After her masters in Sanskrit, Sapna Awasthi came to Delhi to learn classical music but got involved in theatre and laid the foundation for Avadhi Theatre with her husband Kartik. She also acted in India TV’s first soap opera” Hum log” but destiny brought her to Mumbai (then Bombay). With rustic notes and the carefree sound of a gypsy girl, Sapna’s notes were her own, and which attracted everyone from Nadeem Shravan to A R Rehman. She has given several super hits and has been in the industry for more than two decades. The journey continues but she still hasn’t got the credit she truly deserves.
I am lucky god gave me music. Music, which is a part of every Indian and is in the air and everywhere. There are songs and music for a man’s journey from life to death. We feel music in the air, in gurgling waters, mountain valleys and the light. If you have music, you find an excuse to be happy. That is why I always like to live music. And since it has also become my career, I am forever on a high. It is not necessary for everyone to become a Tansen, Baiju Bawra, or Rafi and Lata Mangeshkar. It is pride enough to be a part of it. I am happy with the part I have got and am taking it to the listeners with all my sincerity. I look at myself and am convinced everyone has been sent to this planet for a reason. If it is opposed to your nature and talent, one is left with nothing other than frustration and failure. Lata Tai tried her hand at acting in the beginning, if she had stayed there, how could we have found the singer in her?
My heart has been a vagabond since childhood and would dream so many dreams. I even tried following them but where did they get me – where I was meant to be. I was born in the city of nawabs – Lucknow. My father was accomplished in Sanskrit. Maybe that is why I was influenced to study the same subject and did my MA in Sanskrit. But I was also interested in music since childhood and also passed the Visharad from Bharatkhande Sangeet Mahavidyalaya. I was also involved in theatre from a young age. Since my father was also interested in arts, I continued music along with theatre. All four brothers and sisters had this talent. My brother also sings and one sister is with Radio Lucknow. My two daughters are also into dancing and singing but want take up some other line as career.
Here I need to mention that is was my father who not only educated me and taught me but honed my skills and gave direction to my life. It was on his insistence that I reached Delhi from Lucknow and joined the Sri Ram repertoire. Apart from acting I would also take part in background music. I worked in “Sakharam binder”, “Kavi kahani” and “Ashad ka ek din” there. But the interesting part is that I had gone to Delhi to learn music. I had to be trained in classical music but to tell you frankly, I didn’t have enough courage to learn classical music. I don’t have that kind of dedication, patience and hard work. There is also no end to classical music. You can sing a raga with any number of variations and will still have room to improvise. I thought about it seriously and decided I will not make classical music my profession. So I tried light music. All thanks to influence I had developed a habit of listening to the radio since childhood. I would listen to Lata ji the most. This bond wit the radio has continued.
We formed the Avadh theatre group. The maximum assistance was provided by Kartik Awasthi, who was studying at the National School of Drama then. I had first met Kartik ji in Lucknow when we were together with the Darpan Natya Sanstha. I married the same Kartik, the son of late Suresh Awasthi. Suresh Awasthi’s plays are still talked about in the world. Our theatre group did several plays. In “Antigone”, we used Chhau dance and was discussed in Time magazine, too and were praised a lot. But within a few years we realized that theatre can be a hobby but can’t make a living out of it. Serials were the next thing on TV. Manohar Shyam Joshi offered me a role in “Hum log”. I was married by then and worked in 22-23 episodes but had to stay at home thereafter since I got pregnant.
I came to Mumbai in 1997-98. Kartik was already here and working with an ad agency as a copywriter and continues to do so. We went to musician Chitragupt’s home for his son Milind’s engagement. Big names from the industry were there. Songwriter Sameer introduced me to Shekhar Kapoor and praised my voice. My first break was through “Dushmani” but my first movie to be released was “Ikka raja rani”. My song was a hit and my singing career really took off. Truly speaking, there is a lot I owe to Sameer for helping me but the way Nadeem-Shravan used my voice gave me a huge jump. I got the most popularity for “Raja Hindustani” “Pardesi pardesi jana nahi. My voice got an identity as “Sapna Awasthi ki awaz”. The song made me famous and I got several awards. But I regret not being able to talk to Aamir Khan despite working with him in the next movie “Mela”. I want to sing in more movies of his since he is highly choosy in matters of music and songs. Since I have sung in his movies, I feel I have a right to say it.
