The 1978 song “Seene mein jalan aankhon mein toofan sa kyun hai, Is shaher mein har shaks pareshaan sa kyun hai” from the Hindi movie Gaman is perhaps one of the most well-known and timeless songs sung by Suresh Wadkar that remains relevant in the world today as people struggle with their busy life. This song established Wadkar as a star singer in Bollywood.
A trained classical singer, Wadkar was introduced to Hindi movies by music director Ravindra Jain in the film Paheli in 1977 with the song “Bhristi pore tapur tapur” after Wadkar won the Madan Mohan Best Male Singer Award in the national singing competition Sur-Singar in 1976. That competition was judged by composers like Jain himself and Jaidev. Jain then announced that he will give the winner of the competition a chance to sing in a Hindi movie. Rest is history. He has sung in about 60 movies and in over a dozen languages, and is the founder of online music teaching school called Suresh Wadkar Ajivasan Music Academy, known as SWAMA.
Wadkar has won many awards since then including Lata Mangeshkar Puraskar, Maharashtra Pride Award, National Film Award for Best Male Playback Singer for the song “Hey Bhaskara Kshitijavari Ya” from the Marathi film Mee Sindhutai Sapkal. Wadkar, however, insists that his best award and reward is the love from his fans, and that he is very excitedly looking forward to meet his fans in Boston where he will perform and judge Hindi Manch Sa Re Ga Ma competition on Sept. 13.
QUESTION: Bostonians are looking forward to seeing you at Hindi Manch Sa Re Ga Ma Pa grand finale. Have you visited Boston before, or is it your first trip? What do you expect from your Boston visit?
SURESH WADKAR: It has been a long time since I visited Boston. Bahut saal ho gaye, over 20 years. I have been to other places in the United States, but have visited Boston only once. I had come to Boston with Laxmikant Pyarelal ji. I am really excited and looking forward to meeting my fans in Boston. I urge my brothers and sisters to come to the event in great numbers. I also want to meet them.
Q: You were only 13 when you were entrusted by your teacher Acharya Jialal Vasant to teach. Now, you run music schools in Mumbai and New Jersey. What do you enjoy more—singing or teaching?
SW: I like both singing and teaching equally. Shayad Bhagwan nein mujhe isi kaam ke liye banaya hei. When you teach someone then you are doing your own riyaz as well and your own knowledge increases. Teachers get to learn from students as well. I enjoy both equally.
Q: The whole traditional way of teaching and learning music is changing in this digital age. What is the best way to teach and learn music today? What is your take on online learning?
SW: Best option, of course, is always the traditional way of sitting in front of your guru and learning
music. However, there are so many options that are very good in the modern world, especially when someone cannot be present physically. In that scenario, online learning is a good option.
Q: Now, let us talk about your singing career. When and how did it start and how did you enter Bollywood?
SW: It was 1976. There was a national singing competition in Bombay. I participated in that and received the Madan Mohan Award. There were many musicians present during the competition, including Ravindra Jain and Jaidev. Ravindraji had said that he will give a break in the movie to the winner of competition and that the winner would be able to sing on his music. Whatever I am today is because Ravindra Jain ji gave me my first break. Aaj mein jo kuch bhi huin unke vajah sei huin.
Q: Which was your first movie and first song?
SW: I sang for the movie Paheli that was made in 1977. Ravindra Jain Ji was the music director of the movie.
Q: Of all the Bollywood songs you have sung, which ones are your favorite, especially the top three? One of my favorites is Huzoor Is Kadar Bhi Na Itra Ke Chaliye.
SW: I have to say that I love all my songs because I have made a genuine attempt in singing them. The first song is always special because it launches you and people hear your voice for the first time. For the first time people listened to my Paheli songs. That is always special. But I do love all my songs, especially Seene Mein Jalan Aankhon Mein Toofan Sa Kyun Hai, Megha Re Megha Re, Chaudhvin Raat Hai and Ram Teri Ganga Maili, among others. I am very blessed because I have worked with great composers and music directors.
Q: In Marathi, you are there at the top of the chart. Where do you feel more comfortable: Bollywood Hindi songs or Marathi? Do you have any preference?
SW: I like singing in all languages. I love Hindi and Marathi equally. I have sung in 12-13 languages and also done Urdu ghazals.
Q: You have sung many beautiful bhajans. How important is bhakti in your routine?
SW: Of course, Bhakti is very important in my life. Jo bhi karta hein Bhagwan hee karte hein. Duniya mein bhagwaan sei baade koi saathi nahein hota aur unke aashirwaad kei bina kuch bhi nahein hota. God does everything and you need his blessings for everything. There is lot of power in prayer. When you submit yourself to God completely then your voice gets to Him quickly and I truly believe that God hears singers sooner and quicker. I also believe in the old saying that “samay se pehle aur naseeb sei jyada kisi ko kuchh nahein milta.”
Q: You have traveled extensively. What is your favorite place to sing and why?
SW: I truly like all places. Wherever I get love form my fans is special for me. Audience keeps us alive. Audience is like God. Hum unhe..maai baap bhi kahte hein.
Q: How do you prepare for your concerts?
SW: There is an idea in your head and you have some plans for the songs during the performance. I often have the first couple of songs in my mind and then I go with the flow and audience demand. Often, there is a demand for popular songs.
Q: How do you take care of your voice? You have also had cardiac bypass. How do you take care of your health and fitness, especially during your travels?
