His father, Manas Mukherjee, was a well respected music composer who gave music for stellar movies like Shayad and Albert Pinto ko gussa kyon aata hai, but struggled in Bombay till his untimely death. For son Shantanu, or Shaan as he is popularly known, the musical journey however turned into a stairway to superstardom. His voice has a velvety quality and a sound that fits most heroes on the screen, and hosting the blockbuster musical show Saregamapa has catapulted him into becoming a house hold name nationally and internationally.
The song Shuruat from his new sizzling album Tishnagi was made into a music video to promote the film, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.
In an exclusive interview, with Kavita Chhibber, the incredibly charming, down to earth singer composer and Indiaís most popular TV host, who is touring the US with his band sat down with wife Radhika, and talked about his musical journey and why Radhika and he stay away from the glitter of Bollywood.
Your fatherís journey was obviously different from yours. What are the early memories?
Dad started in Calcutta and after doing very well there decided to come to Bombay to try his luck in the industry. He initially wanted to make it as a singer but then turned to composing which he excelled at. Work was limited at that time especially for an outsider. My father had been well known for the excellence of his work and had also been assisting music maestro Salil Chaudhry. Still he could not find work easily, in spite of the fact that Salil Chaudhry was a big name in Bombay and dad had already sung for him in Bengali. My father learnt the hard way that there is no transitional period for an outsider. However both he and my mother who also sang were very loved and respected by many people around them. The understanding and knowledge of music that my father had was simply way beyond what I knew and know to this day about music.
I was born in Bombay and so I began my life as an insider unlike my dad. Also things have really opened up for singers from outside Bombay. You can see that in Saregamapa and Indian Idol as well We have representation from many states of India. I was never asked to become a musician or really taught music as such, by my father but growing in an environment so rich in music, makes it imprint itself in your psyche. I think since it was also in my genes I guess I must have had some natural musical talent.
My father passed away when I was 14 and my sister Sagarika was 16. I was too young to understand all his struggles and what he had gone through to make ends meet. My mother Sonali is seemingly a soft emotional person who is the picture of feminine grace. When it came to crunch time however she suddenly became this strong person who held it all together. She found work as a singer, and toured with Amitabh Bachchan and we managed.
I am completely self-taught. I think what really worked for me was that we were brought up in Bandra in a predominantly Catholic environment. The school I went to, was also Catholic. The music that I heard a lot was all English rock and top of the pops. I think it was really after High school that I rediscovered Hindi music. I was dazzled by R.D. Burman and ghazals. Once I got my dose of Mehdi Hassan, Ghulam Ali and Jagjit Singh, there was no looking back. I was hooked. Still my music really was a mix of several influences and not from one source.
I was actually just bumming around when the Indi-pop scene started heating up. I was singing with some other people and my sister was doing the same thing. One day my sister said lets make an album together. We signed up with Magnasounds and made Q-Funk, but it was Roop Inka Mastana which was a remix of R.D. Burmanís songs that brought us into the limelight. I think people started thinking of us in the same way they looked at Zoheb and Nazia Hassan.. Of course all this while we were clueless and werenít sure if Indi-pop was the way to go. But suddenly, with "Made in India" Indi-pop became the mainstream music everyone was beginning to love, so we ended up being in the right place at the right time.
Iím sure your first solo album Loveology is dear to you for sentimental reasons, but it was Tanha Dil, that really catapulted you to the next level. It revived the listenersí faith in Indi-pop, after the kind of trashy albums that were being churned out. Ram Sampath and you were a great team, but you are not working together any more.
There were three years between Loveology and Tanha Dil. Both were albums that reflected two different phases of my life. Lovelogy brings back memories of my college days and experiences related to those times. We were kids from middle class families, riding buses and couldnít even afford to buy a cup of coffee for ourselves, leave alone ask a girl out and offer her coffee. There would also be those rich guys on motorbikes that would get the girls and look oh so cool. Loveology was my way of saying that if you have true love in your heart, you can over come all these materialistic hurdles.
Tanha Dil was from those days when all my friends were looking at making a living and many had gone or decided to go abroad and I was trying to look at the dilemma faced by someone who has to leave his homeland and go away to make a living. I couldnít say tera desh pukhare wapas aa, yahan bhi roti milti hai - (your country calls you come backÖ.you will find your livelihood here too) because it was not true. They were leaving because they couldnít find that livelihood here.
