An eye on the prize
He is known for pioneering musical talent hunts and game shows on Indian television. Be it Antakshari, Sa Re Ga Ma, Voice of India or Chhote Ustaad, he had his signature all over them. Today, with Sur Kshetra, he seems to have hit another jackpot.
As you must have guessed, we are talking about Gajendra Singh, the uncrowned king of musical talent shows in India.
Singh was born and brought up in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, in a middle class family. “I had a very simple and normal childhood in my hometown. But I must admit that I was always inclined to something in the creative field. My uncle, who was a chief editor in the Films Division, played a big role in shaping my career. I remember I used to sit with him during my summer holidays and learn the basic steps of editing,” says Gajendra Singh, and adds, “But you know, looking back at the way I learnt the tricks of the trade, I feel everyone should do a proper course on anything they want to do professionally.” He goes on to talk about editing while proving his point, “I believe editing is the root cause of everything. If your editing is strong, then you can slowly branch out to other options. Thus, I did a course on film editing for three years.”
Armed with a professional degree, Singh then moved to Mumbai to make a career in the entertainment industry. He became an assistant director for films like Commando and Tarzan. But that was not something he was feeling satisfied with and thus quit a stable job in Mumbai to be on his own. “My father was so unhappy that he threw me out of the house! That was the most struggling period in my career. But that is when I learnt a lot too. After more than a year’s struggle I got my break — an invitation to join Zee TV as their technical director,” Singh remembers. That was the turning point for him. “I was supposed to design the technical premises for the channel. There, I met the person with whom I have had my longest working association — Subhash Chandra Goel.”
Slowly, Singh’s talent started getting noticed and one day Goel called and asked him about his biggest dream. “I already had a plan in my mind on the Antakshari format. This is probably the oldest and most played game in India.” The rest was history — it got fabulous responses from all across the world, from USA to Canada to Dubai.
“Looking back, I feel lucky to have got associated with this show. It went on for more than 14 years and has given me some of the fondest and most emotional memories. Right from casting to taking on Annu Kapoor as a host to the formatting of the show, everything was a challenge as I needed to convince the team at the channel too.”
The next big break for Singh came in the form of Sa Re Ga Ma. “It is still treated as the father of all musical shows in India and the first ever formatted reality show. The show also witnessed judges like Girija Devi, Anil Biswas, Naushad, O P Nayyar, Pandit Yashraj, Pandit Ravi Shankar and Parveen Sultana and other stalwarts on one stage. I still get goosebumps when I look back and feel blessed to have worked with all of them.”
Sa Re Ga Ma, as we all know, went on to give many talented singers to the industry — Shreya Ghoshal, Kunal Ganjawala, Sanjeeevani, Swapnil Bandodkar, Bela Shinde and Mohammad Wakil to name a few. What really made the show such a great place for identifying talent was the involvement of judges. It was their comments that mattered and there was no public voting.
Singh’s latest offering, Sur Kshetra, is a controversial one. The show has judges like Asha Bhonsle, Runa Laina and Abeeda Parveen along with the two captains representing India and Pakistan — Himesh Reshammiya and Atif Aslam. “My only idea was to gather the best talents from both countries on one platform with two different bands. If you look at the participants, you will be surprised to know how talented they are. Not to forget the musical bands that each country has in the show."
So, what next for the man who has given India so many talented singers? “I want to come up with my own musical channel with its distribution rights and produce many musical films. I will never stay away from music,” he says.