Singer Benny Dayal, the voice of such hits as ‘Kamina hai dil…’ (Mastizaade), ‘If you hold my hand…’ (ABCD2) and ‘Badtameez dil…’ (Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani) speaks about the spiritual marriage of music and happiness, to Shubarna Mukerji Shu.
Bollywood has embraced you. When you look back, which is that one moment of pure joy that you still vividly remember?
My first meeting with Rahman sir was surreal. I never expected to meet him because I never even tried to reach out to him for any sort of work. Most friends I knew who could help me on that front would tell me that it’s kind of impossible to meet him.He’s very focused with his work and it’s a game of destiny for anyone to collaborate with him. But then, like they say, miracles are impossible things that become possible without us being in control of them. The biggest lessons in music are from Rahman sir. Any artist who works with Rahman sir just needs to observe and learn from him. There’s no need for a conversation. Just observe and you will understand the level of his purity, his honesty, sincerity and determination and his relentless dedication towards his work which is very important to achieve anything in any field of work. I am always overwhelmed about the fact that I am working with an amazing human like him and those are my lessons to stay grounded and let your work speak for itself.
For someone who is synonymous with music, how do you define the high of music?
Music is the most spiritual thing for me. I get to share my energy courtesy many other musicians every day. It is that coming together that makes people happy, makes them dance and sing along. It spreads enough positivity and that is totally spiritual. I cherish it every day. It’s a divine feeling and higher than anything else. It is the most healing moment of life. Even if I have a cold or fever and I get on the stage and get applauded for my performance and get love from so many people without any judgments… that is a divine feeling. And that will keep me going forever till I die.
There are many things that make a singer – the voice, the craft, the heart. What, according to you,separates you from the others?
My music is my holy place of worship that I’m constantly polishing because I never want it to rust. I don’t give it my 100%; I give it my 200%. It’s like without music there is no Benny Dayal.
Music brought out the best in me and taught me to be a better human being and I’m always trying to give back to the world through my music. Reinventing myself is key. I don’t see myself in competition with any of the existing singers because everybody has their own unique and original style.
The only way to move forward is to reinvent, try and figure out things that help you evolve and findthings that touch your soul. Stagnation and complacency is not a part of my system because I do not want to be doing the same thing over and over. I always have the thirst to keep doing something that I haven’t done before.
I always want to keep an open mind. Every time I sing a song, or make new music, I want to undo myself. If I have climbed to Step 5 I want to go back to zero. I want to be a fresher every time. It’s like singing a fresh song every single time.
I see the thirst, I see the devotion but what is it that makes you happy?
Happiness is an abstract term. My happiness doesn’t depend upon an individual item or incident. Happiness is not materialistic to me. It’s a Zen state of being one with your higher being. I have learnt, over the years, that happiness can’t be defined and it needs to be felt even when you are in the most traumatic situations. It’s a source of inspiration that comes from within and knowing and believing that there is a higher source of energy. If you literally ask me what brings a smile to my face then I’d say when I can feel the happiness in the hearts of my fans when I perform live; that’s what makes me ecstatic and inspires me to be a better singer.
Would you share a moment of inspiration, a moment when you surmounted something that you never saw yourself doing?
…Becoming who I am today and being able to learn so many languages and sing in each one of them. Music knows no language or barriers, they say.
Can you imagine, I was a total stranger to the entertainment world and today, with God’s grace, I have achieved so much! The most challenging aspect of my journey was to stay positive inspite of all the hurdles that came my way as I got rejected from studio to studio. At the start an established music director told me, “You will never be a playback singer” …and he slammed the door on me.
I didn’t retort but I couldn’t sleep for nights and I slipped into depression. Sometimes well-wishers would betray me and I didn’t know who to trust. But I took a call to shun all the negativity and only attract positivity into my realm. I’d literally run away from anything or anyone that made me feel something wasn’t right.
My story in the world of music isn’t a cushioned one; I have seen the downs so I can value the ups even more. This somewhere made me understand one universal fact – the more you help others in whatever way you can, the more the universe returns the favour in some form.
Are there any singers that bring you joy when you hear them?
AR Rahman. He transports you to a whole new dimension and his performances give you goose-bumps. I love it when he performs ‘Kaise mujhe tum mil gayi...’ I’ve taken inspiration from a range of singers and composers when I was growing up and I enjoy listening to most of them. These range from The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Queen, The Rolling Stones, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Kishore Kumar, RD Burman, Madan Mohan, Shankar Jaikishen, O P Nayyar, AR Rahman, Ilaiyaraja, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Vishal-Shekhar, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Salim-Suleiman and Amit Trivedi. They have all been a part of my evolution as a musician today.
Which has been your personal high and why?
Initially I did odd jobs like working at a BPO and then working as a journalist to support myself till music could finally earn me a livelihood. I was the cultural convenor of Madras Christian College and as long as I was playing with my band I felt like a rock star. I joined MCC in 2002 because it was well-known for its cultural activities and it gave me my stage confidence.
After my graduation in MCC, I did a diploma in journalism from the same college because it would keep me connected to the band scene. But the taste I had of the real world was quite an eye opener. Every single music director I met had nothing to offer. I would plead to get a chance to sing, at least in the chorus. No breakthrough. My father had just had an open heart surgery and my parents had to shift back to India from the UAE.I couldn’t ask for money or tell them anything. My brother was just settling into his job.
There were days I didn’t have money for rent or to eat three times a day. There are certain things I cannot talk about… The one turning point in my life was meeting Rahman sir in 2006. I was three days into a new desk job, when I got a call from Rahman’s office. They wanted me to sing harmony later that night. I was hoping it was not a prank. I ended up recording the same night in his studio and I met him in person and I had no words to even utter as I was spellbound. Surreal but true! But I have to thank Pravin Mani who is like my Godfather.
He is the one who imparted knowledge about professional singing. Before that, I was singing only in culturals. He taught me a lot of the technical stuff.