Then I did Aksar to show where I was at that point in my life. Today after being married and being a father of two, I canít do a Loveology. I need to act my age. Aksar was more introspective and about relationships, and dedicated to my wife Radhika. Her presence in my life has changed so much for the better for me. We did have a time crunch, and I also took a tour to promote the album and it was great to get a first hand response
By the time Tanha Dil was created, Ram really made me introspect about what it was that we really should be doing. We spent a lot of quality time making Tanha Dil and its success gave me a lot of credibility.
I would have loved to make more albums with Ram, but there were several factors that came in the way after Tanha Dil. Firstly we became very busy individually. My very first film song Musu Musu became a big hit, and I felt that since Tanha Dil was one album where some of the lyrics written by me were key to the success of the album, I should have some creative control in the next album, which Ram would not agree to. I would love to work with him again. He is incredibly talented and creative.
How has the music scene evolved over the years? There just seems to be so many recording companies and cds being churned out.
Today unfortunately its all about marketing and business. If you are really lucky you will find a company that works with you and keeps away from telling you what kind of music to make. Most of the time, unfortunately the only thing they are concerned about is whether the album will do well with the masses and what the video of the songs will look like. It takes away the entire creative process of the artist who then scrambles around to cater to the whims of these companies, compromising his music as a result. There are huge productions like Adnan Sami does, with movie actresses in his videos because he has the clout now. Mostly however, the budget for private albums is pretty limited.
I have often been asked- why donít you make film albums instead? They sell so well. But I do that with the movie directors and sing as they want me to sing. For my personal growth and to explore my own creativity, I prefer to do a private album which will have a message, and deals with issues that concern us all. I also keep away from all outside musical influences and try to compose my own lyrics and music. My album must be unique and different from anything else that will be out there.
Music has become pretty instant these days. Even the Mumbai of yesterday has changed from the romance inspiring city with lush greenery and open spaces, to a concrete jungle. Even getting off a train at a particular junction is a well thought operation. You start moving at a particular point and then finally stand at a strategic point and youíll be swept out by the masses. So the inspiration to compose or do something creative at least for me isnít in such surroundings. I need a beautiful place to be inspired.
People write on the run. There are only a handful of musicians who do justice to music.
One of the hot and happening music directors Himesh Reshmaiyya said that the music directors of today are more talented than those of yesteryears because unlike them, they donít have quality lyricists and a great support system to work with. Who are the music directors you like?
It is a good observation but at the same time there is no justification for substandard or mediocre music. At the end of the day no matter what the support system was with those people, they had the knowledge, the dedication, the creativity and a certain amount of spirituality to come up with the kind of incomparable songs they created-songs that have transcended generations and remain evergreen.
The worst part about todayís music is the lack of time. People are just looking at deadlines first and everything else is worked around it. Raj Kapoor took days to record one song. Himesh probably churns out a song every four hours! However Himesh is a very smart musician. He refuses to work with big banners saying that if the movie is a hit the credit will go to the banner. He churns out hits for small films. The movies come and go but his music sizzles and every one knows who it is by.
I can honestly say that I compose music by instinct, and I donít have much knowledge of ragas. I also wonít be able to give you too many names when it comes to music directors of today who have the kind of knowledge music directors of yesteryears had. May be Ravindra Jain. That is it.
Jatin Lalit come from a classical music heritage being nephews of Pandit Jasraj. While they donít do raga based songs all the time, I think they are the only musicians today who have the capacity to do what R.D. Burman did - achieve a timeless quality to their songs.
A.R Rehman on the other hand is very focused on ragas, and thinks out of the box. Rahman has broken away from tradition in the sense that his second stanza many be entirely different from the first one and he can use multiple singers where each one will have his own chord. Rahman has a very active, very creative imagination. When he is composing, he isnít thinking song, he is thinking soundtrack.
The greatest survivor in the film industry is Anu Malik. He has survived there for 3 decades. He is also one of the most underrated music directors. When you meet him you will always find him brimming with energy, always enthusiastic, always surrounded by people. He will be talking to you and doing a hundred other things and then suddenly in the midst of it all, heíll say okay lets get to work and come up with the most incredible tunes in a jiffy, out of nowhere.
Then there is Aadesh Shrivastav - he is a very warm, very flamboyant person. When it comes to Bhangra kind of stuff, no one can beat him.
Your voice has improved by leaps and bounds and you have been giving one hit after another in movies. Why do you think youíve succeeded?
I think I have what is called the metrosexual voice and it fits most new heroes who are doing well, since the metrosexual man is in. Also I have always focused on versatility - one one side I can belt out a blockbuster like Nikamma and on the other hand I can sing the soulful rag Darbari based Paigham laya saawan. I have started learning music again from the legendary Ghulam Mustafa Khan, and he has enriched my voice and taught me so much about life. He is really my dad today. I love and respect him so much.
