Padma Shri Suresh Wadkar: 'Today, some of the songs are good, but they don’t enjoy a long shelf life because the melody is missing in them'

Padma Shri Suresh Wadkar: 'Today, some of the songs are good, but they don’t enjoy a long shelf life because the melody is missing in them'

Padma Shri Suresh Wadkar on memorable collaborations, honours that should be ‘timely’ and why he hasn’t been singing for Hindi films since Haider

Roshmila BhattacharyaUpdated: Saturday, February 18, 2023, 10:37 PM IST
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In 1934-’35, Indian classical musician and music instructor Acharya Jialal Vasant started a musical school, Ajivasan, in Srinagar. The legacy was passed on to his daughter, Prem Vasant, and disciple, Suresh Wadkar, who have been running Ajivasan since his demise.

Twenty-one years ago, they instituted the Vasantotsav in Acharya’s Vasant’s memory. The annual event will be hosted at the music academy on February 26. Sitarist Pandit Kartick Kumar, who will be felicitated with the Vasantotsav Uttam Vag-Geykar Jialal Vasant Award, will perform live, along with another sitarist Pandit Niladri Kumar and tabla maestro Zakir Hussain.

“We are lucky to have Zakir bhai on our board. He’s a childhood friend, with a connection to my guru through his father. He has not only played at our school many times, but also helps us decide on the awarda,” informs Wadkar.

In 1976, after winning the Madan Mohan Best Singer Award at the Sur Sangam competition, he got his break as a playback singer in the Rajshri production Paheli, singing the evergreen Vrishti pore tapur tapur composed by Ravindra Jain, who was one of the judges, along with Jaidev.  This was followed a year later by another unforgettable track, Gaman’s Seene mein jalan penned by Jaidevji who was his guruji’s good friend. “I worked as Jaidevji’s assistant briefly before these two songs kickstarted my career,” shares the singer.

In a career spanning over four decades, he has lent his voice to all the top filmmakers, 80 per cent of whom, including Raj Kapoor, Raj Khosla, J Om Prakash and Yash Chopra, impressed him with their knowledge and love for music.

Suresh Wadkar with Zakir Hussain

Suresh Wadkar with Zakir Hussain |

Raj Kapoor, for whom he sang four songs in Prem Rog including Bhanwre ne khilaya phoool, and the title track of Ram Teri Ganga Maili among others, attended every music sitting and selected the songs for his films himself. “Papaji (Prithviraj Kapoor) had trained his sons well. Raj saab played the piano and dafli. He was also a very good singer. I heard him at his eldest daughter’s bidaai and it was almost like Mukeshji was singing,” Wadkar raves.

Yash Chopra, he remembers, also had an ear for music and was ably assisted by his wife Pamela, a trained singer herself. Their collaborations, among them Lagi aaj saawan ki from Chandni and Yaad nahin bhool gaya from Lamhe, still resonate.

Wadkar rues that the scene is different today. “Some of the songs are good, but they don’t enjoy a long shelf life because the melody is missing in them. That’s what makes a song timeless as is underlined by the fact that young kids today still sing the golden classics to prove their talent,” sighs the singer who was honoured with the National Award in 2010 for Hey bhaskara from the Marathi film Mee Sindhutai Sapkal, the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in Sugam Sangeet in 2018 and the Padma Shri in 2020.

He admits that such awards are a high. “It shows that sarkar ki nazar aap par hai (the government has its eye on you), but if it comes at the right time, mazaa aur aata hai (your happiness increases),” Wadkar admits, attributing these prestigious honours to the love of the people and the blessings of his elders. “It’s important to be appreciated and acknowledged because it motivates you to work harder and better.”

Interestingly, while Suresh Wadkar has been nominated several times for the Filmfare Awards, for songs like Main hoon prem rogi and Meri kimat tu (Prem Rog), the Ram Teri Ganga Maili title track, Lagi aaj saawan ki (Chandni), Dil’s O Priya Priya and Chappa chappa charkha chale (Maachis), has yet to bring home the Black Lady.

“They are all popular songs, but perhaps the jury members didn’t like me or the way I sang,” he smiles wryly, adding, “Na mera unse koi shikayat hai na jhagda (I have no complaints).”     

Wadkar, who has given us unforgettable songs like Megha re megha from Pyaasa Sawan, Sadma’s Aye zindagi gale laga le and Sapne mein milti hai from Satya, hasn’t sung for any Hindi films since Haider in 2014. “Nothing interesting has come my way since. Today, there are so many new composers, singers and actors, perhaps music directors feel that a fresh face needs a fresh voice,” he reasons.

Again, no complaints. With his students he is happy recording classical music, ghazals and devotional songs. “At Ajivasan, we first train students in classical music, then, since some of us are from the film industry and have been singing light music, we pick up a Rafi saab, Manna Dey or Lataji (Mangeshkar) song so they understand the difference between the two in the gayaki. Humare bachche alag hain (Our students are a class apart) and they are doing the school proud, not just recording music, but even writing and composing songs,” he beams proudly, with the satisfaction of a guru, leaving us with Lekin’s Surmai shaam is tarah aaye, saans lete hain jis tarah saye echoing in our ears.

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