The toll his mother’s recent demise and late night rehearsals for his Friday are clearly visible on his unsmiling face, as Sonu Nigam greeted us at The Address Marina last Thursday.
“My mother inculcated tameez [manners] in me — touching elders’ feet, saying thank you, excuse me and sorry, to smile at people to greet people correctly. She’s left a huge vacuum in our lives,” said the singer.
“We are still in mourning and we’ve just understood what the word maatam [grieving]means,” he added, when asked if he is planning a musical tribute to his mother, Shobha, 63, who died on February 28 after a prolonged illness.
“Universal [music company] had approached me to do something, but it’s too early for me to suddenly transform all those energies into creativity. At this point I just want to mourn [for her].”
Nigam had flown in to Dubai just a couple of hours earlier, to keep his commitment to his UAE fans, as well as perform at a private event.
“Even though we’ve done a two-month tour of this show in the US, we have been rehearsing for the last three days, late into the night, with all the musicians and singers,” Nigam said, explaining his weariness.
“We had to take the show to the next level — musically, technically— and put more thought and emotions in it,” said Nigam. “This is the pinnacle of my performance career — not the eventual pinnacle but the starting point of a lot of higher pinnacles. We tried this in the US last year and the response was phenomenal”.
Known for award-winning, soulful tracks such as Kal Ho Na Ho and Suraj Hua Madham and crazy ones from Aal Izz Well to Tere Shirt Da Button Mein Soniye, for the last couple of years, Nigam has taken a back seat in Bollywood.
“I’ve worked enough in my life. I’ve been working for last 36 years on stage, and in the industry this is my 22nd year. I feel my singing career has been pretty diverse. I have ferociously fought being typecast. In my teenage [years] they wanted me to sing only sad songs. Instead I sang [songs from the movie] Pardes as well as Naiyo Naiyo, Suraj Hua Madham. I became the romantic voice, then the item voice with Ishq Kamina. And it’s time for me to do some good quality work. A good song such as Abhi Mujhme Kahin from Agneepath comes along and gets so much accolade, love and appreciation or a gimmicky one such as Tere Shirt Da Button Mein Taan Soniye or Tujhse Mohabbat Ho Gayi. I’m also singing in I Love New York and Yamla Pagla Deewana. So, lots of good stuff coming up”.
Due to this versatility, he has left his contemporaries behind to become a superstar of his generation. His concert poster describes him as a legend — but how does he feel about it?
“How could I be in my senses if I started thinking I’m a legend? I’d be a lunatic if I started believing that. Hard work never goes futile. Despite it’s my first time in this body as Sonu Nigam. I feel I’ve done a decent job of it though I’ve made mistakes. I wish I could get two-three more chances and I’d rectify other things. I’m still not 40, so if God permits, I would like to do more things, not just musically but to enrich myself in other ways,” said Nigam. “It doesn’t matter what people think as I’ve seen legends failing. I wouldn’t take myself to that level of arrogance. Let me enjoy my work”.
Actors move from acting to direction, singers to songwriting and composing. And Nigam is no exception.
“I write songs, yes, and I’ve composed music for the upcoming movie — Jal. My friend Bickram Ghosh, the percussionist, and I have scored the background music for Jal and composed for Super Se Upar. I’ve also composed the title song for the Sunny Deol-starrer Singh Sahab the Great. You’ll get to hear some good stuff.”
After mixed reactions to his acting debut, Nigam hasn’t looked that way but turned to reality music shows on television to make his screen presence felt.
“When I put my heart and soul in a project and I don’t find the people around me as sincere as I am, I feel the effort is wasted. If I were not worthy of becoming an actor no one would be asking me this question continuously for the last 10 years as to when I’m coming back to acting? It means somewhere they understand that I was worthy, but did not opt for the right project. I think it’s good to be that way rather than have a hit and people start hating you for just it. I guess I was too young without someone to guide me properly. My sole agenda was acting. I’d already made money. I was already famous. I already had girls around me,” he said, with a flicker of a smile.
From Sonu Nigam to Sonu Niigaam and back to Sonu Nigam, the singer feels numerology and astrology do affect a person’s success.
“It’s almost as simple as this: you can see two magnets attract each other, you don’t know what’s attracting them, but you can feel the pull. Similarly there’s a vibration in every letter — aa, oo, pii, paa, poon — that’s how they made numerology. I understand that because I’ve learnt it when I was an 18-year-old struggler in Mumbai. I changed a lot of people’s names also. Anu Malik’s name was changed by me. I do feel that it affects you, but one day I just realised I will not die with any kind of baggage, namely gemstones and the spelling of my name. I don’t want that procrastination. It’s almost like if karmically I’m supposed to be hit by something maybe the name change or gems will delay it, but I cannot avoid it permanently. So I don’t follow anything now. I respect them, but I just don’t want anyone to tell me anything about my life”.
Sonu Nigam performs in his sold-out concert, titled Klose To My Heart, on Friday at 9pm at Dubai Tennis Stadium.
From Sa Re Ga Ma Pa to Indian Idol, the winners of these shows disappear soon after they are over, while those who didn’t win have been seen to be successful. Nigam said that some of these winners are making big bucks on the show circuit.
“Talent shows can only bring you up to certain level which is very good because in our times we didn’t have even this. It’s only after that the war starts. Film music is not about talent shows at all. It’s about the requirement of a music composer, director and composer. These days they are using different kind of voices – more as an instrument rather than singer’s forte,” Nigam explained.
Talent shows have seen an influx of Pakistani artists into India, which hasn’t gone down well with some in the industry.
“If today A.R. Rahman gets an Oscar in US how would you feel if they said ‘we don’t want an Indian getting an award or have an Indian working in the US’? That’s very small thinking. It’s the greatness of India as a country that it can lure talent from other countries. And I’m proud of that fact. If Rahat [Fateh Ali Khan] or Shafquat [Amanat Ali] or Atif [Aslam] or anybody else is coming and making names for themselves I’m happy for them. They are talented and they have the right to become famous too. Their country gave them a level of success and then India catapulted their success to another”.