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Updated: November 15, 2012 19:20 IST

Singing away to glory

  • Shilpa Nair Anand
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ON A SONG Shakthisree Gopalan.
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ON A SONG Shakthisree Gopalan.

Shakthisree Gopalan has sung the title song for Jab Tak Hai Jaan. She talks about her music and her Kochi connection

There is a new Youtube musical sensation who has also, by the way, sung the title song for Jab Tak Hai Jaan. Meet Shakthisree Gopalan. In a video that has gone viral, there is singer Shakthisree Gopalan singing ‘Nenjukulle…’ with A. R. Rahman, the single is from Mani Ratnam’s next, Kadal. The MTV Unplugged show had the young singer sharing the stage with Rahman and rendering the haunting song of a woman passionately in love. Giving her company was the maestro himself.

“Being part of MTV Unplugged was beyond anything I imagined. I would have paid to be part of the studio audience. I still don’t believe that I was part of the show. It gives a whole new meaning to one, as a singer,” she says, with residual excitement still lingering in her voice. The other thing she is excited about is her Bollywood debut, of course. And to think all this might not have happened.

Way back in 2008 A. R. Rahman happened to hear her sing, one of her own compositions, to a coffee machine at a recording studio in Chennai. Impressed by what he heard, Rahman seems to have asked someone on his team to get her phone number. “I was so excited that I gave them my number wrong!” she says over the phone from Chennai. That should have been the end of it but fortunately Dame Luck had other plans.

A few days later a friend called her and told her to get to Rahman’s studio immediately. She went, sang a couple of lines and joined Rahman as a backing vocalist. Her first song for Rahman, as backing vocalist, was ‘Lattoo…’ (Ghajini, 2008). She has also sung for films such as Jhoota hi Sahi, Endhiran, Naan ( the extremely popular Makkayala…) besides many others.

By the way, there is a Kerala connection to the Chennai-based Shakti. She was born and brought up in Kochi and studied at Rajagiri Public School, Kalamassery. Her banker parents were working in Kochi at the time. Tell her that we are appropriating her, she laughs, “In school I was the butt of all Tamil jokes and in college I was the butt of all Mallu jokes.” While in school she learnt Carnatic music for 13 years. In class XI she auditioned for the SS Music Hunt but didn’t qualify because she was not yet 18.

After her schooling she moved to Chennai to join the Anna University’s School of Planning and Architecture. She continues to be an architect and is passionate about it but if she had to choose between the two, without doubt it would be music, she says. It’s in Chennai, she says, she ‘broke out of my shell’ thanks to her friends. “We were a gang of five girls. What a riot! They were very supportive. They would lie to me about classes being cancelled so that I could participate in events such as ‘Saarang’ without a guilty conscience. I was a Miss Goody Two Shoes, I couldn’t think of bunking classes.”

Musically she is not confined to film music. She writes and composes her own songs, she is part of a couple of bands – Off the Record (which is temporarily not performing) and Pyjama Conspiracy (which is very much on).

Coming back to her Jab Tak Hai Jaan experience she says, “I could never have dreamt of being part of a Yash Raj Films (YRF) production. It is like being part of a legacy. Imagine singing a duet with Javed Ali?”

So how did a backing vocalist go solo? Serendipity again. She was at Rahman’s studio for some official work when he asked her if she wanted to sing. She overcame her disbelief (instantly) and handed him her demo CD, “which I always carry with me. He heard my CD and before I knew it I was recording Nenjukulle. I thought it was a scratch vocal but he kept it and here I am,” she says.

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