A huge smile is what strikes you first when you meet her. A hearty and infectious laugh presides the conversation and her voice, which has won her recognition, fame and glory, are enough to leave you mesmerised. With an enthusiastic smile we sat down for a conversation backstage and it’s safe to say I didn’t ruin it. Here is a little glimpse of the action backstage:
Tell us about your trysts with Carnatic and Western music.
Not very into Carnatic. But I have learnt Carnatic music. So I wouldn’t say I am a Carnatic singer because my influence has always been western from when a young age. I have listened to only English music right from the time I was three years old. I grew up listening to Western music so that’s imbibed in me. Even if I sing a Carnatic song, I don’t think I can do justice to it because the influence of Western music will always be there inside me.
Were you trained in Western music as well?
Yes. I also did train in Western music. I learnt Carnatic music for about eight years and then I learnt Western music for another eight years.
Is it safe to say you prefer western over Carnatic music?
How do you manage to not let the influence of western music hamper a Carnatic song?
I try my best but still there are people who say they can hear the influence of western music in my songs. Krishh, for instance, makes fun of my way of singing western or any other song as everything has this western influence. (laughs)
Do you have any baggage having come from a prestigious and well renowned film family?
Not really. Firstly, I don’t take it to my head. Even if people are expecting something of me, I don’t really worry about delivering exactly what they expect because people are going to have expectations whether you’re from a famous family or not. I sing from my heart and that’s all I do.
Tell us about your grandfather
I have not really seen my grandfather. He passed away before I was born. I agree that is a bad thing because I hear so much about him from so many people. I have always wanted to meet him, talk to him and get to know him as he was such a great person, not just as an actor but also as a philanthropist. He gave and gave and gave and gave and he died. This trait makes me feel special as I love giving to people. I think it’s from him that I got the trait and I feel that it’s a very beautiful thing to give. And it’s his blood that’s in me. I can never reach his calibre but I am probably only one percent of him. I have always wanted to see this person who lived a life like that. He inspired me to be selfless and that’s the only thing that made me look up to him a lot. There is nothing more important in this world than that right? You have, you give. At the end of the day, everybody’s happy.
You started working with music maestro Illaiyaraja sir. Tell us about him and the rapport you shared with him.
I was called to Illaiyaraja sir’s studio thinking that I was a terrible singer. I had hits in Telugu at that time and the producers referred my name to him saying that she would do a good job. It was for a kuthu song, a proper fast folk number and he thought I was a folk singer. That was why they had called me. When I met him I was extremely nervous. Obviously, anyone would be. When he came into the room, everyone had gone quiet and there’s pin-drop silence. He first spoke with me in Telugu. I don’t know even a teeny bit of Telugu. He said something which I didn’t understand at all. Then I said “Sir na tamizhu” (Sir, I’m Tamil). We kind of related at one level too. It was lovely working with him. It was a very big opportunity for me and one thing that I am thankful for is this particular song in this Telugu movie which was recorded in a single stretch which reminded me of the golden days. I don’t think any singer would have gotten this golden chance. All the musicians were playing along with me while I sung. And we finished it in three takes which was about fifteen minutes in total. It was challenging and exciting!
Your take on independent music?
I have always wanted to do independent music but I don’t think I am a great musician. I don’t know to play any musical instrument. The base of what is needed to compose a tune is the knowledge of a musical instrument. A singer can think in her head but a person who knows an instrument will think of the orchestration and every minute detail. I probable need to concentrate on that first before I get into composing. And of course this is from my end but there are people who have asked me to be a part of their albums and I have sung it for them.
So the obvious question, your favourite music director?
Raja sir. Any day. And Yuvan. I love Yuvan’s music because I feel he’s very versatile. He does folk, western, melodies and some very beautiful melodies. I don’t know any music director except for the legends such as Rahman sir and Raja sir who have achieved that. Everyone has their own style and they stick to it. But Yuvan has different styles and he covers all sorts of music.
Your songs range from an extremely slow, sad song to fast paced numbers. How do you manage to be versatile with the genres and the feelings being expressed?
It’s a challenge to do anything that comes to you and is asked of you. I think any singer should be able to do any genre because that’s what is expected of you. There’s a lot of talent out there and you can’t restrict yourself to one genre. I may prefer western but if I stick to western I won’t be singing as many songs. Maybe one song a year and that’s it. There are so many other singers in the same genre too. So one has to learn to sing other genres as well- it’s all a part of the experience.
You have sung in different languages such as Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada. One quick question, what languages do you know?
Just Tamil and English. (laughs)
How do you manage to juggle between the different languages without stumbling and getting confused?
Although I don’t know the languages I transliterate it to English and then sing. I write down the words as to how it has to be pronounced. I use French accents and words to help me understand how each word has to be pronounced.
What do you think about the current trend of remixing old songs?
It’s not a bad thing unless they are really badly done. In that case there might be a problem. Otherwise if they have done a good job and just added on instruments to make it sound better then why not?
Will you be doubling in as a lyricist anytime soon?
The little bits they ask us to rap are mostly written by us. We get credit for that and not because we really write it. There were situations where the word doesn’t really fit into the melody then we may change it. That I think is the maximum of a lyricist I can be. (laughs)
According to you what is your best song till date?
I’d say Sattru Munbu. Everyone who listens to it say that it’s a very difficult song to sing and that not many people can perform it on stage. It wasn’t that hard. I was very surprised when people said that. The recording was quite easy for me. I also like it the best because it got me so many awards. That brought me a little bit of fame.
Tell us about a few of your upcoming projects
I have sung about four sings for Raja sir and I have Atharva’s Semmaya Bodhayagude with Yuvan. I also sung for Harris sir. So there are a lot of songs which are up for release.