Sonu Nigam is one of the most lovable name of Indian music industry. He is one of the renowned playback singer and live performer. Apart from Hindi, he has sung in some other Indian languages also. He has won several awards including National Awards and Filmfare awards. He has sung in many Bollywood blockbuster movies and always kept on winning hearts of music lovers. In an exclusive interview with Yogesh Mishra, he spoke about his favourite singer, living legend Amitabh Bachchan, working experience with T-Series music, future plans and more…
Can you define yourself in one line?
One who has found himself. That's how I would like to define myself
What is ‘Music’ according to you?
Music is a part of the whole that I'm made-up of or constituted of. What actually music is - discipline to randomness, that's any piece of art is a discipline to randomness. A discipline to the randomness of sound and time and space, because Rhythm is based at time, music is melody, sound is vibrations. So, when you put discipline to it, that's music. But to me, music is the way I think of music is. It's the whole of what I'm made-up of. It is the partial expression of what that whole of me is.
When did you realize first that you should try your luck in singing?
It never happened like that. I was born to a family of two singers, my father and my mother, my father's name is Agam Kumar Nigam and my mother is and was Shobha Nigam, though she left us 6 years back. Both of them fell in love because they were singers. They met in Mumbai, it was Bombay back then. They were from 2 different casts, so they had a run away marriage. Then I was born in Faridabad. Then my father moved his base to Delhi from Faridabad, where he was from. My mother, father, me and my sister, we moved to Delhi. When I got my consciousness, suddenly I saw music all around me. My father singing and my mother singing and I thought by default I was attracted to stage and I wanted to sing and I have been singing since I was 4, so it's been about 41+ years of professional singing. It was never like that. During my school days, I was pretty good as a student, there were other options to be a scientist, to be an IAFS officer to reach the IAFS, so many things. But eventually when my voice opened at back when I was aged 14 and a half when I was matured, that's when I, also my mother, my father and my entire family decided and then we finally decided to move to Mumbai after my 12th standard to pursue music.
Who is your favourite Bollywood playback singer and why?
I would say, my favourite singer everybody knows is Mohommad Rafi sahab. He will always remain my primary inspiration. But I've always maintained the fact that I'm someone who has listened to alot of singers, so there are lot of gurus of mine. Lata Mangeshkar ji, Asha Bhosle ji, Kishor Kumar ji, Manna Dey sahab, Hemant Kumar ji, Talat Mahmood ji, Mahendra Kapoor ji, KL Sehgal sahab, then the ghazal singers Ghulam Ali ji, Meti Singh sahab, Anoop Jalota ji, Pankaj Udas ji also Talat Aziz sahab, the classical singers I've been very much influenced by Salaam Ali Khan sahab, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sahab, Bheem Singh Joshi ji, ghazals ofcourse Hariharan ji, Suresh Wadkar ji, Maqrooz, SP Balasubrahmanyam, Yesudas ji.. I've listened to all of them. Western music I've listened to in my times waa George Michael and Michael Bolton and of course Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, even LucianoPavarotti. So many great singers.
Gulshan Kumar ji was the one person I always wanted to meet when I was growing up. Because first of all, we had this Delhi connection. I just knew that somehow I just meant to meet him one day. And it so happened that it took me one year to catch his attention but when he got my attention, it was magic because he liked me alot and he could see that I was an honest person. Even though we didn't have an contract, he had just verbally told me not to sing cover versions for anybody else. He said you can sing film songs for other people but please don't sing cover versions for anybody else. And I maintained that promise, that commitment to him. I was offered so many deals with the better companies back then, Tips and Venus and HMV, at that point it was bigger than T series. T series was hardly taking any film. Gulshan ji had a lot of issues with producers and all, so he did not take too many films and all. So I didn't have any film work, but I just maintained that promise to Gulshan Kumar ji. I didn't sing any cover versions for anybody else. Although I missed out on 5-6 years of film singing because of that. Because I became coined or typecasted as a T series artist.
