“SHAH RUKH MAKES YOU FEEL LIKE A QUEEN!” SINGER HARSHDEEP KAUR ON HER MUSIC & MARRIAGE
I am a ‘SAVVY’ Woman because… “I have strong faith in myself; I always try to live in the moment and enjoy life to the fullest.”
Amitabh Bachchan has called me the ‘Sufi Ki Sultana’... I am Harshdeep Kaur, the singer who sports a turban. Performing at live shows, doing reality shows or recording in a studio for a film or album… it’s all part of my life and I’m enjoying every minute of it.
I was born and brought up in a Sikh family in Delhi. My family consists of my mom, dad and sister. My dad owns a factory of musical instruments in Delhi. I was four when my father discovered my talent for singing. I was watching a movie and singing along merrily. And he was amazed to watch me sing perfectly in tandem with the original tune. From then on, he started my training as a singer. And I went through the entire gamut - from the basic ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ to the intricacies of Indian classical music for which I trained under Tejpal Singh, of Singh Bandhu fame, and western classical music under George Pullinkala, Delhi Music Theatre.
My school played a very important role in my singing career. It was here that I was introduced to western music.
Incidentally, my family is not at all conservative. They have never pressurized me or my sister about anything - be it about our careers or personal lives. In fact, they have always been very supportive.
SCHOOL IS COOL
I did my schooling from New Era Public School and junior college from Springdales School in Delhi. My school played a very important role in my singing career. It was here that I was introduced to western music.
My teacher Mrs Iyer, although an English teacher, was very musically inclined. She trained me to sing English songs. And thanks to that, I became very popular in school for my singing. In fact, I used to sing for the Annual Day and Independence Day functions – this gave me a lot of confidence to sing on stage.
MY FIRST PLAYBACK SONG
I got my first playback song when I was just 16 and still in school. What happened was that I entered the MTV Video Gaga Contest in 2001. And out of almost 10,000 contestants from all over India, the panel of judges including Javed Akhtar, Usha Uthup and Jatin-Lalit adjudged me the winner. And I bagged a deal to release an album with HMV. I remember dashing to Mumbai with my dad to record my album ‘Romantica’, going for my shoots and recordings, and then heading back to Delhi.
During this time, Anubhav Sinha was making a film titled ‘Aapko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai’ starring Priyanshu Chatterjee and Om Puri. They wanted a very soulful voice - very rustic and sufi. And when I gave an audition at the T-series studio, I was immediately selected. So ‘Sajana Mein Haari’ was my first playback song. The funny thing is that I wasn’t at all nervous while recording this - I guess when one is young, there aren’t any inhibitions, you just perform with passion.
MAKING THE DELHI-MUMBAI SHIFT
I guess that gave wings to my dream of becoming a playback singer. However, since there was no scope for playback singing in Delhi, after completing my 12th standard, we shifted to Mumbai.
It was a bit of a struggle. We had to stay on rent with no surety of any income as I wasn’t even earning at that point. Also, it was a major decision especially for my dad as he had to leave his music business behind just for my career.
Also, my parents did not want me to miss out on my education. So I joined SNDT University in Juhu to complete my graduation. But whenever I had my music shows, I used to take leave from college.
Once in Mumbai, I made a demo CD for which I recorded three songs with just the keyboard and piano as accompaniment. Initially, my mom used to call the music directors and get an appointment for me. It was a bit of a struggle.
Luckily, my dad knew Loy of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy fame and Vishal Bharadwaj through his music business. In fact,
Working with Rahman sir is a great learning experience for me. Even if I get to sing one line at his concert, I feel blessed.
when my album ‘Romantica’ released, I got a call from Ehsaan telling me that he loved my voice and he’d like me to send a demo tape to him. So after I came to Mumbai, I called Ehsaan who asked me to meet music directors Vishal-Shekhar, who in turn asked me to meet A R Rahman sir. And luckily for me, whoever I met, gave me work.
