Kannada's own Vijay Prakash, now a singer to reckon with in the Mumbai film industry, tells DEEPA GANESH, that success isn't a fairy tale
“Jai Ho” Vijay Prakash, that's what playback singer Vijay Prakash has come to be known as. With Rahman winning the Oscars for the song “Jai Ho” in “Slumdog Millionaire”, Vijay Prakash's name has come to stay with the song. It's another matter that this singer from far south has sung in several Hindi films – “Blue”, “Yuvvraaj”, “Swades”, “Kaal”, “Lakshya”, “Cheeni Kum”, “Raavan” and more. Apart from being extremely busy in Bollywood, Vijay Prakash has given big hits in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam movies as well. Ask Kannada listeners and they will surely tell you of “Kuri Kolina” from the film “Jogayya” and “Tara Tara” from the film “Kempegowda”. From quiet Mysore to bustling Mumbai, from the heartland of Carnatic music to the mayanagari of films, it's indeed been a long, momentous journey for Vijay Prakash.
“Working with Rahman is always special. But when we were recording this song we did not have the slightest clue that it would be so popular. Honestly, it was like any other song, yet there was something different and I always thought that it was the lyrics. It had an energy and as we sang those lines “Jai Ho!” it filled us with a spirit and emotion that's hard to explain. Having said that, we did not have the slightest clue that it would make history,” says the pleasant Vijay Prakash, moving between his present home Mumbai, to Dubai and Chennai, and briefly stopping over in Bangalore.
“Music was always there at home,” says Vijay Prakash, visibly happy to switch over to his mother tongue Kannada. His grandfather was a Harikatha exponent and both his parents were musicians. “My father was even conferred the Karnataka Kala Tilaka title,” he recalls with pride. So, little had to be done to introduce the young Vijay Prakash to music. He, like most middle class children of South India who pursue either music or dance apart from their academics, studied music. Doing well in his academics, Vijay Prakash secured an Engineering seat as well. “I was barely one year into the course and I could sense I was being torn: between music and my course. What was I going to do? I couldn't take my engineering course any further. I gathered courage to tell my parents,” and when he did, unlike most other parents, they didn't get into a panic. They tried convincing him that it is important to have something to fall back on, just in case a career in music doesn't come about. But they realised that their son had made up his mind. “Okay, we will go by your choice, but make sure you achieve your goal,” they told him. “I cannot thank my parents enough. They were rock solid support to a 20-year-old who had very few logical explanations to a life-changing decision,” says Vijay Prakash, narrating the intuitive moment that was to change the course of his life. “Now, strangely, I think ten time before I make even a small move,” he laughs quietly.
Those were days when it was just hours and hours of music. Friends were equally helpful and supportive. “It was also the early years of television and suddenly there were new avenues. I applied for Saregamapa in its initial years and did well. I was perhaps destined for it, because much changed after that,” he recalls.
But wasn't it an entire change of perspective – from Carnatic music to films? Vijay Prakash's uncles constantly played the radio at home and there was a fair share of films songs and bhavageethe in his musical upbringing. “It was never looked down upon, and nobody even stopped me from singing them.” However, once he moved to Mumbai there was a total shift – he began to practise Hindustani, listened to a lot more of film music, Blues and so many other forms. “My horizons were expanding and the transition was gradual. I always feel fortunate that I learnt classical. My knowledge helps me in analysing and work out that perfect blend of intellect and emotion.” Human mechanism is amazing and very advanced, says the earnest singer. If one has an open mind and the ears are willing to take in other forms of music, nothing is impossible. “I never had superior or inferior feelings towards anything. Brazilian, street, rock everything has its own speciality, in fact, diverse influences give you a special edge,” he asserts.
Vijay Prakash surely stands at vantage point, but that has not taken him away from the complexity of his years ahead in the industry, and neither has it simplified his beginnings. “I landed in Mumbai with zero balance, but bags of dreams. There were no friends, no relatives. I was on a new planet, unfamiliar to every single animal. Whatever I have achieved today I owe it to my guru Suresh Wadkar who is my backbone. He is a great human being, he opened his wings and gave me everything — shelter, food and music. He made sure I got small assignments. It's 15 years since I first met him, even today I don't take up anything without telling him. He has been a big influence on me in every possible way,” Vijay Prakash acknowledges with gratitude. He has sung for so many languages, for 8000 voiceovers, 3000 jingles and all this he says, has been possible only because of Suresh Wadkar.
Like in any workplace, the film industry is also a huge cauldron of ideas and ideologies. There are ups and downs, concedes Vijay Prakash, but he has no reasons to complain. “I have a lot more to achieve, but I am very happy and content with what I have received so far,” says the talented musician, who believes he is still a student. At the moment, Vijay Prakash is looking forward to his concert in Bangalore today, in which he will not only sing his songs, but will present composers who have had an impact on him. “It's going to be a concert I've never done before,” he sounds excited.
As we go over past, present and the entire journey, Vijay Prakash on a philosophical note, says, “Ambition, freedom nothing is bad, as long as we know where to put a full stop.”
Vijay Prakash performs in Chowdiah Memorial Hall, December 2, 6 p.m. Apart from special invitees in the concert tickets will be sold at the rate of Rs. 300, Rs. 500 and Rs. 750. Tickets will be available at the venue from 5.30 p.m. onwards