Abhay Jodhpurkar: A Bundle Of Talent And A Very Witty Person
Last year we got to witness one of the most amazing love songs ever – ‘Mere Naam Tu’, from Zero (2018). The song was elevated by the charms of the King of Romance himself – Shah Rukh Khan, and his magical persona on screen. But the soulful voice, who redefined the meaning of love was Abhay Jodhpurkar. Abhay, a man who is bestowed with an incredible voice, has been creating magic with his songs in many different languages like Tamil, Malayalam, etc, from past few years. Fortunately, we got in touch with him and got a chance to have a conversation with him. He shared many stories, spoke about his incredible journey so far, took us through the process of the song, ‘Mere Naam Tu’, and gave some funny anecdotes, leaving us in splits, amaze, and inspired by his story. Below is the excerpt:
P.S. Wait till the last to read a very funny anecdote shared by Abhay about a date he went on to. It cannot be missed.
You gave one of the biggest hit last year with ‘Mere Naam Tu’. Many people still play that song and consider it one of the best songs made in recent times. How do you feel about the incredible response the song got? And has all the positive buzz synced down for you, or does it still feel like a dream?
It still feels like a dream! Just two years back, I remember coming to Mumbai and you know, the struggle of being the rat in the big Bollywood race. I was also one of those people who pack their bags and come with a lot of dreams. Little did I know that someday, I’ll be launched with an SRK (Shah Rukh Khan) song. I distinctly remember the day before I recorded the song, I was in Ujjain doing darshan at the Mahakal Temple. And I received the call just after the darshan. I really think that it’s a blessing from the universe and it was all meant to be… Mere Naam hi tha ye gaana!
Until the song happened, I was doing quite a lot of playback in the South Indian industry. I was lucky enough to be launched by AR Rahman sir in Chennai. We’ll talk about that later. But yeah, it’s been eight years now, since I was actually trying to, you know, make it to Bollywood and finally, it happened and how!
So yeah, I guess, to answer your question, it still feels like a dream that I’ve still not come out of. People are still loving the song. I’m getting so much of love. It really means a lot and I am absolutely grateful.
Since you mentioned about your struggling period, would you want to tell us how did this song happen? I mean the whole process behind ‘Mere Naam Tu’?
So basically, I had covered one of the Ajay-Atul songs, i.e. ‘Jeev Rangla’, from Jogwa (2009) film. They happened to hear it and got in touch with me through my friend, Savaniee Ravindrra who is a wonderful singer herself. And ever since then, they had shown interest in wanting to work with me. I used to come to Mumbai every now and then for other stuff (recording and shoots) So, one fine day, I had the chance to meet Ajay Dada at Yash Raj Studio and we grew fond of each other ever since then. They eventually found out about my trajectory and were really keen on working with me with but none of us knew how! And then for a song, I remember, they had tried to contact me but somehow that song couldn’t happen. So they were like, we’ll work on something else whenever it’s meant to be.
Time flew and two years back, when I moved to Mumbai, I told them that I have shifted here for good and that I will be available for any recording 24*7 and then they called me for ‘Mere Naam Tu’. Now again, ‘Mere Naam Tu’ was very tricky because it was already sung by some singers. And they were just trying my voice out because they were not completely satisfied with the recordings. And while I was called, I was not even told that this is for Zero (2018) or SRK. I was just told that it’s a love song and the guy has an immense amount of love for this girl. I was clueless about whom I was singing for.
I just fell in love with the song on the very first listen while Ajay Dada was singing it live for me to learn the melody. They didn’t play me any of the previous versions to avoid me getting prejudiced. It was literally, “that’s the tune and these are the lyrics”. Irshad Kamil sir was there, Anand sir (Anand L. Rai) was there, and I was really nervous because I was meeting these two humongous legends for the first time. And even with Ajay-Atul sir, this was my first recording experience. So I had no idea what I’m, you know, signing up for. But thankfully it was a very friendly environment. We had a great time recording. So, it started at around 8.00 pm and we wrapped up the song in around two hours. I remember during the recording also, there were so many moments where we all were just cracking-up at Ajay dada’s puns and laughing away to glory. It was damn fun. We got along so well that it didn’t even feel like we were working together for the first time.
Also, another parallel story to it is that around that time, I was going through a very rough patch personally, in my relationship. I had been dumped in an ugly manner and I was still dealing with depression. The song somehow triggered all those emotions and I guess I poured my heart and soul into the song. I remember after the recording, I went back home and cried my lungs out because the lyrics moved me and shook me from within. Especially, these two lines really touched me, ‘Tukde kar chaahe khaabon ke tu mere, Tootenge bhi toh rehne hain woh tere..’.