In the beginning, I worked a lot with Vishal-Shekhar. I sang for them for ‘Taxi No. 9211’ and ‘Karam’. Then I met Pritamda. Not many people know that I sang ‘Yaara Mere Yaara’ for the film ‘Fight Club’ starring Sohail Khan. After that, I sang (the Punjabi part of the title
These days, with technological advancements, you don’t really have to be a great singer. That’s why all these actors are singing these days.
song) for Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy for ‘Salaam-E-Ishq’. Those days, Brij Bhushan, a popular voice-over artiste, used to coordinate artistes for Rahman sir. And when he heard my songs, he told me, ‘I really like your voice and whenever AR Rahman is in Mumbai, I will get you to meet him’.
Brijji fulfilled his promise. Rahman sir was in Mumbai to record for Subash Ghai’s film ‘Kisna’. So Brijji called me for an audition. I sang three songs – a Punjabi sufi song, an English song and Jagjit Singh’s ghazal – in front of Rahman sir. And he really liked the audition and recorded all my songs. Rahman sir asked me if I’d like to sing for the background score. And I immediately said yes! I was happy singing even a few lines for him. So this was the first time I recorded for Rahman sir.
MY BIG BREAK
Later, Rahman sir was working on ‘Rang De Basanti’ and wanted a singer for the Punjabi prayer ‘Ik Onkar’, and that was my first big break. ‘Ik Onkar’ is not an item song. It’s just a one-and-a-half minute prayer. Normally, ‘Ik Onkar’ is not sung, it is recited. But despite that, it garnered accolades and people started knowing me by my name. In fact, I used to get emails even from South Indians, saying: ‘We don’t understand the meaning of the song, but it’s so divine that it takes us to some other world’.
Then, I sang for the film ‘Guzaarish’. In fact, once I overheard Sanjay Leela Bhansali telling my dad, ‘Aapki beti kitna acha gati hai, isko mein pura din sun sakta hu’ (You daughter sings really well, I can listen to her songs the whole day long). So it really feels good when your work is appreciated.
During this time, I took part in a reality show called ‘Junoon - Kuchh Kar Dikhaane Ka’ on NDTV Imagine. My mentors were Anand Raj Anand, Ila Arun and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. It was a competition among three different genres – sufi, folk and Bollywood. I was in the sufi team and I won that competition.
Incidentally, in this show, my turban became my style statement. I was singing sufi songs and for spiritual reasons, I wanted to cover my head. At first, I thought I’d cover my head with a chunni, but my brother-in-law suggested that I use a turban. Initially, we thought a girl sporting a turban would look funny. Then I took my dad’s turban and wrapped it around my head, but I left my hair open and
In the beginning, it used to feel a little awkward sporting a turban. But gradually, it became my identity. In fact, many singers have even copied my style on various shows.
wore an anarkali. We did the promo shoot and when the posters were out, I realized that it looked really nice. And everybody complimented me on my look.
So I continued with it. In the beginning, it used to feel a little awkward sporting a turban. But gradually, it became my identity. In fact, many singers have even copied my style on various shows. But I think I am the only female singer sporting a turban who has remained in the memory of the public. Rahman sir is a gentleman. When he is sitting next to you, he won’t make you feel like he is a Grammy or an Oscar awardee. He is very down-to-earth, humble and a great person. Not just when it comes to making music, but as a human being too, he is unbelievable.
Working with him is a great learning experience for me. As I always say, even if I get to sing one line at his concert, I feel blessed.
CONNECTING WITH THE SUPERSTARS OF BOLLYWOOD
One superstar who has absolutely floored me is Amitabh Bachchan. He was the main guest at the finale of ‘Junoon - Kuchh Kar Dikhaane Ka’ and he actually called me the ‘Sufi
I was so thrilled! I had dreamt of a moment like this and it was actually happening!
