‘I’ve had milestones, not overnight success’

Identified for being Punjabi and a Sufi, Harsheep Kaur’s journey as a singer is very much a Bollywood story

Sometime in 1991, a bunch of kids were sitting around watching a Hindi film on television and singing along at Savinder Singh Sohal’s Delhi home in Karol Bagh. Sohal, whose company House of Music manufactures musical instruments, was intrigued by one voice in particular. Sohal’s curiosity piqued, he discovered the voice belonged to his five-year-old daughter. As they say, it takes a master to spot a talent. Since then, the master became mentor, and the talent, as we know now, is the 30-year-old singer Harshdeep Kaur.

Kaur’s ‘Zaalima’ from Shah Rukh Khan’s Raees is one of the chartbusters this year. Her voice has appeared in a Shah Rukh Khan love story twice before: Aditya Chopra’s Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi (a gurbani by Salim-Sulaiman) in 2008 and Yash Chopra’s Jab Tak Hai Jaan (‘Heer’ by A.R. Rahman) in 2012. But, ironically, it is in SRK’s recent gangster film where she got a quintessential romantic duet (co-sung by Arijit Singh) for the star.

But should it matter to a singer on whom the song is going to be pictured? For Kaur, it doesn’t, but she agrees that if someone as popular as Khan features in the song, it adds more value and visibility to it. Kaur made her debut in 2003 with two nondescript films, Aapko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai and Oops!. It was only in 2006 that she rose to prominence with her rendition of ‘Ik Onkar’ for A.R. Rahman’s soundtrack for Rang De Basanti.

Although the Punjabi shabad was just a minute-and-a-half long with only her voice and sans instruments, it was enough for people to sit up and notice the singer. Following which, in 2008, came the TV reality show Junoon, where she represented Sufi talent and went on to win the show. “The show gave me a face. People had only heard me till then.”

The show also gave her a turban, which became a part of her identity. She wore it for spiritual reasons on the show, and still continues to wear it at her live shows. “People sometimes fail to recognise me if I don’t wear one,” laughs the singer.

Though breaking out with a spiritual Punjabi track and winning a TV show for Sufi singing came with the risk of getting stereotyped, it didn’t take Kaur long to break the stereotype that would be associated with her voice, and prove her versatility. “They take me for Punjabi songs to make it sound authentic, but I have been singing proper Bollywood numbers as well,” she says citing examples like ‘Jhak Maar Ke’ from Desi Boyz (2011) and ‘Uff’ from Bang Bang! (2014).

Kaur is this generation’s Jaspinder Narula, rooted yet versatile. Hers is a characteristic voice that is not easily replaceable in film music. She has been in the industry for more than a decade now. Though a common phenomenon observed in post-2000 Bollywood is that singers (mostly male) reach their career peak in a short span and are quickly replaced by fresh voices. Does that make her insecure? “By the grace of God, my journey has been steady and slow. I’ve had milestones in my journey. I didn’t see overnight success.”

During this journey, Kaur has sung for almost every top composer, from Rahman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy to Vishal-Shekhar and Pritam. She does sound like a veteran when she expresses her wish to work with the younger lot, like Sachin-Jigar, Amaal Mallik, Jeet Ganguli. Most recently, she has recorded with Tanishk Bagchi for the first time. She has one song in last week’s low-key release Irada, composed by Neeraj Sridhar (his debut as a composer) which is likely to remain undiscovered by many. It’s the age of aggressive marketing, after all.

“It feels bad when one song of an album is promoted over the other songs,” she says, while talking about promotional songs. Has there been any song which she wished many people had heard? “‘Chaand Ki Katori’ from Guzaarish (2010). It was a singer’s song.”

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 7:10:03 AM |

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