'Playback was a happy accident', says singer Madhura Dhara of Unakaga fame

The singer speaks to us about her days studying music at Kalakshetra, learning Korean songs, pursuing music therapy and lots more

author_img Rupam Jain Published :  21st April 2023 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  21st April 2023 12:00 AM
Madhura Dhara

Madhura Dhara

Madhura Dhara has been learning Hindustani music from the age of eight. After completing high school, she went on to study Carnatic music at Kalakshetra. In 2018, she went to Berklee College of Music for a summer programme to study Western music, and that’s where she met AR Rahman which led her to debut as a playback singer with Unakaga from the movie Bigil. As we speak to her ahead of her performance in the city as part of Serenity, a melodious musical evening, we find out that Madhura loves to learn languages — she is planning to learn Japanese next. She also tells us that it was at Kalakshetra that she realised music could be a full-time career, and shares that she is waiting to work with Amit Trivedi. Now studying music therapy, Madhura says music needs no language. Excerpts: 

At just 21, you got to work with AR Rahman! It must have been a dream come true. How did it feel?
It was a dream come true! I never expected or imagined it would happen. I met AR Rahman when I was studying at Berklee College of Music in Boston. We interacted and he asked me to sing something. Back in India, he reached out to me for Unakaga. Before I bagged this opportunity though, I had performed for the Hockey World Cup, which was my first official work experience with him. I have grown up listening to his music and it was amazing that I got to work with him. It didn’t feel real for the longest time!  

You studied at Kalakshetra in Chennai. Do take us back to those days and tell us what you remember while you studyied here. 
I studied at Kalakshetra, in 2016, right after I finished my high school in Gurgaon. Moving to Kalakshetra was a big culture shock because Chennai really holds its tradition dear. So, coming to an institution where I had to wear saris every day was pretty new. But I also enjoyed that. Music has always been a part of my life, but on the sidelines. My dream initially was to study history, and then archeology, but at Kalakshetra, I understood that music could be a full-time career. 

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What is your music like? Was playback your aim?
I have grown up learning Hindustani, old Telugu and old Bollywood music. So those were my primary influences. I was introduced to Rock and a lot of English music by my brother. Later, I started learning Carnatic. So my music is a mix of all these genres. 
I never really thought I would end up as a playback singer. From the moment I decided that music could be a career, I think I was only focusing on performing and wanted to write and make my own music. In fact, playback was a happy accident. I’m glad that it happened because I realised that I really enjoy the studio experience. I also enjoy bringing to life somebody’s ideas about a song. 

Madhura Dhara

What are the languages you sing in?
I sing in Telugu, Hindi, English and Malayalam. I recently started learning Korean and I am trying to sing songs in that language as well. At my show in Chennai, I will be singing a couple of Korean songs.  
Do you dream of working in Bollywood? What are the kind of songs you would  like to sing in Bollywood?
Yes, for sure. Bollywood has some of my favourite music directors. I would love to work with Amit Trivedi. I wouldn’t mind singing any kind of songs in Bollywood. I don’t want to box myself within a specific genre. I’d love to try out as many genres as possible to grow as an artiste.

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What would you be singing for Chennaiites?
It’s going to be a tranquil, relaxing evening where I will be presenting songs from a variety of genres — classical, ghazals, a little bit of R&B, contemporary, Hindustani, Carnatic, and Korean. These are songs that will make you smile — that’s the kind of vibe I want to create. 
Currently, I’m studying music therapy to become a music therapist. And I believe music communicates regardless of what language it is sung in. So my performance will ensure that music transcends language barriers to create a more unique listening experience. 

When not singing what are the hobbies you like to indulge in? 
I love languages. I can read and write Korean. Next, I want to learn Japanese. I am also a theatre actor. I did a musical play last year in June. I love dancing too. I have learned bharathanatyam. Cooking is therapeutic for me; I cook for myself every day. 

April 22. 6:30 p.m.

At Alchemy Black Box Studio, Adyar. 

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