Have you chosen singing profession by your own or influenced by the family member(s)?
Music was my choice. Of course I had the backing and the consent and approval from my family also that Music ultimately what I wanted to be was always left out to be.
We have heard that your son is very close to music; does he get any training for music?
Well, my son Nevaan is a very gifted singer, thankfully fortunately. But at the same time, there would be no obligation of him to follow what his father has been doing, because infact I would be very happy if he does not pursue music. And he does something new, bring some other acumen in the family. But he is more into western music, he has what you call (in Hindi we say) Ganda bandhwana from the guru. When you get almost like baptized to a guru for the first time, from the guru for the first time. So he's done that from my ustad, Ghulam Mustafa Khan sahab also.
But then he's into western music completely. He is just out of the world when he sings English and I'm very happy that he's doing that because then there's no comparison, although I have a lot of English stuff but I am primarily known as a Hindi singer, Indian singer singing in Indian languages, so I'm happy that he's singing something which I am not particularly known for. That is just a part of me, not the whole of me.
And yes, he's not getting any training from anywhere. I want him to learn by himself. I didn't get any training myself during my childhood, I only started learning very late in life. So, one has to have his own keenness to learn. There's no point forcing anyone to go sudden rush called practice hard or whatever. If he's meant too, he will do it himself.
How was your working experience with T-series in the initial stage of your career?
So I've answered the T-series question already before with Gulshan Kumar ji and it was a good experience. And I still miss Gulshan Kumar ji alot and I had a very affectionate relationship with him. I can never forget his eyes, his smile and the love that he had for me.
Where do you find yourself as a singer?
As a singer I know that I work hard and I know my pluses and I know my minuses. And nobody can be completely perfect. Only God is the epitome of perfection. So, yes I've been fairly very hard working. As a singer I've evolved a lot, but in terms of my standing as a singer, I think I'm one of the luckiest singer in the entire world. I've had an impeccable career of as I said 41+ years of stage singing and now this is my 28th year of being in Mumbai and almost 27 years of being famous. Very amazing career, amazing times. God has been very kind. I've seen so many people who come and go. I've seen 3 different generations of singers and change of music from analog to digital. So amazing, it's been great. And I feel very very honoured.
What are your current films/songs?
When it comes to talking about, thinking about my current film songs, I think I've gone much beyond that. I've sung so many songs that I don't even keep a track, I didn't realize when 'Has Mat Pagli Pyar Ho Jayega' became so popular. I didn't understand when 'Sapna Jaha Dastak Na De' from Brothers movie became so popular. I've been done songs which come but the films don't work, I had a beautiful song in the movie Milan Talkies composed by Rana Majumdar, written by Amitabh Bhattacharya called 'Shart'. The movie didn't do well, the song got lost. So yes, there are alot of songs, it keeps coming. I've sang in multiple languages. My singles thankfully like 'Aey Zindagi' I sang and then Asha ji, Shaan, Abhijeet Bhattacharya ji, Suresh Wadekar ji, Alka Yagnik ji, we all sang solo versions and that did very well. My song 'Tota' with Meet Brothers did very well. My single 'Shiv Shankara' has got millions of views. So yes, I've been lucky. My MTV unplugged sessions I sang, ghazals has been the talk of the town. So it's been very interesting, I've worked harder my entire life then I did the last 6-7 months.
Given a chance, would you like to try your luck in acting once again?
After a point in your life, you realize that you don't do anything, you don't try, you're just going through a journey. So when I got offers to act in films, it was a part of my journey you see, I never made any films for myself. It was never my priority. Yes, it was a good experience. I've acted in movies as a child also when I was a kid, I did Hum Se Hai Zamana, Pyaara Dushman, Kaamchor, Betaab, Taqdeer, so I was all new to the camera but when I became older, when I became a singer, my only idea was to become a singer, just to remain a singer. After a lot of persuasion from people, I was offered Tara rum pum, the movie that they wanted me to act in earlier. Dev Anand sahab came to me twice but I was not at all keen on acting, so I refused everybody. In 2001, I started getting too many offers and I realized that public wants me to act in films. Since there was no guidance, I always believe in destiny, I was destined to choose films that were never meant to make it big or were some films which did not have a very good standing and positioning and branding. So the movies still not do well but yes, as long as people appreciate the fact that I have some common sense when I came in, people have seen me acting, doing comedy, doing stuff on interrogation, award functions, hosting. So they knew that it's just a matter of getting the right subject. And if I'm destined to, I will. At this point of time, I have no intent to act in any film.
