Indian poetry is largely adaptable- most verse can be assimilated into a musical form and enjoyed by larger audiences. The ghazals of Pankaj Udhas are a perfect example – right from his Bollywood hits like Chitthi Aayi Hain to his odes to sharab, Udhas has delighted audiences for decades now. With his new release Moments with Pankaj Udhas due out in May, the singer talks to Divya Naik about his sabbatical from the scene, his views on Bollywood and more.
There are no pretensions while talking to Pankaj Udhas – the man knows what he has been doing, what he wants and above all, he knows his music very well. “I won’t take up just any offer that comes my way because I believe in quality music. I haven’t seen anything of value come from Bollywood in the past three years. Gone are the days when there were eight to ten songs in a film – today there are barely any songs. And squeezing in ghazals among them definitely won’t seem a smart move for today’s producers as the demand for this genre in film music is not much.” That says it all – in an age of films that are sleek and fast paced, the renowned ghazal singer has stepped back and taken the time to review each move.
Keeping in mind the coming of technological nuances and the advent of the internet, Udhas too has made sure that he is walking with the times. His new release is in DVD format, complete with a video of his performance at the regal location of the Gateway of India where he paid tribute to the victims of the 26/11 terrorist attack. “It was the golden jubilee of the Maharashtra state government when I had performed at the Gateway. The set up was comprehensive with multiple mirrors, and excellent sound quality. The show was attended by almost 4,000 odd people and it was then that the thought of doing this project crossed my mind.” The DVD is a tribute to the spirit of the city and the ability of its people to bounce back and keep going. A concert was held post the release which had live streaming done by Hungama Digital Media on Pankaj Udhas’s site – a first time for the company as well as the artist. And Udhas is more than comfortable with the same.
The new release has compositions which are unreleased and in varied forms. “There is especially this nazm titled Dukh Sukh Tha Ek Sab Ka by the poet Janaab Zafar Gorakhpuri. It speaks about how our society has developed with a focus on four generations that have gone by.” Udhas also plans to release an album with the poet Sahir Ludhianvi’s nazms which he wishes to render.
But are ghazal enthusiasts still around in big numbers? To that, he gives an elaborate explanation by saying that this isn’t a great time for any genre to thrive. “All genres have amalgamated either into world music or fusion. And what one finds everywhere is just Bollywood.” Classical performances have also started to lose out to international acts and it is thus a time for everyone to experiment. And in this era of experimentation, there still are a few talented and passionate youngsters, making attempts at ghazal singing. But the support for this lot is a question of serious importance. As Udhas puts it, “No label wants to release anything except commercial work and Bollywood. There is no platform for these artists to present themselves and reach out to masses. We have become stagnant and even labels have no money as of today as they are handicapped with no proper monetisation structures in place.”
Chitthi having been his big break and ticket to fame, Udhas plans to pen a book on 35 years of his journey with the now iconic song as the peg. “The book will be out by the end of the year and trust me, Chitthi is going to take up at least 40-60 pages of it. There is so much I want to tell about that song!”
With quite a few releases lined up, Udhas is still flourishing, both in India and abroad. Adapting poems of classic poets such as Ghalib, Sahir Ludhianvi and Faiz Ahmad Faiz, ghazals will stay as timeless as ever with artists such as him still being its torchbearers.