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Expo 2020 Dubai: Bollywood's Shreya Ghoshal gears up for a live show in the city

Playback singer, who has completed nearly 20 years in the Indian music industry, talks about her evolution as an artist and the instrumental role late singer Lata Mangeshkar played on her musical career


Somya Mehta

Published: Wed 16 Feb 2022, 6:08 PM

Last updated: Mon 21 Feb 2022, 6:26 PM

Expo 2020 Dubai has been the foreground of Dubai’s greatest spectacles over the last few months, giving residents and tourists alike, experiences of a lifetime. And as The World’s Greatest Show prepares to draw its curtains, the celebrations continue in full-swing.

With big names being dropped every other day, the Expo stage has become a hotspot for renowned international artists to come and connect with a global audience, over the magic of music. And amongst them is one of India’s most popular playback singers, Shreya Ghoshal, who’s all set to perform at the Jubilee Stage on February 19. Ahead of her performance, the singer, who is most recently heard in the song Jab Saiyaan for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Gangubai Kathiawadi, tells us that she’s looking forward to kickstart her musical tours on one of the grandest platforms that artists are able enjoy in current times.

Completing almost 20 years in the music industry, Ghoshal looks back at her illustrious career, what excites her at this stage and why she intends to steer clear of ‘done to death’ music.

Edited excerpts from the interview:

It’s been almost 20 years since your Bollywood debut as a playback singer for Devdaas (2002). Do you ever look back and reflect on your illustrious career?

I am very much of a today person. I don’t even think of tomorrow but because I’m now hitting the 20-year mark, it definitely has made me think about it. But I’d say rather, the lockdown has made me think about it more. Everything just stopped for a while and went on standstill, so it gave me a lot of time to think. About the work I want to do and the work I’ve already done.

The main takeaway is just that you need not plan too much in life because nothing happens as per plan. Everything happens in the flow. When I choose to make the decision of singing a certain song, the consequence of that is exactly what paves the path ahead. Life is all about choices and I can be happy about the choices I’ve made. I’ve met a lot of wonderful artists, composers, collaborators, singers, and some amazing people who are extremely intellectual, some who are very simple and have led their life with a lot of simplicity. I’ve taken a lot of inspiration from them and will continue to do so.

There are so many new artists and a lot of wonderful talent. There are also a lot of gradual changes that have been happening. The music is changing, the flavours are changing, artists are evolving. I’m happy that my collaborations have also reflected that, including working with A.R. Rahman sir. When I look back at my journey, from doing Barso Re to doing Param Sundari and Chaka Chak recently, the evolution of the music has been incredible.

On February 6, the world woke up to the news of India’s most cherished singers, Lata Mangeshkar’s passing away. How did the late singer shape your musical journey?

Lata Ji for me has been not just an artist. Every day of my life has somewhere had her voice playing in the background or her voice being in front of me as a textbook. And it is not just today, as an adult, when I understand music as a singer as a professional singer. Even when I was a kid, I grew up with her voice playing in my house every day. Whether it’s our rooms, the theatres, the festivals, wherever music has been played, her voice has been a part of it. It's very difficult to accept that the voice is not there anymore.

Even though she wasn’t actively working or singing, but the comfort of having her around, for the music lovers, singers and people who worship her, somewhere felt like we’re still under the right guidance, under the mentorship of the right guru. And music is still alive. When I heard the news, it felt like it was truly the end of my world because she has been so instrumental in the music that I've learned. But at the same time, music, once recorded, stays till eternity. So, her voice will play forever. Till music is heard and understood by humankind, Lata Ji’s voice will be there.

I just hope that people keep listening to and celebrating this music and it shouldn’t get lost in the decades to come. We are never going to make this kind of music ever again. So, we are very fortunate that we lived in the same time as her, which overlapped with several generations. I hope the next generation also carries forward this whole legacy and it doesn't die down.

Have you evolved as an artist and a person over the last 20 years?

I evolve every day, depending on what I’m doing and who I’m working with. I never have a set formula or mind-set. In fact, I never start with a preconceived thought when I approach a song. I go as a blank paper and in that moment, I absorb the composer, the environment, the music, the approach of the song. That’s how I feel my music has evolved, and hence every song probably sounds a little different. Otherwise, it would have sounded a little stereotypical.

Did you ever feel like you wanted to stop singing or take a break?

I’ve actually never felt like that. In fact, it was very hard for me to take a vacation, which became a huge problem. I think a lot of people who are in the profession they enjoy wholeheartedly, would agree with me. This lockdown was an imposed break, which I never thought I would enjoy but I got used to it eventually. I’m now looking forward to getting out of this complacent, standstill zone, which is almost becoming too comfortable.

I’ve forgotten how to dress up, becoming used to wearing the comfiest clothes. I really miss connecting with the audience though and that’s the reason I’m coming to Dubai. I miss the energy of being on stage, the energy of the audience and just the sound. It’s not the sound of a room. It’s the sound of the universe. I want to experience that and there’s no better place to start it than Expo 2020. So, it begins from Dubai.

At this stage of your career, after giving numerous musical hits, what sort of projects excite you?

I don’t really think about the project in terms of target audience or similar aspects. I only think about the song, what it speaks of and whether it has an honest voice. Nowadays, it’s very common that a song is trying to fit into a certain commercial formula or a very stereotypical, ‘done to death’ approach. I do not get excited with that, it’s really boring. Maybe earlier, I used to say yes to certain songs like that. Now, I just can’t get myself to say yes. I’m taking some time to make choices. At the same time, I’m very open to work with new people. I get excited when I see a new composer or a new voice, a new team of people. Sometimes, the energy of the people working together is also something which attracts me, more than just the song. So, this is how I’m choosing my projects.

Do you think the Bollywood music industry is currently going through a creative slumber? Has the frequency of stereotypical, ‘done to death’ music increased?

It’s been a few years since that has been happening. I’d say maybe over the last seven to eight years. The success of a song triggers a phase of everyone following that very same pattern or style of singing. It’s not the composers or the creators of the music, it’s more the producers and the music labels who push that idea on you. But it has been happening a lot more recently.

Even though there’s a whole parallel movement of independent music that has started, it’s not even as though that space is completely free from stereotypical music. There can be a very long conversation about this particular topic. Music is now being made thinking whether it will become a viral success or will it tend to the algorithms of a certain age group, will it adhere to the kind of music you can make Instagram reels on. It’s not coming from a very honest place of just creating or listening to music that consumes you, as a music listener. It ends up trying to tick the checkboxes, which is a problem and I hope that changes soon.

Being one of the most popular and talented singers in the industry, do you feel like artists have the power or autonomy to change the destiny of where the music fraternity is headed?

I don’t have that power only as one artist, but what I can do is choose to do songs that I like, which I continue to do. It gives me a sense that as an artist, and as a person, I’m making all the right decisions. Beyond that, nothing can be controlled as it’s a very different time we are living in. Music is consumed very differently. We cannot be in denial about it. But within that environment, you have to make the choices that you should.


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