'The Wake Up Sid song changed my life completely'Patcy N in Mumbai
Singer Kavita Seth shot to fame with her chart-topping Sufi rendition of Gunja Sa Koi Iktara from the film Wake Up Sid.
Today, just a year later, she finds herself one of the busiest singers in all of Bollywood.
Kavita told Patcy N about her family, her journey from small-town Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh to the dream city Mumbai, her upcoming projects and a whole lot more. Excerpts:
I am from Bareilly, Uttar Pradesh, but shifted to Mumbai about four years back. My mother is a house wife and my father is retired from a bank.
After I had both of my kids, I did a double MA in Hindi Literature and Music (Alankar). My husband is very supportive, and let me pursue my dreams.
I have been passionate about music since childhood. My father would take me to dargahs; there I became inclined towards Sufi music.
I learned from ND Sharma in the Gwalior Gharana tradition. As a kid I sang different forms of music, but later realised that I had a special love for Sufi music.
When I was just seven, ND Sharma came to my colony to teach someone else. I told him I wanted to learn from him, and so he asked me to sing. He liked my voice, and came to my house to tell my parents that he would teach me and to get a harmonium for me. Till that point, I had to go to my neighbour's house to play the harmonium, which I had learned to do on my own.
Guruji only taught me how to sing the ragas.
Image: Kavita Seth with her son Kavish
Video: Afsar Dayatar
'My first paid show wasn't until I was 13'
My parents were very supportive about my singing, but they had no knowledge of what I should do in music. They weren't even sure what a raga was! Nor would they collect any information.
Whatever had to be done -- all the training and meeting music teachers and getting admission -- I did it on my own.
I was a complete dreamer. I would always be lost in my thoughts and dreams, imagining that I was singing in a huge stadium, surrounded by large crowds.
When my parents came to know that I was to pursue singing as a career, they did not object, but asked me to only do it to a limit -- because I was a girl and brought up in a small town. My grandmother did not like me coming late from the shows.
But all the Mushairas [poetic symposium] are always late in the evening, and I went alone and nobody from my house came along with me. So I would reach home late and get a firing from my grandmother. But I was ready to bear all the consequences for music, as it was my passion.
I auditioned for Rampur Radio Station and got selected and started singing there. By the time I was 12, I was doing many stage shows, but my first paid show wasn't until I was 13.
Image: Kavita Seth
'I was meant for bigger things'
Once, when I was singing at a competition, composer O P Nayyar heard me singing. He gave me first prize and told me to shift to Mumbai, explaining I had a unique voice with a lot of scope for the future.
But my parents told me they couldn't take me to Mumbai, and that I could only continue my singing in Bareilly. They told me that once I get married, and if my husband allows to me sing and take me to Mumbai, then it would be a different case. I felt really bad, but I knew that one day I would become a professional singer.
I prayed and dreamt every day that who ever married me should be understanding and allow me to pursue my dream of singing. As soon I finished my graduation, my parents got me married.
When I got engaged, I told my fiance, Krishna Kumar Seth, that I could give up everything but my passion for music. He understood, and immediately got in touch with HMV and enquired about their audition process. I was thrilled.
After marriage, I continued singing on radio and TV; but I wasn't able to put much time in it due to my two sons, Kavish and Kanishk. Both had to be taken care off.
After that my husband got posted to Tatanagar, and I went to Delhi for auditions. I had my first audio release in those days, back when there were only cassettes.
After that came his transfers to Guwahati and Delhi proper. I started teaching singing in Delhi Public School, but I was not satisfied. I thought I was meant for bigger things. So one day I talked it over with my husband, and he supported my decision to quit.
Then I started doing ticket shows where people paid to listen to my singing, but I was singing for an elite crowd, who were interested in listening to Ghazals and light classical.
When in Delhi I started going for world tours. My elder son Kavish plays the table well and also sings; he is student of IIT Mumbai. He sometimes comes with me on my tours and plays the tabla.
Image: Kavita Seth
'I mainly sing for khuda'
Once, while performing at a show in Delhi, Satish Kaushik [actor/director] told me to come to Mumbai. I came and sang a song Zindagi Ko Sawar De Maula, for his film Vaada. While I was in Mumbai for the recording, I also went and met Mahesh Bhatt sir. Bhaat sir told me that if I wanted a serious career in music, I had to shift to Mumbai.
My husband works for the Airport Authority of India, and luckily he got a transfer to Mumbai, so that we could shift here.
Once I came to Mumbai, Mahesh gave me Mujhe Mat Roko in Gangster. After that, I started getting offers, but I wanted to do quality work, not quantity, because I grew up among poets and I am performed at Mushairas.
I mainly sing Sufi songs, and sing for khuda (God). So even though I got offers, I did not take up most of them. Those songs were also good, but not in line with my taste.
But even after coming to Mumbai, I could not totally devote my time to singing for two years because my son was preparing for IIT, so I stopped stage shows and recording. I would only do riyaz at home.
But after two years I got Gunja Sa Koi Iktara from Wake Up Sid, which gave me my first taste of real fame: it changed my life completely.
I am still the same person. I have the same working style. But now people recognise me on the street and my work is well-known, which is what every artist craves for.
Recently my son Kavish and I sang a song, Music He Hai, for the film Admissions Open, for Amit Trivedi. I was called to sing a song about a mother and son, but since there was no male singer, Kavish sang the male voice, which was to be later replaced by some other singer. But it so happened that after he sang, Amit liked my son's voice and retained it. It is a different kind of a song, not like the Sufi songs that I sing.
Now I am getting lots of songs, plus I am going on a world tour in July. So there is a lot of work.
Image: Kavita Seth
'I wish that, some day, I would get to sing a song like Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam'
My latest song is from the movie Raajneeti. Also I have recorded for Rajshree Productions. My new album on Amir Kushro will be released soon. I have composed and sung all the songs.
But more then recording the songs in the studio, I love giving live performances, because they immediately connect you with your audience.
But even when I never got work, I was never frustrated because I know that Sufi singing is not very popular in Bollywood. I feel that if you work hard, you will be rewarded.
Sometimes people object to my singing, saying that I am Hindu and should not sing Sufi songs, because Sufi songs praise Allah and Islam. But I know that Sufism is not about following any one religion. It is about following love, so such things don't affect me.
But there are others who appreciate my singing, especially my pronunciations of Urdu. They say, 'Being a Hindu, your pronunciations of Urdu and Persian is so good. How did you achieve it?'
I want to spread Sufi music to as many people as possible, because it preaches love.
I wish that, some day, I would get to sing a song like Waqt Ne Kiya Kya Haseen Sitam from Kagaz Ke Phool sung by Geeta Dutt.
Image: Kavita Seth with her sons Kavish and Kanishk