The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, October 21, 2001

Rani of raga and rock
Anjum Sayed

WHEN Shubha Mudgal sang Dhoom Pichuk, many were shocked. How could an accomplished exponent in khayal and thumri be singing Indipop? Soon after, Shubha came up with Ali More Angana, followed by the chartbuster, Ab ke Sawan... and of late, Mann ke Manjeere.

Shubha  Mudgal combines the contemporary with the classical
Shubha Mudgal combines the contemporary with the classical

For puritans of classical music, the vocalist has compromised her art beyond repair and must therefore not be forgiven. But for the younger generation, she has become the new pop icon — a happy amalgam of the contemporary and classical in Indian music.

But then, Shubha herself is not too anxious to take any credit (or blame). "Several musicians before me have worked with different forms and styles while remaining solidly grounded in classical music," she explains. "Many have worked with film and theatre music and some have acted in musicals. A few reputed classical singers had even set up theatre companies in the past."

A disciple of Pandit Ram Ashreya Jha, Shubha grew up in Allahabad in a household suffused with literature and the arts. Parents Skand and Jaya Gupta were well-known writers of their time and used to take the little girl to local music and dance concerts.


Little known to many, Shubha started out as a dancer, specialising in Kathak. She remembers that to a dance examiner’s query, she had replied that she did not abide by any particular tradition, but danced to her own gharana. It was that attitude of "not wanting to be bound by rules" that helped her emerge as a classical singer with a difference.

"I took to singing at the age of 16 or 17," she recalls. "I was then doing my Intermediate at St Mary’s Convent when Sister Eugenia suggested that I be admitted to the school’s classical music classes under Kamla Bose. She was both my teacher and gurubehn. Later, she took me to her guru, Ram Ashreya Jha."

Shubha took lessons from other renowned vocalists such as Kumar Gandharva, Jitendra Abhisheki and Naina Devi, each known for his or her eclectic approach towards singing styles (gayaki). "Although I have no certificate of graduation from any of my gurus, their musical presence is evident to the trained ear in my singing," she informs.

Her foray into Indipop began rather late, in 1996 when music composer Jawahar Wattal invited her to sing Ali More Angana. The latter was then experimenting with Sufi poetry sung (with a classically trained voice) on a backing score of western instrumentation.

The second album, Ab ke Sawan came three years later with Shantanu Moitra offering her a project that combined music from different cultures with Indian lyrics. "We started work on two songs and once we found the effort satisfying, we decided to cut an album," narrates Shubha.

Shantanu says that the germ of the idea for Ab ke Sawan took root when he attended the World Music Festival at Almaty in Kazakhstan in 1998. "I came back to India and looked for a voice that fitted well with both semi-classical and pop music," he says. "Shubha was the natural choice. Initially, she was sceptical about the project, but once she got involved with the lyrics, she gave it her best shot."

The album was a super-hit. For months on end, the title number topped the music charts and ruled the air waves, making Shubha a darling of a hip-hop generation soaked in Daler Mehndi and Lucky Ali. The elderly were confused though, and criticised Shubha for succumbing to pressures of the market.

"Who are these critics?" Shubha retorts. "Perhaps the only senior musician to express any anxiety with candour was the legendary Pandit Kishan Maharajji. He was concerned not about my compromising my art, but about the fact that audiences may request me to sing popular numbers in a concert of classical music. And this is what kept happening because Ab ke Sawan was such a resounding hit."

Shubha’s latest music video, Mann ke Manjeere is, according to her, "more challenging" as it deals with the hopes and aspirations of the Indian woman who, breaking the shackles of convention, has come into her own. "The inspiration came from Shameem Pathan, a fiercely independent woman in Ahmedabad.

She started out with kite making and milk vending, but now drives her own Matador van!"

For all her success in Indipop, Shubha insists that her loyalty will always be towards classical music.

"Old is gold," she maintains. "Indipop is only an incidental and happy spin-off from classical music. For what matters ultimately is a really good composition that must stand the test of time." MF

Home Top