What was it like being part of “Slumdog Millionaire”, which won four Golden Globe awards? SUDHISH KAMATH asks Tanvi Shah who sang ‘Jai Ho’
PHOTO: R. RAVINDRAN
Fullthroated Tanvi Shah can sing soprano, tenor, bass and alto
After “Slumdog Millionaire” won four awards at the Who’s Going Home With The Golden Globes, we make Tanvi Shah, who sang two songs, including the much-acclaimed ‘Jai Ho’ for Danny Boyle’s masterpiece, take the hot
seat and shoot a few questions of our own.
“Why are you talking to me,” she shoots back. “Talk to Rahman. It’s his time,” she adds, quite flummoxed by the fact that her phone hasn’t stopped ringing since. She wonders why. “Life has changed. Suddenly, people are calling me. But, I’m glad my hard work is paying off.”
She had no idea she was driving towards a life-changing twist on her way to Rahman’s studio. “I went in and heard Sukhi’s (Sukhwinder) voice and I was in awe of the notes he hit. And Rahman said: ‘Go in and try something different. Think out of the box. Throw your voice out loud like no one’s around to listen.’ I couldn’t believe he wanted me to sing, and the challenge was that I had to match up to Sukhi.”
Tanvi also wrote the Spanish bits for the song, given her knack of adapting to the demands of songs that require foreign sounds. In the past five years of singing for Rahman, since she did backing vocals for ‘Fana’ in “Yuva” (“It was on May 13, 2003,” she remembers), she had been to the studio for all kinds of singing.
“I love doing backing vocals for him because every time I go in, I come out learning something new,” says the singer who also officially trained under Augustine Paul.
Apart from ‘Jai Ho,’ she joined BlaaZe for ‘Gangsta Blues’ for “Slumdog”. “Rahman’s brief was simple. He said: ‘Go wild’.”
After that initial burst of easy questions, we shift to the million dollar ones: Having followed and worked with Rahman for the last five years, does she truly believe “Slumdog Millionaire” is his best work till date?
“My favourites are ‘Rang De Basanti’ and ‘Bose — The Forgotten Hero’. These particular scores are good no doubt, but I’ve heard better from him. That’s because from an Indian audience point of view, we’ve heard so much. I don’t think Hollywood has heard his music. Take ‘Bombay’, ‘Thiruda Thiruda’, ‘Iruvar’, ‘Guru’ or ‘Bose’ and the scores he has given for those films… If you listen to ‘Azaadi’ or ‘Jaage’, you will get goose bumps. Or ‘Swades’ and ‘Lagaan’. You put all these songs on one side and then you put ‘Slumdog’ and what do you think?
Recently, we worked on this movie called ‘Ada’. That movie, you must listen to the choir.
It was a super duper difficult piece. I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, he wants to push himself trying out new sounds. He would say: ‘I want a Bulgarian voice, I want a screaming voice, I want to hear Andalusian mountain women, I want a high pitched voice, I want a whisper that breaks into a full-throated voice and then goes nasal.”
That’s where singers like Tanvi come into play.
“I can sing soprano, tenor, bass and alto all by myself. There are times when I’ve done that but there’s an amazing chemistry when we sing in a choir. ‘Jai Ho’ was done in a couple of hours,” she recollects.
Tanvi only realised that the song was going to be used for “Slumdog” much later.
“I went in for some recording and asked him out of curiosity if he had retained my voice in ‘Jai Ho’?” And he was like, ‘Of course. ‘Gangsta Blues’ also.’ I was like, ‘Thank you, Thank you, Thank You.’ I was so happy. After five or six years, you get to sing for a Hollywood movie, would I be excited? Hell, yeah. Now that the film has won four Golden Globes, I feel elated, and glad I’m at least .25 per cent of it.”
Tanvi also sings for Yuvan Shankar Raja, Premgi Amaren, Srikant Deva and G.V. Prakash. “I’ve done quite a bit of work with Yuvan,” says the singer who can sing in 14-15 different languages.
“Whatever I am today, it is because of Rahman. Four things I learnt from him: Dedication, Determination, Patience and, to be Humble. Without these, you can never grow.”
And yes, like most of India, she’s yet to watch “Slumdog Millionaire” herself. “I’ll watch it on January 23 when it releases.”
She’s into interior designing too
“I have my own business. I have been doing interior design for the last one-and-a-half years. And my jewellery line is out. It’s called Exotic Store. I wanted to give a funky name like Vitamin T. Some day, I am going to do a song and Vitamin T is going to come out.If I keep singing, you tend to lose it. You need a distraction. I am lucky to have two professions. I just put my heart and soul into whatever I do because I realised life is too short. If I don’t do it now, when the hell would I do it?”
I did a Masters in Ceramics and didn’t like it much there in the U.S. as a graphic designer in the World Bank. I came back in 2003. Life in the U.S. is monotonous. You are working Monday to Friday like a dog. And you only get to meet up with friends on Saturdays. They drink and wake up with a hangover on Sunday. Some day, you have to do your groceries, laundry… You are not saving any money. All your money gets spent on credit cards, shopping, parking… When I was there, I would just sit by Georgetown (in Washington DC) and keep sketching because I was an art student.”
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