It’s an election season in India. Did you get any offer from any political party?
Yes I did get offer from a political party but I'm not going to be disclosing it. And yes I express my inability to contest, at this point I'm not ready, but who knows in the future what God wants to do to show me or make my journey go through.
Any fond memory of Indian Idol?
Indian Idol was commenced by us in 2004 and when we started Indian Idol, the directors told me it's based on the show format and gave me a book of Simon Cowell which was called 'I don't mean to be rude' and can you imagine I am the only one who read that book and I know the entire essence of it, the Idol format. When I do something, I do it with a lot of integrity. Indian Idol was a great platform and I for the first time in my life, saw the reverence that I held in the hearts of people even though I just 30 at that point. At a very young age, I saw people crying while meeting me, touching my feet, hugging me, sobbing in front of me. That was my first humbling experience of seeing the love that I had from people. I really enjoyed the first two seasons while being at it and then I had to move to America, my son was born in 2007 in America. I then almost left India for a couple of years, I was coming and going . Then my mother got cancer and I got back to India. Then I never left again. Then I seated my foot permanently over here. I gave away my green card in America. So doing Indian Idol 2 years back was also fun to be back with Anu Malik and Farah Khan.
What changes did you see in the last few years in context to Indian Idol?
I would not like to just sight example of Indian Idol, I would like to talk about all the shows currently that are going on television, over the last 6-7 years there has been amazing singers. God gives talent and god brings equal amount of talent and caliber and quality in every generation. So there singers, there's no derth of good singers, they're coming in all the shows. What I do not really connect with, I don't critisize it, I'm not ooposing it, I just say, I don't connect with the drama that happens, you know the unnecessary laughter, unnecessary over exuberant expression of jubilation. It's just the over pretence that the judges have to do and to go through. For instance, I'll give you an example, I am currently touring with Neha Kakkar in America and she told me, 'Sir, were you in a bad mood when you came to Indian Idol?' I said No, not at all. She said that all of us felt that you were not into your elements. And I understood exactly why she was saying that. Because for them the default state of being a judge or being a guest in any show today is over the top talking, over the top laughing, screaming, reactions, responses and for me, when I come to a music show, my whole default state of being is sanctity, class. There is certain way I think a musician should behave. When you are hosting the show or when you are being a part of the show or when you are a guest on the show. For me it was the last time I came to Indian Idol was with the people who actually started, saw me and my initial days. Anu Malik, JP Datta, Javed Akhtar, so one senior, all were seniors. And I absolutely make sure on how to behave in front of my seniors. But to the generation today, feels that you can be exuberant over the top, even with in front of the people who've actually seen you and if you don't do thatz you're in a bad mood. So this is the change that I've seen over the years in Indian Idol and all over formats, and since I cannot connect with it, I don't know if I can ever be a part of it again.
At the age of 76, living legend Amitabh Bachchan is still rocking. Can you compare him with any other Bollywood actor(s)?
