The Telegraph
Wednesday , September 26 , 2012
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shankar on song

The genial Shankar Mahadevan speaks to t2 on returning to Zee TV’s Sa Re Ga Ma Pa after 2009, singing at the United Nations General Assembly and the Parliament, and the musical flowering of his two sons.

Your sons Siddharth, 19, and Shivam, 11, have debuted in the music industry.

They have sung in an album called Ganaraj Adhiraj. My young-est sang a very difficult song and I was surprised that he could sing it so beautifully. Both of them got nominated for the Global Indian Music Awards. My elder son has also started composing. He has scored for a Marathi film and also an anthem in Deepa Mehta’s film Midnight’s Children along with his cousin. I feel so proud. But let’s not get carried away. I want them to grow as musicians.

What kind of innovations will we get to see in the upcoming season of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa?

Think of any talent hunt and you see a bechara singer standing alone on stage, and the musicians all cramped up in some faraway corner. Why? Make it feel like a lovely musical show. Again it appears as if the judges have descended from heaven to criticise. And the terrified fellow is getting slammed and yet meekly mumbling, ‘Thank you’. Why? We are not monsters. We’ll sit at the same level with him and be his friends.

What is this talk about the show specialising in genres this time?

Suppose someone is good in ghazals, we will make him sing ghazals throughout.

What kind of future awaits a participant after a show is over?

Try calling Aneek (Dhar, winner of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2007) or Abhijeet Sawant (Indian Idol 2005) for a show at 15 days’ notice. They can’t, they are so busy. Nowadays the scenario has changed. These days a song is not identified by just the singer’s name. It comes out in the composer’s name. Who sang Pappu can’t dance saala? No one knows but it’s a hit! These boys are earning good money, riding expensive cars. Their livelihood is taken care of.

What kind of a market is there for niche music genres?

There is a market but it needs to grow. See, Bawre (Luck by Chance) is a Rajasthani folk song. But it got the support of a filmmaker and Hrithik Roshan danced to it. If a band scores music for a film it can become big. Devotional is the largest selling segment after Bollywood. Given the correct path, a person singing only devotional songs can be as successful as a playback singer. When a song plays in your car, you only care about whether it’s a good song or a bad song, not whether it’s a film song or not. But the music companies do not promote music that way. I pray that other forms of music, besides Bollywood, come up. As it is, we are still recovering from the wounds of the 1980s. The film industry had reached rock bottom in those years. People who did music had no sense of lyrics. Those who made films had seen only Hindi films all their life. These days, the filmmakers can discuss cinema. I at least understand the three major chords.

What’s your reaction to the recent amendment to the copyright law?

We were a part of the movement to achieve this, led by Javed Akhtar saab. It is a great moment in Indian music, for musicians and their families. Fifty per cent of the royalty has been set aside for composers and lyricists. We performed in the Parliament for the MPs as this is the only way we know to express our gratitude for passing the Bill at one shot.

You also performed at the United Nations General Assembly recently, didn’t you?

Yes. It was special. April 30, which happens to be my wedding anniversary, has been declared the International Jazz Day and I was invited to the first celebration in New York. Tony Bennett, George Duke, Christian McBride… you name any jazz great and he was there. I sang a duet with Dee Dee Bridgewater called Cotton Tail. For the finale, all of us performed a Stevie Wonder composition. Eighty per cent of jazz is improvisation, so there are common areas with Indian classical music. Dee Dee has just emailed me. Let’s see, if we can make time, you might see a collaboration in future.

Reigning champ Kamal Khan (extreme left) with mentors Sajid, Wajid and Shankar Mahadevan at the show’s launch in Mumbai on Friday

The biggest surprise in the 2012 edition of the country’s oldest music reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, set to start next Saturday at 9pm on Zee TV, is the inclusion of Rahul Ram, the lead vocalist of the band Indian Ocean, as one of the mentors alongside Shankar Mahadevan and Sajid-Wajid. “Usually such shows are Bollywood-related. But the channel officials said they wanted to include the non-Bollywood component as well. So that is what I represent,” said Rahul in a video clip.

Ajay Bhalwankar, content head of Hindi GECs, Zee Entertain-ment Enterprises, explained: “There is a perception in our country that one can become a successful singer only by doing playback in films; but there are other avenues too — private album, music band, classical music.…”

Sajid spoke of laying stress on specialisation when planning a contestant’s training schedule. “If you want to record a Dhadak dhadak from Bunty Aur Babli you will not call Suraj Jagan, right? For Suraj, you will keep a track like Give me some sunshine (3 Idiots). Our target will be to create winners in specific genres.”

The 2012 edition will go heavy on user interactivity through technology. One such innovation will be the Call & Sing App, which is touted as the first-ever phone application made for an Indian reality show. Hosted on ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa 2012’ Facebook page, it will enable the viewer to sing on their mobile phones and post the audio clip on that page as well as their own FB timeline. The ‘Hot or Not’ app will have people singing one after another and the audiences can rate them. There will also be banners with jumbled lyrics that test people’s knowledge in music. Also on offer are opportunities to chat on the site with the mentors, anchors and contestants.