Ever since Naresh Iyer made his debut with four songs in Rang De Basanti, his scrip soared. The playback singer recaps his musical journey to Sudhish Kamath
Young. Fun. Energetic. Modern. Stylish. These are the vibes Naresh Iyer sends out. Exactly what we want to capture during our photoshoot early in the morning at the Marina. He volunteers to jump high if we can freeze him against the sky. And in the next half hour, Naresh Iyer gets an exhaustive morning workout as our photographer tries various options. Understandably, he is hungry by the end of it all and we catch up for a chat over breakfast at Saravana Bhavan.
Born and brought up in Mumbai, Naresh had visited Chennai only a couple of times to visit his maami in Perambur and athai in Anna Nagar... until that fateful meeting with A.R. Rahman during a reality show brought him to Chennai.
It was in 2005 when Rahman, one of the judges of Channel V’s reality show, had to break distressing news to him. “I have good news and bad, which do you want first?” Rahman asked him. The shy singer left it to his idol to decide.
“The good news is that you’ll be recording with me next week. And the bad news is that we cannot select everyone, so you are out of the competition,” Rahman told him.
What would he have become if he hadn’t participated in the reality show, we ask. “I give credit to my mother and sister who pushed me into this competition. I was going to learn music first and wanted to do playback singing a few years later and was doing chartered accountancy. So this happened unexpectedly,” says Naresh.
Did he expect Rahman to keep his word? “Many a time, it happens that people promise things but the probability of them sticking to it is very feeble. When he announced that, I had mixed feelings. Was he saying that just to console me? Or was he really going to call?”
“I have to emphasise that he was the one of the very first celebrities I came across in the music scene and he turned out to be the most genuine also. Within three or four days I got a call from his engineer Aditya Modi. I’m really indebted to him. I owe my career to him, his kindness and generosity. He was willing to give me a try. He is a pioneer in spotting new talent.”
Did he expect to make a debut with four songs in Rang De Basanti? “It was a pleasant shock for me. I was not expecting anything. I was just in awe of him. I guess when you don’t know what the singer has to offer, you try everything. But these songs got approved. I was grateful to Rakyesh Omprakash Mehra and Prasoon Joshi for they were willing to try me for four songs.”
What if you had won the reality show? “I think the best happened.”
By 2006, he decided to shift base to Chennai. With the world tour with Rahman and offers from music directors coming in, he realised that more work happened out of Chennai than Mumbai. “A lot of regional work happens here... Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Tamil whereas in Mumbai its only Hindi.”
Over the last six years, he has gone on to record 150 songs with everyone from Harris Jeyaraj, G.V. Prakash, Yuvan Shankar Raja, Joshua Sridhar, Deva, Srikanth Deva... “I got the privilege of working with Ilaiyaraaja sir recently for Dhoni.” He has sung for Pritam and Amit Trivedi in Mumbai.
“I have sung a good variety of songs. Each song teaches you something. I have always wanted to learn and hope to continue to learn.”
He continues to train under Padma Shandilyan for Carnatic vocals. In Mumbai, he used to learn Carnatic under Sushila Mani and Hindustani under Chintamani Gore.
“Expression or bhava is the most important thing for a singer and I owe whatever I know about expression to my gurus. I used to practise for two to three hours. It helps you to diversify and makes you more versatile.”
Naresh makes it a point to strike a balance between stage shows and recordings. He finds recordings more challenging. “You don’t know what kind of song is going to be given to you. During live shows you know exactly what you have to sing. It’s an experience when you connect with the audience.”
At 32, he thinks it’s time for marriage. “No, I don’t have a girlfriend. But you can say I’m on the lookout for someone.” “Attention is different from living a life together. Whenever I perform, the audience elates me. I would request them to love me all the way,” he laughs.
Top five crowd favourites
Roobaroo (Rang De Basanti)
Paatshala (Rang De Basanti)
Pappu can’t dance saala (Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na)
Munbe Vaa (Sillunu Oru Kaadhal)
Mundinam paarthene (Vaaranam Ayiram)
Top five personal favourites
Tu bin bataye (Rang De Basanti)
Kaadhal konjam (Pachakili Muthucharam)
Yethi Yethi (Vaaranam Aayiram)
Naan sonnadhu mazhai vandhucha (Mayakkam Enna)
Venaam machaan (Oru Kal Oru Kanadi)
Five lesser-known favourites
Sirikiren (Bale Pandiya)
Mazhaivarum Arukuri (Veppam)
Happy Days (Happy Days)