Shweta Pandit talks exclusively to Gianysh Toolsee in a relaxed and chilled out interview about the Jai Ho tours and the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, where she performed along with A.R Rahman in Norway in December 2010.
The bubbly and talented singer started off the year with three immensely popular songs, which include the melodic â€œRubaru (Kyun Faaslein Hain)â€, Yamla Pagla Deewanaâ€™s smash hit â€œCharha De Rangâ€ with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Ali Parvez and the racy â€œRinga Ringa Rosesâ€ from Yeh Dooriyan.
She had the chance to meet and perform with a line-up of international stars including Herbie Hancock, India Arie, Florence + The Machine. The list of performers also included Colbie Caillat, Robyn, Young Norwegian Strings, Barry Manilow, Jamiroquai and Final act. The Nobel Peace Prize Concert was held in Oslo on the 11th December 2010 in honour of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 2010, Liu Xiaobo. The concert was hosted by Denzel Washington and Anne Hathaway.
Shweta shares her experiences with me, â€œIt was a delight to meet Herbie Hancock (the jazz legend) and her wife. He said he loved Indian sound and Rahman was his favourite. Rahman sir of course was his great admirer too.â€
Also present was India Arie. â€œIndia Arie is such a gorgeous person. With that talent, she had lovely things to share about her music. I joked that since she was known as India all her life, she better make a trip soon and sing on an Indian track tooâ€, she adds.
The excitement was really about Jamiroquai. She passionately recalls, â€œI loved meeting Jay Kay (Jamiroquai,) heâ€™s a true artist! He sang at the concert for an hour almost and having performed there myself, it was tiring! But this man made it to the after-party at the hotel and sang for 3 hours non-stop. I have high regards for him! The audience was in love with him. He introduced me to his large collection of hats in his green room. Heâ€™s very humorous too.â€
â€œThe rehearsals were my greatest learning time, even during the Jai Ho tours and especially the Nobel Concert. It was so busy that even one minute was not unused. I loved the rehearsals of Florence Welch from Florence + The machine. What a voice she has! I also enjoyed Jamiroquaiâ€™s rehearsals too.â€
She further shares about the hosts of the show, â€œAnne Hathaway and Denzel Washington were so warm during the show. It was like they were two friends Iâ€™ve always known. They were sharing stories about their journey of becoming actors, especially Anne, because sheâ€™s an awesome singer too. Supremely talented and down to earth is a mild description of her. I loved meeting her. She also gave me a special hand written note before leaving, that I cherish!â€
Having travelled to London, South Africa, Australia, Singapore, Canada and all over America for the Jai Ho tours, she must have learned so much from each country since they are all from different continents.
â€œIf I begin to share my experiences on this world tour, I can write a 400 page book! (Laughs). It was almost like Alice In Wonderland. Each place was like a door which would open up to a magical journey, and meeting so many different people and learning each second of my life.
The first time I ever visited America last year was with Rahman sir, so it will always stay with me! As a child, all my chances of going to the USA would drain out due to my school and college, and I would cry buckets! But my mother always said, itâ€™s because the best will come your way and take you there! I always thought she was reading a line from a fairy tale, but it came true! It was so worth the waiting,â€ explains Shweta.
In the same tone she fervently says, â€œI truly went there with the best! (A.R Rahman). We rehearsed in LA and Washington for a month, I met some of the best musicians there and now I can say I also found some of my best friends on this tour. There was so much love, appreciation and respect for all the work! I was learning from everyone I met. The concerts were great. Audiences in the thousands turned up and I had a blast and felt magical energy on that stage.â€
Being a Mumbai girl, any good memories she has from the cities she visited? â€œThere are too many; silly things like losing my way in Downtown Chicago. I was all by myself and had done no study of that city. I only studied NYC and LA to the core, but I took off and landed at some colourful street and then a stranger gave me a map and taught me how to get the train to the hotel where we were staying in. The best part was my phone had no battery. I wasnâ€™t scared but did freak out when I got onto a wrong bus and they took me further ahead, because the names of the streets were the same. The best part was, I met amazing strangers, I was lucky! All of them only helped me, I couldnâ€™t be more thankfulâ€
â€œMy trip to NYC was special. We had 5 days off before the next show in Boston and we were all in Texas. I took a flight to NYC and decided to shop and sight see, because our tour performed everywhere except Manhattan. I was all by myself and I just wanted to see this city up close. It was a challenge for a first timer in US. I had all my bags and belongings too. I still cannot believe how I managed this trip, because I was so comfy being taken care by the team on tour etc. Luckily two friends helped me see so much in NYC in these 5 days. I had the best time. I shopped like a maniac at 5th AV. My trip was made more special.â€
â€œThe third crazy time was on the way to Norway. I was flying via Paris by myself; the whole team flew via Brussels. I had to halt at the Paris airport for 30 hours due to a snow storm. The city was so beautiful that I decided to see the Eiffel and Notre Dame Church and the tunnel where Princess Diana had passed away (I always loved her). The only problem was I had no warm clothes. I had a pair of jeans and a thin shirt which I had worn from Mumbai, I just had a jacket and I used the shawl given by the airline. It was minus 10 degrees outside but I braved it and actually went to all these places in those 30 hours. What a day!â€
So what does her mother has to say about all this, â€œMy mother doesnâ€™t find these experiences interesting; she only gets worked up and tells me to be careful. I couldnâ€™t agree more, sheâ€™s right,â€ concludes Shweta.
