Indulge one-on-one: Singer Shweta Mohan and music director Augustine Paul talk about their personal journeys, collaborations, and future projects
A table, a few ch airs,two cups of coffee and a piano — the classroom setting was apt for a teacher-student reunion. Augustine Paul, music director at MMA (Madras Musical Academy) is the teacher here, waiting in his classroom at PMA (Progress to Music Altitudes) School of Music for one of his favourite students, Swetha Mohan to arrive.
Shweta, daughter of popular playback singer Sujatha Mohan, who has established her career in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Hindi is clearly ecstatic as she walks in. After all, the state award-winning singer is meeting the man who she credits for having helped prep her voice to attain the success that she is now known for. Having sung for some of the most celebrated music directors such as Ilaiyaraja, AR Rahman and Vidyasagar, over the past decade, the 32-year-old singer underwent Western classical music training with Augustine, who now teaches students piano, singing and music theory, for about three years. Delighted to have gotten an opportunity to catch up after four long years, the teacher-disciple duo takes a step back in time as Swetha chats with Augustine, for an Indulge one-on-one special.
Shweta: There have always been a lot of questions that I wanted to ask you, but never got the opportunity. So tell me, sir, how did it all start for you?
Augustine: Music has always been part of my life since childhood. I started learning the piano from when I was six. Later, I learned a bit of violin as well as the guitar. Music only took a backseat in my
life when I moved to Chennai at age 20.
S: Oh, so Chennai is not your native place?
A: No, I was born in Tirunelveli. A place for good education and music, I must say. My father was a choirmaster there.
S: There you go, that’s where it all came from. Your father...
A: Yes (laughs), my mother plays the organ as well. Sister does too. Music always ran in the family. It was sort of a compulsory thing at home.
S: Back in your time, when every other person wanted to become a doctor or an engineer, how did you end up taking music as your career?
A: Then, there were only four engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu and almost the same number of medical colleges. So getting into one of them was very difficult. Ironically, I did try to get into one. But I was praying to not get selected, as I wanted to take up sports as my career. I used to play hockey—no many know about that. I actually came to Chennai to pursue a career as a hockey player.
S: So, tell me from when did your musical journey start?
A: My first ever studio recording was for Ilaiyaraja for the movie Tik Tik. I sang the opening chord idh oru nila kalam (sings). Enough about me, coming back to you, you are a celebrity now. I see you singing in various languages, judging reality shows and I’m very proud. At what age did you decide that music is your career?
S: To be honest, I never thought I would take up singing as my career. The first time I sang for a film was when I was in XIth grade. I happened to meet composer Karthik Raja at a Navaratri function I attended. And he recognised me as my mother’s daughter and offered me a song.
A: Talking about having a celebrity mother. Was it bane or boon for you?
S: In the beginning, it was pressurising, mainly because I had to uphold her name. The pressure was there, however, now I feel it has only been an advantage for me. People love my mom and they share that love with me too.
A: I have watched your singing develop over time and I must say you have developed a distinct voice for yourself.
S: That is a big compliment for me because initially, everybody used to say ‘oh you sound just like your mom.’ Although they meant it as a compliment, I was going ‘oh no’ at the back of my head.
A: By the way, what do you think about the current the music scene in India?
S: Youngsters now have a lot of platforms like YouTube where they can showcase their talent. Also, I see composers welcoming new talent. In that way, people are getting more opportunities. Also, the
young singers are getting an opportunity to perform on stage a lot. People have very well adapted to the band culture.
A: This new interpretation of music—the band version of old songs is mostly performed by youngsters and are mainly appreciated by them itself. How do you think the older people receive it?
S: I think there is a section of people who like it, and then there is another who doesn’t. Well, what is your opinion on rearranging existing music?
A: Rearranging music is good because you have already heard one version of it. You are going to create a new version which is very creative. But if you ask me, real talent is when you sing a song for the first time. You can sing somebody else’s song in ten different ways.
S: What are some of your most cherished collaborations?
A: I love arranging music for string orchestra. So when the German Youth Orchestra came down to perform here, I arranged Vande Matharam and our national anthem for them. That was a wonderful experience.
S: Any advice for young musicians?
A: If you have good academics and a good job offer at hand, take it. Don’t say I’m going to sit at home and pursue music full time. Nowadays, you can have a job in hand and pursue music also. What about you, any pointers?
S: If you have your passion right where it has to be, you should go for it. Right sir? Regardless of whatever training you are taking, train, work hard every day and you will see the improvement. You said it is possible to manage another career along with music but I feel if you really have to shine in music, you will have to give it your 100 per cent.
A: Will you be training your child in music too?
S: I will definitely train her. If she has a passion for it, I think it’s up to her to pursue it.
A: You are right. We should give them whatever we can while they are young. Once they reach the age of 12, they will start choosing for themselves.
S: You know, these kids come to me asking where they should go to for Western classical training. And I tell them, ‘What’s the doubt, go to Augustine Paul Sir!’ So, I will definitely be bringing my kid to you only (laughs).