So this song is really close to my heart and I can see that it resonated with so many people. It was really overwhelming for me to receive so much love in return after the song was out and I felt like it was an answer from the Universe that, “It’s okay if one person doesn’t care about you, a million others do! So just be happy, you matter!”
When the trailer came out, I remember I still didn’t know that my voice was being finalized because they were still considering someone else for the song. So till the last moment, they were speculating if they should get a bigger artist on board. But Ajay sir was very persistent about retaining my voice. I have immense respect for Ajay sir for the same reason, he didn’t have to stand up for me but he did, you know. So that’s how my voice ended-up coming out. When I saw the trailer, I messaged Ajay sir wondering what is happening! Nobody told me anything! 😁 Then he was like, we wanted to surprise you. It was such a sweet gesture and the best surprise indeed! So that’s how the song came out, and you know the rest (laughs).
Let’s rewind a little bit and go back to the times when you didn’t decide what to do about your career. I mean, the phase in which you were trying to figure out what to do. What did you feel about singing back then and what made you pick this path?
So basically, I have only been passionate about listening to music, rather you can say that singing picked me. My grandfather actually was the one who taught me because he used to be a very good singer and he was trained in Hindustani classical music. I was trained by him at home, more or less. And it was never a formal training, but he always taught me the nuances and the techniques of singing. We would listen to Marathi Natya Sangeet at home. And everyone kind of sings in the family, perhaps I have inherited those genes from them. So I can say its God gifted.
But then the actual calling happened when I started winning all these music competitions. In schools also, my music teacher, Hansa Soni Ma’m would always be very particular that I should stick to the music department even though I was more inclined towards arts and dance and other extracurricular activities. Everyone wanted to steal me for the music department (laughs). So I guess that’s why I understood that okay, maybe there’s something in me that you know, people really like and I still didn’t discover what talent I had.
Then I went to Chennai for B.Tech and I was doing my degree in Biotechnology. And meanwhile, during 2009-13, I started listening to some Tamil and Malayalam songs especially, A R Rahman sir’s Tamil work. I was completely hooked to it and revisited my passion of classical music through Carnatic Music which truly is the original form of Indian Classical music, not even Hindustani because Hindustani has Arabic influences and that cannot be called Indian completely. So if you talk about the roots, then I think I found my jam. At that point in time, I couldn’t even think about doing anything else but just being a part of that music.
Then I joined Rahman sir’s Music Academy, KM Music Conservatory. And that’s where my actual journey in music started where I started figuring out what Music is all about. Then there was a Qawali group of singers formed and I was also a part of that batch. We used to have private concerts for Rahman sir and then the annual day (KM Day 2011) is when he heard me. After that Rahman sir picked me and started recording me for devotional stuff and Sufi songs for private albums and then finally, my first Tamil song got recorded which was for Mani Ratnam’s film Kadal (2013) and the song is called ‘Moongil Thottam’. Yeah, so that’s how it all actually started and I decided that I’m going to finish my B. Tech and then move to Kodambakkam, which is the Andheri of the Chennai (Kollywood) and start my full-time career in Singing. Ever since then, I’ve been training in Carnatic, Hindustani and Western Music.
Ultimately, things just got lined up fortunately in my favor. I would thank destiny for that. Also because when there’s a will there’s a way. So my advice to everyone would be, just follow your passion and things would work out if they’re meant to. Don’t crib, if it is not working out. But if you really want it to happen, then you got to work towards it. You can’t keep complaining about what’s not happening. Instead, just work hard and practice. That’s it.
You were launched by the great A R Rahman and it is a dream to make a debut with his song. So, how did you meet A R Rahman, and what was it like meeting him for the first time?
So, Tirupati Balaji is my Kula Deivam, and I remember I had gone there to donate my hair. So I gave my hair and went for darshan. And then when I came back, on the same day in 2011, I performed this one line of Qawali at a concert. So that one line alone is what Rahman sir had heard of me and that itself, caught his attention and he told his assistant to make a note of me.
After a couple of months passed, I had finished writing my semester exams and I was just about to sleep until I get this call from his Assistant, calling me for a dub with Rahman Sir. I used to stay at the college campus (Kattankulathur) which is 40 kilometers away from Chennai and the only way of getting there was by local trains. And there was this 11.30 pm ki last local that I had to catch for Kodambakkam. I somehow made it and finally, at three o’clock, he met me. My heart was beating so hard out of nervousness, I remember. And he was like, “there was this bald guy who sang this line (he hums the line that I had sung)”. And then I was like, oh shit, he remembers that line! Then I told him it’s me and it’s just that I was bald at that time and then he was like, “your hair has grown now, okay! Nice to meet you Abhay!” (laughs).
