I come from a middle class background, a family of six. I am number five in the family of four daughters and two sons. I was born and brought up in Mumbai and went to a school there. While in school I was a very good student and took part in sports and extracurricular activities like drama, elocution and music.
My music teacher did not think I had a good voice but she did know I was musically inclined. She threw me out of singing class but gave me the chance to be in the chorus and play percussion. Without any formal training in music I started singing in a nightclub in Chennai quite by chance and got a contract from ‘The Golden Bowl’ at the Hotel Savera. From then on I got offers from all over India and my Calcutta appearance at the Trincas in Park Street made headlines. In the same year, 1969, I got my first offer for a hindi film, R.D.B and Dev Anandand and since then there has been no looking back with films, recordings, advertising jingles, events and above all concerts filling my life.
I have now been singing for 45 years with no formal training! I am now busier than ever with my diverse assignments. Additionally, I am totally involved with my audio studio ‘Studio Vibrations’ and a foundation for technicians of our industry, Stagecraft Foundation – a not for profit organisation to improve sound, light, stage, event and capability of technicians.
I think one of the biggest challenges has been to stay on without sex or glamour and a totally out of the box stage appearance. I don’t look like the normal pop icon prototype neither did my voice fit in. But I guess my belief in myself and my music helped me do everything my way. And my audiences always but always accepted me. In a world where body and fashion rules, I thank god I am still around.
From my forty five years of singing and my life experiences, I can firmly say that nothing can stop me. I have worked hard and achieved what I set out for. This is only possible, when you recognise your limitations and turn them into your strengths.
What has been your greatest achievement?
My greatest achievement has been to have travelled the world with my band and being able to maintain my ‘Indianness’. I proudly say, I have being completely original and honest.
If you weren’t a singer what would you be doing?
I weren’t a singer I would have been a teacher working with children.
Who is you greatest inspiration?
My greatest inspiration is Radio Ceylon and Harry Belafonte.
I come from a very musically inclined family and my two elder sisters Indira and Uma were my first exposure to singing and stage. But everything would have been impossible without a strong and solid family infrastructure, my parents, siblings and after marriage, my husband, children and now my two beautiful grandchildren. They have stood by me and allowed me to grow.
I consider my greatest strengths to be my family and my audiences.
I have now been singing for 45 years with no formal training!
What lessons have you learned?
From my forty five years of singing and my life experiences, I can firmly say that nothing can stop me. I have worked hard and achieved what I set out for. This is only possible, when you recognise your limitations and turn them into your strengths. I have developed my own brand of being a ‘people’s singer’. The lack of a formal training has allowed me to explore different styles and be fluid in my choices of music from being able to sing Shaan Se or Ramba for Bollywood movies to a Fever or a Love Story, a Windmills of the Mind to a Skyfall.
Do you have any regrets?
I have no regrets not learning but if I had learned sight reading, it would have helped me and my career more.
The fact that I have a different and not typical kind of Indian voice has helped me set my own standards of originality. The fact that I come from a middle class family that had enough but not plenty helped me do with what I had, right from the way I dress – the sari, the bindi, the bangles, the flowers and indeed ‘the girl next door’ look.
My message for women would be not to give up and remain authentic in whatever they do. They should follow their heads and hearts; strive towards their goals and make their families partners in their success. A number of career options have opened up today. You can pursue intellectual or creative careers, become entrepreneurs or give back to society. Studies have shown girls are topping exams, and workplaces have become more inclusive of women. While society is evolving I feel professionally it’s never been a better time than now to be a woman.
I don’t look like the normal pop icon prototype neither did my voice fit in. But I guess my belief in myself and my music helped me do everything my way.
This article was provided by WeAreTheCity Bangalore Committee Lead, Puja Kohli.