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Song of Hari

Hariharan promises his fans two new albums fresh from Pakistan soon. What's more, he can never abandon melody for fleeting commercial success, he tells ANJANA RAJAN.



Hariharan... Doing best what he knows best. Photo: V. Sudershan

THAT VOICE... Like finest silk through a golden ring, it permeates a listener's heart with its golden lustre. That manner... regal in stature, mellow in method. Despite a voice that can melt the proverbial stone - the seasoned Delhiite's heart - Hariharan wears his celebrity as lightly as the angavastra draped round his shoulders. As he arrives for one of his rare Delhi appearances, a concert organised by the Indian Heritage Society, flanked by his accompanists and friends, the crowd of admirers parts to let him through. A friendly wave here, a reassuring word in Malayalam there, conversational English one instant, chaste Urdu the next, all languages flow naturally together.

Bollywood films being a benchmark for fame in this country, Hariharan could be said to have started stealing hearts nationally with the songs of Gaman. Later his hit numbers in films like Lamhe, Sindoor, and Dard ka Rishta launched him firmly into stardom, so why did he not become a Bollywood playback fixture?

Getting remixed

"That you should ask the industry!" he laughs, then adds seriously, "It depends on the type of film also. I do sing in some big films. My songs are melodious. Today's popular songs... " He doesn't need words to emphasise the contrast, but adds, "These days, sensuality has ended up as vulgarity."

Yet his albums are sold out, points out Hariharan. But he sees no paradox here. "Films are made for the people who go to see films in theatres. We, the intellectuals, who like soft music and sophistication, neither go to see the films (we watch them on DVD or TV) nor buy the music. So we have no right to talk."

It is either the youngsters or the NRIs that affect the film market, he explains, and films are made for these audiences. Most films are targeted at the age group of 10 to 25 years. "They want halla gulla, because they are at the stage of life where they like it. We have all gone through this phase."

As for the music industry in general, he laughingly remarks, "It is getting remixed!" Also, music has become more a visual than an aural medium. "But it's all a wheel, I would say. There are some good songs being made, though there are more `chaalu' songs being produced than good ones."

No cause for complaint, though. Do your own work according to your heart, is his philosophy.

Luckily for his fans, he is launching two new solo albums shortly. Produced in Pakistan with accompanists from there, they are Sar Phiri Hawa - "a very contemporary album, I would call it Urdu funk or Urdu blues" - and Lahore ke Rang Hari ke Sang, which includes geets, ghazals, thumris, Khusrau and other genres.

The Colonial Cousins partnership he founded with Leslie Lewis might top the charts, but commercial demands alone would never tempt him to change his style. "I'll tell you a story. When the ghazal boom was on for 10 years, a lot of singers would wear a shawl and sing. (The shawl was a must.) I was not popular, and people suggested I change my style. I said, what I am doing, people don't like. How will they like me if I start doing something I don't even know!"

Never mind. Let this story continue, predictably ever after.

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