That’s how we met! It was very funny, you know. And then he took my number, while I was dancing in my mind out of joy! 😄 So it’s been such a beautiful relationship with him ever since then. And sir has been such great support and he makes sure that I am doing well and that to me means the world. I feel really fortunate to have had Sir as my mentor, friend, and my inspiration altogether!
Being launched by Rahman sir in his mother-tongue Tamizh would always be my biggest achievement!
You mentioned earlier that you have sung in many languages. I mean you started with a song in Kannada, and then went on to sing in Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam covering all the South Indian languages. You have also sung in Marathi and obviously in Hindi with ‘Mere Naam Tu’, and recently in Bengali as well. So, what’s the plan? I mean do you have any target or something that you will cover all the languages in India? And how are you managing to do it? We need to have a test on you I guess.
That was not the plan but now that you have spoken about it, I would love to. The plan is basically, to not have a plan. I’m just going with the flow and working on whatever comes my way. I have recorded a Nepalese song also, then there’s a language in Lakshadweep called ‘Mahl’ that I recently dubbed. I have sung in around 10 languages totally.
Shreya Ghoshal does it so effortlessly and she is my idol in that department. She’s the only one actually who has done justice to all the languages. Every other singer is not so up to the mark. So I guess it all goes up to your intelligent so as to how well you grasp something. My trick is to notate whatever language it is, in Hindi (Devanagari Script). Because that’s the widest range of letters or alphabets that we have got. English doesn’t fit in a lot of sounds that even Hindi or Indian languages are made up of. For instance, there are various kinds of ‘raa’ in Malayalam. I’ve developed my own ways of specifications or you know, the ways to notate things. Since most of the languages are derived from Sanskrit, of course, there a lot of similarities. That’s where I find the common ground, I guess. And Tamil is the only Dravidian language which is not originated from Sanskrit so understanding Tamil was actually very tricky because most of the letters don’t sound like the ones in Hindi. So I sat down with my Tamil friends, they helped me out, and it’s mostly Lyricists, Music Directors and the technicians who dictate you the song, and then I write them in Hindi.
So, I guess that’s how I have, with experience, tried to understand the nuances. But it was very difficult, man. Because talking in another language is one thing and singing is, altogether another level, you know. Also, I’ve been listening to a lot of these South Indian songs, all this while in college and that also helped majorly. So I guess, exposure to that music was, you know, the reason why I could pull it off. And it takes a lot of time sometimes to get everything technically and sonically right. So there have been times when I’ve recorded a song for three days also, especially Malayalam. But eventually now, after the experience, it has become easier. But in the beginning, I was really doubting myself if I’ll ever be able to do it. Recently I won an award for a Malayalam song, ‘Minnaminni’ (The song that took three days of time to record).
So, hard work does pay off.
Your mother tongue is Marathi, I believe. So apart from Marathi and Hindi, which languages are you comfortable in now, since you have sung in many languages?
I can understand a lot of languages. I can converse a little bit in Tamil because I’ve lived in Chennai for around eight years. Then, there is Gujarati and Marwari because I come from Indore and Indore has this language called Nimadi which is kind off a mixture of Marwari and Gujarati. Marathi is my mother-tongue so I can follow it completely but still, I would say I am the most comfortable in Hindi and English. But that’s never gonna be enough specially in India (laughs).
You were mentioning about your process. So, when you are approached for a song, how does your preparation, you know, go for it? Like, is there a process that you follow?
So, it depends. Usually, a lot of composers have a different way of approaching a song. Sometimes they would just make you sing the scratch with dummy lyrics. But an ideal way of approaching a song for me would be if I’m given the lyrics, then the melody and then I’m taught the meaning of the lyrics, the situation and what the protagonist is going through in the film. It’s all about those feelings which you have to enact through your singing. It’s kind of acting vocally, you know, you have to act like the person. Like, if a fisherman is singing, you can’t sound like a rapper. You have to adapt to whatever the requirement of the song is. So that’s how I go about it. With the lyrics and the tune. Once you have these two locked down, then the rest just flows.
To be honest, it’s a very organic process, and it’s the most ideal when the composer, lyricist, and the singer is on the same page and in the same studio while the song is being created. There is a lot of exchange of ideas. There are agreement and disagreement between composers and singers, but ultimately, it’s the joint effort that matters. And that’s how it becomes a good product.
In today’s world, we see that many actors have started singing for their own songs. How do you see this?
I love it. I would love it if a person is trying to, you know, transcend to a different creative field and experiment. I personally am a big fan of artists who can multi-task. I won’t say they’re doing a great job at it, they might be not, but at least they’re trying. So they deserve that attention and they deserve appreciation for the effort if it’s good enough. I’m so glad and proud of what Ayushmann Khurrana is doing with his career. He used to be an RJ, he plays the guitar, he sings well and he is such an incredible actor and he’s one of the best packages we have. Even Priyanka Chopra for that matter. She’s such a phenomenal and versatile actor, a rock star and a decent singer herself. So yeah, I’m all in support for actors who like to sing.
