“These days, I have no time to stay in Mumbai for two days, let alone take time out to relax. I’m busier than the days of Aashiqui now,” says singer Kumar Sanu. Dubbed the melody king of the ’90s, Sanu’s songs such as Kuch Na Kaho from 1942: A Love Story, Mera Dil Bhi Kitna Paagal Hai from Saajan, Tujhe Dekha To Yeh Jaana Sanam from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge and Bas Ek Sanam Chahiye from Aashiqui continue to be popular even today. His songs resonated with lovers, infatuated teenagers experiencing their first crush and even old timers who remembered their first love through his melodious songs.
Songs being made today, according to him, don’t have that same melodious or sustaining quality. “Songs are played 300 times on different mediums. It is hammered into the public’s mind, why won’t it become a hit then? They also work out because they are picturised on big heroes and heroines. Technology has a good and bad side to it. It can add a lot of newness to music, but, on the other hand, people who are not singers are becoming singers these days,” says Sanu who, back in the ’90s, used to record 10 to 12 songs in a day.
Kumar Sanu holds the Guinness Book World Record for recording the most songs in a day, 28. Quiz him on the few songs he has sung in Telugu, he quips, “No one really asked me.”
Then and now
Rueing the way the music industry has changed, he says, “Earlier, a music director could tell a producer confidently that he can give 5 hit songs out of 7 in a film’s album, like it’s a win when Nadeem-Shravan compose film music, you know it will be a hit with the audience. Today’s music directors don’t have that.”
He is also against the practice of redoing old songs. “There’s no creativity now, so many take old songs and try to redo them. There are few music directors with the quality to make something new and out-of-the-box now. If you listen to 10 songs today, you may feel you have heard one song since they all sound similar. People think more about others, than themselves, now. Society and the system have overpowered art. So, art is stifled.”
Straightforward with his opinion, he misses the ease of recording in his time. Not one to record in a serious environment, Sanu would crack a few jokes to keep the atmosphere light and happy when working on music. However, he recalls, there was one time when it took him two hours to get Hridaynath Mangeshkar to smile.
“It was the confidence that you could trust each other. There is no trust or confidence on each other these days. Now, every film has two-three music composers who get songs sung by different singers. Then, they choose one singer who suits their requirement. So, a singer can’t say confidently that he may get to work on the final song. The confidence on the singer, music director, producer — it is all gone. The situation of singers is very bad and such things are slowly chipping away at their dignity,” adds Sanu.
Like his contemporaries of the ’90s and 2000s, Sanu’s songs have versatility to them even today. A quality, he says, lacking in the current crop of singers. “It’s very difficult to sustain oneself in this system now. After me, I have not seen anyone having a singing career that lasted more than 3-4 years. In the future, this may decrease to one year or even six months. System pura gadbada gaya hai, jisse kisiko fayda nahi hoga. I am yet to see anyone who will continue to sing for 20 years. Tonal quality with versatility is very rare,” feels the 60-year-old who is a recipient of the Padma Shri.
Among the next generation of singers, he likes KK and Shreya Ghoshal. “KK is a very good singer and versatile, capable of singing any kind of song.
After Alkaji, there was Shreya Ghosal with that quality about her. They had the power to hold you captive with their music,” shares Sanu.
Having opened the restobar Dum Laga ke Haisha in Kolkata themed around his music and schools for underprivileged children, Sanu is now busy with regional music albums and a fusion Indian-Western album with his daughter Shannon K, herself a budding musician based in the USA. “The album has already hit the markets abroad. The Hindi lyrics have been written by Sameer, while the English lyrics were penned by Shannon.”