True-blue artistes

True-blue artistes

Their melodies have not only helped people fall in love, but also healed
many broken hearts. RAJIV VIJAYAKAR talks to singer-couple Roopkumar & Sunali Rathod about their songs & more.

As musicians, they prefer to be purists. Singer-composer Roopkumar Rathod and his singer-wife Sunali have shunned cheap populism and avoided corruption of their art and craft with single-minded passion. Their latest album, Zikr Tera, again shows that “compromise” is a word that does not exist in their creative lexicon.

“These days, when even television channels, but for an exception or two, are hostile to our kind of music, we decided to face the big challenge of trying to reach somewhere near Hindi film music. Yes, the response on radio has been quite okay and websites too have scope,” smiles Sunali. “Those who have heard our album have loved it, and loved the videos we have made.”

A long partnership

Like most of their last albums spread over more than 15 years, this is a ghazal compilation, and the Rathods have dared to come out with a CD. “It’s a bold move for today,” Roopkumar remarks. “We are also exploring other avenues of revenue like shows, and ironically now, music labels are calling us for albums, whereas if we had gone to them earlier, things would probably have been dishearteningly different.”

Zikr Tera (A Mention of You) was born out of two motivations: a celebration of the Rathods’ 25th wedding anniversary, and a dedication to Jagjit Singh. “We had selected 20 to 25 ghazals,” says Roopkumar. “Many of these songs have already been popular on our shows at weddings, corporate events and even ticketed shows. We wanted to come out with this album in Jagjitji’s lifetime, but sadly we were too occupied. Today, I have selected 16 ghazals, from which the remaining eight will be heard in Zikr Tera part 2 soon.”

These two tall aims ensured that Roopkumar chose weighty verse from an assortment of poets such as Shakeel Azmi, Saani Aslam, Madan Pal and Parveen Kumar Ashk. “I did not select flippant shaayari about the usual sharaab and shabaab, but opted for songs on life. Our ideal was Jagjitji’s Woh kagaz ki kashti, and also romance, and our chemistry had to come in. We also wanted non-addicts of the genre to enjoy themselves.”

What was the change, if any, that Roopkumar designed in his compositions, for Sunali? Sunali says fondly, “Roop made me change my tonal quality and got rid of filmy influence, if any. This is a new era for my singing as he made me sing at a slightly lower pitch.”

Talking of films, Roopkumar keeps himself abreast of the latest in music to know where things are going. “I like the work of a few composers like Amit Trivedi and Mithoon, and admire singers like Mohammed Irfan, Arijit Singh and Palak Muchhal. I liked the songs in Aashiqui 2. But everyone — composer or singer — is sounding the same. There is no yen to create a distinct sound of your own. It’s all aaj ka (today’s) sound.”

The singer misses the involvement and atmosphere of the days when he began singing in films in 1992 under Laxmikant-Pyarelal in Angaar. “The 40 or more musicians, the live recordings where a song was literally cooked and flavoured gradually like some exotic dish, was what made songs endure then,” he recalls. “I seriously miss that intensely creative and interactive atmosphere.”

Changing times

Roopkumar does not understand the current trend of trying out various voices for one song. “That way, the singer has no involvement. He knows he may not be there in the final version. In our times, the composers would make sure singers sang to perfection if found lacking. Now they are simply replaced by someone else. What happened to the conviction and confidence of the composers who often leave the dubbing of the voice to assistants?”

With a wry gesture, Roopkumar calls this, “Baffling for a true artiste, who can get frustrated. There are no poets or lyricists either who want to say their own thing. It’s all about word-fitters to a tune.”

The couple would rather live for good music. “We get our do waqt ki roti, and we know we will leave a legacy of good work. When some artistes are offered a crore to perform on New Year’s Eve, I will not lie — we too are tempted to fall in line,” says Roopkumar with a twisted smile. “But we resist the temptation and are at peace.”

Sunali nods in agreement. “The problem is that every musician’s goal is cinema. Efforts and struggle to excel in their art are replaced by the quest for material things. No one learns music out of love anymore. It is no longer important to know Indian classical music. And of course, the importance of Hindi and Urdu has gone.”

The silver lining is that their daughter Rewa plans to carry on her parents’ tradition. A student of Pt Rajan and Pt Sajan Misra, the youngster is an all-rounder — composer, singer, writer and performer, and continues the melodious tradition of the Rathods.

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