya Ghoshal and Vishal Dadlani?

If you ask me seriously, I feel the judging panel this time is very real. We all know how talented Shreya Ghoshal is. She is very experienced and has a unique way of judging. And when it comes to Vishal Dadlani, he too has it in him.

And last but not least, I also come with an experience of 40 years (laughs).

Indian Idol 14 judges Shreya Ghoshal (C) and Vishal Dadlani (L) and Sanu

Do you think judging young minds comes with a great responsibility?

 Yes, definitely. It is a big responsibility. But I do not ‘judge’ per se, you know.

I also provide my valuable input about where and how they can improve themselves, and their skills. I always share my advice based on my own experiences. I guide them with all the experience I have gathered over the years.

 What advice would you give to those who participate in such singing reality shows?

First and foremost, you have to be extremely versatile. You cannot reach anywhere by aping somebody else’s voice. There are multiple examples in the industry where a singer would try to copy some popular singer. Their careers nosedived even before they saw the peak. So, you must be versatile and sing in your own voice. I tell this to every contestant on Indian Idol.

Tell us more about that?

When you appear on such a big show like Indian Idol, you become popular almost instantly. You get used to autographs and photographs.

New streams of revenues open. If you fall for them, you go nowhere. Such avarice may keep you away from getting into mainstream singing.

I would advise them to have the power to digest instant fame. Keep name, fame, and money aside and focus on your riyaz. Do not do backto-back shows as it may affect your vocal quality in the long run. Three to four shows a month are more than fine.

Your fans always complain that you have started singing fewer songs in mainstream films.

See, I have been singing for almost 40 years now. Not many singers get to sing for so long if you see. So even after 40 years if you complain that I am singing less, then it is wrong. Isn’t it?

But is there any reason that you don’t sing more often?

The only reason is I have become very picky. I cannot sing every song that comes my way.

There has to be something special in a song for me to sing it. I don’t see many songs that suit my taste. I cannot sing songs with cheap, meaningless lyrics just for the sake of singing.

 What kind of songs do you want to sing at this point in your career?

See, the masses have loved me for my romantic songs. So, I still want to sing more romantic songs. Such songs suit my voice. My voice suits such songs. If I get those kinds of songs that are in my range, I will lap them up. But the sad part is that such songs are not made anymore.

I feel people are just screaming and shouting in songs these days. If someone approaches me with a good song, I will definitely sing it.

 Which of your songs is the closest to your heart?

It is Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaye and let me tell you why. I feel the lyrics of this song fit everywhere, in every situation. You can sing it for your lover, parents, kids, and even for god. You can literally sing it for everyone. This is the most special song of my life.

What is your take on recreating old songs?

I think recreating a song is not a bad thing. The first and foremost advantage of doing so is that the new generation gets to know about old songs. There are many people from this generation who don’t know about a particular song until someone recreates it. When they listen to the remix, they Google it and come to know, ‘Oh, this was originally sung by Kumar Sanu’ or any other singer, for that matter. Remixes introduce us to the new generation, so I take it very positively. The only request that I make to all the people who recreate, is that please don’t change the lyrics and basic composition.

 Do you think composers should approach original singers for remixes if they are still active in the business?

If the original singer is still capable enough, then definitely yes. Don’t turn a good song into trash by giving it to a singer who can’t do justice to it. If I can sing, make me sing. I will happily do it. Having said that, if there is a singer who can sing better than me, then you should go to him.

You have to find someone better than me otherwise keep facing criticism from the audience.

 A new trend in the industry is composers making three to four singers sing a song before choosing one for a project. How do you look at this?

It’s happening because composers are not confident enough. They don’t know what they want and that’s why they make different singers sing a song and then choose what, according to them, is the best from the rest. In our times, music composers knew exactly which voice would suit a particular song. They had full faith in themselves and in the singers, something that is lacking today. We used to sing a song in one take, and it would go on to become a hit.

 What, according to you, is the reason behind the dismal state of Hindi film music today?

Interference from people who don’t understand music. These days songs fade from audiences’ memory in a couple of days.

Music directors don’t have the freedom and hence, they cannot create a good composition.

Kumar Sanu

 Why don’t new-age singers enjoy the kind of popularity and longevity that you, Udit Narayan and others enjoyed?

As I said, you have to be original. A singer needs to establish himself and his style and try that people like his or her style. It would help if you create it. If you become popular by singing someone else’s song, it does not mean you should always copy them. Create your own identity. Create your own voice.

 Recently, a fan from Rajasthan travelled almost 1400km to meet you…

Yes, I have had several fan encounters, but this was different. He travelled 1,400km on a cycle to meet me. He lives in Jhunjhunu in Rajasthan. I was happy that he came to meet me, but the boy must have gone through so much in his journey from his village to Mumbai. It was during the monsoon, so you can imagine. I am blessed. I thank god for everything. I feel so blessed that people across the world love me.

Could you tell us about your UK tour in December?

My tour kicks off in November end and runs through the first week of December. The first show is scheduled to take place in Holland, followed by a second show in Ireland. Then three shows are scheduled in London, Birmingham, and Leeds. There are going to be two prominent singers alongside me – Udit Narayan and Abhijeet Bhattacharya. I am looking forward to singing with them.

 Are more tours in the pipeline?

Yes, there is one more tour in the pipeline. After UK, I will fly to Dubai for my next tour. Alka Yagnik is going to be with me on this tour, which is scheduled for December 10. Then there are some shows lined up in India as well. I will also be keeping busy with the Indian Idol shoot.