Ankur Pathak in Mumbai
Just one day prior to the luminous Navratri fiesta, the much-loved, much-missed Dandiya queen, Falguni Pathak, who performs live for the garba and dandiya celebrations annually, appears completely unperturbed by the chaos that surrounds her.
The grounds at a suburban Mumbai club are being given the final touches, the stage is crowded by numerous, sophisticated pieces of musical equipment, their wires in a tangled heap. The thumping tracks from the sound system make it absolutely impossible to have a decent conversation.
Adding to the chaos, scores of television channels vie with each other to get an exclusive byte. It's like a mock rehearsal for the extravaganza that starts today.
"Mumbai's vibrancy is unmatchable. I have missed the city quite a lot. This year, my excitement has escalated all the more," says Falguni, referring to her absence from the city last year when she performed in Gujarat much to the disappointment of her local fans.
Clad in her familiar attire of chinos, a loose-fitting T-shirt, and a black waistcoat, Pathak flaunts her wardrobe revamp this year.
"Designer Amy Billimoria has made clothes that are going to make me look very young," she laughs, as designer Amy lets slip some details of the new look: "The colours are vibrant and funky and there is a lot of fusion with multi-coloured jackets. The idea is not to transform Falguni's traditional style but to simply give it a refreshing touch."
'I begin my rehearsals along with my band one month in advance'
It is not easy to entertain a crammed audience over a period of nine days. But Pathak has been doing it for over a decade. "It is a highly demanding job, but the sight of a pleased crowd keeps me going without feeling too exhausted," says the lady who is inching towards 50.
Though it's just a nine-day event, she says elaborate preparations are made months in advance for the show to conclude smoothly. "I begin my rehearsals along with my band one month in advance without which I cannot function."
There are diet restrictions too. "I stay away from food that contains a lot of oil or is spicy. Indulging even a little can break the flow which would result in my throat breaking down," she says.
Among the many functions held during the Navratri season, Falguni Pathak's is the one that attracts an overwhelming crowd which consists of people from all walks of life. From local residents, models, TV stars and at times even folks from Bollywood, all of which of course pulls in the sizeable sponsors.
'There is an ample amount of research time before I face the audience'
With such a massive crowd to please, how does she plan her performances and co-ordinate with her team mates?
"There is an ample amount of research time before I face the audience. It includes rounding up on the theme, current events, a thorough song-selection process handpicked from the latest chartbusters to the more relevant ones," she says.
Talking of chartbusting songs, it must not be forgotten that the ebullient singer has cut some romantic songs in the past, which went on to become sensational hits. Of the recent songs that have come out from film albums, which is the one she herself can't stop shaking a leg to?
"Bollywood is producing some really unique tunes with young composer-singers taking charge. I really can't choose just one. There have been immensely beautiful tracks all through the year," she replies evasively.
Prod her a little more and she says, "Saadi Galli from Tanu-Manu is an absolute delight. But my favorite Dandiya song would be Kesariyo Rang Tane..."
'We are a species that is bound to make mistakes'
She is concerned about her audience and maintains that she would never let them down. Any on-stage goof-ups in recent times she remembers? Breaking into a smile, she says, "By God's grace, there hasn't been even one. And so what if it happens? We are a species that is bound to make mistakes. Even if it does happen, nothing wrong about it, we will move on."
It is only during these few festival days that one actually gets to see so much of the singer. What goes on during the rest of the year?
Juggling between a pair of drums and alerting her secretary for some water, Pathak says she has enough to do throughout the year. "For the past 12 years, I have been doing shows both in India and abroad. But mostly they happen in the US, Canada and the UK. These assignments are the reason I am away for so long. The international market is huge, and I am grateful I have a reasonable fan-following."
'I am constantly re-inventing myself with the music'
Doesn't a constant line-up of live concerts leave her utterly exhausted, specially since it involves a lot of physical activity? What does she do to unwind?"At times, it does get immensely stressful to maintain the vibrancy in all my shows and yet remain cheerful. But then I travel," she says, adding, "By that I mean, I'm really a travel person and I take generous vacations for myself. That defuses the stress so I can come back home and start with the same energy."
What about the monotony of the job? Has she ever felt the burnout since she has been doing the same thing for a long time?
"I am constantly re-inventing myself with the music. As I told you earlier, the research plays a poignant part here. We may go for a slight change like with the costumes or go for a more dramatic one with the theme, but boredom never sets in."
It doesn't for her numerous fans either. Falguni Pathak has a calm vitality about her. One moment she's rehearsing on the teleprompter much to the entertainment of the camera persons, another time her band members are guffawing over something she has said. She looks out thoughtfully at the unassembled set and the largely deserted grounds which will soon be jam-packed with dancers, and concludes, "Music is my ultimate passion. Nothing beyond it. Facing a burnout is so ridiculous."
One can't help but agree.