Interview – Shaan (Indipop/playback singer)

Hearty success
Shaan is rocking Bollywood music lovers with his song from Salaam Namaste, ‘My heart goes mmm…’ The Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa television host, who was in Dubai recently for Music Festival 2005, says that singing must be natural and never aimed to project the singer. Rajeev Nair met him

Photograph: Prashanth Mukundan

Mmm…. — that, at this moment, for Shaan is the melody of success, of recognition, of having arrived.
It has been one arduous journey, no doubt. Despite a pedigree in music (his dad, Manas Mukherjee is the music composer of films including Shaayad and Albert Pinto Ko Gussa Kyon Aaata Hai) Shantanu Mukherjee had to work his way up the ranks.
Remixes were the first step. Steered by remix guru Biddu (who also named him Shaan), he took to RD Burman hits with a vengeance. He was noticed but not sufficiently enough to make him an instant music idol.
He teamed with his sister Sagarika and gained moderate success. Cutting his solo album, Loveology, did not change much. He seemed stuck in his own groove when Tanha Dil happened. The album was a sensation and Shaan was in the spotlight. Films started trickling in including a non-happening actor’s garb for Kalpana Lajmi’s film Daman.
The four years hence has been him mature — as a television personality hosting Sa Ri Ga Ma Pa, and as a playback singer, right from Woh Ladki Hai Kahan (Dil Chahta Hai) through It’s the Time to Disco (Kal Ho Na Ho) to Dus Bahane (Dus) and My Heart Goes Mmm (Salaam Namaste).
He worked with international band Blue on a remix version of One Love and Samira Said on his latest album, Aksar. Apart from winning a clutch of awards, he will also be heard in an international compilation of John Lennon’s song ‘Give Peace a Chance’ sung by various Asian artists.
In Dubai to perform at Music Festival 2005 organised by MMI Events, Shaan was at his confident best. He breezed through a press conference with his wit, winning more fans with his unassuming attitude. Excerpts from an interview:

Your career has shaped up remarkably well in the last four years. How do you look back on this popularity?
Oh yes, I think the last few years have indeed marked the turning point of my career, and I am enjoying it. But let me be honest. There was no plan, no strategy. There wasn’t even an ambition to make it. It could be just destiny and luck…

But while doing odd jobs and struggling as a singer, have you ever dreamt of this sort of success?
I have always led a rather contented life. I dream of old times, my school, the good times I had with friends and other dreams that I can’t mention (smiles). Today’s success isn’t much about ambition. I enjoy every bit of this but I have no qualms in saying that there are, out there, a lot more talented, accomplished and hardworking singers than I am. I don’t probably deserve whatever I have got but at the same time, I don’t want to squander away my achievements by being callous.

Playback singing in India has heated up. There is a lot of competition; singers are branded to suit certain actors; every singer has mentors… how do you see the whole scene?
Very honestly, I do my job and switch off. I don’t want to check who sings for whom, where the competition is going, what kind of work I had or I will have tomorrow. I believe that there is life beyond this. There is my family and I enjoy being with my wife and two sons, and friends. Probably, the one thing that I have some control is on my music albums.

In your latest one, Aksar, you also incorporate international talent while most singers just want to project themselves…
That in a way promotes me too. The international talent in Aksar is bigger than I am. Sameera Said, in the Middle East, is as big as it gets, as is Blue, the world over. I am going to do more of these collaborations because at the end of the day, music is a universal language, it does not need any barriers.

As a television personality and a singer, how do you react to the trend of television channels ‘manufacturing’ overnight singing stars through countless shows?
Television can make a star, a popular figure, but never a singer. A singer is born, and he or she will sing whether or not there is television. And stardom without talent is going to be short-lived. I understand that a lot of these people do not deserve this stardom but if someone gets lucky, then you can’t blame them. Let them enjoy…

Is the Singers Association of India, on the cards, going to be a caucus that blocks the entry of new singers?
No, I don’t think so. Every one is welcome to SAI; every one is going to be a part of it, and it has basically a very loosely woven agenda, which is to take care of our rights and interests as and when the situation arises.

Songs in Bollywood are invariably identified with the actors than the singers. Does that bother you?
I agree that people do not identify my songs from Kal Ho Na Ho or Salaam Namaste with me. But that is the whole reasoning behind albums. That is where you do your own music, which must sound different from film songs.

Have you started work on your next album?
Yes. I am collaborating with Ranjit Barot. I think he is the most prolific music producer in the country. I will also have a few international collaborations. I believe that to have one singer, sing all eight songs in an album, irrespective of how good he may be, is stretching things a bit too far. That is why even with my film songs I have consciously tried to not make my own style.
I don’t want people to identify with the singer but with its lyrics and emotional content. The playback singer as a medium must be transparent and non-interfering in his style or projection of the song. It shouldn’t be another Shaan song with the usual Shaanism. A lot of singers believe that singers must have their style imprinted in every song they sing. That is the difference between actors and stars. Whatever the stars do, they still come across as stars. I would rather be the actor-singer.

That takes us to your stint as actor. Will you take up acting?
No. It would be very difficult now to pull me into a project unless it is really, really worth it.

You started with remix songs and now your songs are being remixed. How do you feel about it?
Remix as an idea is international and a lot of bands have done fantastically. The difference is that in the West, remix artists still respect the original composer, singer and creative team. Their details are presented on the CD, money is exchanged and every thing is done rightfully. As long as that respect and royalty are met, I have no problem with remixes. After all, remixes work only because the original song is popular.

You appear more confident in person, and more natural in your singing style now…
It is nice to be natural. That is one element I find missing in today’s singing. We create all kinds of excuses for singing, which needn’t be. I believe that when I sing I try to put myself in the song’s true emotional context. That is why it comes across as natural and confident.

1 Comment

  1. Mr Nair, read your article on Shaan with great interest. I am currently involved in a very interesting venture re: Indian music. This involves US Companies and it would be very useful to get your advice on the music scene in India.My email address is do hope you get in touch as this is indeed a very interesting venture.Regards,Andrew


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