“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.”

Savvy - - Front Page - In­ter­viewed by Bha­vana Doifode

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.

CHILD­HOOD MEM­O­RIES

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.

BOL­LY­WOOD CALL­ING

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.

RE­AL­ITY BITES

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.

TUR­BAN TALE

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.

MY MAR­RIAGE

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

Pho­to­graph Sanjit Sen Makeup & Hair Kavita Rautela Post Pro­duc­tion Partho, Hawks En­ter­prises Co­or­di­na­tion Su­mita Chakrabort­y & Bha­vana Doifode

With Ra­hat Fateh Ali Khan

Ran­bir Kapoor

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

For more jaw-drop­ping and in­spir­ing coversto­ries (I Be­lieve), log on tomag­na­m­ags.com

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