Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Flowering Under A Genius

Shashaa Tirupati, the Indo-Canadian singer, who has just won a National Award for Playback Singing, talks about her career in singing South Indian songs and her association with music maestro AR Rahman
By Shevlin Sebastian 

At the Reliance music studio in Mumbai, Oscar winner AR Rahman was playing the piano. A group of six girls were singing along. They had come for the audition for Rahman's show in the Coke Season 3 programme. Suddenly Rahman stopped playing and said, “Which one of you is Shashaa [Tirupati]?” There was a pin-drop silence. “It was a heart attack moment for me,” says Shashaa. “I thought he would not select me.” Shashaa raised her hand. Rahman looked at her and then looked away. 

Later, during a break, Shashaa asked Rahman whether she had performed badly. He said, “Oh no. Actually, one of my assistants played me your work and I feel your voice sounds like a musical instrument.”

At that point, Shashaa did not know whether it was a compliment or not. But a month after the shoot, Shashaa got a call from Rahman's studio in Chennai. “He wanted me to sing for one of his songs,” says Shashaa in her hotel room at Kochi, where she had come to take part as a member of Rahman's troupe at a show last month. 

There was an easy smile on her face when she says this. Of course, Shashaa has plenty to smile about. Recently, she won the National Film Award for Best Female Playback Singer for the Tamil song 'Vaan Varuvaan', which was composed by Rahman. And she remembers clearly what Rahman had told her when she received the award. “He said, 'Don't let these awards and accomplishments be the governing factor in what you do',” says Shashaa. “Mr Rahman wanted me to remain focused on the singing. And that is a beautiful wisdom.” 

Incidentally, apart from singing several songs in Tamil for Rahman, Shashaa is also adept at singing in Malayalam, Telugu, Kannada, Punjabi, Konkani Bengali English and Hindi. Some of the songs have done well. The 'Humma Song' from the Hindi film, 'OK Jaanu' was one of the highest ranking songs on YouTube and was viewed more than 200 million times. 

This is a career which Shashaa could not have envisaged when she was growing up in Vancouver, the child of Indian immigrants. Her parents loved Hindi music, so Shashaa listened to songs from the 1950s to the 70s.

One day when she was five years old, she sang Lata Mangeshkar's 'Jao Re'. “My mum was like, ‘What?!’” says Shashaa. “She ran and called my father. My dad was also shocked. Then they decided I should get proper training.”

So, from the time she was eight years old, Shashaa was taken to India during the vacations and studied classical Hindustani music. However, there were several years of struggle before she got the breakthrough with Rahman....

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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