Shreya Ghoshal: India’s Nightingale

Maayabono Bihaarini Ami Noi   
Shopono Shonchaarini Ami Noi
Shondhaar Meghomaala Ami Noi…...
Gaan Shudhu Gaan Bhora Ye Jeebon

I am not a wanderer in magical woods
I am not a traveller in dream worlds
I am not a dweller on evening clouds....
I am the life where music alone overflows  
This is a Bengali song. I will say that this is by far one of the most wonderful songs that I have heard in this past decade. The very first time you hear it, its tune, its lyrics and the way it has been rendered with a rare beauty transports you to the magical woods it sings about. Joy Sarkar, an important contemporary Bengali musician, has composed its music. The many poetic phrases used in the lyrics have been culled from Rabindra Sangeet of Tagore. Just as Tagore is the only world poet to have been born in India in the last 150 years, Shreya Ghoshal is the best female singer to have appeared on the firmament of Indian film music in the last 50 years. And she had sung this Beautiful song. Shreya, the singing marvel is another priceless contribution of Bengal to India.
In Indian film music many famous composers like Salil Chowdhury, S.D.Burman, R.D.Burman, Anil Biswas, Bhappi Lahiri to today’s Pritam Chakraborty many have come from Bengal. Singers from Bengal like Pankaj Mullick, Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey and Geeta Dutt have been well known all over India. But that fame was as Hindi film singers. Singing fluently in other languages has often been a big challenge for singers whose mother tongue was Bengali. Manna Dey, Pankaj Mullick and Geeta Dutt could not quite get over their Bengali accented pronunciation even while singing Hindi songs. But Shreya Ghoshal is different. She is a Bengali only when she speaks or sings in Bengali!

Shreya is an Assamese singer when she sings in Assamese. In Malayalam, she is a Malayalam singer. And for Tamils, she is totally a Tamil singer. It is for the first time in India that such a singer who understands to a dot, regardless of the language, her instructions with all their minute nuances and sings with the rare felicity of an exact pronunciation. Lata Mangeshkar, with Marathi as her mother tongue has sung a song or two in Tamil and Malayalam. She had pronunciation difficulties there. Shreya Ghoshal was easily able to surpass Lata Mangeshkar in this respect. But this felicity of pronouncing exactly in many languages is merely one of her many amazing capabilities as a singer. No one, who evaluates her regarding any aspect of music, can deny that Shreya Ghoshal is indeed a rare singer!

Many famous singers have a speaking voice and a singing voice. But there is no difference between the speaking voice and singing voice of Shreya Ghoshal. Shreya has a sweet and delicate voice that holds in thrall everyone from five years old children to eighty years old elders. It is the voice that males fantasise as the voice of the most beautiful woman. It is the voice of the most desirous girl tenanting their dreams. But surprisingly it is a voice that has, innately, no trace of sexual attractions. The attraction of the voice lies in its delicacy and closeness to the listener’s soul.

The usual problem of such delicate female voices is that when they reach higher notes of scale they tend to screech. Often, on the lower notes of scale, these voices sound boomy and unclear. But Shreya’s voice shines alike both on lower notes and higher notes of scale. Neither shrillness nor flaws or lack of clarity sullies her voice at any time. It is a great and lovely voice that easily expresses all the sweetness and the emotions inherent in every song.

The amazing consistency of her rendering style is another wonder that we can see in Shreya. Usually the standard of rendering of a singer varies by his / her state of mind and body at the time of singing. But in none of Shreya’s songs that I have heard from the time she was fourteen to this date, have I found any decline in standard or lack of consistency! From the time she had appeared on television as a child singer Shreya Ghoshal had demonstrated her amazing talent and standard in music and she continues to record that with an amazing consistency. Each passing day finds it getting more and more polished! It is not an exaggeration to say that her voice and rendering style is absolutely peerless and incomparable in the rendering of Indian melodies.

Whether the songs given to her are classical based or ghazal styled or western music based or folk based, nothing strains Shreya. She has this amazing ability to understand a score in totality as soon as she is instructed on it. This ability to grasp the music and emotions of a song with such speed is an extremely rare one. As she internalizes the score she also understands the intricacies of word play of the language.

Regardless of the language of the song she notes down the lyrics in Devanagari script. She uses a self-created collection of accent and pronunciation notations above the lines of lyrics to decipher the nuances of word accents. She gets the relevant person to explain both the context of the song in the storyline and the meaning of the lyrics. She gets ready for recording the song within half an hour, however complicated the score is. Shreya has no trouble whatsoever in singing difficult songs because of her marvellous breath control. Her rendering style is comparable to that of a river flowing smoothly and freely without any restraint.

