Playback singer Benny Dayal talks about struggle and success

“You will never be a playback singer,” an established music director screamed, shutting the door on the young singer. The young man didn’t say anything. He just went home quietly. He couldn’t sleep for nights. He slipped into depression.

Life over the last few months had been hell. It had been an uphill struggle after college. Benny had been the cultural convenor of Madras Christian College and as long as he was singing and winning inter-college competitions, he was a hero. As long as he was playing with his bands, he was a rock star. But our story begins after those wonder years when Benny Dayal had his first taste of the real world. Every single music director he met had nothing to offer. He would plead to get a chance to sing, at least in the chorus. No breakthrough.

Cut to Amethyst, earlier this week. Benny is running late for this interview, stuck at a recording. He has another appointment later that afternoon. He needs to be in Ethiraj College on invitation. They would make him sing a song or two and he was prepared. Just a week ago, a few hundred boys and girls from NIT Trichy went crazy during his concert. And the incident involving the music director telling him he would never make it was now a distant memory. How did he cope with the struggle, we ask as he sits for the interview. Apparently, he would sit and brood at home for hours. “My father had just had an open- heart surgery,” Benny recalls. “My parents had to shift back to India from the UAE.

I couldn’t ask for money or tell them anything. My brother was just settling down into his job. There were days, I didn’t have money for rent or to eat three times a day. There are certain things I cannot talk about.”

With no money to cut a demo, Benny had little choice but to take his senior’s advice and shelve his dream of becoming a singer. He signed up to work with a BPO. “My offer letter said I should join on September 11, 2006 but my senior Pavan wanted me to join on September 3 because they were short-staffed. So, it came out of the blue, when three days into the job, I got a call from Rahman’s office. They wanted me to sing harmony later that night. I was hoping it was not a prank.”

Incidentally, A.R. Rahman was the only music director he had not approached for a chance because he had heard it was too difficult to even meet him. That late night recording was the first of many. Rahman changed his life and took his voice to millions of homes and his name flashed on playlists around the world.

And, Benny has only Pravin Mani to thank for that. “Pravin Mani is like my Godfather. He’s the one who imparted knowledge about professional singing. Before that, I was singing only in culturals. He taught me a lot of the technical stuff. My first song was for his composition for S5, the band launched by SS Music.”

Early days

Benny had been performing ever since his schooldays in Abu Dhabi. “I joined MCC in 2002 because it was well-known for its culturals.” MCC gave him a lot of confidence — be it literary events, JAM or the performing arts. Benny wouldn’t think twice before signing up for competitions.

After his graduation in MCC, he did a diploma in journalism from the same college because it would keep him connected to the band scene. He continues his association with bands till date because he believes he’s always learning while performing live with other musicians and singers.

The Hit List

Yes, we know he was part of Rahman’s brat pack that sang ‘Pappu Can’t Dance Saala’ and ‘Delhi 6’. But the first songs he ever recorded for Rahman were for “Varalaaru” and “Sakkarakatti”. “It was during Ramzan; it happened around 4 a.m. Rahman wanted something in Arabic and Spanish and called me to sing ‘Chinnamma Chilakamma’.”

“When I started singing regularly, Rahman sir said I should quit my job. Finally, I had to leave the company because someone did an article about people in dual careers. My song from ‘Azhagiya Thamizh Magan’ had become a hit by then. So, it became a policy violation. The same night, I got a call from Rahman sir for a recording and later that night, he said: Shouldn’t you leave early or you’ll be late for work tomorrow. And, I told him: No sir, I quit. He shook my hand and said: Congratulations.”

“I like being single because I am focussed right now. Marriage is not on the cards anytime now,” says the bachelor boy who lives with his brother. His parents live in Kerala and are happy that their son finally made it. Did Benny ever meet the music director who told him he wouldn’t? “Yes, definitely. I even recorded a song for him. I have learned from my parents to not keep grudges. I don’t think he even remembered saying it,” he smiles.

Benny’s Bands On Vibrator Mode

A rock band he started during his MCC days with Akash, Themsu, Zuala, Chuba, Ajung

S5

The pop band launched by Southern Spice Music and Pravin Mani. Not functional anymore.

Hexachords

A light music band consisting of his buddies from MCC that won Saarang 2006 and today does pro-shows in colleges around the country.

Subject to Change

A recent pop band he formed with his rivals from Stella Maris College, Anjana and Anisha.

Rainbow Bridge

Sanjeev Thomas’s band that plans to bring out an original album soon.