Shilpa Rao: A Singer Who Has Been Winning Our Hearts With Her Versatility
Over the past decade, we have been bestowed with some incredible songs like ‘Javeda Zindagi’, ‘Khuda Jaane’, ‘Manmarziyan’, ‘Bulleya’, etc. And the mesmerizing voice behind these amazing songs is the supremely talented Shilpa Rao. Shilpa Rao is widely acclaimed for her versatility and consistency in giving hit songs. On the occasion of the release of her new song ‘Ghungroo’ from War (2019), we got a chance to talk to her and know more about her journey, her process, and many more interesting things. Below is the excerpt.
Your latest song Ghungroo from the movie War (2019) has been doing great. It is trending right now and is being liked by everyone. How do you feel about it? And is the response exactly how you expected it to be?
Thank you so much! Well, we were actually very overwhelmed on the first day itself. I still remember, I’d gone to Yash Raj Studios, and Vishal (Vishal Dadlani), Shekhar (Shekhar Ravjiani ), and the entire YRF team was there, including Tiger (Tiger Shroff) and it was surreal. We were all overwhelmed with the response that the song got within 24 hours. We thought that this song is great and probably will catch up in time, but it just blew out of proportion and we all were really happy with how people were reacting to the song and everything. We can’t thank the audience enough for this. So yeah, feels absolutely fantastic.
Let’s go back in time when you haven’t decided about what to do you with your career. So how did you identify with singing as your interest and was there any moment that triggered you to choose this path? And how gutsy is it to do something like that?
Well, I was doing music as a kid always and there was nothing else that I was doing. So I didn’t have any other Plan B or something like that. Now when I look back, I just moved to Bombay without knowing anyone. It wasn’t a much-planned move. But yeah, I mean, it’s better to have loved and lost rather than to not love at all, right? So, I thought it was better to take that leap of faith instead regretting later on. I also think that everyone here in Bombay and so many people that I have worked with, they all are gutsy in everything that they do and that’s why they are wherever they are!
As we all know, you know, you started your journey in Bollywood with Anwar’s ‘Javeda Zindagi’, which obviously is such an exquisite song. So how did that happen? And were you tensed because the song has such gravitas and strong emotion attached to it?
At that point, I didn’t have that many thoughts. I remember that I had met Mithoon previously and he just said, ‘we are doing this song, so just come and try it’. There was no promise of whether it would go in my voice or something like that. But then when I heard it for the first time, as he sang it over a harmonium, I thought to myself that it would turn out to be a beautiful song. That’s all that was on my mind. Now, when I look back, yes, it did very well. The FM stations were playing it very aggressively. And that’s why the songs of Anwar (2007) became very popular.
Probably if the song releases now, it wouldn’t be the same strategy. They would have done something else with it probably. But at that point, we were living in a simpler time. And people just loved the song. The RJ’s loved the song. They kept playing it on the radio station, especially in the night and people just caught on to it. And even now after twelve years, it’s remains special. Whenever I perform, I start my show with it. And people are so moved by it. They seem to have great memories of the song, and an un-quantifiable connection with it. And it’s very overwhelming to see that.
You got to experience the fame with Khuda Jaane from Bachna Ae Haseeno, which was a great hit again. Since, you were relatively new at that time, how did you see at all the fame you got and was it something that was difficult for you to manage?
Well, I still don’t know how to manage that. I don’t know because I remember, I and a lot of other contemporaries who had come at that point, we were all looking for work. Our whole approach to music was to do some good songs and to do some good music. That was all that was on my mind. I did not have any other thoughts. I still don’t have any other thoughts. I still feel if I get a song, I would want to do it in a fantastic way. What happens to it later is another story. That’s not in your hands and it’s not in anyone’s hands actually. So all you can do is probably at this moment, while I’m singing, is have that connection with the song, commit to the moment and have a good time. I actually enjoy the whole process of composing, of recording and of studio sessions. I cherish those moments. Because you never know what’s going to happen with the song later on. And you got to enjoy the moment while you’re creating the song.
As we know, many artists have a different approach to their art. In that regard, is there any process that you follow when approached for a song? And are there any checkpoints you have before agreeing for a song?
Thankfully, all of my songs that I have been called in for, the composers have already, thought of me and visualized me in the song and then they’ve called me for it. And I’ve been fortunate to have some awesome lyrics in my songs. That’s something which holds a very special place in my life and in my heart. The words are very inspiring for me. And that is where I connect to a song. So, for me, good words are very important.
So thankfully, I’ve been lucky to have worked with such great people. In fact, a lot of people don’t know that ‘Javeda Zindagi’ is written by Hasan Kamal. He is one of our very senior writers and he has written songs for Nikaah (1982) and all of that, you know, way before we were born. And he’d written this song. So yeah, that was my first song and then working with Anvita Dutt Guptan, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Irshad Kamil, and Gulzaar Saab, it’s been quite something to be through such awesome lyrics and I have worked with the crème de la crème lyricists. So yeah, I’ve had a great ride lyric-wise. And that is something that really matters to me when I go into a song.