There have been other singers in India who had displayed both talented voice and speed of learning. There are many, even now. But more than these qualities, ability to express emotions through one’s rendering style is very important for a singer. Many singers, who handle all techniques exactly, fall down when it comes to expressing the emotions of the song. It is here that Shreya demonstrates her uniqueness by bringing out all the nuanced emotions of a song totally even as she brings her unique voice and rendering style to the song.   

People like me, who fancy vintage songs beyond measures, always watch discerningly how a new singer, male or female, sing our favourite vintage songs. Many contemporary singers often fail miserably in doing justice to what should be a pleasurable task of singing golden oldies. Present day singers disappoint us principally because they are unable to reach out to the soul of those old songs so lovingly created and carefully crafted. But the one contemporary singer, who can render the best creations of my most favourite composers like Salil Chowdhury and Madan Mohan with a flawless fidelity, often going a step beyond the original in creating the feel and mood of the song, is Shreya Ghoshal.

Singing a song composed by Salil Chowdhury is a tough ask but when she was just fifteen, Shreya had effortlessly sung with great felicity many songs with difficult scores composed by Salil Chowdhury like ‘Shurer Jharna’, ‘Ni Sa Ga Ma Pa Ni’, ‘Gungun Phagun’, ‘Laage Dhol’ and ‘Akaash Kusum’ in Bengali. Recently, I was overwhelmed hearing Shreya sing on television late C.Ramachandra’s ‘Yeh Zindagi Usi Ki Hai’ from Anaarkali (1953). It was said, not by me alone, that Shreya Ghoshal sang even better than the original sung by Lata Mangeshkar! But Shreya, who is an ardent fan of Lata Mangeshkar, has said that she follows Lata Mangeshkar style in the way she renders with importance given to the words of lyrics.  

Shreya Ghoshal was first contracted in 2002 to just sing one song for the Hindi film Devdas directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali with music composed by Ismail Durbar. But she ended up singing a total of 5 songs for the film! ‘Bairi Piya’, ‘Silsila Yeh Chhahath Ka’, ‘Dola Re’, ‘Morey Piya’ and ‘Chalak Chalak’ were those five songs with which Shreya Ghoshal announced to the world, in no uncertain terms, that she is no ordinary singer! In the nine years since then, there are no heights in the Indian film music that Shreya Ghoshal has not touched.

One can go on listing her famous Hindi film songs that beautifully express love, songs oozing sensuality, night club dance numbers and sweet melodies. ’Jaadoo Hai Nasha Hai’ and ‘Chalo Thum Ko Lekar Chalen’(Jism 2003), ‘Bahara Bahara Hua Hain’(I Hate Love Stories 2010), ‘Theri Ore’(Sing Is King2008), ‘Yeh Ishq Haaye’(Jab We Met 2007), ‘Hont Raseeley’(Welcome 2007), ‘Tere Mast Mast Do Nain’ and ‘Thoo Jo Pal Bar Mein’(Dabang 2010), ‘Shukraan Allah’(Kurban 2009) and ‘Piyu Boley’(Parinita 2005) are all songs which have been rendered by Shreya Ghoshal with her distinct stamp on them. ‘Ami Je Tomar’ (Bhool Bhulaiya 2007) is a justly famous number from her repertoire of songs, of peerless quality with elaborations in Hindustani classical style and lines. When we hear her dance number ‘Soobi Doobi’ from Three Idiots (2009), it is difficult to restrain our legs from stepping up for an enthusiastic jig!

Shreya has shown that it is not merely the film songs but also songs steeped in classical music that she is good at rendering with ease. For example, the late maestro Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan had sung and recorded in 1960 a Hindustani classical piece ‘Bhoru Baye Tori Bat Thakat Piya’ in Raag Gurjari Todi. A.R.Rahman had used this classic piece for his film Delhi 6 released in 2009. Shreya has sung this song with all its embellishments with a stunning maturity along with Ustad’s voice taken from the old recording. It is a scintillating effort that, if he were to listen to it, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan himself would have applauded!

In Tamil, Shreya Ghoshal remains a favourite singer of composers like Ilayaraja, A.R.Rahman, Vidhyasagar, Harris Jayaraj, Yuvan Shankar Raja, G.V.Prakash and other emerging composers. And she sings in her amazing virtuoso fashion for all without discriminating between veterans and newcomers. Her repertoire of songs includes such famous Ilayaraja numbers as ‘Onnavida Indha Ulagathil’ (Virumandi), ‘Elangaathu Veesudhey’ (Pitamagan), ‘Enakku Piditha Paadal’ (Julie Ganapathy), ‘Kaatril Varum Geethamey’(Oru Naal Oru Kanavu), ‘Konjam Konjam’ (Maaya Kannadi) and ‘Gundumalli’ (Solla Marandha Kadhai). She has sung for A.R.Rahman such scintillating gems as ‘Munbe Vaa En Anbe Vaa’ (Sillunnu Oru Kaadhal), ‘Nanna Re Nanna Re’(Guru), ‘Mannippaaya’ (Vinnai Thaandi Varuvaaya), ‘Kaadhal Anukkal’ (Endhiran) and ‘Kalvarey Kalvarey’(Raavanan).

