Najim Arshad has gone far beyond his title as winner of a reality show. He says, that after topping the charts in recent times, music directors now believe his voice has some value

Najim Arshad is not the reality show winner he was a few years back. There is something in him that freshly-minted show winners don’t have. Forget charts and graphs, Najim has zeroed in on a place in the Malayalam film music industry.

Najim rocketed to the top of the music charts in 2012. His songs in Diamond Necklace, Trivandrum Lodge, Ayalum Njanum Thammil and Da Thadiya turned hits. He started this year with a number of hits such as ‘Aalolam’… (Paathiramanal), ‘Ilam veyil’… (Red Wine), and ‘Manathudichathu’ (Immanuel). Now ‘Kootti Muttiya’ with Sujatha Mohan, from the Lal Jose-Vidyasagar team, Pullipulikalum Aattinkuttiyum, has gone viral.

Talent shows offer successful competitors an open door to the music industry. There is an argument that this is not the right way to kick-start a career. One reason for this is that such winners are thrust into the limelight with very little warning or preparation, which can be a surreal change even for the most grounded. Not all winners remain winners for long, but Najim has been an exception. He has been sensible enough to realise that just winning isn't enough, and that there is need for the magical ingredient which makes a true star.

Everything was not handed on a platter to Najim. For nearly five years after he won Asianet’s ‘Idea Star Singer — Season Two’ he sweated it out to be noticed. “I was fortunate to get offers for films during that time. It’s only that I had to wait for a real hit. But then, all these opportunities were lessons on how to and how not to sing, to understand how the industry works. Then there were the ‘live’ programmes that kept me going,” says Najim, who now stays in Kochi, in the apartment he won at the competition.

The turning point was the song ‘Thottu thottu…’ from the Lal Jose film Diamond Necklace, which had music by Vidyasagar. “That was the hit I was looking for. The floodgates opened after that.”

After a quiet debut in the film Mission 90 Days (2007), before he won the reality show, Najim has sung in close to 30 films and has over 20 more in the pipeline. At a time when film music is at a premium this young singer has really found his feet. “I have been fortunate to sing for almost all the top music directors. And what is more important is that they believe that my voice has some value.”

Right from the time he was competing in reality shows, Najim had his priorities right. “For me the prizes were not as important as the mileage it gave me. I was looking to gain that brief moment of fame that would help me find a place in the industry. That was the advantage of winning. It also had its minuses. For example, music directors feel that such competitors are only good to replicate songs. Some competitors are so strong-headed that music directors have had problems with them, and hence, they do not want to touch any show contestant even with a barge pole.”

Autonomy of the artiste

Most winners of such shows face a lack of autonomy in developing, especially in the beginning of a career. They find the reins are often tightened and the artiste is not free to develop at his or her own free will. “Though most of my songs have been the typical romantic ditties, which music directors must have felt my voice is best suited for, I have had chances to sing other kinds of songs too. I’m still a beginner so I don’t think anyone will give me absolute autonomy. But no one has tried to interfere with my style or mode of singing. Music directors have advised me to cut short my live programmes, and not to strain myself by singing in different voices. They have asked me to modulate my voice for certain songs and given me a lot of encouragement.”

Najim is level-headed enough not to bank solely on a singing career. A post-graduate in music from Sree Swati Tirunal College of Music, Najim has appeared for the National Eligibility Test (NET). “My parents are adamant that I pursue an alternative career. I’m looking out for a teaching job but I will keep singing.”

Among the many songs to be released soon Najim is ecstatic about one in the film Dial 1091. “Written by Engandiyoor Chandrasekharan and set to music by Shyam Dharman there is this song, which I consider will be my best so far. It is like a ghazal — very challenging — and gave me complete satisfaction. I’m looking forward to this one.”

Also awaiting release are Najim’s first Hindi songs. “I have sung two songs in the Hindi film Kaafiron Ki Namaaz, which hopefully will be released in September this year. I happened to visit the recording studio in Mumbai where my sound engineer friend Vijay Thomas worked. Recording was on for this film. I was introduced to the music director Advait Namlekar. He asked me to sing. He immediately told me to sing two of the songs set for the film, which I did. Impressed, he called the director and told him that he was using a new voice in the film. That’s how my Hindi debut happened. I have also recorded a Marathi song for the same composer.”

Life has been on the fast track for Najim. But he has not been carried away. He remains a picture of stability, in control of his career and what he would like his future to be.