People like Amitabh Bachchan are born one in a million, so nobody can become that, ofcourse everyone has their own state of mind and principles of living. He has chosen to work hard and to be seen, to be heard, to rock, that is his priority and that is his prerogative. Comparing him with anybody else is unfair to everybody else. Because, the bottom line is, you do the things that you want to do. Some people work hard, some people don't want to work hard, some people want to access life, some people want to sit quietly like Gulzar sahab. He is not into social life, he doesn't talk to people, he doesn't go for an interview (people interview him), he doesn't come to television shows and all. That's his choice of life. So how can I compare Gulzar sahab with Amitabh Bachchan ji, Amitabh ji is doing what's best for him. Gulzar sahab is doing what's best for him, Dharmendra sahab choses to be in his farm house and come out with videos doing farming and agriculture. That's his choice. So comparing two people to each other is unfair. And music industry, Asha Bhosle ji choses to work very hard, she's still working, she's singing, she's performing, she's rocking. Everybody has to decide their own destiny.
You have spent more than two decades in the industry. How do you look back on your journey so far? What has been the biggest change and the biggest challenge?
As of now I've spent close to 30 years in the business and 41 years of being on the stage. I've seen a lot of changes, when we were doing small little shows in Delhi way back in 1977 -78 to 91 when I came to Bombay, so all that time there weren't many opportunities in Delhi, you know to express music. All you could do was small wedding shows or kisi ka Birthday or cocktail parties or whatever, so that was the only option. In 91, when I came to Mumbai, Films were being made, Kumar Sanu ji, Udit Narayan ji, Abhijeet Bhattacharya, SP Balasubhramanyam, Vinod Rathod, Alka Yagnik, Sadhana Sargam, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Anuradha Paudwal, they were all at their peak and I was 18 years old back then. So, it took me very long to establish myself, because there weren't any reality shows. So, all you could do was stand outside people's offices and beg for work, literally beg, I use the word beg without any hesitation because yes, it is begging.... Sir Kaam de do Sir kaam de do. Which is begging of course.
Back then we didn't have Any Sa Re Ga Ma which I started eventually in 1995, it was almost like my contribution when I saw my own self go through so much struggle. God made me the catalyst in establishing something like music competitions on television screens in India which became such a rage and if you notice, the five and a half years that I hosted Sa Re Ga Ma it was all very dignified very classy, I kept the decorum of you know the respect factor, the poise that you have to maintain when you're hosting the show with so much talent, with so many seniors around you, there are 10 celebrities of you know the veteran celebrities, whom you consider the God of music sitting and I have to introduce all of them and I have to give respect to all of them, nobody should feel let down, so it was obviously very very difficult that time. but at the same time, you know something good happened, lots of new singers got opportunities, they got recognition, they didn't have to stand out of people's office and negotiate with the gatekeepers and the watchmen and security people to go inside and talk to the boss. They became famous overnight, like Shreya Ghoshal didn't have to do any struggle at all, she came to Sa Re Ga Ma and Sanjay Leela Bhansali spotted her and she got her due. So, she didn't have to do what we had to do. That was one amazing thing. Now there are so many reality shows, people start getting recognition they start doing concerts, they have cars, they have homes, houses, they wear brands which is very very good and they become popular. I'm very happy that music has now become an open business in terms of technology at that time, I came at a time when we used to record songs with 150 to 110 to 120 musicians and we would do live singing in Mehboob studios with Laxmikant Pyarelal, I'm the only one from this generation who has done this, who has experienced this. Today, I can record a song in the hotel room, on my computer with my own microphone. I know all the technology and I can sing a song and it can become a part of any big movie, a multi crore movie, International stuff or whatever just by sitting in a hotel room or even a bathroom, so this is how technology has changed. And I'm enjoying, witnessing all this process and eager to see what's new in store, in terms of technology and business!
You might be inspiration for many aspiring singers. Any message for them?
No messages to anyone, just good wishes and best wishes and God Bless every new comer, keep working hard and stay positive and believe in Good Karma and Believe in good intent!
What are your future plans?
I have no plans. I live one life, one day at a time. At this point, I am touring America and Canada. After I come back, then I've got lots of pending stuff to do in May, in terms of recordings, concerts and some projects. In June, I'll come back again to do some other concerts. In July, I am in Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. In August, I'll come back to India and do my musical stuff. In September, I travel to Europe. So this is being a very busy year for me and I am enjoying every bit of it.
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