In this intimate and exclusive interview at his office in Powai, the legendary singer HARIHARAN tells JYOTHI VENKATESH that he will continue to sing as long as he is able to sing properly.
What or who inspired you to take up singing as your career?
It was my mom Alamelu Mani as well as my late father Chellamani who inspired me to take to singing right from my young Age. Unfortunately I lost my father in 1963 when I was just an eight year old kid. My mom and I have faced life together through thick and thin. My mom is my latent strength.
When and how did you get your break as a singer in Hindi films?
It was with the film Gaman that I bagged my first break from none other than music director Jaidevji way back in 1977.
Was it tough to get a break at a time when there were reigning stalwarts like Mohammad Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Mukesh and Manna Dey?
(Laughs) On the contrary, I think it was easier to get a break at that time because the clutter was less unlike it is today. Besides, I had become a fairly well known face since I used to sing ghazals on Mumbai Doordarshan and also tasted stardom in my own little way then and Jaidevji called me to offer me the break as he was one of the judges for the programme Sur Sangam where I, Rani Verma and Suresh Wadkar were among the prize winners then.
How tough is it to compose for ghazals as a composer?
When you compose ghazals, you should also learn the craft of expanding them without losing in any way the importance and impact of the lyrics.
Technically speaking, would I be wrong if I were to say that it was for music director Manoj -Gyan that you had recorded some songs for films when he was composing music for Tamil films?
You are right. I had sung five or six songs for a film for Manoj – Gyan but unfortunately for me the film did not see the light of the day and I am known as a Jaidevji discovery even today.
Ultimately you made your debut in Tamil films with A.R. Rahman who made his debut with Maniratnam’s Tamil film Roja!
That is because Rahman was in Mumbai for some time and knew me personally. Rahman asked me to sing Thamizha Thamizha for Roja and the rest is history.
In how many films have you sung for A R Rahman till date?
I must have sung around 50 songs for Rahman till date. His speciality is his unique sound and soulfulness and the youthfulness of his melodies. What I like the best about A R Rahman is that his songs are simple as well as catchy.
In what way do you think that sound has changed in films over the years?
Over the last several years, the sound has changed and quality too has improved. I have seen both kinds of recordings. I have sung for Shiv-Hari the song Kabhi Main Kahoon with Lataji when there were hundreds of musicians at the recording studios. In the 90’s I also started singing with headphones when they started taking separate tracks
Why is that in spite of being a Tamilian, you made your debut in Tamil films only 15 years after you made your debut in Hindi films with Gaman?
The main reason is not only was I staying in Mumbai, but also I was busy coming up with several ghazal albums, each one more popular than the other in those days. I had come up with as many as 35 ghazal albums in the 80’s and 90’s and had no time to sing for Tamil films by going to Chennai every time for recordings. Also people could not wait for me to be free enough to come to Mumbai to record their songs from Chennai.
Your son Akshay Hariharan is a music director in his own right. How do you feel?
I am proud and glad that my son Akshay is a music director in his own right. In fact, I am planning to come up with a unique fusion album by collaborating with him very shortly. Akshay has graduated from the London School of Economics.
What is your second son Karan Hariharan doing?
Karan is into acting. He has already acted in a film like Missing on a Weekend and his next film is all set to be launched by February.
Not only have you crooned ghazals which require a deep understanding of Urdu but you are well versed in your mother tongue Tamil and Marathi!
That is because I am a Maharashtrian having been born in Mumbai which is a melting pot. Being a Mumbaikar has helped me a lot and I am a Maharashtrian by spirit though a Tamilian by birth. I studied in Don Bosco and hence not only do I know English but also Marathi which was a language I had learnt till I was in 8th standard and also have had a strenuous training in Urdu before I acquired the basic knowledge of singing chaste ghazals. At home, thanks to my mom, I was trained in Carnatic music too.
That is the reason you had bagged the national award for singing the Marathi film song for Jogwa for music director duo Ajay-Atul?
By spirit, I am a Mumbai born Maharashtrian and I am extremely proud that the film Jogwa was the first Marathi film that fetched a national award for the song.
Karan is also following in your footsteps since you also had acted in the Tamil film Power of Women opposite Khushboo!
By the way, besides the film Power of Women, I had also acted in a special appearance in the Tamil film Boys, I would say that my son Karan is not only God gifted like most of the kids today but also any day a better actor than I am.
What is your drawback as a singer?
I just cannot sing at a higher pitch or yell at the top of my throat though the trend today is tossing fast paced songs in a high pitch. During the era of K L Saigal, with due respect to the great singer, he used to sing at a very slow pace while during the era of Kishore Kumar, he used to sing at a medium pace, as that was the need of the hour. Trends get made in different eras as per the requirement of the era.
What should a singer know to survive for a longer period?
A singer has got to accept that his or her voice changes automatically with age and if at all you have any problem with your health, it is the throat that gets affected first. To survive as a singer, you have to be healthy as well as very young at heart and also make it a point to do your rigorous riyaaz every day religiously. The older you become, the more is the need for doing riyaaz.
What is the reason that people do not tend to remember the songs in films today though we remember the evergreen songs of the 60’s, 70’s and the 80’s easily?
If we do not remember the songs of today easily, it is only because we have become older. We should not only not cling to our yesterdays but also feel every day that the word belongs to us. Only then we will be able to remember all the songs that we hear on a day to day basis.
You have never ever been manipulative as far as singing is concerned. But are you also not ambitious?
To tell you the truth, frankly I have survived till date only because I have never ever been manipulative but very ambitious as far as my career as a musician is concerned. I have refused to compromise my ghazals.
What do you feel when you look back at your career till date?
I am the only son of my parents and hence I have never had family responsibilities and have always been supported by not only my mother but also my guru Mustafa Khan. In the 90’s all the ghazals that I composed became super-duper hits, starting with Gulfaam which was the first ever video on ghazals in India
Name the singers who have been your inspirations till date?
Mohammad Rafi, Yesudas, S.P. Balasubrahmanyam and Kishore Kumar.
Have you interacted with Kishore Kumar?
I remember watching Kishore Kumar in action at Shanmukhananda Hall where my late father was the Principal in the late 50’s and early 60’s. I was lucky to have sing with him the film song Naach Na Jaane
Which are your favorite ghazal albums till date?
Besides Gulfaam, which had my song Mujhe Phir Wohi Yaad Aane Lagi Hai, my other favorite ghazal albums till date are Reflections, Haazir with Zakir Hussain which was a hit with classes as well as the masses and Colonial Cousins.
Which are your own favorite film songs?
Among the songs which I have sung for films, my favorites are Roja, Bombay, Criminal, Taj Mahal and Boxer
Is there any music director for whom you would go out of your way to sing?
I am ready to sing for any music director who can compose good songs. If I can contribute in my own way to any music director by singing a song for him, I am always ready. I tell the music directors that I do not at all dare to test them but just making sure that I am able to do justice to their songs.
Today Shankar Mahadevan is a judge on a Hindi music reality show. Why are you not judging in any reality show?
I was a judge in the Tamil music reality show called Hariyudan Naan. I used to impart knowledge about music in that show as the solo judge. My biggest reward was in the form of compliments for the show from none other than music wizard Ilayaraja.
Who, according to you, is a promising playback singer these days?
Today, Arjit Singh can sing any kind of song- ghazal, thumri or Western easily.