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Life at 50

"But my vocal chords are not more than 25," says Hariharan in an interview to CHITRA SWAMINATHAN.



Crooning glory: Hariharan. Photo: Vino John.

MORE OFTEN than not, life is about the art of reinvention. And the pony-tailed ghazal singer, Hariharan, excels in it. While you wait to meet the versatile crooner, thinking that he will walk in clad in the usual churidhar-kurta and shawl, Hariharan arrives looking dapper in jeans, T and a jacket. One can't miss noticing his stylish pair of shoes either. "Actually I was planning to come in shorts but my wife thought it was too much," he laughs.

Having just participated in "Isaiyodu Pirandhein" (born with music), a music programme organised by Vijay TV to celebrate his 50th birthday, Hariharan quips, "It is just another occasion to sing. What better way to mark my life's golden jubilee than walking down musical lane! Listen, I may be 50 but my vocal chords are not more than 25," Hariharan smiles mischievously.

"Over the years, many positive things have happened to me - good music, fame and fans. Life's journey would not have been possible without the love and trust of my co-singers and musicians. So, any celebration would be incomplete without them. And it's always exciting for an artiste to perform for a live audience. Even today, when I go up on stage, I can feel butterflies in my stomach." Senior artistes such as S.P. Balasumbramium and Chitra had participated in the Vijay TV programme besides many young singers.

Though he sings ghazals, classical, pop, fusion and film music, when you quiz Hariharan about his first love, "it's obviously ghazals," he says. "It comes through quite strongly in my singing. Besides, if you are trained in classical, it's easier to handle any kind of music. The weight of the swaras, the technique and calculations make you a methodical singer, who can infuse soul into singing."

Road to success

But success didn't happen to him overnight. In his own words: "It was like walking through a dimly lit passage at the end of which there was so much light."

In 1977, after winning the All India Sur Sangeet competition, he got his first playback singing assignment from music director Jaidev for the film "Gaman". His ghazal "Ajeeb saane hai mujh par qarar" in the film got him instant recognition. By then, he had also started giving ghazal concerts and cutting successful albums such as "Absaar-e-ghazal' with Asha Bhonsle and "Gulfam".

"Recently, I recorded an album in Lahore with Pakistani composers and musicians. It was an exciting collaboration." The stylish crooner does not agree that in this age of Deejay-ing and remixes, audiences at ghazal shows are thinning, "I still do at least four shows a month. There are die-hard ghazal lovers, who tell me to stick to ghazals. Personally, I feel stifled to limit myself musically. Because it's melody that drives me, not the form."

Going into a rewind mode, he adds, "With a pucca Tamilian name, it was not easy to establish myself. My first exercise was to perfect my language, particularly Urdu for ghazal singing. The real challenge was to get the correct diction. I would practise for hours together. Today, when you draw an audience of 10,000 while performing in London and Germany, you feel like patting yourself for all the hard work."

If ghazals made him a connoisseurs' delight, films (Rahman opened the floodgates) paved the way for mass appeal and fusion (Colonial Cousins) made him Gen Y's favourite.

"I have sung several hit songs in Hindi films ("Lamhe", "Border"), but singing for Naushad sahab for Akbar Khan's forthcoming film "Taj Mahal" was a great opportunity. At 84, the legendary music composer's dedication actually makes you emotional."

More than Bollywood, Hariharan has sung several songs that have become chartbusters in Kollywood, starting with "Roja" in 1993.

Remix trend

Surprisingly, he is uncritical of the remix trend. "It's okay if due credit and respect are accorded to the original. At least, it will connect youngsters to a bygone era. May be grandfathers and grandsons can now listen to the same songs but I hope they don't watch the video together," he laughs heartily. On a more serious note, he adds, "Remix is not as easy as it sounds on the ear. It is not just about adding new rhythms to an old tune. The beauty is in retaining the essence of the song and the feel of the period."

It's not remixes, but the overdone dappankoothu pattu (raucous) in films that puts off a singer. "Earlier 3 out of 20 songs were dappankoothus, sadly now it is 18. There is only orchestra and no emotions. So, imagine the plight of popular music. Luckily, without my demanding it, I get to sing melodious numbers with decent lyrics. I have grown up listening to the bhava-laden music of stalwarts such as Ramnad Krishnan, Mali, T. Brinda, Ustad Amir Khan and of course, my mother Alamelu (also his guru)." But one song that turns him on is Lionel Ritchie's "Hello".

"That's the way I am. I can dream about dating Julia Roberts, at the same time, the plight of the poor moves me."

His two teenaged sons, Akshay and Karan, though musically inclined, have not made a foray into the field. If not his art, do they try aping their father's style? "My elder son wanted to grow his hair but I said no. Not when you are studying."

The showman-singer personally loves to experiment with his looks. "When you are in the show business, you can afford to do so. I think I always had it in me. But success and popularity gave me the confidence to exhibit it. I love to shop for trendy outfits, accessories and spectacle frames.

And what about his much written about hairstyle?

"When I realised it was getting more mileage than my vocal chords, I started pampering it with the help of my hair dresser. Doesn't it look healthier now, he laughs running his fingers through his bushy ponytail.

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