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Sunita Rao back on stage but not for Paree hoon main

The Indipop phenomenon has been winning accolades for her acting in the play Ga Re Maa

By Priyanka Roy

  • Published 13.12.18, 7:51 PM
  • Updated 13.12.18, 7:51 PM
Even though it’s not a musical, music is important to the play, Suneeta Rao says about Ga Re Maa
Even though it’s not a musical, music is important to the play, Suneeta Rao says about Ga Re Maa Image: Agency

Suneeta Rao — the pop diva of the ’90s who gave us an evergreen hit in Paree hoon main — is in Calcutta with her play Ga Re Maa. We caught up with her on acting, singing and music then and now.

What is it about Ga Re Maa that made you want to be a part of it?

Ila Arun recommended my name to her daughter Ishita, who’s the producer. It’s a role that I feel is almost tailor-made for me. She’s a curious mix of me and another person (laughs). I was also elated when I was told that Dhruv (Ghanekar) was doing the music; Even though it’s not a musical, music is important to the play. And when I was told that Anahita Oberoi, whom I have known for years, was also going to act in the play, I decided I had to be a part of it. Plus, I get to do something special in the play, which I can’t reveal now.

What do you enjoy most about acting?

Getting into the characters; getting to know their history and where they come from, why they behave the way they do, what are the types of people they meet, what their mannerisms would be, what would they wear…. I find all this very exciting because I love people and I am fascinated how people can be different and yet similar in so many ways. I love the quirks that come with every character.

Does acting give you the same creative high that singing does or are they completely different experiences?

They are actually completely different. I’ve had a background in music, but there’s also been some amount of acting involved because everything’s a performance at the end of the day. I have done musical plays like The Man of La Mancha, but in a play like Ga Re Maa, there is very little music and even if I am singing, I am doing so for the other characters on stage and not for the audience.

Do people still talk to you about your heyday during the indi-pop era of the ’90s, particularly your mammoth hit Paree hoon main?

Yes, they do; that’s my identity… that’s who I was, that’s who I am and that’s who I always will be. I’m not saying that I am going to release an album soon, but my music is what people identify me with. Tomorrow, if I act in a movie, I will still be known as the Paree hoon main singer. Like the first song you associate George Michael with is Careless Whisper. That’s something I am always happy to be associated with, but it’s also true that I have allowed myself to reinvent so much over the last few years and done so many things. I have been lucky; over the last 15-20 years, people have gladly accepted everything that I’ve given them. I’m really, really grateful for that.

When will we see you singing again?

I am working on a single, but something or the other, in terms of other work, keeps popping up. Like this play is going to take away a few months from my time. I have written a single called Adaa karo on global warming and climate change and I think the theme is very important. I have recorded the song, but I am waiting for crowd funding because I want to make a very big music video. You’ll be hearing about that from me very soon.

How do you view the Indian music scene today, dominated as it is by Bollywood music and with indi-pop becoming synonymous with Punjabi pop…

Bollywood and Punjabi music is here to stay forever. That’s how it’s always been. I don’t see anything coming close to that in terms of scale. But pop music has always been there, the only difference being that if a pop song has been part of a Bollywood film, it’s got more exposure. Today, we have Bollywood playback singers who come out with pop singles on independent platforms — like ArtistAloud or even on YouTube.

I feel my contemporaries and I kind of paved the way. Of course, when we came it was all very new and indi-pop became very huge; we had the guts and the gumption to go out there and do our thing without depending on movies. We had people putting in money, but it was never enough. I had to independently make the music video for Paree and send it to MTV. We never ever had any funding or backing and that hasn’t changed. It’s a continuous struggle for people who don’t want to be dependent on Bollywood, and it will always be a struggle. But if you have talent and a personality, then someone somewhere will give you a platform. Just be yourself and if you do get a song in a Bolly movie, then go for it because that’s the best way to reach the masses. But then do something of your own also.

It’s not that I didn’t want to sing playback, of course I did. But in those days, no one had heard of a voice like mine. Today, Bollywood playback singing has so many girls singing exactly the way I did in Senorita and Dhuan. That’s because there are brilliantly talented music directors today who are able to compose for such voices. I did quite a bit of work with music directors like Anu Malik and Anand Raj Anand, but if I had started my career in playback today, I would have had so much more work. At that time, I found a lot more creative fulfilment in my own original music. At the age of 19, I had decided I wasn’t going to depend on movies if they didn’t allow me to express myself.

What do you think of the trend of remixes?

A remix is nothing but a version of a song; it’s nothing new. I have done it myself. Abroad, they call it a cover tune, here it’s a remix. Everyone thinks Whitney Houston originally sang I Will Always Love You in Bodyguard, but it was a cover version of the original by Dolly Parton. I pioneered the trend of medleys and today’s remixes are just a super-tech version of medleys. Everyone asks me to do a remix of Paree, but I feel some things just shouldn’t be touched… mujhe na chhoona!

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