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Prime-time prima donna
- Bengali girl sings title numbers of all Ekta Kapoor serials

She can be heard on prime-time television every day. More than once. Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi, Kkusum, Kahani Ghar Ghar Ki, Kasauti Zindagi Ke, Kavita, Karam… She is, in a sense, the voice of Ekta Kapoor.

Priya Bhattacharya, a Shillong-born Bengali girl, sings the title songs for the entire K-cluster from the Balaji Telefilms stable. The 24-year-old has been a Balaji regular since 1999.

It was music director Lalit Sen who gave Priya her Balaji break with Koshish: Ek Asha. “The song, Woh asha hain, woh abhilasha hai, was recorded and sent for approval. Lalitji asked me to keep my fingers crossed,” recalls Priya. The song was okayed by the Kapoors, marking the beginning of a musical partnership. The male leads have changed from Babul Supriyo to Shaan to sundry newcomers, but the female voice remains Priya’s preserve.

Priya, for whom Calcutta has always been “a second home” because of her relatives here, has also lent her voice regularly for a trend that Balaji boss Ekta has introduced in tele-serials — letting the characters express their emotions through short verses set to tune. “I must have sung more than 1,000 such verses by now,” smiles Priya, in town to record her Puja releases under Devjit Roy’s direction.

The young singer lays great store by her “friendship” with Balaji chief Ekta Kapoor. “She has always supported me so much. Ever since she heard me for the first time, she insists on using my voice for every serial she makes. ‘Hum tum ek hi umr ki hain (We are the same age). And you too are succeeding on the strength of your own talent’, she often tells me.” Little wonder then that Priya has been booked for the next Balaji venture on the big screen, starring Ekta’s brother, Tusshar Kapoor. Priya has also signed up with a host of Bollywood biggies like Anu Malik, Nikhil Vinay, Rajesh Roshan, Anand Raj Anand…

In fact, great things had been predicted early for her. Playing the harmonium to her own rendition of Salil Chowdhury’s Ranar at age two-and-a-half, performing on stage at age three... Then at age nine, she had gone on a visit to Delhi when her parents chanced upon a Golden Voice Hunt contest. “The cut-off age was 20 and around 6,000 contestants had registered. But my parents coaxed them into letting me sing.” The child took the trophy home.

“I have never had to struggle much. The breaks came one after another,” Priya confesses.

The first one was meeting playback singer Alka Yagnik in her hometown. “Her father-in-law worked at North Eastern Hill University. I had gone there for a programme when he asked me to meet Alkaji, who was visiting them. Alkaji promised to help me if I ever went to Mumbai.”

When she reached the city in 1995 it was Alka Yagnik who introduced Priya to ace composer Nadeem. “Within 24 hours of hearing me, he offered me an album of duets with him. A series of Nadeem-Shravan films followed — Jung (the Ajay Devgan-starrer where she sang the title song), Judaai (she sang for Sridevi with Amit Kumar doing duty for Anil Kapoor), and the ABCL project Saat Rang Ke Sapne (featuring Arvind Swamy and Juhi Chawla).

Priya has toured the globe for concerts. “Live shows have both their funny and awkward moments. In Drayton, US, after my performance, an NRI was so moved that he wanted to marry me. Again at the Valentine’s Day show at Netaji Indoor Stadium last year, (with Adnan Sami and Sukhvinder) one of the paper rockets, naming a ‘request song’, hit me plonk on the nose. That was quite embarrassing,” she laughs.

Priya, for whom Calcutta has always been a second home because of her relatives here, spent last week

“I am doing Ek Palake, a collection of modern songs, spiritual numbers on Baba Loknath and Aisa Sama, a volume of Lataji’s vintage hits. A Rabindrasangeet album I recorded a few months ago is awaiting release,” said the Lata fan, who is looking forward to meeting her idol once she is back in Mumbai.

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