Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin
Anuradha Paudwal on her music and the shadows cast by Lata Mangeskhar in her life.
She worshipped the sounds of music, though there was nothing musical in her family background. Shying from the limelight, she was nevertheless thrust into it, by the chant of a Shiv shloka, rising to dizzying heights of success. Music maestro O.P. Nayyar, had said she was going to replace Lata Mangeshkar soon. Then life took a tragic turn. Today Anuradha Paudwal is back with a vengeance, her voice richer, sweeter with even greater depth, still living life on her own terms.
In an exclusive interview with Little India, the velvet voiced singer talks about the paths taken and why she feels her life is guided always by divine hands.
You don’t come from a musical family, and yet music has been the key component of your life.
I had a very hoarse voice. It was so bad that people would look at me with great sympathy! I still remember once I was going somewhere in the bus with my mother. I was about 8. My mother said I was a pretty child with fair and rosy skin; most people mistook me for a European and would admire my charming face. A lady was standing behind us and I started humming. Her look of admiration immediately turned to pity and she said to my mother sympathetically. “Poor girl, what a terrible voice.”
It didn’t deter my passion for singing and finally my mother took me to this blind musician for singing lessons. I was about 5, and she said to my teacher, “Please help her. Her voice is like a peacock’s but she loves to sing.” I was old enough to know how crass a peacock sounds and felt very hurt, but he said quickly “No, No don’t say that. She will do fine.”
I gave my first program in one of those Maharastra Mahila mandals (womens’ gathering) at the age of five. Mom was so not sure of my talent or my memory, she kept thrusting this paper with the song lyrics under my nose and initially I kept politely moving it out of the way and then she would thrust it again, very sure I would forget the lyrics. Finally in exasperation, I picked up the paper and threw it over my head to the back so she couldn’t get to it. I knew the whole song by heart.
Then came the first turning point in your life.
Then the first of the miracles happened in your life.
Then I recovered and the miracle happened. My voice had changed completely. It was no longer like a peacock’s cry. I cannot explain to this day what really happened. After that the Bhagwad Gita and Lata’s voice became my teacher, my inspiration. I would recite shlokas every day from the Gita and practice. I have not received any formal training in classical music. I have tried many times, but it has never worked out. I learnt a little here and a little there, but ultimately, I just practiced for many hours listening to Lataji. I used to take part in music events and sing in high school and college.
You got married at a very young age in 1972 to Arun Paudwal who was a music arranger for S.D Burman. Did that open doors for you?
It was my in-laws especially my father in law who was very fond of me and would keep telling Arunji, make her sing, and he would say, to his father, “It’s not so easy, look at the competition.” My father in law said you wait and see one of these days she will sing a duet with Asha Bhosle.
So how did the turning point come?
Arunji said my wife, and Burman da said, you have been married for a while now and she has been coming here so often and you didn’t tell me she sings. He then said let her sing the shloka, why bother Lataji for it. That is how I started. I do have to tell you a strange story connected to my musical beginnings in the industry. One day I was going in a cab and I was humming. The cab was driven by a Sikh gentleman and he said to me you seem to be very fond of singing. Who do you pray to for music? I said, traditionally we pray to goddess Saraswati.
He said well as you know the celestial instrument Nada came from Lord Shiva, so pray to him and see how things take off for you. It was strange hearing this from a Sikh cab driver. I did and strangely I started my film career by reciting that Shiv shloka and I have always felt the impact of Shiva’s blessing in my musical career.
A lot of people thought that shloka from Abhimaan was sung by Lata Mangeshkar.
So was it easy thereafter to get into the industry?
It was a very small close knit community. Every body knew what the others were doing. I did get a lot of songs, but the cream of the crop still went to Lataji and Ashaji. Still I was getting work and I did sing a lot of non Hindi film songs and they all clicked. I had been approached to sing as a dubbing artist for Raj Kapoor’s film Satya Shivam Sundaram, but had refused, because I knew that after that Rajji will only look at me as a dubbing artist, but then I began to notice that other singers were coming up that way. They would dub a song and sometimes the artist who was to sing it would be too busy and the song would be retained. The turning point came when I sang for Subhash Ghai’s hit film Hero. I dubbed for two songs that were to be sung by Lataji. I thought, well I stand a 50-50 chance of the songs being retained just in case Lataji was too busy. No one paid any attention and the songs were recorded in one take, but Lataji decided not to sing them, the songs were retained and I never looked back. I sang for the film Kallicharan and that again was a blockbuster.
