New Delhi: More than one-and-a-half decades ago when he set foot on the soil of the ‘Maximum City’ Mumbai - the ‘City of Dreams’, he wasn’t aware where the destiny will lead him to. But, today he is treading on a path that has seen him performing ghazals and bhajans around the world to highly appreciative audiences.
Highly inspired by the legendary playback singer Mohammed Rafi and armed with tremendous nerve, sheer patience, iron determination and robust optimism, the renowned ghazal singer-composer of Bollywood Dev Rathore likes to offer his audiences a mix of genres and music styles to reflect what the Indian classical music and ghazal is about - a multitude of perspectives.
When this journalist (Shri Ram Shaw) called him up for an interview, an amazing baritone wafted through the phone to enter my consciousness. I’ve heard many colloquial and musical voices in my life and have been smitten by the tonal quality of those otherworldly voices. But this was a different voice which reminded me of a line – “Meri aawaaz ka teer, jaayega dil ko bhi cheer” from Mohammed Rafi’s song “Sun le tu dil ki sada” from film ‘Tere Ghar Ke Saamne’ (1963). It’s indeed a divinely resonant voice. Extremely articulate and succinct, “Behad haseen khwaab, jawani me dekhiye” famed Dev Rathore regaled me with innumerable anecdotes and experiences.
Question: First of all, I’d rather request you to enlighten us about the perception of music.
Dev Rathore: The greatest Muslim mystic, Jalal Uddin Rumi said, “There are many ways to the divine, but I have chosen the ways of song, dance and laughter.” On the contrary, the greatest exponent of atheism and intellectualism, a radical German philosopher and composer, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “Without music, life would be a mistake.” Music is a precious gift from nature and it is the only catharsis of humans ever and nowadays in clinical psychology music has become credible psychotherapy. Music is the language of the universe and it is the only thing, which can never be eliminated from any aspect of life.
Music has the same value and importance in all cultures across the globe and no civilisation has ever existed without the colour of music. Music is a divine sound and is directly related to our metaphysical core. The music of the subcontinent is technically called “Shastriya Sangeet” or Hindustani classical music. It is the first and very ancient music in the world. The music of the subcontinent dates back to more than 1500 BCE and it is first time written as literature in Hindu religious scripture “Samaveda.”
Q: India is truly blessed to have ghazal maestros like Jagjit Singh (now no more), Pankaj Udhas, Talat Aziz and many more. Do you feel that ghazal has lost popularity now? Ghazals have taken a backseat?
Rathore: I would say that ghazals are still popular and people still love this form of music. But now, it is a known fact that music has changed a lot not only in India but worldwide. I personally feel that ghazals have been around for nearly 400 years and listeners have always patronised ghazal singing. I can say it with a lot of confidence, even today when a music lover gets tired of listening to Bollywood music, which has been the most dominant music in our country for a long time, the first thing one looks for is a ghazal CD and he would say that okay, I would put in the CD, dim the lights and just get into the zone where it is relaxing and peaceful. So ghazals will never go away, they may have taken a backseat in comparison to Bollywood, but I would say that ghazal still remains a very popular genre worldwide.
Q: Don’t you think that ghazal has lost its place in Indian cinema?
Rathore: Cinema has taken a complete turnaround. A contemporary flavour has taken over. We have a mix of so-called college flicks with an obvious mix of Hindi, English and Urdu. There is no definite flavour. The entire landscape of the music industry has changed. The more loud it is, the more popular. Yes, ghazal has lost its place in cinema. As much as Hindustani music blended with international labels, the ghazal genre somewhat has lost out. We need solid film makers who are focused more on substance and meaning to bring ghazal back to its form.
Q: What’s your take on modern day music?
Rathore: Music has always been a combination of good poetry, good melody and wonderful singing. I think all three are the soul of a good song. Unfortunately, what has happened is that music across the world has changed directions and lacks good poetry and melody. I personally feel that we are going through a phase, not only in India but all over the world, where music has become youth-oriented. What we are listening to today, be it in Bollywood or anywhere, there is neither melody nor poetry. I think sooner or later, the golden era of good music will make a comeback.
Q: Can music and arts bring India and Pakistan together?
Rathore: See, Pankaj Udhas and me too have never been to Pakistan or Afghanistan, but he has admirers in both these countries. Similarly, ghazal maestros Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali (of Pakistan) have a huge following in India. Music is above politics, beyond boundaries. I don’t say that boundaries between countries should be removed, but let there be exchange of music and arts. I will say that I embrace a process of learning and transforming throughout life, trying to deepen my understanding of the world and my place in it and develop a sense of meaning to life. Meaning may come by way of strengthening relations with family and friends, becoming part of a nourishing community, learning, excelling at skills (like music for instance) that can bring joy or and positivity to others. In short, my life’s philosophy is about growth and nourishing oneself and others.
Q: Apart from live shows and concerts, you sang for a number of TV serials and even composed them too. What are your upcoming projects?
Rathore: I have been in the profession for more than 15 years. I have performed in many countries including the United Arab Emirates (UAE). I’ve sung ghazals, bhajans and geet for many serials like ‘Door kinare milte hain’, ‘Kaisi hai zindagani’ and ‘Shayarane Watan’ which were telecast on Doordarshan. Recently I sang and composed 20 ghazals for Oadh Lee Music company and more than hundred songs under the RDC banner for children during this Covid crisis.
Q: Through CitySpidey, what is your message for ghazal enthusiasts outside India?
Rathore: To all the enthusiasts and students, there is talent all around. Today, there are lots of great opportunities. Singers go on YouTube and Facebook and instantly, good talent goes viral. Only one request for all of you interested in music and in ghazals, “be your original self”. Let your poetry be genuine, real and straight from your heart. Nowadays, we lack innocence in our work. If you are a true and real artist, do not sing any cover versions. If you want to establish yourself as a ghazal singer, do something of your own. There is nothing wrong to be inspired but don’t imitate your inspiration.