The same Shreya who sweetly renders a Vidhyasagar composition ‘Oru Nila Oru Kulam (Ilainjan), a love song, sings in company of other singers a song like ‘Anndangkaka Kondaikkari’ for Harris Jayaraj. If that is not diversity, Shreya sings ‘Ninaithu Ninaithu Paarthal’ (7G Rainbow Colony) for Yuvan Shankar Raja, renders ‘Urugudhey Marugudhay’ (Veyyil) for G.V.Prakash and ‘Neeyum Naanum’ (Myna) for Imaan. Sure enough, she does a great job of singing new comers N.R.Rahanandan’s ‘Yaedi Kallachhi’ (Thenmaerku Paruvakkatru) and Lakshman Ramalinga’s ‘Ennavo Seidhaai’ (Yaen Ippadi Mayakkinaai). This ‘Ennavo Seidhai’ song is the best melodic Tamil song among the ones I recently heard.

Shreya has said in an interview: “A.R.Rahman and composers like Mano Murthy, today’s frontline Kannada film composer, place before singers a musical framework for the song. They give the singers the freedom to fill the framework with their range of colours. But Ilayaraja is not like that. He is very clear about what he wants. He does not expect any contribution from singers. He is firmly of the opinion that if the singer sings to the true pitch, emotions take their place automatically.”

Shreya, who asserts that Kannada is the one language in India where melody songs achieve most fame today, is the favourite singer for all contemporary composers of Kannada films. No wonder she has sung hundreds of hit numbers there.  In Telugu, so far, there are many super hit songs like ‘Tharimae Varama Thadimae Swarama’ (Yae Maaya Chesaavae 2010) in her repertoire of over two hundred songs. Shreya, with about twenty songs to her credit in Malayalam, has won the Best Singer award of Government of Kerala.

Shreya had once reflected on the contemporary music scene saying that everything had become totally commercial and expressed the heart-felt wish that she were a singer of the golden era that gave importance to a leisurely way of expressing art where the singers and orchestra got together at the same time to lovingly record the song. Though there is cut-throat competition in the film industry, Shreya maintains that there is no competition for her at all. She sees her voice and her rendering style as marks of her identity and has deep faith in the dictum that endless training, not straining, of vocal chords is the only way to grow in music. She sums up that a beautiful voice alone is nature’s gift, but everything else is creative result of our ability to grasp all details and put in the needed hard work.

Shreya, who nowadays insists on singing only one song a day, believes that she will get the songs that she ought to sing and has the self-confidence to assert quite frankly that those who are in a hurry can certainly have their songs rendered by others. Shreya Ghoshal also reveals that when she feels that the track singer has done justice to the song while listening to the track of the song, she recommends to the music director to release the song as it is. Shreya insists that this had happened many times!

For many of her fans Shreya Ghoshal is a world beauty! For countless others, she is a beautiful girl next door. It is difficult to deny that her looks too merchandised as a million dollars when she appears on stages all over the world, in the blaze of lights. At present, she constantly appears on the reality music shows of Hindi television channels and appears on advertisements of Jewellery shops. Many feel that the time is not far, when she may start acting in films. But it is also a fact that none among ardent lovers of her music welcome either her sing and dance shows on television or her glamorous appearances in advertisement films.

After music, cooking is Shreya’s intense love. She not only loves to cook a variety of dishes, she loves to feast on them to her heart’s content. Her favourite is rice with Bengali fish curry and fried fish. When she gets time, she reads books too. She would love to sing for private albums, other than that of cinema, of classical music and other songs. But it is her abiding regret that such opportunities are rare in India and that, if it all such opportunities arise, they will get neither the money nor the respect, due to them.

Shreya Ghoshal, who has won 4 National Awards and countless Filmfare, State and private awards by her present age of 27, is hailing from a family of scientists and learned persons. She is the first woman of her family to have chosen music as the field of her endeavours. Born in a small town in Bengal, brought up in an even smaller town of Rajasthan, she learnt her music there in the traditional style from the age of six. She was identified as a big talent by Kalyanji while singing in a television event in Mumbai, where she had migrated to at the age of thirteen, and was trained by him in the technique of singing film songs. At the age of 16, in 2002, she was introduced as a singer of film songs.

From that day on, she has been singing, without interlude, maintaining at all times highest level of musicality that no other contemporary female singer in India had touched. We can call her as the first true Indian singer because of her amazing ability to sing with ease in all Indian languages.  We can also call her the current Nightingale of India, acknowledging the sky-high standard of her singing. May her life overflow with music and music alone. Let her, forever travel in the dream world of music. Let her forever live in the high clouds of music never descending.