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Sonu Nigam on being Calcutta’s jamai and not being SRK’s voice in Jab Tak Hai Jaan

The man has come a long way since hosting Sa Re Ga Ma in 1995… and we are not hinting at his shift from side-parted to curly-top mop! One of Calcutta’s celebrity jamais spoke to t2 about his international album, missing out on Jab Tak Hai Jaan and his return to Zee TV to host Rishtey Awards.

Your Kali Puja show for Salt Lake’s Balaka Club drew so many fans that the organisers had to shut the gates well in advance! What would you say about Calcutta’s connection with its jamai?

I always felt a lot of respect for Bengalis and Marathis. They are rooted and appreciate art and culture a bit more than the rest of the country. I have been coming here since 1994, which was before Sa Re Ga Ma and before I met Madhurima (wife). It was in Calcutta that I met her the next year… on December 24.

Do you understand Bengali?

Yes, I do, unless it is spoken very fast or very pure. I have so many Bengalis around me. My wife speaks to her family members in Bangla. And you know how Bengalis are: one Bengali attracts many! There is this entire Bengali “cult” in Bombay and my wife is a part of it. I know all of them through her. There is Rani Mukerji’s mother and brother. His wife Jyoti is my wife’s best friend.

What about your collaboration with Bickram Ghosh?

Bickram and I have a strange relationship. We have got to know each other in the last two-three years and there are times when we don’t speak for weeks on end. I find him very balanced, well-spoken and secure in heart and mind. He is a great artiste but does not make a show of it. An artiste doesn’t need to go wah, wah in his body language all the time. He can be a normal person too. Bickram and I are like that. But it is difficult to find normal people in the industry. We are composing for two films –– Jal and Sooper se Oopar.

You returned to Zee TV after a long break to host this year’s Zee Rishtey Awards....

I haven’t forgotten my roots. In 1993-94, I was barely 18-19. I had two songs and was struggling. Zee TV had just started. In those days there was Doordarshan everywhere but Zee was “niche”.

I used to watch the channel and think: “If I can be here, mujhe kuchh exposure mil jayega.” My contemporary singers then were double my age. Then in 1994-95, the call came to be a participant in Close Up Antakshari with Udit Narayanji, Abhijeet Bhattacharyaji and Sushma Shreshthaji. That’s how the journey started. Then came Sa Re Ga Ma. I gave the name. Some of the rounds and musical elements were designed by me. So Zee TV and I are “karmically” connected... So when they approached me, I immediately agreed.

Last year, you collaborated with Britney Spears for I Wanna Go.

Yes, I hope independent music gradually comes forward. These songs are played on TV and radio, and they don’t become one-off releases. Recently, I have collaborated with the world’s number one DJ Avicii (for the single Indian Levels). This is one of the most important collaborations from India and has a lot of support from Universal Music International. We are working on my international album, of which this is a part. The album will release this month. I have shot some cuts for the video of the second song, which is completely in English. The video has been shot in Los Angeles.

It was a pleasant surprise to hear you sing for SRK in the Lux ad. What would it take to get that combination back on the big screen?

It would take the producer’s and the director’s intelligence and foresight! They are losing out on a great combination. At this point in life, it would be unfair to my talent, profile and fans to complain ki yeh gaana mujhe nahin mila. Jo mere kismat mein hai woh mujhe milega.

I’ve seen the huge outcry on Facebook and Twitter after Jab Tak Hai Jaan. People were lambasting the makers, which I, of course, don’t approve of. They must have had their reasons for not using me for Jab Tak.... It just makes me happy that people love me and this combination so much that there was this outcry. Of course, aisa nahin hai ki it affects anyone. (A.R.) Rahman is a nice guy. If some composer decides to recreate this magic in future, it will happen.

Sonu’s playlist

Abhi mujh mein: It tops my list
Kal ho naa ho: It’s in my bloodstream
Yeh dil dewaana: Changed my image
Suraj hua madhyam: One of the songs that took me to the A-list
Bijooriya: Gave me the image of a singer who could dance