Rekha Bhardwaj gets her unique blend of classical and commercial Bolly tunes to Dubai

Ahead of her performance at the Star Live concert in Dubai, Indian songstress Rekha Bhardwaj talks about her her musical journey in Bollywood.
Rekha Bhardwaj will perform her popular songs from films such as Happy Ending, Badlapur and Kaminey. Courtesy Star Live Concert
Rekha Bhardwaj will perform her popular songs from films such as Happy Ending, Badlapur and Kaminey. Courtesy Star Live Concert

The Indian National Award-­winner Rekha Bhardwaj is a stickler for perfection. The Bollywood songstress, whose sensuous renditions of Namak (from Omkara, 2006) and Ghagra (from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, 2013) have put her on the top of Indian dance playlists, never attends a recording session without a week’s preparation, much like “India’s nightingale” Lata Mangeshkar, one of the country’s best-known singers.

“I subscribe to the old-school thinking of preparing a song in advance,” says Bhardwaj. “I ask the music director to give me the melody, sometimes with dummy lyrics, in advance, so that when I am in front of the mic I feel more at one with the song.”

The virtuoso, who owes much of her success to her husband, the filmmaker and composer Vishal Bhardwaj, will be taking the stage with pop-rock singer Kailash Kher for the Star Live concert at Dubai World Trade Centre on Friday, June 12. They will be joined by reality TV star Gauhar Khan and Darshan Raval, the finalist India’s Raw Star, a singing reality show.

What is your song list for this concert?

My new songs Mileya Mileya from Happy Ending and Judaai from Badlapur. And my popular numbers such as Raat ke Dhai Baje (Kaminey), Darling (7 Khoon Maaf) and Tere Ishq Mein from my album Ishqa ­Ishqa.

Does music run in your family or is this something you picked up?

My father was a keen lover of music. He couldn’t learn when he was young, so he made all of us learn. My elder sister was learning classical music and we used to have concerts at home where my father’s friends would come over and somebody would sing a ghazal or thumri. So I’ve always had an exposure to good music. I have trained and follow the Indore gharana (music style) by Amir Khan.

Do you prefer a particular genre of music?

I don’t have a preference. I got to listen to a mix of music growing up because I was based in Delhi, which is the hub of good music and concerts. In college, I was exposed to western genres and jazz music. I gravitate towards any music that sounds good to my ears, but my roots will always be in Indian classical music.

When you moved to Bollywood, was there a composition that you found particularly hard to sing?

Being trained in classical music helps you sing better, but it doesn’t necessarily make it easier. When I sang Namak, it was something I hadn’t tried before. All the songs I had sung for Vishal before that were melancholic and regular playback numbers. Namak had so many shades and variations and it was tough to mould my voice for that. Vishal asked me to shut myself from the world and I managed to channel the nasal tone required. I shed my inhibitions and it was a turning point in my career.

Is it any different working with Vishal, since he is your husband?

Vishal has made me explore myself as a singer. I never knew I could sing songs such as Darling and Raat ke Dhai Baje, because these are genres I would not dare to have tried back then. Working with him is great because I get a tailor-made song and when [celebrated Indian poet] Gulzar writes the lyrics, well, that is the icing on the cake. Having said that, when I sing for other directors, they too have always given me the freedom to improvise.

How was your experience ­composing in this season of MTV Coke Studio?

I collaborated with music composers Sachin-Jigar for a Gujarati folk song called Laadki, about the relationship of a girl and her father. I won’t be doing any more songs with Coke Studio, but will work on my own compositions.

Will they be part of a new album?

I’m thinking of doing a couple of singles with my compositions, but it gets hard to put them together with my shows and concerts. I’m hoping to release at least two singles, ghazals and thumris this year. There are also talks about an album with Vishal.

Is it true that he got into music to impress you?

To an extent, that might be true. His father was a lyricist and they used to visit Mumbai often. His father has worked with [music director duo] Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Usha Khanna, who used to encourage Vishal. He wanted to be a cricketer at the same time I was training in music. So there was this attraction to music because he wanted to impress me, but he would have eventually picked it up. When his father died, the only way to make a career was through music.

Music aside, what helps you unwind?

Doing yoga, going on long walks and reading. Sometimes I like to dance if there is a good tune on.

•The Star Live concert is at Dubai World Trade Centre on Friday, June 12 from 8pm. Tickets are from Dh150 and are available on

Published: June 10, 2015 04:00 AM


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