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Roop Kumar Rathod: Today the conviction of filmmakers for composers is not strong

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As the singing couple Roop Kumar Rathod and Sunali Rathod completed 25 years of togetherness in music, they made a comeback, after a gap of five years, with the album ‘Zikr Tera’, a tribute to the Ghazal maestro Late Jagjit Singh. As they launched the album, we engaged in a quick chat with the singing duo in our special section Music Mania. Excerpts from the interview:

In day and age when rock music has taken over, the entire genre of music has changed, how have you guys maintained to keep the ghazal genre alive?
Roop: If you do your music with conviction then your listeners will listen to you anyway. India has a big audience for Ghazals, if people had left listening to Ghazals, there would be no ghazal shows and musicians like Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz would not be performing. Over the years, although other genres have undergone change, Ghazal remains as pure. There has been no dilution in this genre.

Sunali: Actually, it is not a question of what music works today and what doesn’t because we are basically musicians in service to music. So we will present what we have learnt and appeals to today’s music listeners. We still have many followers in India and across the globe for our Ghazal concert. The benchmark of the genre would be number of shows we do and the audience base has only been increasing. Usually, Classical singers don’t pay attention to presentation during concerts but we do that.

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Despite being part of Bollywood projects, your trademark traditional touch in music has not faded away?
Roop: The question should be other way around because I started off as a Ghazal singer and I kept my association with the genre alive as I love Urdu language, like hearing to shayaris from poets. Bollywood came my way as I went along but I never considered it my priority. It is my sheer luck that all good songs came my way. So it is not difficult for me to pick between both. If I had concentrated on film work, then it would have lost my relevance to ghazal. Because I am a performer and has grown with ghazal, I am more comfortable le to express my music, emotions through ghazals. I am happy with my balance of ghazals and films. I am comfortably doing both the things.

What makes you keep away from the contemporary music?
Roop: I am never away from contemporary music and very much follow new releases. But composers cannot call me to record songs like ‘Chaar Botal Vodka!’. Like my last few songs in AGNEEPATH and RANG RASIYA, the composer or director called me as the song suited me – the lyrics, mood and singing style has to complement my style of singing. I think it is better that my name is not associated with such songs, even if it means me being choosy about the songs I record.

What made you come back for this Ghazal album? And why we didn't see you together for five long years?
Sunali: After our last Ghazal album some 10 years back, we saw a clear decline in the popularity of Ghazals. As both of us are experimental, we did other albums like ‘Man Pasand’, accomplishment of ‘Geet’ and Ghazal produced by Ranjit Barot. After that, we did Kalma and then we did a devotional album. There is no dearth of work as we have always been occupied. As I have learnt Indian classical music as a base, I love to sing different kinds of music. Now, after such a long period, especially after Jagjit ji’s demise, the youth do want to listen to good poetry with fine lyrical value – something they can hum to their beloved! Also, we are basically performers and it takes us on a high to see reactions of the audience. We have performed innumerable concerts in India and abroad and that is something that keeps us busy and god willing, we will be busy regaling the audience for the next 25 years!

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Roop: In the past few years, be it Ghazal singing, sufi singing, playback has kept me busy.  I did a sufi album Teri Justajoo with Sony music. Next I recorded two fusion albums with the world renowned percussionist Trilok Gurtu – Beats of love and African Fantasy. I performed with many Classical musicians like Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pt. Ronu Majumdar, Rakesh Chaurasia, Niladri Kumar, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, George Brooks and many others. We fit into any music as our base is Indian Classical Music. Apart from that, I have been recording in Gujarati, Tamil, Kanada, Nepali and Oriya.

Was it music that brought you close or vice-versa?
Sunali: Definitely it was music that brought us together. Both of us were keen students in the 1980s and although we were not couple singers before marriage, we both were trying to carve a niche for 

Roop: We met at a music concert in the 1980s. I was playing at the CCI and she was in the audience. That was the first time I saw Sunali and she saw me performing. Then we started our careers together, we used to sit for hours designing our concerts, programming the concerts and one day suddenly we realized this is love. It is only because of music that we are together after so many years.

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What do you guys have to say about your musical partnership? After completing 25 years how do you look at it? Have there been creative differences and insecurity?
Roop: I would say there was no insecurity but creative differences have certainly been there. Sometimes we fight over commercial aspect of a tune, she likes artistic finesse while I think if it will work commercially. Sometimes I compose four tunes for the same song and she strikes down everything and then I make another one. So my creativity keeps increasing with her around!

Sunali: Yes always. Any artist will have insecurity and it is part of the game. There will always be differences, be it during making of the album or concerts. But our choices are not that apart as we like similar kind of music and that has kept our pair alive.

'Roop Kumar Rathod: I am never away from contemporary music'

Do you agree that music has degraded over the years? And why there are less opportunities or why don't we see the singing legends much today?
Roop: The society has undergone change; patience level among the audience has also reduced. They have lesser time to appreciate art. The art form has commercialized in the hands of the corporates, imagine Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma been told not do any alaap but just dive into the jugalbandi to entertain the audience. There is too much restlessness among the audience.
 
Today we have five to six composers scoring for each film album. Have film directors lost faith in composers? The conviction of filmmakers is not strong; they are so insecure that they want to take best of each composer and put it together. In older times, director had stronger conviction like composer Salil Choudhary refused to record without Lata Mangeshkar.

Sunali: Not only music but every form of creative art has degraded be it painting, literature or any other. In old times, there was too much of leisure time available and old legends like Ghalib, Meer and even English poets worked because they loved to perform. There was no commercial angle involved. World has become commercial today. There are corporate companies who are not essentially artists running the business of art. Further, artists have to compromise to suit likes and dislikes of business people as they call the shots more than the artists. So, definitely there has to be degeneration of the mediums

But I also think there are ample opportunities for all kinds of singers today and more and more artists are coming up. It is not that there are only two big singers in the industry. Today, it is easier to come up with album, perform on stage even for a Bollywood new singer. It is the right time for upcoming talent.

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