Rekha Bharadwaj: "I Have Turned Down Songs With Lyrics I Didn't Agree With"

Rekha Bharadwaj: "I Have Turned Down Songs With Lyrics I Didn't Agree With"

Manju Ramanan speaks to the talented voice behind superhits like Kabeera and Milyea Milyea
Rekha Bharadwaj: "I Have Turned Down Songs With Lyrics I Didn't Agree With"

Sweet, raspy and strong, Rekha Bharadwaj’s distinct voice is a soulful force to reckon with in the Hindi film/non-film genre of music. The versatile artiste who practises Sufi whirling, is scheduled to perform in Dubai this September and it would be a great opportunity for fans to watch her live in action along with Shafqat Amanat Ali. 

How do you see Dubai audiences receptive to your music?

The Dubai audience knows music, appreciates lyrics and understands poetry. It is a space where Indian and Pakistani artistes come together and it is a sheer pleasure to perform. I have performed with Ghulam Ali saab, Sanam Marvi, Misha Shafi and now I will be performing with Shafqat Amanat Ali.

How do you ensure that each concert is different?

I don’t perform very often in Dubai. It is usually once or twice in a year, so I get a window to perform my new songs as well as some of my old songs – Genda Phool, Milye Milyea and Kabeera for instance. I also add songs sung by Nustrat Fateh Ali Khan saab, Farida Khanum, Mehndi Hassan etc.

A still from Kabeera

Is this a great time for your kind of music, do you see more acceptance from the audience?

I am trained in classical music and do my riyaaz every day. I don’t know how one would  categorise my kind of music. It all depends on the reach. Audiences have loved my energy when I perform. I swirl a lot and that adds to the energy spread during the performance. But I do believe that lyrics must be aesthetic for an item song. As for other songs, I have had kids come to me and tell me that Mileya Mileya or a Judaai from Badlapur have refreshed them. So, the audiences are diverse and there are takers for every genre. 

What are your favorite songs penned by Gulzar? Are there any of his older songs that you would have wanted to sing?

All his songs are beautiful. They sound like the words you want to say to the universe which is why they are eternal. While I have had the fortune to sing several of Gulzar saab’s  songs starting from Namak ishq ka (Omkara) that got me a lot of popularity, I have also had an opportunity to sing his older songs as a tribute to him at a film festival. I rendered the eternal Tere Bina Zindagi se koi (Aandhi), Tujhse Naaraz Nahi Zindagi (Masoom) and Dil Hoom Hoom kare (Lekin). Among his more recent numbers, I would have loved to sing Chupke se Lag ja Gale from Saathiya.

Asha Bhonsle, RD Burman and Gulzar have created magic with their musical association. We see the same pattern with you, Vishal Bharadwaj and Gulzar. What is your take on it?

Ashaji, Gulzarsaab and RD Burman was the greatest trio when it came to writing, composing and rendering music. Vishal (her husband and eminent filmmaker) is very close to Gulzar saab and they share a similar wavelength. It is a great feeling sharing space with two of the most talented people in my life. My experience with classical music and my riyaaz for the last 31 years has been enhanced by this association. I hail from Delhi and my father wrote Urdu and my mother was superb with Hindi diction. So, all these people shaped my music.

Are you insistent that the melody and the lyrics of the songs should appeal to you? 

I have always got songs that appeal to me. I have to feel a song and  only then can I sing it.

Have you turned down a song because you didn’t agree with the lyrics?

Yes, I have turned down a song or two by new composers. Mostly they were item songs with lyrics I didn’t agree with. But most composers know me and what they sign me up for. When we get a song, it is usually from a known music director and I don’t insist on melody or lyrics.

Do you write too?

I write a bit of music for myself. I have composed some bandish and ghazals. But I can’t compose music for films because I can’t visualize a song. That requires a special kind of talent.

What is Vishalji’s favorite Rekha Bharadwaj song?

You must ask him that question but he has loved Phir Leya Dil from Barfi and Badi Dheere Jali Raina from Ishqiya and Lakad.

Rekha and Vishal Bharadwaj