With a soul & heart

vocalist

With a soul & heart

Two things about singer Vijay Prakash strike me: his punctuality (he keeps me informed if and when he’ll be free for the interview) and attentiveness (he puts his phones away at the beginning of our conversation). When we settle down for a chat, he gives the conversation his all; much like he gives his all while singing.

He’s recently added another award to his growing collection: the Karnataka State Award for Best Singer, and is in town to shoot for the popular music reality show in Kannada: Sa Re Ga Ma Pa. Born to Carnatic musicians, Vijay careened towards music pretty naturally, and effortlessly. He tells me that even before he realised, music was embedded into his system in a very organic manner. But it was his stick-wielding grandfather, a Harikatha exponent, who first instilled in him the seven basic notes of swara: Sa-re-ga-ma-pa-dha-ni & Sa-ni-dha-pa-ma-ga-ri. “When he wasn’t the fun-loving grandpa, he used to be a strict music teacher. He was my first music guru,” he says. And when he wasn’t learning classical music, Vijay could be found enjoying filmy tunes on the radio. And when television happened, Chitrahaar served as his window to Hindi film music.

The fire within
As we delve deeper into his story, Vijay talks with the air of a philosopher, giving due credit to the ‘external energy’ that’s running his life for him. It’s this energy that he thinks eventually led him to Mumbai, to Suresh Wadkar. “I still don’t know why I left only a note at home and set off to Mumbai. But I do know that the underlying current for all the actions after walking out of the house involved a strong desire to make something of myself in the world of music,” says Vijay.

But mere desires aren’t enough for survival. And Vijay knew this too, which is when he started doing ad voice-overs. His rich baritone was noticed by everyone. What followed was a stint in the Sa Re Ga Ma competition and loads of ad jingle assignments. Bollywood seemed like the next logical step and Vijay was soon running between different studios, singing all kinds of songs. His initial projects began with composers Salim-Sulaiman, Ismail Darbar and Illaiyaraaja.

Global recognition came knocking on his doors when he was chosen as one of the lead vocals on the popular song ‘Jai Ho’. It was this A R Rahman composition that also took him all the way to the Grammys, where he shared the stage with many bigwigs from the global music industry. “Just like every other musician, A R Rahman was a dream for me too. The fact that he chose my voice for ‘Pal Pal Hai Bhaari’ in Swades was a huge thing for me. But the actual starting point for me in Bollywood would be ‘Manmohini’ from Yuvvraaj. After that, I got a series of songs in the Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Marathi film industries,” recollects Vijay.

This ever-smiling singer’s journey into the Kannada music industry began with a bang with ‘Kavithe’ from Gaalipata. And for the next eight years, Vijay sang for almost every composer, from C V Aswath, Hamsalekha and V Harikrishna to Raghu Dixit and Arjun Janya. Vijay calls his home state the best in terms of the audience and recognition. “The love that I get here is unparalleled. There’s a saying in Kannada: ‘Late aagi bandru, aadre latest aagi bandru’, which sums up my journey here,” Vijay says.

Even after almost 20 years of crooning and over a hundred songs to his credit, this Mysore-born singer feels his journey in the world of music has just begun. Sure, the world knows him by his smiling demeanour and soulful voice. But how does Vijay himself describe his musical style? “My music is a reflection of my character. It is fluid and approachable. It may not be perfect in terms of theoretical terms, but it is human. When I sing, I sing for the person in front of me. I cater to the audience, always,” he says confidently.

Through the course of our conversation, he consciously makes an effort to bring his Mysore upbringing to the fore. He attributes everything in his life — from his global perspective to the ease of using multiple languages — to his South Indian roots. “I believe in accepting everything that comes my way,” he states.

Formula for success
Moving ahead, I ask Vijay if there’s a certain formula to playback singing. “If you had asked me this question a couple of years ago, I would have said yes. But not anymore. Today, even if you are a rapper, you can be a playback singer. The whole definition of playback singing has changed, which is a good thing. It has given many aspiring singers hope,” he says. And, if you are one of those aspiring singers, Vijay has some advice for you: “If you have your own style, the chances of making it big are brighter. And, be a person with less baggage; be open to ideas; in general, be good.”

Vijay is currently basking in the success of his latest song: the title track of Raajakumara. “My platter is full and I’m enjoying it,” he says. A popular judge on Sa Re Ga Ma Pa music competition (Kannada), Vijay Prakash, or ‘VP sir’, thoroughly enjoys the role of a teacher, and even hopes to open a music school someday. “Learning and teaching music happen unintentionally. That’s the beauty of an artiste. We constantly keep absorbing and releasing our knowledge into the world.” And he gives me an example. He tells me that even as he’s talking to me, he’s listening to the music being played in the lobby we are sitting. “Pa ra pa du re ru ra du ra...,” he trails off.

As we near the end of our conversation, Vijay tells me he’s happy that he has something substantial to show for having run away from home. “My entire body of work has been a manifestation of my dreams, songs and experiences. I have no regrets,” he says.

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