Gurdas Maan is a man of simple taste and rich music

As one approaches Gurdas Maan, the National Award winning singer is trying to bypass queries from young journalists from the electronic media as to why he doesn't sing in Hindi or Hindi films. “Then who will sing in Punjabi?” he asks as we settle for a bite in Le Meridien. Maan, who will soon be performing at The Royal Albert Hall in London, remarks, “I don't understand why excellence in languages other than Hindi is not considered good enough. Perhaps the national media doesn't have the right questions to ask about my area of speciality.”

He explains, “I always feel that my voice doesn't suit playback singing and I don't like to sing item songs. It is not that I don't get offers but the last time I accepted it was when Yash Chopra said that Amitabh Bachchan wanted me to sing for him in Veer Zaara. I insisted that Sudesh Bhosle would be a better option because Bhosle's voice suits him but when Mr. Bachchan himself asked, I could not refuse,” says Maan, whose Waris Shah - Ishq da Waris went on to win four National Awards, a rare feat for a Punjabi film. “Juhi Chawla (who played the female lead) was very apprehensive when she came on the sets but we (Maan's wife Manjeet looks after the production) ensured the technical aspect is at par with Bollywood films. She was surprised by the timely payments made to the junior-most of assistants on the sets.”

A man of simple tastes, Maan asks for yellow dal and rice with kadhai paneer to add richness. What does he do to retain the richness of his voice? “Every concert of mine goes beyond the scheduled close. So I make sure my vocal chords remain in order. For this I regularly take lemon tea and honey. Once in England, I had a sore throat right before the concert and we were thinking about postponing the event but it didn't seem practically viable. Suddenly a Pakistani fan called Mr. Khan came and offered me a contraption. I got suspicious but he said, ‘Don't question, just go ahead.' And after drinking it I gave a stupendous performance. When I returned to the green room I came to know it was gin!”

Somebody who wanted to be a sportsperson, Maan says it was destiny that turned him towards music. “I am not a trained singer. I used to do theatre with Punjab Kala Manch, where Raj Babbar was my contemporary. He was known for memorising pages of dialogues within minutes. Once I played the role of a 90-year-old Guru Teg Bahadur. So acting was never alien to me. It is just that those plays I used to concentrate on composing and singing songs but my real focus was on sports. I was a national-level athlete, a black belt in judo and represented Punjab in gymnastics. I did my post graduation in Physical Education from National Institute of Sports, Patiala. I wanted to be a coach but unfortunately could not make it because of certain circumstances. In the meantime my song ‘Dil Da Mamla Hai', which I composed for a play, was noticed by a Doordarshan producer and, as you know, it became a rage.” Still no concert of Maan is complete without ‘Dil Da Mamla Hai' and ‘Apna Punjab Hove', which has almost become an anthem of Punjab.

Stint in sports

Maan says during his stint with sports education he not only understood the advantages of a balanced diet but also dabbled with the art of making food. “In camps I was entrusted with the task of making chapattis. I believe I can still get the shape right,” says Mann as he breaks the oval tandoori roti and dips it into thick gravy.

Maan, whose new album Jogiya has just hit the stands, says once on stage he is a man possessed. “There is nothing predictable about my shows. Sometimes, I even get ideas during the show and I start singing a few lines impromptu. By the next performance it could become a complete song. This is what makes me different.” In an industry where nothing can be sold without a female face, Maan is perhaps the only singer who thrives on solos.

“In the beginning it was a necessity as I wanted to create an impact but after that it became my style. Now, the public doesn't want me to sing with anybody. And how can you expect a fellow singer to join you when you can break into a new composition just off the cuff.”

Maan eats very little before the concert. “I feel hunger makes the voice more impactful. After all, I sing to make a living,” Maan signs off.