I have sung about 125 songs in nearly 100 movies. But if you count albums as well, the number will go up to 500. Initially my songs were like the item songs of today. My songs were criticized too. But the same kinds of songs are big hits today and loved by the singers. I am happy I sang “Chaiyyan chaiyyan” under A R Rehman, which is considered to be an all-time hit. Rehman sa’ab also got me introduced to Gulzar sa’ab, who made in sing in “Mirza Ghalib”. He liked the earthiness in my voice. Miraj from Lucknow had got me introduced to him, and was also his chief assistant director. Gulzar sa’ab asked me to come to Weston Studio, where Jagjit Singh was also present and was giving the music for the serial. But after listening to me he asked me why I only sing folk and not ghazals. Mahesh Bhatt had also said the same thing to me but I know my weaknesses and tell them that I will not be able to sing ghazals with perfection.
But we were talking about Rehman sa’ab. He asked me to come to Chennai and heard a few of my songs. Then he gave me the situation for “Chaiyan chaiyan” and told me to sing it the way I wanted to. I did that and the song was a hit. He made me sing another song in “Raavan”. But whenever I sing abroad for shows, the maximum requests are for “Chaiyan chaiyan”. Even foreigners listen to it and shake a leg to the music.
But my nature is such that I don’t warm up to people and am a loner. I don’t like to talk too much either. That is one of the reasons I can’t approach people for work. Or let’s say I can’t do PR and that is why I am behind times. The other thing in this industry is that people also take away your work. If I want, I can get the kind of songs that will suit my voice but I feel I will have to sweet talk people for that. Those musicians and composers with whom I have close ties don’t have movies. I liked it that Mamta was chosen for a song like “Munni badnaam hui” but it would have suited my voice, too. Such songs have become the trend and we will have to accept them.
I owe my success to my husband Kartik in a big way. He talks and negotiates for me. Although I have no competition with anyone in singing – competition is between talented people and I don’t consider myself talented. I feel it is the Mangeshkar family that is talented and no one stands a chance in front of them. I have met Asha ji, Meena ji and Hridaynath Mangeshkar several times but never spoken to Lata ji. Met her once on the sets of “Lekin” but she looked so reserved and speaks to little that I couldn’t muster up the courage to speak to her. The entire family is so simple that you can’t help being impressed by them.
The truth is I didn’t have to struggle too much in Mumbai. I got everything with ease and without asking. Maybe that’s why there’s a lot of satisfaction. I have no frustration of any kind. I take care of my family and apart from my husband and two daughters, I have two lovely dogs with whom I spend all my time. I also know that if I try to work out a balancesheet of my success and failure, I will only feel sad. I could’ve taken up theatre in Mumbai but then I would’ve lost the way to singing. I don’t even see theatre here for the fear of being filled with attraction and love for theatre once again. I have thus limited myself and the sadness has reduced. I do my riyaz for just 40 minutes everyday. Sometimes with the tanpura or harmonium. Once a year I go home to Lucknow and Delhi, my in-law’s place. Rest of the time I travel around in India and abroad doing shows. I take part in several festivals in India and have been asked to be a part of the Rajgir festival.
I read a lot when I have the time. I don’t write as much now. My husband does and has authored several books. I have no qualms in admitting that I sing at the weddings and functions of well-known industrialists, mostly in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Rajasthan. I have been to seven of Lakshmi Mittal’s family weddings. Some people feel bad about this but I couldn’t care less. Big stars also attend such weddings. The best part is that these people make the videos themselves.
But in this Delhi-Mumbai schedule I have lost touch with my childhood friends. I rarely get to meet them although I too have never tried to reach out to meet them. Since I haven’t struggled too much, twists in my career and life aren’t too many. But I am happy that my albums that have been released by Venus, HMV, Tips, Weston and T-Series have been quite popular. I am thankful to god for giving me this peaceful and contented life. Let’s see what future has in store for me but I am in hurry.
