Popular Bangladeshi singer Runa Laila returns to the Indian music scene with an album of Punjabi wedding songs
Time was when recording studios were large apartments. In such capacious environs, a tiny tot named Runa Laila made her mark. As she grew in stature, the studios shrank. Technology has bridged the difference though. So this month when melody queen Runa Laila dropped by in New Delhi to sing a few songs for an upcoming album of Music Today, the tiny basement studio where she recorded was up to the challenge. So what if Runa teetered a bit on her heels making her way down the steep steps? She has pranced her way through changing times with an equanimity all her own.
The album, a mega collection of Punjabi wedding songs covering every ritual from puja to cocktail party, includes a number of other popular singers as well. For the Bangladeshi singer who won countless hearts with hits like “Damadam Mast Kalandar”, “Mera Babu Chhail Chhavila” and others, this is being touted as her first album in India after a gap of 10 years.
“It’s been a long time,” she agrees. That fluty voice is enough to convince you that continuous stage engagements across the world, as well as films and television in Bangladesh, have not managed to take the silk out of her vocal cords — nor have years of jiving taken the grace out of her everyday interactions. “Actually I did some Bengali recordings for Puja, etc., but not on a very big scale.”
Her lack of airs, of a ‘been there done that’ attitude despite being a veteran of hundreds of recordings, is refreshing. Reflecting on her varied canvas, she muses: “I’ve had the good fortune of working with great composers like Jaidev, Kalyanji-Anandji, Lakshmikant-Pyarelal, then Bappi Lahri. So I got a mix of songs, which is good for me. Because even in my solo shows I have folk, semi-classical, I have pop, I have everything. Of course, I’d love to work with the current directors.”
But today’s hits are nothing like the soothing melodies of the old composers. “When I started singing — I was not even 12 — the films being made were very different. They were family-oriented, social dramas. Not that they aren’t now, but now there is more emphasis on action, on exotic locales. At that time music was a very important part of the films. People went to see films for the music.”
She accepts change. Recording in those days was a social affair, with all members present and required to practice to flawlessness. “But nowadays you come into the studio and say okay, gaana kya hai, and sing line by line, or even word by word,” she laughs. “It’s a lot easier, but we’ve lost some of the emotions. When you sing in flow there are more emotions, which when you sing in bits you’re not able to keep to the same level.”
Though a pioneer of performing while singing, Runa agrees the visual element in popular music now sometimes overrides its aural quality. “Which is a pity really, because no matter how much you perform, you have to sing even better.” Her advice is: “If your performance is affecting your singing, you shouldn’t perform.”
On the judges’ panel of a talent hunt on Zee Bangla, she says the reality show format offers exposure. “My only concern is, once they reach a certain place they should be able to go forward, on a bigger canvas.”
She says she recommends such talents to music directors she works with. “In one of my recent concerts in Dhaka they wanted some singers to perform before me, so I suggested these kids, and they got a great ovation.”
Busy giving others a break, the veteran too wouldn’t mind a break — back into Bollywood. “There are a few projects being discussed. Once they are finalised, maybe this year, or early next year, I will know. We have just done this album. Hopefully it will do well…”
Does the singer that delivered hit songs in films like “Gharonda” and “Ek Se Badh Kar Ek” really need an album to reintroduce her to Bollywood? “There’s been a long gap,” she says mildly. “And now the music scene has changed totally; a lot of younger people are at the helm and working with young people.”
Some may look for youth. Others know freshness when they see it.