I also met Ranbir Kapoor on the sets of ‘Rockstar’ as I was singing ‘Katiya Karoon’. For the rehearsals, we used to all practise together. Ranbir was performing his song, so he used to come for rehearsals. Initially, I used to think that because he is a big star, he won’t talk to people who are less famous. But I must say that Ranbir is very down-to-earth. He was present for all the ‘Rockstar’ concert rehearsals and left the studio after us. He is very dedicated.
Meeting Shah Rukh Khan is another story. It was at an awards’ nomination party where I went up to him and said, ‘I’m a big fan of yours’ and he gave me a huge hug. Shah Rukh is one guy who makes you feel like a queen. I told him that I had sung for one of his upcoming Yashraj films – at that point the title wasn’t decided. He asked me, ‘Which song have you sung?’ I said ‘Heer’. And he hugged me and said, ‘Oh, that’s Gauri’s and my favourite song’.
I met him again after one year at the ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ premiere. I went up to him and asked him if he remembered me. Pat came the reply, ‘Of course, I remember you. You have sung my song’. I was so happy!
Now whenever he meets me at any music concerts or shows, he always acknowledges me.
ACTORS SINGING IN FILMS... AND THE CORRESPONDING ISSUES
These days, with technological advancements, you don’t really have to be a great singer. Anybody can sing and then it can be auto corrected. Even if you have sung it badly, it can be auto tuned with technology.
Initially, I used to think that because Ranbir is a big star, he won’t talk to people who are less famous.
That’s why all these actors are singing these days. They actually say a few words and then put notes onto it and make it sound like a song.
So yes, the opportunities are becoming scarce, more so as there are so many singers – in fact, you can’t even remember their names. Now any and everybody can be a part of Bollywood. That is a good thing if good singers get the right opportunities. But it is not if the not-so-good singers are also getting opportunities. So it’s bad for the ones who are actually talented. Another problem is that a lot of actors choose their favourite singers. Most actors want younger voices to sing for them. Being friendly with actors might help you to a certain extent, but in the end, your work should speak for you.
So I do admit that things have become really difficult, but there is no point getting depressed about it. My job is to just go out there and sing my best. I had a few offers to act in Punjabi films, but I refused them because I feel being an actress needs a lot of dedication. You have to eat very less, exercise and do a lot of hard work. Singing is my main profession, so I would rather concentrate on that only. I don’t mind acting in my own music videos, but not in films.
MY FAVOURITE SINGERS
I have so many favourite singers – Ash King, Arijit Singh, Shreya Ghosal, Sunidhi Chauhan, Richa Sharma and Neeti Mohan. But I’m a big fan of Reshmaji, who sang ‘Lambi Judaai’ in the movie ‘Hero’. In fact, people tell me, ‘Aapki awaaz unse milti hai’. It’s not as if I have copied her voice but yes, I have copied her style.
Incidentally, I was fortunate to meet her once in Delhi for a show. I sang a few lines of her song in front of her and she also started singing with me. That was one of the biggest moments of my life.
I am also a big fan of Jagjit Singh. I met him through HMV and he complimented my voice. Then I attended one of his concerts in Delhi. During the show, he suddenly called me on stage and made me sit next to him. We also sang a song together.
I do a lot of live shows – I have performed at the Southbank
At a live show, the reaction of the audience is instant, honest and not calculated.
Center and the BBC London Mela. I am also very excited about singing at the ‘Stardust’ concert which is happening on September 5, 2015, in London at the Royal Festival Hall. ‘Stardust’ has come up with a very nice concept of featuring Shalmali Kholgade, Kanika Kapoor and me together, so there are three different styles of singing in one show. The UK
The only struggle in our line is that you have to wait for your opportunity. There is no permanency. When the going is good, then it’s nice. But suddenly there can be times when there is no work.
audience is very emotional about Indian music. I will try my best to give the audience a memorable experience which they will remember throughout their lives.