It is said that you were very open about the fact that the Mangeshkars sabotaged your husband’s career, and didn’t let newcomers enter the industry and do well, that you were so obsessed with Lata that you dressed and even laughed like her.
I just want to say this, how would you feel if you were talented and gave it your best, and were assisting a music director and top singers showed up at the studio and refused to sing if you were in charge of music that day. How would any one feel if the big stars came in from one door and he or she is asked to leave from the other door so the stars are not displeased. It really hurt me. My husband was on tour with Lataji when his father passed away suddenly. Every one told him to go back midway, but he knew since he was the only keyboard player, it would affect Lataji’s entire orchestra. So he stayed back saying his going back was not going to change anything and he was needed on the tour. That is how selfless he was, and to see someone of his talent and sincerity shabbily treated in the industry really hurt me a lot. He never said anything, but I know how deeply it wounded him.
Still by a strange coincidence on the 13th day ceremony of my father-in-law his prophecy came true-I sang a duet with Asha Bhosle, much against my wishes, and only because he wanted it so much when he was alive.
I think his blessings have taken my career to the heights it has. I have always felt the presence of divine grace in my life and not being trained in music, I became successful only because I was destined to be in this line, according to my spiritual guru.
You joined hands with T-series tycoon Gulshan Kumar and never looked back. Gulshan Kumar started in a little garage and took over the entire music industry by storm. T-series became a household name and a megabucks venture. You belted out one hit after the other winning 3 Filmfare awards when people wait years for one. Yet your walking away from the mainstream opened doors for people like the current success story Alka Yagnik. Some feel it was a bad career move, especially when Gulshan Kumar met an untimely and tragic death.
Well, I met Gulshan Kumar at a point where I had been singing for 12 years and still struggling. I was not getting the kind of top quality songs that I felt I should be singing and the top recording labels were still loyal to Lataji and Ashaji.
I was asked to sing for T-series around that same time and I chose to start with a devotional album. I recorded a couple of cassettes for T-series and at that time Gulshanji said to me, we will promote you with top notch publicity and you will be our star singer, but if we are to do so much for you, we need to be given exclusivity. I agreed. Contrary to what people think there was no written agreement between us. Gulshan Kumar knew the pulse of the people, but it was after we joined hands that I helped him focus on good quality music.
When we started the musicians started asking, what is the situation we are composing music for? I said how many emotions do you portray in a film, there will be a sad song, a love song, a song where people act impish with each other and a lullaby.
We started work on the film Lal Dupatta and Majrooh Sultanpuri wrote such beautiful lyrics for a love song. Though I was dead against it Gulshanji used my face for the promos of the songs. He was so ahead of his times. Today it has become a norm, and people may forget other songs, but the ones that had me in the promos, are the ones etched in people’s psyche.
Otherwise I have to remind them even when the songs have been hits. Lal Dupatta was the beginning. Then came films like Dil Hai ke Manta Nahin, Aashiqui, Jeena Teri Gali Mein and Meera ka Mohan to name a few.
You both also filled a niche in the market for devotional songs. That venture was a huge success. However it phased you out of the film industry. People think that was the worst case of axing one’s own feet that the film music industry had seen. He died suddenly and you were left without a contract or any clout in the company as well.
His sudden death hit every one hard. He and I had the same focus, same vision and I have not met anyone to date who had Gulshanji’s sense of loyalty and commitment. However, the fact was that it had been weighing on his mind that he may have done me a disservice by asking me to stick to the T-series. He wanted me to continue being the main artist for T-series, but also sing for others. Two days before he died he accompanied me to a recording for a song with the musicians Jatin Lalit and he was really happy when the session wrapped up. He said he finally felt as if a burden had lifted from his heart.
With his death T-series lost his focus and his vision. I felt there was nothing left for me and I left too. T-series is now being run like a business. I feel sad when I see devotional music being released along with item songs like Kaanta Laga.
Today it is all about survival and musicians or singers are not considered competent enough to get a whole film to themselves. You will see so many singers and more than one music director in a film and quality lyrics are seldom seen. Every one is busy trying to grab whatever comes their way.
You have done pretty well with some great film songs and avoided numbers like Kambaqht Ishq and Ishq Kamina.You have also dabbled in ghazals.
I like ghazals, but we need good female lyricists. Ghazal is a male domain because most ghazals have lyrics dealing with liquor and lyrics that seem inappropriate for a lady to sing. Only Begum Akhtar could sing of intoxication and still sound graceful. I still love singing devotional songs. For me music is a holistic experience with the divine and a blessing from above, otherwise someone like me who is not technically trained, could not have reached the heights I have.