Jingles, stage shows, film songs, pop and now writing books for children... Sudhish Kamath traces the career of the effervescent ‘Pop’ Shalini who began singing at five
There used to be time when children protested every time this girl went up on stage to sing during the cultural fest season. Even her own schoolmates. “It’s not fair,” they would complain. “She shouldn’t be allowed because she is a pro.”
Why? Because she would win. Every single time.What exactly was the success per cent of her wins in competitions?
“100 per cent,” blushes ‘Pop’ Shalini, one of the youngest stars of Tamil Pop, who today has sung over 600 songs and an equal number of jingles. She’s done concerts around the world, a TV series with K. Balachander (remember Oonjal?) and is often called to judge reality shows on TV. As Shalini Singh prepares to launch a series of books for kids, she sits down for an interview.
“I started singing when I was three years old. My mother thought I had a good voice,” she begins. “I ended up singing in every school programme. I used to always get solos to sing and Doordarshan had taken a video of that.”
This appeared in the ‘Little Stars’ segment of Wonder Balloon, the popular programme for kids in the Eighties. She distinctly remembers the ten-minute performance. “It was a cowboy song and the other one was about a ‘brave’ mouse who was brave except for this, except for that...”
Shalini got two calls after that TV appearance. “They were both quite significant. One was from Thayanban who gave me my first jingle to sing when I was five. And the other was from theatre directors Brian and Christerine Laul who made me work in musicals.”
Even as a kid, she performed on stage extensively, doing a lot of Western classical. Soon, she realised that she had to learn Indian music as well. She took Carnatic music lessons for two years and trained in Hindustani for eight years. And piano lessons too. “I finished my eighth grade exam in piano recently. In fact, I’m still learning,” she smiles.
How did she manage to find time to study as a superstar kid?
“We used to stay in Otteri and it was a long bus ride to school in T. Nagar. So I would study on the bus. Evenings would go for rehearsals, so I did my homework when I was not needed.”
She used to record backing vocals until one day, she saw a competition on TV that called for young singers to sing karaoke versions of R.D. Burman songs. Shalini missed the deadline and was in tears when she finally found out. “But the sound engineer, Balaji was quite impressed. He didn’t even take money for the recording. He called the next day saying people at Magnasound wanted to see me. I used to love Penny Vaz who was a Magnasound artiste and I had always dreamt of getting a deal with Magnasound one day... So, I was shocked. The same people who were recording with Remo and Penny Vaz were calling me.”
Then came the offers to sing in films. “I had sung demo tapes for Ganesh Kumar. So when he did a movie, he gave me a song. I was 14 when I sang ‘Deewana Deewana’ from Thulli Thiranda Kaalam, K. Balachander sir’s movie. That was the first song I recorded for. I also sang ‘Ailasa Ailasa’ for Karthik Raja’s Naam Iruvar, Namakku Iruvar with Udit Narayan. And that came out first.”
She went on to sing for Yuvan Shankar Raja and Bharadwaj. But it was ‘Vai Raja Vai’ from Panchathanthiram that turned out to be a big break for her and got her noticed. As she got more offers to sing and do live shows, she started travelling around the world. “I was doing my B.A. in English at WCC. I could go only for a year and then continued by correspondence. My mom wouldn’t let me quit studies. Not only did she make sure I did my Masters (in English Literature), she also wants me to do an M.Phil,” she laughs.
Thanks to the film offers, pop took a backseat. K. Balachander offered her Oonjal, an offer she couldn’t refuse when he told her it was about music. “It turned out to be a big hit. People would ask me what’s going to happen next week. It was not my thing initially, I was really shy. But by the end of 52 episodes, I was doing two-three page dialogues.”
Her tryst with TV continues as she’s often called to judge reality shows and her heart breaks every time she has to send a kid home. “It’s terrible. You have to be sensitive and find a sugar-coated way of saying ‘go home’. For kids, everything is big... happiness or sorrow. So you need to find a nice way of saying ‘You’re still young, come back next year’.”
Shalini always loved spending time with kids. She has one of her own now who ensures that she doesn’t go to bed without reading stories to him.
“I’m married to a man who supports my career and we have a wonderful son. Luckily, my career doesn’t take a nine-to-five routine. I see to it that I am there for my son. I tell him stories... sometimes make them up.”
And now she is all set to turn writer. “There are very few good books for children. So I’ve been working on a totally different concept for the last three years. I will be announcing the details shortly,” she says.
Magnasound was just launching Tamil Pop back then. “I went in to the meeting with all my song books ready to sing but Madhav Das saw me and signed me up immediately. ‘I don’t want to hear you. I’ve heard you.’
‘But, I don’t know Tamil,’ I said. ‘That’s ok, you’ll learn,’ he said.
Her solo album Shalini had ten songs including two remixes. And she was only 13 years old.