I’m now planning to do something different with the kind of songs that I sing and how I interact with the audience.
Live shows are a different ball game. When you are recording songs in a studio, you only have your own reactions and the feedback of your family or colleagues to bank upon. But at a live show, the reaction of the audience is instant, honest and not calculated.
Plus, live shows help you earn money and run a house. And if you compare it with recordings, live shows pay you a lot. You can’t run your house doing only recordings. Whatever income we get, is mostly through the shows only.
UPS & DOWNS
Initially, I had a lot of trouble with music directors because I don’t have a soft female voice like Lataji or Shreya Ghosal - they have high pitch voices, so it’s easy for them to sing high notes. But for me, it’s difficult. Some music directors never understand that and I used to miss out on a lot
of songs. But Jagjit Singh told me once, ‘You shouldn’t worry about this. Sing in your natural range’.
Thankfully, now music composers do not bracket me. They know my versatility. Like Pritamda has always made me sing non-sufi songs like ‘Jhak Maar Ke’ from ‘Desi Boyz’, or songs for ‘Fight Club’ and ‘Khatta Meetha’. Vishal-Shekhar too have used my voice for Bollywood numbers.
However, I believe the only struggle in our line is that you have to wait for your opportunity. It’s not a 9-to-5 job, and there is no permanency. When the going is good, then it’s nice. But suddenly there can be times when there is no work. So nothing is permanent. And when you are already ‘famous’, you can’t call up people and say, ‘Give me work’! You can do that when you are starting off, but not when you are famous.
Yes, I recently got married to my best friend Mankeet. We were in school together for 10 years – from class 1 to 10. At that point, we were just classmates, not even good friends. Later, he shifted to Mumbai to do his MBA and that’s where we met again. We became best friends and gradually, started liking each other. We dated for five years and then decided that we were made for each other and got married recently. You start respecting your mother even more because when you have to do the house work, you realize how much your mother works. Luckily, I live very close my parents.
Also, I’m really grateful to my husband because his entire family lives in Delhi. But he took a transfer from his company and shifted to Mumbai just for my work. So now our next agenda is to bring his parents here. And I’m really blessed to have such nice in-laws who are shifting from Delhi to Mumbai just for my career.
Mankeet always guides me and tells me what to wear. He also comes for my shows and gives me feedback.
LIFE AFTER MARRIAGE
Mankeet is a very supportive husband. Yes, he has changed me a lot but in a good way. I’m very casual about everything in life. I would happily live in a pair of jeans and a tee, or even pyjamas. I don’t care about what people think of me.
When I’m performing, I will be extremely well-dressed. But if I’m at home and not doing anything, then I don’t want to get ready or dress up. So one thing he has taught me is to be serious about how you project yourself because people think of you in a certain way.
He always guides me and tells me what to wear and what not to wear. He coordinates my outfits and also comes for my shows sometimes and gives me feedback.
MY FUTURE PLANS
I am planning to sing and compose my own singles or recreate some folk music and release it on YouTube, Facebook and even promote it on TV. Other than that, I believe in going with the flow.
My journey so far has been very smooth. And it’s all thanks to my family because if I had come alone to Mumbai, then it might have been something else. My success is all because of their support and also because of meeting good people in the industry. And I hope it continues...
I am very excited about singing at the ‘Stardust’ concert along with Shalmali Kholgade and Kanika Kapoor, which is happening on September 5, 2015, in London at the Royal Festival Hall.
Photograph Makeup & Hair Post Production Partho, Hawks Enterprises Coordination
Li’l HarshdeepWith brother-in-law, sister, dad and mom
A still from her first album ‘Romantica’
With AR Rahman
Receiving an award
With Rahat Fateh Ali Khan
Shah Rukh Khan
At a music concert
With husband Mankeet
Set to perform at the ‘Stardust’ show with Shalmali Kholgade and Kanika Kapoor at the Royal Festival Hall in London
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