But ghazal maestro Pankaj Udhas says it’s his passion for the genre that keeps him going
A maestro in the world of ghazal singing, Pankaj Udhas is nothing short of a legend in himself. He has left a deep impression in the hearts of his ghazal lovers from across the world for over three decades now with his intoxicating numbers. In an exclusive tête-à-tête, the singer shares the story of his 35-year-long journey in the industry, his responsibility and passion towards the genre, and why he is excited about performing in Australia…
You started singing at the tender age of 11. Who has been your biggest inspiration?
There have been many complimentary aspects as far as my music is concerned. Most important is my father, actually my parents. My father used to play an instrument called dilruba, which has got a tone like the sarangi. He used to play this as a hobby, during his leisure time. So I think my first exposure to music was this. I have two elder brothers, Manhar and Nirmal. Manharji is a well-known playback singer and Nirmalji also sings very well. I grew up listening to them sing on stage. So, I think all factors put together, that’s what drew me to music.
Also at some point, I was introduced to the music of Begum Akhtar and Janab Mehdi Hassan, which left a deep impact on me. That is how I actually got involved in ghazal singing. Another factor that played a very important role was radio. We had no TV then, and the media was very limited. You hardly got to hear anything and the only source of listening to music was radio and cinema.
You recently completed 35 years of singing. How has your journey been and what is that one thing that keeps you going with the same energy?
The journey has been very long. But I consider myself very fortunate. No doubt, fortune doesn’t smile on you, unless you work hard. But I have been rather fortunate. I released my first album in 1949, and since then I haven’t looked back. I have always done better in life. So this kind of career is a career to die for. Every artist looks for this kind of long innings. But, what has been the most important part of making my career successful is my passion for this particular genre. Ghazals have been very close to my heart. Also, I think that I have to take care of this genre and kind of lead the way. So the sense of responsibility and my tremendous passion are what keep me going.
We have a ghazal festival in Mumbai called Khazana, which is aimed at raising money for people with cancer. Through this, we introduce four new ghazal singers every year. And the whole idea behind this is to promote new talent and to keep the genre alive.
How much do you think the industry has changed since the time you started and today?
There are basically two factors of change. The first is technology. I have witnessed the very basic and very primitive technology, where music was recorded on one track and on a cinema film. Today, you have the digital format. So there has been a leap, I must say, in terms of the change. Also the change in technology has brought in a few positive elements as well. But there is always a downside. Technology is being misused.
The second element is that in the 80s there was a great awareness in India of music other than cinema. In the 80s one may have heard a whole lot of bands coming up, then there was pop, there was fusion. You had a thriving non-film music industry, which was a healthy development in terms of music and listening. It was a golden period. But, unfortunately, we have lost out completely to Bollywood. Wherever you go today and whatever you do, you only listen to Bollywood.
Do you think ghazals have a niche reach or a wider audience?
As I said, we have lost everything to Bollywood today, which is a very sad development. Everything has become so Bollywood-centered, because of which most other genres of music have stopped prospering. I still remember, I had come up with this album a few years back, called Stolen Moments and its song, ‘Ahista’ had become so popular. It was one of the biggest hit of the times. But, today, it is only Bollywood that rules. I am not a pessimist, I am very optimistic, and I know that there are still many Bollywood songs that touch the heart, but the volumes are limited. So yes, the demand has reduced. However, the good thing is the ghazal genre comes in second in terms of popularity, after Bollywood. There still are people, who listen to ghazals.
Speaking of singers of today’s generation, who is it that you admire the most?
I like Shreya Ghoshal’s style of singing, because I feel she sings from her heart and is very expressive. She has a beautiful voice and is one artist of today’s generation, who really impresses me.
You are known not only for your soulful ghazals, but also as a humble human being. People in the industry consider you their mentor. How does that make you feel?
It is a great feeling, but I am born that way. Again, I give the credit to my parents, my mom and dad, who have raised me in such a way. There are people I have come across, who just cannot be humble, but with me, how much ever I try, I just cannot be bad to anyone.
You will soon be performing in Australia.
I am excited about performing in Australia. I have performed two or three times before, but that was years ago. However, my only regret is that I have never had the chance to go sight-seeing. It is beautiful, but I have never had a chance to take time out after a concert to really see Australia. And unfortunately, this time too I am tied up with other work and will not be able to see the country.
Any particular song or number, you are looking to perform?
Actually, I am coming up with my new album, for which I am recording right now. It will be launched in Mumbai on 1 October and soon after that I leave for Australia. So, the concert in Australia would see my first performance of the new album. So that’s exciting for me.
Pankaj Udas Live Concert in Melbourne on October 12 at Robert Blackwood Hall, Clayton
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian Magazine in Australia)