Planet Bollywood
“I’m in the race only by default”—Sowmya Raoh
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You’ve all heard her melodious voice render 'Aankhon Mein Raho' in Company, 'Nach Baliye' in Bunty Aur Babli, 'Nachle Ve' in Ta Ra Rum Pum, 'Welcome' in Welcome, and 'Shauq Hai' in Guru.

Here is a Planet-Bollywood exclusive interview with Sowmya Raoh in which she discusses her musical journey thus far, her experiences recording with various music directors, her hobbies, her take on talent searches, forthcoming assignments and more.

You began singing at the tender age of 7! Describe your journey as a singer from childhood to now.

It’s been a very long journey indeed. When I was a child, singing happened by default. My mother was a popular playback singer back home. My dad worked in RBI, but sang as a hobby. I would travel with them for shows and just started singing effortlessly, mostly children songs. I took a break during my high school and initial college years. When I was in my 2nd year BA, I started singing in shows, again but then as an adult. It’s all was because I loved singing, and also because it was good pocket money while studying. I wasn’t ambitious for more, strangely. I kept on honing my skills on my own on a regular basis. I gradually started singing for films in South and did pretty fine. One thing led to another, and eventually I moved to Bombay in 2001. Progress has been a bit slow here, but quite steady.

Did you ever consider an alternative profession, or were you always determined to become a singer?

I never really considered anything else other than singing, though I dabbled a bit in this and that. I always wanted to sing. Though, I never dreamed big. I just love to sing. And, it pays my bills!

Your mother is a professional singer and I’m sure must have been a source of inspiration for you. Are there any particular childhood memories you recall of learning music from your mother which you would like to share with us?

Environment definitely plays quite a role in your leaning towards a certain vocation. I guess that’s why we see doctor-kids becoming doctors, star-kids becoming actors etc. And since I’ve luckily inherited singing genes, I became a singer. Mom was just Mom. I never really looked at her as a famous singer. But yes, I’ve picked up a lot by just being around her. When I used to accompany her to the studios, I’d see her writing notations on top of her lyrics. And I picked up the knack, and it holds me in good stead even today when I go for my recordings. It helps me remember a song faster. And, if I forget a tune, I just have to glance at the notations, and bingo!

You lent your voice to many songs in the South. How was the transition from singing for films in the South to singing for Bollywood?

I read, write and speak good Hindi and since my formative years, I’ve made special effort not to let my South Indian style show in my Hindi singing. That’s half the battle won. So, I haven’t found any difference in singing for South films and Hindi films. I’m equally comfortable in both.

You’ve had the experience of singing for both the South and Bollywood. What do you think are some of the defining characteristics of both industries? What do you think are the pros and cons of both industries?

I personally think South industry is a bit more punctual and disciplined than the Bombay industry. But other than that, they’re not too different.

The music scene in Bollywood is pretty competitive with many new singers arriving constantly. What do you think makes your voice stand out among the others? How do you deal with competition?

I have always believed in just doing my job well. I’m not bothered about who else is doing more work than me, making more money than me, etc. I’m in the race ONLY by default. Singing is my job. I earn my living out of it. And I’m lucky that I love my job. No more, no less. I’ve a style of my own, and I mould my voice and approach to a song as per the composition’s requirements. This helps me to be versatile. Competition is omnipresent in this world. I don’t go out of my way to deal with it. There’s a place under the sun for everybody.

What advice do you have for aspiring singers? Do you consider talent searches to be an effective platform for aspiring singers to enter into the music industry?

Talent hunts give aspiring singers initial recognition and access into the music world. But it doesn’t guarantee anything more. How one takes it further depends entirely on one’s own talent and PR capabilities, and lots of luck. Fifteen minutes of fame is the easy part, but to make it here and more importantly sustain over a long period is extremely tough. The only advice I have for them, is to not neglect singing in the process of trying to make it big. Reproducing a film song in a music competition or on stage is fine. Singing an original song in a studio is not as easy as they think it is. They should remember that every successful singer in the industry has reached where they have, after a lot of struggle, hard work and dedication.

You’ve had the opportunity to work with Sandeep Chowta, Vishal-Shekhar, A.R. Rahman and many other talented music directors. What are some main differences you’ve noticed in their techniques and styles of utilizing a singer’s voice?

Sandeep has been a big brother to me. We’re both originally from Bangalore, and we’ve worked together since 1995. So we have a terrific understanding. He has experimented a lot with my voice. He doesn’t need to explain too much anymore because of our long work association. About ARR, he’s very easy to work with. Though he’s clear about what he wants, he’s not at all rigid. The few times that I’ve sung for him, I’ve had great fun.

With the trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, since Shankar is such a great singer, it makes our job both, easy and difficult. In the sense that he already would’ve embellished the song, so it makes it easier. And to live up to the same quality of singing, is a task by itself. But Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy are such chilled out people, they make the work atmosphere extremely comfortable.

About Sajid-Wajid, Wajid is a dear friend, and a good singer himself. At such times, I try to usually imitate the composer’s style of singing along with my own touch, as much as possible. It gives a different flavor to every song I sing. I haven’t sung too much for Vishal-Shekar, but I’ve had a pleasant experience working with them.

Describe your most memorable recording experience.

I haven’t done too much work, and my experiences have all been very normal. I haven’t had any unforgettable experience as such.

Out of all of the songs you have recorded, which one is your favorite?

I’ve been lucky that though the quantity of my songs is not too much, qualitatively I’m quite satisfied with the variety of songs I’ve sung till now. I’ve enjoyed singing each one of them. ‘Aankhon Mein Raho’ from Company is my all time favorite because it was my first full-fledged song in Hindi. And ‘Shauq Hai’ from Guru is my new favorite.

What is your favorite genre of music?

I love listening to all kinds of music. It’s necessary too, so as to not stagnate. But I’m totally filmi, because my favorite is Indian film music. Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, anything that’s good will do.

When you’re not in the recording studio, what do you enjoy doing?

I love to read, more than anything. I am a staunch Agatha Christie, Harry Potter fan. I enjoy reading 'chicklits' as much as The Alchemist or Fountain Head, Mills and Boon as much as a Roald Dahl or The Mahabharatha. Depending on my mood, I also love to watch movies in a cinema hall. I usually go alone, it’s more satisfying. I love to have chai-sessions with my close friends. I love rasta-shopping. All the simple pleasures of life. I hate to party, go out to nightclubs etc. So I don’t.

What are some of your forthcoming assignments?

I’ve sung in the soon to be released Krazzy 4 for Rajesh Roshan. Also in a Ravi Chopra production for SEL and couple more films that are in the making, for Sajid-Wajid. I think it’d be inappropriate to talk more about them.

Where would you like to see your career head in 2008?

I’d definitely like to sing a lot more this year. Hopefully if things fall in place, you’ll hear more songs from me. Amen to that.

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