Letís talk about Saregamapa, which has made you a household name nationally and internationally. Are you surprised at the NRI obssession with the show?
It has been an amazing experience. I must say my Hindi has improved greatly thanks to the show. It has been a humbling experience to see such incredible talent from round one and I feel so grateful that I have been fortunate enough to reach where I have. I guess luck too plays a very important part.
Ever since Iíve been hosting the show I have realized that this is perhaps the biggest, most popular show as far as the NRI community is concerned. Initially I was wondering if they would object to the new format, because it is hipper and not as traditional and straight laced, but it was great to see how accepting they have been of the spice and the drama being thrown at them. The singers too apart from being so talented have been so willing to get make overs, have their steps choreographed and they become such stars at the end of the day. With people too, this new format has created such a connectivity. Every one has their favorites and they know everything about that singer, what they are capable of singing, their calibre and so on. It has been great.
You had the biggest hit of 2005 Dus Bahane from the film Dus last year and the beautiful number Le Chalen from My Brother Nikhil. Did you expect Dus Bahane to become such a huge hit?
Dus Bahane was tailor made to be a hit. The soundtrack was ready, the film was ready, but they felt they needed a hit song to go with the trailer. It was amazing how quickly they created and shot the number-literally in a matter of hours and within 48 hours it was on the air and before you knew it, it was a major hit.
Le Chalen was very special because it is a very touching song where a brother sings to his sister. It brought back many special memories that I have shared with my sister and I was very emotional when I sang that song. Maybe that came through and touched others.
Tell me now about your latest offering Tishnagi? And what did wife Radhika say when you asked her to be in the video for Tishnagi?
This time I had decided, that I was going to make an album for the masses-a big successful album with eight hit dance numbers and no deep message. When I spoke to Ranjit Barot, who worked with me on this, he said-look you can either make an album catering to the general masses which may sell a million copies but which will make you cringe each time you hear the songs, or you can make an album you can always be proud of. What do you want?
I realized then he was right. He worked so hard on this album to create the right sound. Ranjit even flew musicians from Belgium because he wanted to capture the international flavor in an authentic way. His musical integrity is so strong. Even though I wrote all the songs and composed six of them, this is as much his album as mine.
I feel that the album has fulfilled my wish in that I have always wanted my music to be a friend you can turn to when you are alone, who speaks your language and makes you think-yes I too feel that way.
Radhika always comes through for me, and this time too, she created the vision of what I was trying to convey-that even when you feel fulfilled, there may be something missing. Like a woman who loves being a mother but may at times think, she could have been a good career woman too.
Radhika turned out to be a great actress, I must say and gave all the right expressions!
You have a very close relationship with your family and your wife Radhika
(in the picture). In an industry where marriages fall on the wayside like a deck of cards what keeps you both close?
Radhika: I come from a business family and Shantanu and I dated for many years before we married. No one in my family is glamour struck. We had decided very early on in life that we were each othersí priority. When we met he wasnít this huge success that he is today: we began with a small one bedroom apartment and very little bank balance but were very happy there. Today with Godís grace we have everything we want, but even if we had nothing, as long as we had each other, our kids and our family, we have everything.
Today his biggest regret is probably the fact that his father didnít have the money when he needed it for open heart surgery. Today we can afford to pay for 20 such operations but his father isnít here. That is why what we have together is so important.
It is still a sense of wonder and surprise for me when people are screaming and going hysterical on seeing him perform and I realize itís my husband they are rooting for. For me he is just Shantanu - in fact I never call him Shaan. If I did he would wonder if something was seriously wrong.
Iím a firm believer that if he is talented, he will get his due. We do not go to Bollywood parties to network; we do not invite directors to our home. The only thing where I have maybe helped him is to learn to say No. He is such a nice human being that people constantly took him for a ride and I have told him its okay to say No even to me if it doesnít jell with you. Unless you are happy you canít make others around you happy.
Shaan: Radhika is right. I meet enough people while Iím working and at Saregama. Itís really good to come home to someone who you know will keep you grounded. I feel that material success, fame are very temporary things It is very easy for me to see, if I look around that there are many others who are more talented than me. I was just fortunate enough to reach where I reached and I accept that with all humility and gratitude.
How do you see your life today?
The past few years have been very busy with albums, Saregama, live shows, and so this month and a half where I have toured with family has been great. There have been days when we just did nothing, but hung out with each other. Right now Iím taking a break-and see myself as a full time dad dad who just does concerts on weekends.