Being on concert tours is not always easy for an artist due to the juggling of work and tours in such a competitive environment, especially in Bollywood. So whatâ€™s her strategy of keeping up with her assignments and she passionately replies, â€œItâ€™s usually the balance that is the toughest to handle. I normally give priority to recordings though many people do it the other way around. I feel a singerâ€™s life is expressed more through a recorded song than a live rendition of someone elseâ€™s song. Though doing both things is difficult and a challenge at both levels. Neither of them is easy.â€
She adds, â€œI still have to make a mark for myself as a playback singer, itâ€™s not been easy for me, unlike what most people think about me, because I am a fighter and always have a smile on my face. I have to prove myself a lot more than most singers today, because I have a very strong music background, which makes people want to judge and compare a lot more than they do others, but I keep focus on my jobâ€
She further adds that these days if a recording date clashes with a performance at a concert, most playback singers are replaced with another. When asked about her feelings, â€œI think thatâ€™s the only thing I question in todayâ€™s times. In earlier days, if a music director and producer wanted a certain voice; they would wait until only that singer showed up. I miss that meticulous and articulate nature sometimes.â€
When quizzed about the quality of songs being churned out these days, especially on thin songs, she believes that not all songs are thin and some do have a tune in particular, but overall they are more like sounds and dance beats to get hooked on for clubs. She further elaborates, â€œI donâ€™t count on them as anything to offer a singer but if they get popular then people still start taking you seriously as a singer, even if there was actually nothing to sing on it. Thatâ€™s always funny!â€
But the outlook of the music industry is still positive from her point of view as she thinks some composers still come up with lovely tunes and those songs of course stand out as the best too! She enjoys the singing and the songs of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
Asked for her opinion on Rahmanâ€™s rise to international fame, she says that this was all expected as his new sounds and way of working was way ahead of its time, even back in the 90â€™s. She also reckons that the win for the Oscar is a great recognition for Indian music talent.
Having worked with Rahman on concerts for almost 3 years, she elates, â€œI can say he has a beloved child in him who is always ready to learn new things, experiment with sounds, voices, musicians, instruments and all this with a heart of gold. Heâ€™s one of the most humble and wonderful people to work with.â€
Shweta also personally shares how she feels she has a karmic connection with Rahman and recalls, â€œI have been his biggest fan since I was 7 years old. I was very sick in 1996 and my healing was just not ready to happen. I had fever for the longest time and no reason was detected. I didnâ€™t go to school for 15 days. I was looking normal but had fever. All I did during that time was having a Walkman on and listen to A.R Rahmanâ€™s music. I didnâ€™t know what else I could do, as I had no strength to play or dance. The doctor said I should just be resting till I get normal.â€
â€œOne day I slept overnight with the headphones on and when I woke up at 6am, I quietly got ready and walked to school. I was healed. It was like nothing had ever happened to me. I didnâ€™t take medicines to heal during this time and I knew I was healed with the music I was listening to. And of course, I do hope and pray that he has few of his best tunes in his mind just for me!â€, she concludes with a blush.
Shweta mentioned in her last interview about being approached for a few offers in movies, â€œIf a role that I am convinced about comes my way, why not. Acting is an extension of what I have studied all my life. Emotions! To be a playback singer, most times, we study emotions and how to communicate a feeling in a musical way. Acting is drama, believing, larger than life and has many colours to it. If my director believes that I can do a certain important role then I would love that experience.â€
Her forthcoming releases include Hema Maliniâ€™s Tell Me O Khuda for Pritam, Tanuja Chandraâ€™s Raakh with MM Kreem, Chatur Singh Two Star starring Sanjay Dutt and Amisha Patel for Sajid Wajid.
Shweta is currently rehearsing for a new version of Rahmanâ€™s India Tour with Rapport Global which kicks start on May 15th in Nagpur and 29th May 2011 in Bangalore.