Punjabi music was never dependent on Bollywood, says Harshdeep Kaur

The singer talks about completing 20 years in Bollywood, how the music industry has evolved over the years, growing up with her one year-old son and the challenges of motherhood
Harshdeep Kaur
Harshdeep Kaur

If there is one singer in Bollywood who plays the part of the Bollywood playback singer and still has a repertoire of non-film numbers that people hum and recognise, it’s got to be Harshdeep Kaur. The girl from Delhi became an overnight sensation when she sang Heer for Shah Rukh Khan, Anushka Sharma and Katrina Kaif starrer Jab Tak Hai Jaan in 2012. Her soulful Sufi renditions earned her the title of Sufi Ki Sultana after winning a reality show where musicians from India and Pakistan battled it out on stage. Her Sufi attire with a turban became her identity and not many would know that she chose to wear a turban over a dupatta when she had to cover her head during a live show owing to religious reasons. Harshdeep was 16 years old when she released her first Bollywood song, Sajna Mai Haari from the film Aapko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai in 2002. And it’s been about two decades since the singer has taken to various personas for playback projects, whilst maintaining a unique sound of her own. And her songs like Katiya Karun from Rockstar, Kabira from Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani and Dilbaro from Raazi are testimony to her vocal prowess. Harshdeep carved her own space in the public’s consciousness with the Sikh worship song Ik Onkar from Aamir Khan’s Rang De Basanti. She continued to sing in films as well as collaborate with various artistes for live shows and albums. We caught up with the singer recently after she concluded her successful show at R City mall in Mumbai, and headed to meet her one-year-old baby boy, Hunar who she says, “stays with my mother or sister most of the time when I perform.” In this interview with Indulge, Harshdeep delves into experimenting with music, live performances, the evolving space of music, leveraging the digital medium, motherhood and lots more. Excerpts:

Tell us about your musical journey, so far?

It’s been 20 years and I was very young when I started my journey as a playback singer. My family has been my strength so far. I shifted to Mumbai after school and went to college here. It has been an immense struggle to achieve what I have now.

How did that struggle and now the success impact you as a musician?

Honestly, I have always believed that no matter what you achieve, you should never forget where you come from and those who were involved in making you who you are today. I have learned to be humble and take my achievements with that attitude. I am still nervous before every concert and recording. That’s how it should be. I treat it like it’s my first one

Coming to your live performances, you often do improvisations on stage. What does it take?

Courage! When I am on stage I forget about fear. Most people don’t improvise because they are afraid of it going wrong. And I don’t have that. If I sing the same way I sang in the film then why would the audience come to listen to me live? They want to see me as a performer and it’s important to involve them in the process. At a concert, they need to be a part of it. It’s important to improvise and take small risks and make small mistakes.

How has the music industry evolved?

There are a lot of changes. There was a time when you had to be a Bollywood singer to be famous. But gradually, it is changing with more independent music becoming popular. You can sit at home and put it out on YouTube and if it’s a hit you are a star. It wasn’t the same when I started. I had to go to places and give my demo CDs and appear on TV so people know about me. Now you have social media and it’s easy.

How do you see the trend of people becoming stars overnight by just releasing a song online?

That’s why we have live shows and you have to sing live. Times have changed and if you use technology the right way then there are immense possibilities. You cannot stop someone. Everyone loves music and singing. It’s up to the audience to decide who they like and promote. Everything is fair in music.

In the last decade, there have been a number of Punjabi singers thriving in the Hindi music industry. Do you think that this means that the audience too is more accepting of different music?

It all comes down to one thing: music has no language. Whether it is Hindi or Punjabi, it’s about music that connects with the audience. Punjab industry or music was never dependent on Bollywood. All the singers did very well in their industry it’s just they have been expanding now and the audience is loving it. There are Gujarati songs like Chhogada Tara in movies and not many would know what this word means but it’s a hit. It’s the music we enjoy.

Harshdeep Kaur with son Hunar
Harshdeep Kaur with son Hunar

It’s been a year since you became a mother of a baby boy. How is motherhood treating you?

It’s been awesome. I have become a different person. I am more patient and responsible. I take my little one to all my concerts. He has taken more than 17 flights in the last year alone. When I am going for a recording in the city he stays home and he, I think, understands my presence.

Weirdly, women are asked after becoming mothers how they are balancing work and kids. Your take on it?

I know men are never asked this question but men are also contributing so that women can fulfill their work responsibilities. My husband has a huge role to play in this. He has done everything for Hunar. So, I think, times are changing for the good. We are moving away from patriarchy though it is deep-rooted and we have a long way to go. I give so much credit to my family. They have been so supportive. They are letting me fly. In fact, at times I am worried if my son would feel lonely but my husband would assure me that he is being taken care of well.

priyanka.chandani @newindianexpress.com

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