Bollywood singer Shilpa Rao: “I didn’t think I would become a singer.”

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Singer Shilpa Rao is the voice behind some famous iconic gems as Javeda Zindagi (Anwar, 2007), Ek Lau (Aamir, 2008), Khuda Jaane (Bachna Ae Haseeno, 2008), Subhanallah (Yeh Jawaani hai Deewani 2013), Manmarziyan (Lootera, 2013), Bulleya (AeDil Ae Mushkil 2016), Kalank title track (Kalank 2019) and the mega chartbuster Ghungroo (War movie 2019), Haan Tum Ho (Love Aaj Kal 2020) and many more. Shilpa’s work as a playback singer is not limited to film soundtracks. She has collaborated with talented musicians across genres along with being the only Indian to perform at Pakistan Coke Studio and Glastonbury Festival. Singer par excellence, read on to know more about Shilpa Rao.

Shilpa, from Hindi classical music to Bollywood, you have been exposed to a potpourri of wonderful music… How much has your musical journey been impacted by this?
I didn’t think I would become a singer. I didn’t want to do much because that was never in my plan. Though I have been learning music since a young age but I never had any aspirations or ambitions. I think now when I look back, it was better just to focus on music than anything else. I learnt music without any expectations. I think in a way it was a good childhood where I was learning music for its pure love and nothing else.

You worked with some of the biggest musicians, could you tell us about that?
There are many musicians I would love to work with in India, but I’ve been fortunate to work with talented musicians and learn from them too. They have become like friends over the years and it still feels like I’m singing my first song every time I record a song. Some of the artists I have already worked with and would love to work with again and again are Pritam, Vishal – Shekhar, Mithoon and in the new lot there are Shashwat, Parampara and many new people, I would like to work with. I am always on the lookout for composers who are starting out – I would love to work with fresh minds.

How did you enter Bollywood and kick-start your career here?
The struggle is always there for every musician to start work in Bollywood, it takes years, it takes months, and probably a lot longer for many other people. So the trick is to keep your natural style of singing and your originality because that is how you will get your first song. That’s the novelty factor that you bring to the table and that is the one thing that I have learnt over the years. To sustain in Bollywood or in any form of music or art, you have to constantly keep learning, you have to evolve, you have to learn and better your art and skills, your craftsmanship year after year. There is no other way to sustain yourself – that’s the only one way to do it.

Which is your most fave song sung by you?
‘Tose Naina’ would always be close to my heart. It’s so beautifully made and written and the way people show so much love for it even after so many years means a lot to me. It is one of my favourite songs.

You collaborated with talented musicians across genres, could you tell us about this?
The music attached to India is very much loved across the globe. It is only because we have taken our own rich Indian music to the global stage and gained appreciation for it. I think we need to do the same even now. I would love to see more Indian Artists like Shubha Mudgal jii, she is a huge example and ideal for us especially when you see her performing on a global stage. The same thing we did at the Glastonbury festival or Coke Studio Pakistan or even for Anoushka Shankar’s song ‘Those Words’. I sang what I had learnt from my country and its music. Indian music is so much more progressive than people think – it has in-depth fundamentals yet ever evolving. I think it’s the endless list of people who have made us proud of our country and I think that needs to be continued. I am saying this with a lot of hope that our youth can see the brilliance and genius in our Indian music and take it global. I hope that happens more.

…Any memorable anecdote in your musical journey that you would like to share with us?
AR Rehman Sir and I had met for a shoot and we were talking about ghazals and specially the one I had posted on socials. I performed in front of him on the reality show IPML and he totally loved it. He said that it transported him to Egypt and he couldn’t believe it was me or Amar Mahal singing. That was a huge compliment to me and the next day, I got a call that we have to record one song. I went to his studio, recorded and it was mesmerizing.

Are you also straddling the OTT along with films?
Well, there is a lot of music that we have done through 2020 and 2021 that has gone to the OTT Platforms but the point is that the music is very valuable and you can put it into different forms. I still feel that making music or creating a new song is the most difficult part. With new platforms, artists can showcase their music in different forms and we keep getting feedback from them.

You have been the voice for many leading ladies, do you have any bucket list to sing for any particular actors in Bollywood?
I think I want to work with all the composers and every actor that I have worked with and also there is so much fresh talent that is coming up that I would like to collaborate with. One actor I would love to sing for is Tabu, I totally adore her.

Actors have started singing too, what do you think of this?
There are spaces where actors’ voices fit and that’s okay, like there are actors in Hollywood that are excellent singers and they do a lot of musicals and that’s amazing.

Do you think you have got your due in the industry?
That is not the question that I should be answering, the only thing I can answer is that with every project that I do, I make an effort to work harder and better than the previous one. I try to do something new each time and that is something in my hands. The due that you get or don’t get is not in your hands.

What are your upcoming projects?
It is a mix of everything. I am working on a few collaborations this year and working on different film music too.

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