When Pankaj Udhas released his first album in 1980, he couldn’t have imagined the amazing impact he would make on the world of music.
He has remained firmly in the A-list ever since his debut delighted audiences around the world and consistently delivered hit songs that have struck a chord with different generations.
The multi-award-winning legend is still going strong 35 years later and doesn’t seem to have aged as he continues to enthrall fans with timeless hits and unforgettable live performances.
Later this month he will be returning to the UK for a whirlwind tour, performing in London, Leicester and Man-chester across three action-packed days.
Eastern Eye caught up with the softly spoken musical maestro ahead of the tour to talk about his remarkable musical journey, live tour, inspirations, coping with pressure, why he thinks Bollywood needs to raise its game musically and more.
How have you maintained such a high standard for such a long time?
When I started in 1980, the two things I kept in mind were to always stay in touch with audiences and to try not to get repetitive. With every new album and every concert I have done, I think that is what kept me going; that I have been innovative all along and tried to do new things. If you listen to my first album and my most recent release, every one has a very different sound to the others. So obviously I have given a tremendous amount of variety to listeners. I guess that is the basic reason why I have been able to still connect to people and carry on.
We have such sky-high expectations when you do a song, album or concert. How much pressure does that put on you?
(Smiles) There is no denying the fact that I am under constant pressure. Maybe that is me, my nature and my personality, even if I am doing a normal regular concert in Mumbai. For example, I am performing tomorrow and am already thinking about what I will sing – how do I start, which song do I sing and how do I take that concert forward. There is always that pressure on me, to perform and perform well, to make sure that I do not disappoint people. So that is certainly a pressure, but then I think it’s a part of my personality. I perform much better under pressure.
But you always seem so calm?
(Laughs) Well, I try not to get perturbed. I try to take things as they come, but I guess there is one phenomenon that I have experienced over a period of time, which is once I am on stage and have connected with the audience, my music and concert just flow really nicely. I kind of forget where I am and what I am doing. I just flow with the audience and forget that I am under pressure or that I have to do better. I guess it’s up to me. For those two or three hours on stage, I am somewhere else. I am not physically here maybe.
You have an incredible bank of songs. Is it becoming more difficult for you to select which ones you perform?
Yes, I think it’s getting more and more difficult because if I had to sing all the famous and favourite songs for audiences, then it would take me at least four or five hours.
More like four or five days…
(Laughs) So I try to balance between some of my favourites and definite audience favourites. Of late I have started to do a medley at the end of the concert in which I try to cover quite a few popular songs so people don’t go back disappointed.
Your songs can get very emotional. Is it hard to control your feelings on stage?
It is certainly difficult because there are some songs that are very, very emotional. I have an emotional connect with those songs as well, and every time I sing them, I am on the verge of choking up. I have been able to manage so far, but it can get very difficult.
How much are you looking forward to your UK tour this year?
Asjad, I have some wonderful memories of performing in the UK. I can only say that God is very kind that I have had an opportunity to sing at some of the finest venues in the UK and to some of the finest audiences. Now it’s again very exciting because I will be performing in new venues. Like in London it is at the Indig02, so it’s exciting that I will perform at a new, modern venue. I am singing in Manchester at the O2 Apollo, which again is very exciting. I have performed at the good old De Montfort Hall in Leicester before. But yes, touring the UK is always very exciting.
How do audiences in Britain compare to other international audiences?
My experience over all these years of UK audiences is that I really get a wide variety and cross-section of society. It’s not just an Indian audience. The listeners would comprise of people from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and from the Middle East. So I think it even more heartening to know that people from all nationalities get together. It’s so wonderful to see them together for a concert.
Do you still get the same thrill from singing Chitthi Aayee Hai?
Oh yes. That is a landmark song. I always tell everybody that such songs are never made, they just happen and Chitthi Aayee Hai just happened. If you sit down to create a song like that you might take 10 years and still not come up with one. But sometimes it just happens – everything falls in place; the lyrics, musical composition, rendition, picturisation of the song in the film (Naam), everything was just perfect. Chitthi Aayee Hai holds a very special place in my heart.
You have achieved an incredible amount in music. What are some of your greatest unfulfilled musical ambitions?
Well, I would certainly like to do much more in the field of ghazals. I feel that ghazals had taken a back seat, but now in the last five years, they are really back in action. If you open a newspaper in Mumbai today, you will find two or three adverts for ghazal concerts in the city, and it’s like that all over India. I am very passionate about this particular genre. I want to make it much more popular and reach out to many more people worldwide. That is one thing which I would love to do.
I think the other thing which comes to my mind and something I think about all the time is that I have sung a whole load of Bollywood songs, which were very successful. All those songs were more like ghazals and my style of singing film songs. They were very popular, and still are. I wish I could do many more such songs in cinema. I feel film music is lacking that particular quality of songs. That is something which is missing.
So do you think that has affected the quality of music in Bollywood?
Yes. I wish they would at least use more of these kinds of quality songs and be closer to what we have done in the past. I feel that the entire sound of Indian cinema music is very different now. One doesn’t identify with it. There is a disconnect, basically. I would really love it that some connection is created with audiences again, between them and cinema, in terms of music.
What inspires you today?
A whole lot of things. I look at my daughter’s face and it gives me so much happiness. If I am alone and suddenly it starts raining, I feel very inspired. So there are many moments in life that inspire me.
You sing songs that are deeply romantic. How much of a romantic are you in real life?
(Laughs) I could not have sung these songs if I was not romantic. So yes, I am very romantic. I think that’s an important part of one’s life. There is absolutely no life without romance.
Finally, can you give us a message for your fans?
Like I said earlier, I am really looking forward to this tour, because the UK is one of my most favourite destinations. And this time around I am singing in different venues, so it is even more exciting.
Pankaj Udhas will be performing at De Montfort Hall, Leicester, on Friday (18), the Indig02 in London on Saturday (19) and Manchester’s 02 Apollo on Sunday (20). See www.chillitickets.com for more information and ticket details. Special thanks to Vijay Bhola