SW: I have to say that I am not very particular about taking care of my voice. I eat everything though do avoid cold drinks etcetera before a show because throat is like a small child. If I have too many cold drinks and cold food, I get a sore throat. Regarding health, yes, I have had cardiac bypass so have to be careful. I love non-vegetarian food so much but have given it up. I eat simple food. I walk and do yoga. I try to stick to my regular routine even when I am traveling. Routine really helps me.
Q: You judged Sa Re Ga Ma – little music champs. How do you like judging reality shows and awards shows and what will you advise them so that they can sing and perform better?
SW: It is very important to understand that music is a big thing and singing has to be taken extremely seriously. Riyaz is the key. I keep stressing that point. Sit in front of the guru and practice. In the olden days, one needed guru’s permission to be ready and perform on stage. Those people who do riyaz and practice have a long life and a long span of career. Nowadays, things have changed with all the shows and winners. The winners will sing one or two popular songs that become a “hit.” They do programs, sign contracts with channels, do shows and then before you know there are other winners of other shows right behind them, and it does not last.
Q: Your Guru Jialal Vasant ji, when talking about you, said that every guru looks for that one student to take him forward. Have you found that “one student” to take you forward?
SW: Every Guru is also looking for a student to carry on his (her) name. I am no different.
Vijay Prakash is very special and so is Rahul Vaidya amongst my students but there are many other wonderful students I have.
Q: You have won so many awards. Which one is closest to your heart?
SW: I have to say that the love and blessings [ashirwaad] of my audience is my reward and award, especially in the modern world because there is so much politics behind many awards nowadays. It has become all about who you know on the jury. So, genuine awards are hard to get. If your song is on the lips of your fan then that is your award.
Q: Your wife Padma is a trained vocalist. You have said in an interview that she took care of you when you fell sick and were admitted in a hospital in New York in 1992. You got married in 1998 with some parental opposition. As she was a Keralite and 16 years younger, tell us about it and what has the journey been like?
SW: I have to say that my marriage is a very nice journey. I married very late in life. I was 43 and had given up the thought of marriage. I just wanted to dedicate my life to music. Padma had known me almost all her life. She hero-worships me. She came to learn music when she was only 10 years old and has always loved my music. She really took care of me when I had cardiac bypass and health issues. Meri Bahut sewa kari hei and really loved me. I was also getting a lot of pressure to marry. I thought that there cannot be a better partner than one who understands my music, is aware of my health issues and wants to marry me.
Q: Let us talk about romance in life. How do you define romance?
SW: When someone looks at you and knows about your needs even before you have had a chance to think or express it that is romance for me. Romance is not about a sexual relationship. It is about someone loving you, understanding you, respecting you and someone fitting well into your routine and life.
Q: So, how romantic are you and how do you express your romanticism to your wife?
SW: (Laughs…) Woh toh aapko mere romantic gaanon sei andaz ho gaya hoga ki mein kitna romantic huin. You can judge that form my romantic songs. Regarding my romanticism, hmmm..My idea is that my wife can have whatever she wants. Whatever I have is hers. My songs are my expression of love to my wife. She has really taught me so many things. I am very attached to my music, Guru, my sister. My wife has taught me the value of family after our marriage as well.
Q: Tell us some of the best qualities that you like about your wife.
SW: She is very emotional and very possessive about me. She shows her right, her haque over me and I like that. I love her possessiveness.
Q: So, what is the secret of success in marriage?
SW: (Laughs)..’dekhiye dil to baccha hota hei. Heart is a child. One has to learn to control it and stay focused on family because the consequences of infidelity are very tough for everyone including the children. There are so many temptations. I also feel that love comes with maturity and age. Romance after 30 is very special. When we are young then we get attracted but often there is no depth in that romance or love. It is like going to a showroom with beautiful cars but you cannot afford to buy them.
Q: How do you like to spend your time apart from music?
SW: Mein bahut gharelu huin. I am very homely person. I do not have many friends either.
I like to work, then come home to my family and students.
Q: You have two daughters Ananya and Gia. Are they musically inclined?
SW: My daughters are very musically inclined as well. Ananya sings and learns sitar.
Q: Tell us about your dreams and vision for the future. Where would you like to see yourself in next 10 years?
SW: Baas yunhi riyaz karta rahun, keep practicing music, have great students, and keep winning the hearts of my fans and make them happy.
Here are Wadkar’s answers to rapid fire questions:
Your inspiration: Lata Mangeshkar
Favorite raga: Gorakh Kalyaan
Favorite movie: Guide
Favorite actor: Raj Kapoor
Favorite singer: Lata Mangeshkar and also Suniti Chauhan and Shreya Ghosal
Favorite male singer: Mohammad Rafi and Sonu Nigam
Favorite travel destination: London and Las Vegas (laughs and says he always visits Las Vegas when he is in the United States. When asked do you gamble, he laughs and says: “thoda bahut.)
Biggest strength: My older sister Prem
Biggest personal strength: I am a very simple person and very emotional
Weakness: I cannot see unhappiness. I get very distressed.
Craziest fan: (Laughs)…kisi zamane mein hua karte the..taab shaadi nahein hui thi
Last word on Chai with Manju: I am really looking forward to come to Boston to meet my fans. I want to see all of you. I want to thank Hindi Manch and team for this opportunity. See you all soon.