Following up on the previous question, you have worked with many great artists in twelve years of your journey. So, looking back how has the journey been? And in introspect, is there anything that you feel you should have done in a different manner?
Well, there are a lot of things. Obviously, I’m not from a background, or I don’t come from a family who’s been into music. I have absolutely no sounding board or someone who can tell me that I should do this or that. Most of the decisions that I’ve taken is by instinct, my gut and by how I felt about it. A lot of times, I have failed also, but I don’t think I will change anything about it. Because the way you make mistakes and the way you have, gotten out of that fall and again gotten back to work, is important.
And that’s why I don’t think I will change anything about my life. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, there have been some great moments, there have been some lower moments, but then, it’s a mix of all of that which makes everything great. So yeah, I don’t think I would change anything.
In all these years, you have sung songs that have been loved by everyone. Every song of yours has received so much love. How do you manage to be so consistent and a certified hitmaker?
I think you need to be able to keep one foot in the real world and by the real world, what I mean is the world that you have of your own. Spending time alone is a very important part of life and I think that’s something that a lot of people don’t do. You should take time off and, you know, spend some time alone where you are probably traveling, or reading a book, or maybe watching a concert. There are so many things that one can do. These are some things that people should do so that it can give you a perspective of how the problems that you have are probably much smaller than maybe someone who’s going through a lot of difficult times in their life. So it’s like, zoom out in your life and you see that there are some people in this world who are going through far more difficult times than you are. It gives you a different perspective on life. So I think that’s something which one must do. So these are some things that I do to keep myself glued to reality more.
You mentioned about doing different things to make you glued to reality. What would your ideal vacation be or something that you might want to do, just to relax?
Well, I already have the list of the countries that I want to travel to, where I’ve never been to. So obviously through those places, by virtue of what I’m reading about them, their history, their culture, the art, the food, and the people, I relax. So, you know that keeps inspiring me to go to places, for example, I watched a couple of movies and that’s how I ended up going to Japan. There was this song that was shot in Iceland, so I went there. I got some inspirational things that I have in life and that is why I make these trips. So that is what I have been doing, on a regular basis.
When you mentioned all these things, I believe that you have this urge towards exploring different arts as well. So, if given a chance, what would you have been doing, if not singing? Or is there any art which you want to pursue maybe?
I don’t think I can, you know. I think writing is the most difficult form of art. I mean, I’m talking about a great novelist or a great author. It’s such a difficult art form. I don’t think I’m capable enough to do all these things. I would be probably studying and I would probably finish my Ph.D. or something like that. I did my Master’s in applied stats. So probably I’ll follow from there. So yeah, I will do that.
I was observing that you are very particular in picking projects. I mean you have three or four songs coming out in a year. I say that because we as fans have to wait for long. So, is there any particular reason for that?
There’s no particular reason. It just so happened, but it’s nice to hear from you guys that you like the songs. Everyone keeps saying we don’t hear much of you and you should sing more. I think it’s a very good thing as opposed to someone coming and telling me, “Yaar, bahut gaa rahe ho, band kardo, yaar..”. So it’s a nice thing to hear that everyone is looking forward to my songs. And I’ll keep working on that. Pull off more songs!
Talking about the future, what can we fans expect from you going forward and is there any, sort of surprise for your admirers?
Well, there’s this collaboration which I’ve done with Anoushka Shankar and it’s a fantastic song and I’m looking forward to you guys listening to it. So we just finished recording it. That should be out soon. Then I have recorded a couple of songs more. So yeah, hopefully, they should be out soon and you guys can listen to some more music.
1. If you had to sing a duet with any male singer in the world, who would that be?
Okay, it’s not possible now but Mehdi Saab (Mehdi Hasan Khan). It would be awesome to do a song with him.
2. Three qualities that you would steal from each of your colleagues and why?
My friends are very systematic with how they do things on a daily basis. I’m not that systematic, I think. So, I can use that. Because I’m a very ‘go with the flow’ kind of person. So maybe that. But it has taken so many years for me to be very comfortable in my own skin and do things my own way. So I think I won’t change a lot of things. This is good, the way it is.
3. Your favourite music composers?
4. Which is that one song, you have listened to more than any other song?
I think Mehdi Hasan Saab’s Ghazals. I have heard them so many times.
5. What is the weirdest compliment you have ever received for your singing?
There was this RJ who mentioned to me that she heard ‘Dhol Yaara Dhol’ and then she suddenly says -- either you are a great actress or you’ve just been through a lot in life. That’s it. That’s what she said. But, yeah I remember it very well (laughs).
And thus, Shilpa Rao talks about her perspective towards life and different aspects of her incredible journey so far. We wish her all the best for her future endeavors and hope to see more and more of her work. Cheers.