Presentation: Anand Bharti
She is as true as her voice: Tridib Raman, managing editor, Hamar Cinema
I was born in the small town Forbesganj in north-east Bihar. I got my primary education there and came to Patna and Delhi for further studies. I got active in political journalism and have been in the field for two decades. But my relationship with Forbesganj only became deeper with the passing of time. Last year, I just thought of having a small get-together for a musical evening at our small little town for Durga puja. What followed was a quickly put together “Forbesganj mahotsav”. To make this cultural festival better, I was looking for a great voice when I heard Sapna ji’s “Banno teri akhiyan surmedaani” on TV. The earthiness, clarity and truthfulness in the voice touched my heart and I decided that the festival will kick off with Sapna’s ji voice. Prominent singers such as Malini Awasthi and Jaspal Singh were present there but nothing compared with the kind of entertainment Sapna Awasthi’s voice gave. It was a humid afternoon when I went to meet Sapna Awasthi at a local hotel as the program organizer. Her husband (a very friendly chap) was smoking a cigarette outside while Sapna ji had just come out fresh from a shower. I didn’t feel I was meeting her for the first time. Such was the simplicity and affection. She said she had a small demand. I was a little taken aback wondering she might raise her price, but she said she needed a photo of Goddess Durga, incense sticks and matches (to which her husband showed his and she said she didn’t want matches). When the evening of notes and music started, she kicked it off with Ma Ambe’s jagrata. And then from “Kuan mein doob” to “Pardesi jana nahi” to “Chaiyan chaiyan”. She forced the people of Forbesganj to sway to her songs. Forbesganj and I thank Sapna ji for proving that big dream are nurtured in small towns.
Unevenness in voice is her forte: Sandeep Nath, lyricist
When I heard Sapna Awasthi sing my song for Madhur Bhandarkar’s “Page 3”, I was taken aback. Her voice was already liked by Madhur and music composer Sameer Tandon and that is why she was called. The style in which “Kuan ma doob jaongi” was sung made it a hit. Then she sang for me in the serial “Baba aiso var dhoondo”. She has that quality in her voice we can call rustic, which has its own sweetness. I will confess to the fact that despite being different from Lata and Asha ji, you can feel the sweetness in her voice. You will sense the village earthiness in her voice. We call it unevenness, which is a quality.
I was merely a medium: Sameer, lyricist
If Sapna Awasthi thinks I played a part in her career, she is just being modest. I introduced her in the industry because of the earthiness in her voice. I liked her voice so took the initiative, the rest was her own hard work. Only talent works in this industry. Sapna’s talent was appreciated and respected. Her voice has more of an element of folk, something no one here has. Her voice is like Usha Uthup, Shubha Mudgal and Reshma, which has its own style and colour. Such voice is appreciated here.
There is no adulteration in her voice: Kalpana, singer
I was small when I first heard “Pardesi, padesi” song. It was such a lovely song that everyone appreciates it. That was the time of a different voice like that of Ila Arun. Or maybe Ila had cast her magic so much that Sapna’s ji’s voice was also appreciated. The tradition in this industry is that when a kind of voice works, none other is allowed to enter it. But Sapna ji came with her special qualities. The USP of her voice is that it is unique and stands out in a crowd. That is why we call it God-gifted. Her voice reflects the singing of a gypsy girl at a village market. It is a raw voice without any adulteration. It doesn’t have the polish of a city. We can say her voice has Litti-chokha. It is delicious and healthy like a village meal.
She gave hit songs: Rajesh Gupta, music composer
I have heard a lot of Sapna Awasthi’s songs. She has also sung in Bhojpuri songs that I have composed. I had her sing in Abhay Sinha’s “Tu jaan hai hamar” starring Nirhua. Her classical base may be slightly weak but she is advanced in other singing. The one line I will say about her is that she is a natural singer. She has sung several melodious songs, several of which have been hits. Her Bhojpuri songs have also been appreciated and she feels a level of comfort singing Bhojpuri.