Chai with Manju: Singing Superstars – Mohan Subramaniam

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Photo by Rasik Mehta
Photo by Rasik Mehta

Mohan Subramaniam has earned the title of “Mukesh of New England” as a lead singer and organizer of one of the best musical shows “Suhana Safar” in 2012. His versatility and in-depth knowledge of music delighted all the listeners and won his way into the hearts of the toughest critics of music. There is now a lot of expectation and tremendous anticipation of his new and unique “Shaam E Burman” show in March 2013.
How were you introduced to singing?

As a child and in my early teens, I grew up with classical music all around me and was receiving training on the violin. I always thought of myself as an instrumentalist and never even attempted any singing. I used to be a permanent fixture on all the school programs playing the violin but never singing. It was in my second year of college in Mumbai (Ruia College), when along with a few other fresh inmates of our hostel we were asked to introduce ourselves and if we had any talent. I do not know why but I offered to sing … and sang Talat’s “Jalte hain jiske liye” … and was taken aback by the positive feedback I received. I was then always asked to sing in small groups at the hostel and found myself enjoying it more and more.
Did you have any formal training? If yes, from whom, and at what age did you start?

My early formal training stared from the time I was 8 or 9 years old … Hindustani classical on the violin. At that time my parents who were established artists in Carnatic music for many years decided to learn Hindustani classical as they were in Jamnagar where there was no atmosphere/support system for Carnatic music. My father switched from the mridangam to tabla and I had the rare fortune of having tabla accompaniment even when playing the most basic “bandishes” as I started the violin. My father went on to learn from stalwarts like Ustaad Sheikh Dawood and even accompanied Padma Shri Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan in a few concerts. I was fortunate to be grounded in solid layakari from the time I was a child. After a long hiatus wherein I was busy with my career, I got back into receiving some training both in Carnatic violin from Smt. Tara Anand and in Hindustani classical vocal music from Smt. Kumkum Sanyal.
When did you first perform on stage and what song?

My first stage performance was in Mumbai during a Ganpati Festival in my days at Ruia College. It was a stage assembled on the streets during the festival and I sang with a live band. The song was Hemant Kumar’s “Na tum hamen jaanon na hum tumhein jaane.” I even got paid 15 rupees for that.
What do you think is unique about your approach to singing?

I am not sure if I would describe this as unique, but I put a lot of effort into understanding the emotion behind every song that I choose. I always memorize lyrics because it helps me emote the song better. I work very hard in trying to perfect the shruti behind every lilt of a composition and ensure that the diction is as accurate as I can make it.
How do you prepare before going on stage or before a performance?

I listen to the original a zillion times, watch its video on youtube to understand what the actor/s were trying to emote, memorize the lyrics based on my interpretations of what the actor/s were trying to emote, practice a zillion times, record and listen to see where I can improve. Before going on stage I try to keep the base shruti of the song I am going to sing ringing in my ears with the tanpura app in my iPod and then hope for the best.
Which artist inspires you the most?

It is tough to pick one, but if I have to I must say it is Mohammad Rafi. I cannot think of anyone who could outdo him in romance. Not only was he incredibly gifted but he was such a modest and soft spoken man.
Which performance did you think was your best or most satisfying?

Every performance leaves me with some regret of not being able to execute all that I had planned and prepared for. But if I pick one show it was “Suhana Safari” and if I pick one song in it, it was “Ram kare aisa ho jaaye.”
Did you ever think of singing as a profession?

Never, I was too rooted in my career initially as an engineer, then as a post-MBA executive; now, I cannot imagine leaving my professional life as an academic.
How do you balance your passion for singing with work, family, etc.?

I am the luckiest man in the world in having a wife like Meera who is so supportive and who genuinely shares my passion. I also have a lovely daughter who is so very gifted musically and who is so supportive. Balancing this passion with my family has never been an issue. All I have got from them is encouragement and support. I am also lucky as an academic to have a lot of flexibility in my working hours to be able to really spend time on music.
What are some of your future goals?

I hope to keep working hard at improving every facet of my singing. To be able to improve purity in shruti, be able to generate more power, and to be able to better modulate my voice to bring more dexterity at emoting. It is an endless journey.
And finally, here is his instant response to Rapid Fire Questions:

Music is … melody.
Fame is … not important.
Money is … irrelevant.
Love is … Meera (his wife.)
Secret of a good marriage is … passion.
My best quality is … thoughtfulness.
My biggest fear is … health.
My biggest strength is … communication.
My next show is … “Shaam E Burman” on March 9, 2013.
My last word for Chai with Manju is … Thank you.

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