“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.” These words by Plato encapsulate the visceral relationship that humankind has had with music. Since time immemorial, music has been a silent ally in difficult situations, and an indispensable aspect of every kind of celebration in our lives.
For many Indians, Bollywood has played an important role in shaping our relationship with music with films being the primary source of some of the most unforgettable Indian compositions. Songs have been an integral part of the movie-watching experience and in many instances, good soundtracks have helped pull crowds to the theatres.
On the occasion of World Music Day, here are a few women who have won the hearts of millions with their unforgettable renditions.
One of the most versatile and prolific contemporary playback singers in Bollywood, Shilpa Rao started her journey in music by singing jingles for three years. The statistics graduate got her first break when she met singer-lyricist-composer Mithoon during her college days. He called her for recording the song Tose Naina (Anwar) and they went on to collaborate for two other projects, which did little for her career.
The much-needed propellant came in the form of the romantic number Khuda Jaane (Bachna Ae Haseeno) composed by the duo Vishal Shekher. The song became a timeless classic and Shilpa won the Star Screen Award. Soon after, her mellifluous voice could be heard across several soundtracks, including Anjaana Anjaani (Anjaana Anjaani), Nain Parindey (Lafangey Parindey), Allah Maaf Kare (Desi Boyz), Jazba (Ladies vs Ricky Bahl), Mudi Mudi (Paa), Ishq Shava (Jab Tak hai Jaan), Subhanallah (Ye Jawaani Hai Deewani), Manmarziyan (Lootera), Aaj Jane ki Zidd Na Karo (Ae Dil Hai Mushkil) and most recently Ghungroo (War), which won her a Filmfare Award.
Shilpa has also had the honour of singing in the globally acclaimed musical show Coke Studio Pakistan, which speaks volumes about her stature in the industry. The singer recently collaborated with renowned sitar player Anoushka Shankar and has lent her voice to support various causes and charitable organisations as well.
That’s not all! She also participated in online concerts organised by the Cancer Patients Aid Association (CPAA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) and in social welfare initiative Guzar Jayega to help people cope with mental health issues during the lockdown.
Anushka Manchanda’s name is more likely to conjure images of a tall, smiling woman performing daredevil stunts in the reality show Khatron Ke Khiladi with as much ease as the protagonists in Rohit Shetty films. But Anushka has also established a niche for herself as a bold, spunky singer who has donned multiple hats, crooning to the tunes of the most eminent composers in Bollywood.
The singer shot to fame by earning a place for herself in Viva! in 2002. The group was India’s first all-girl pop band and the members were selected through the popular talent show Coke [V] Popstars. Anushka’s music repertoire includes a vast number of Bollywood hits like Mit Jaye Gham (Dum Maaro Dum), Dance Basanti (Ungli), Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu (Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu), Behke Behke (Aisha), Go Go Golmaal (Golmaal 3), and even songs in Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada albums as well.
The outspoken singer is also known to have used her voice for other causes beyond musical projects. Her first independent music video Don’t Be Afraid (2018) had a strong message against patriarchy and Anushka herself has been quoted saying that she would not sing songs that objectify women.
For many Indian millennials, Chandu Ke Chacha by Aasma was their first tryst with a typical foot-tapping club song. For band member Neeti Mohan, it was the beginning of her highly successful music career. The band was another product of the talent reality show Popstars on Channel V, and Neeti — along with other members of the band — had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to perform with Bryan Adams in 2003.
Although the band had a short-lived presence, Neeti continued to win hearts with her dulcet voice. Her participation in the music reality show Music Ka Maha Muqqabla (2009) on Star Plus paved the way for the second milestone in her music career. She was spotted by none other than A R Rahman and was called to lend her voice to Anushka Sharma’s character for the song Jiya Re (Jab Tak Hai Jaan).
The song fetched her the Filmfare Award for the Best Female Playback Singer. In the same year, Neeti also sang the superhit Ishq Wala Love (Student of the Year) composed by Vishal Shekhar, and the Punjabi track Saddi Gali (Nautanki Saala!) co-composed and co-sung by Ayushmann Khurana. In 2015, her wide vocal range found a taker in Amit Trivedi – she sang six jazz tracks for the soundtrack album of Bombay Velvet.
While the film tanked at the box office, there was no looking back for Neeti, who has inched her way to being one of the most popular playback singers in the country.
In 2016, Baar Baar Dekho was shunned by the audiences and critics alike. However, the film gave us one of the most unforgettable tracks of the year – Kho Gaye Hum Kahaan sung by Jasleen Royal and Prateek Kuhad.
For Jasleen, a singer-songwriter-composer who sings in Punjabi, Hindi, English and Gujarati, it was a breakthrough. She displayed her versatility as a singer with another song in the same album Nachde Ne Saare, which became an indispensable part of wedding playlists.
Self-taught with no formal training in music, Jasleen had found a spot in the semi-finals of the first season of the reality show India’s Got Talent in 2009.
With a talent for instruments — guitar, mouth organ, flute, and tambourine — her success was imminent. In 2013, her composition, Pancchi Ho Jaava earned her the title of the Best Indie Song at the MTV Video Music Awards. The following year, she entered Bollywood with the song Preet (Khoobsurat).
In 2018, Jasleen set a benchmark by composing the music for the Rani Mukerji starrer Hichki – a positive change given that women music composers in Bollywood are yet to be the norm. Her latest release, a Punjabi number called Nit Nit, shows Jasleen coping with the pangs of heartache with the help of her pet dog.
Since 2012, no Holi party in India is deemed complete without revellers dancing to Balam Pichkari from the 2013 blockbuster Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. Although most Bollywood buffs would remember Deepika Padukone and Ranbir Kapoor’s dance moves in this energetic song, few would be able to name the singer. Shalmali Kholgade, daughter of renowned classical singer and theatre artist Uma Kholgade, had received a Filmfare nomination for the Best Female Playback Singer of the Year in 2014 for this song.
Interestingly, Shalmali had bagged the Black Lady the previous year for the chart–topping romantic number Pareshaan from Ishaqzaade — her debut number. Her husky voice made Pareshaan pluck the strings of our hearts, and lent itself in equally agreeable ways in fast-paced tracks like Lat Lag Gayee (Race) and Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai. The singer had also been selected by the Los Angeles College of Music but she had to turn it down due to her recording commitments.
Shalamali is also set to debut as a music composer soon.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)