Now that you have mentioned that, you know, you like people who are trying out different art. So is there something you know, apart from singing which you would want to do, maybe in the future?
I would love to. It’s just that the opportunity should come my way and it should be worth exploring. Not for the heck of it, but I would love to explore other fields. Like, painting is something which I do for myself, it’s a hobby. Singing and dancing have always been a part of my life. So that is a constant. And when it comes to other things, like theater, or acting, maybe I could give it a shot. But you never know. I might not (laughs). So it depends. If I get an offer which is undeniably worth rejecting, I would do it.
We are in a time where everyone expresses their opinions freely, thanks to social media. So how do you handle criticism, if there is any? And does it bother you?
I take it very gracefully. No, it doesn’t bother me at all. Because at the end of the day, people are all different. They’re coming from different backgrounds and different mindsets. We have to understand where they come from. So it’s absolutely okay, if, you know, they have an opinion which has, a matter of factly judgment/option. But if it’s meant to be negative, or if it’s meant to only put someone down, if it’s coming from jealousy or something, then I personally don’t like it. There are so many good things to talk about. Why do we end up disagreeing over everything, that’s bad, you know. Like, everything has two aspects to it, everything has positives and negatives. So my only problem is that people sometimes tend to talk only about the negatives and overlook all the goodness.
I wish people were more receptive or inclined towards the good side of things. They would be happier doing that. Otherwise, there are enough things to complain about and enough things to crib about. But if we try to change our perspective, then you never know, you might actually find good in everything. And all that mess, you know, can be avoided. So that’s my only request to people that if you think that your words might harm someone mentally or it could hurt someone then avoid using them. We can be kind to people, you need not be an asshole, you know (laughs).
You have been working for almost nine years now. As I mentioned earlier, you have sung in many different languages and have collaborated with many artists in the past. So, looking back, is there anything that you would want to do in a different manner or any situation you feel could have dealt in a better manner?
Oh Man! That would be every song for me. I wish I was given a chance to record all my songs all over again. Because as an artist, you grow and you feel like you could have done much better than last time. Sometimes music directors just don’t let you improvise, which is one thing I battle with. Of course, because they don’t want the song to be too ornamental, but I feel like so much more could have been done in every song. But, it’s in the requirement of the hour. That’s it. I mean, we achieved whatever we could have, but I always feel that you know, I could do better. I guess it’s very natural for an artist to feel like that. Because when there is growth, then you definitely feel that, there’s a scope of improvement and you have improved from the last time you sang that song. So you would like to revisit it but yeah, I guess that’s what live singing is for. I mean I do those improvements in my live singing. So yeah, to answer your question, yes, every fucking song!
I am sure your plate is full now with a lot of work. What all can we expect from you going forward and is there any sort of surprise for your admirers?
It is. And I am really happy and grateful for that. Yeah so, I’m going to be coming out with a trilingual song very soon which is in Tamil, Marathi, and Hindi. I have worked on it with Anandi Joshi, who recently sang a song from the movie Malaal (2019). I’m so happy and excited about the song as I have written it as well. We are trying to pick out which music label we should go with. So that is happening and a lot of other recordings and collabs are happening with many popular artists and music composers. And then a lot of other South Indian projects that I’ve been recording for. So, a lot of good stuff is coming.
1. If you had to sing a duet with any female singer in the world, who would that be?
2. Three qualities that you would steal from each of your colleagues and why?
Hustle (Because I am an extremely lazy person).
Persistence (Because I struggle to stick to schedules and regularity).
Discipline (Because I am a very passionate traveler and I get distracted too easily from the path I am supposed to follow).
3. Your five favorite Indian Music Composers?
A R Rahman
4. What would happen if you woke up with a sore throat and you have to sing for an A R Rahman concert in a couple of hours?
I would sing with a sore throat, come on! Nobody bails out from an A R Rahman Concert no matter what! 😁 We singers have gotten used to managing somehow with adverse conditions vocally.
5. What is that one weirdest compliment you have ever received for your singing?
Not a compliment but I remember one of my tinder dates, when I was not so famous, started playing one of my covers on YouTube in the background while we were making out (laughs). That was very weird.
And so, Abhay tells us about his journey so far, candidly sharing his experience of meeting the legendary A R Rahman and thus giving us some funny incidents he came across in his career thus far.
Wishing him all the best for his future endeavors and hoping to listen to more and more beautiful songs from him. Cheers.