I am missing the magic of live: Pankaj Udhas

In January this year, Ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas completed 40 long years of his career. With more than 50 albums under his belt and some ever-green film songs including ‘Chitthi Aayee Hai and ‘Jeeye To Jeeye Kaise, the singer was all set for a grand celebration — 40 concerts across the country. However, he could do only one at the Nehru Stadium in Mumbai in January. “Things changed completely after Covid struck. Nobody could imagine,” laments this Padma Shri recipient.

For someone who has always preferred live concerts, jumping the digital bandwagon, like many other singers was not really an option. “You just cannot create the right atmospherics in a virtual concert. There is no intimacy, no immediate feedback and no interaction with the audience,” says Udhas.

Feeling that in current times, the whole narrative has been around Covid, and many other diseases which also require urgent attention were being ignored, Udhas, who is also the President of Parent’s Association Thalassemic Unit Trust (PATUT) decided to do a fundraiser called ‘The Ghazal Symphony’, which was streamed on Hungama Platforms on November 21.

“I had recently performed 11 of my most popular Ghazals with violinist Deepak Pandit in a Symphony set-up that involved 40 musicians. While Ghazal as a genre is spontaneous like Jazz, in this the music was arranged. Also, it was captured on a five camera set up and recorded on multi-track. We had a good opportunity to do post production work properly. The concert therefore had top class sound and great visuals. Considering we did not want to charge for a virtual concert, a call for funds was raised through Ketto. “

Optimistic about the future and popularity of Ghazals among the young, the veteran singer says that one just has to take a look at social media to see how the genre is faring among the young. “Be it Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, don’t we see a lot of couplets being thrown around by young kids? I agree they may not be in the major groove of Urdu literature, but they are still using lines by Mirza Ghalib to current generation poets like Bashir Badr and are therefore aware of the poetic aspect.

Also, back in 1998, I made some changes in terms of the musical approach to my Ghazals. I intentionally created some numbers which were sung keeping in mind the young. They were accompanied by videos that would appeal to the younger generation. Take for example the nazm — ‘Aur Is Tarah Kijiye Batein’. I get tagged by youngsters singing it on Instagram.”

Believing that the digital medium can be instrumental in making Ghazals more popular, Udhas plans a series of activities on his YouTube channel that will involve young listeners, once the pandemic is over.

The singer, who has seen the music industry shift from albums to singles, calls the development a tragedy. “Albums were in demand when we sold music physically. While selling CDs, records, one needed a certain playing time, like 44 minutes on a CD. To accomplish that, six to eight numbers were required.

It’s sad that today as far as audio labels are concerned, they show zero per cent physical sales. Now even DVDs are more or less gone. So the point is when physical sales are gone, how do you monetize eight numbers? In order to create eight songs, one needs money — to pay the poet, studio and musicians. That’s why everyone has got into singles, because with that you are investing a limited amount of finances..”

Talk to him about his absence from the movie music scene and Udhas feels that film music is going through a dark phase and has not really made any headway in quite some time. “In the 80’s, when Nadeem Shravan came up with ‘Aashiqui’, it became the music of the nation crossing all barriers. Or take the music of ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ which spellbound everyone.. We haven’t had any major success like that lately. Cinema music will take a while to recover because they have got into a groove — they need to break out of that and try to create something different.”