On a high note

in conversation

On a high note

Vijay Prakash, ace playback singer, music composer and accomplished voice-over artiste, hails from Mysuru. He has a rich, deep and versatile voice — lifting it to near-nasal highs, moving fluidly to cheery and lilting tunes, and dipping to the lower baritones. This has helped him immensely as a playback singer; he can modify and slightly alter the pitch and tone of his voice to suit the actor and the character being portrayed on film.

Vijay, the tall and handsome playback singer who strikingly resembles his Bollywood counterpart Shaan, is friendly and relaxed when we sit down for an informal chat. He smiles often through the interview and his eyes twinkle with enthusiasm when we start talking about his passion — music. Vijay has been in the music industry for close to two decades and has reason to smile; he is a sought-after name in the world of playback singing. He has sung thousands of ad jingles in various languages and has belted out several hit songs for Tamil, Hindi, Kannada and Telugu films including “Kadhal Anukkal” from the Rajinikanth-starrer movie Endhiran, “Sooni” from the Amitabh Bachchan-starrer Cheeni Kum, “Seereli Hudugeena” from the Sudeep-starrer Kannada movie Ranna, “Beera” from the movie Raavan, to name a few.

His first big break was with A R Rahman’s superhit track “Jai Ho” from the Oscar-award winning film Slumdog Millionaire, where he was one of the lead singers. This chartbuster literally opened up the sluice gates and opportunities started pouring in. He admires and respects the maestros Rahman and Ilayaraja and is forever grateful to them for getting the best out of him. In fact, when asked if he had the proverbial butterflies in his stomach while he sung for them, Vijay says, “Working with the legends was sheer joy. They recognised my capabilities and helped bring forth my talent. They gave me the freedom to express myself freely.” 

Musical roots

Vijay grew up in Mysuru in a musically-inclined family. His parents were Carnatic singers and his grandfather was a harikatha exponent. Thus music was always a part of his childhood. Vijay started his formal lessons as a six-year old and went on to perform in temples and kutcheris. He attributes his ability to perform different genres of music to his strong classical training. Today he is able to effortlessly dabble in different forms — hip-hop, rock, soft melody or jazz. In his own words, “Carnatic music is like a launching pad — I can bounce off it to a ghazal, a folk song, pop number and even a heavy metal track.” Above all, this training has also helped him understand the nuances of music.

While we were chatting, there was jazz music being played in the background. Vijay spontaneously pointed out to the notes being played in the strain and sang along “Sa Sa Sa ..Sa.sa.sa.” He is able to view any music through a pair of Carnatic lens, break it up into slices, and decode them into the basic notes. That is sheer genius!

The big switch

At the age of 20, while still a student of engineering, Vijay decided to discontinue studies and pursue music as his vocation. He realised he was more passionate about music and wanted to chalk out a career in the field. He then left for Mumbai, with stars in his eyes and hope in his heart while holding on to a sensational voice.

There, he became a student of the well-established playback singer, Suresh Wadkar. Vijay gets emotional speaking about the influence that Sureshji had on his life. “What I am today is all thanks to Sureshji. I was a raw talent when I approached him. He understood my strong points, worked on my weaknesses and nurtured my classical learning to apply it to commercial singing. He trained me not only in music, but in my development as a person too.”

Vijay spent the first few years of his career singing innumerable ad jingles — like the ones for Pepsi (“Yeh dil maange more”), McDonalds (“McDonalds mein hain kuch baat”). His love and flair for languages helped him tremendously while singing for ad jingles in different languages. He says, “Kannada is my mother tongue, I picked up good Tamil as my mother is from Trichy, and have several cousins from Chennai and Salem; and I can speak fluently in Telugu, thanks to my wife.”

Vijay’s career has grown slowly but steadily over the years. He has come a long way — from being a participant in the TVS SaReGaMaPa show, which was then hosted by Sonu Nigam to now being a judge in the same show. Success has definitely not gone to his head though. The ace singer knows he has worked hard to be where he is today and is happy that he could pursue his dreams. He has an inspiring view on life — “It is like a journey; there will definitely be ups and downs, rough patches... we will have to take them all in our stride, remain calm, and continue our work passionately.”

He recently performed in the 53rd edition of the Bengaluru Ganesh Utsava in Bengaluru.

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