He left listeners 'breathless' when he released his album of that name, and has gone from strength to strength since in partnership with Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa in movies such as Kal Ho Na Ho, Bunty aur Babli, and Dil Chahta Hai. His wife, Sangeeta Mahadevan talks to Firstpost about her other half, composer, singer, music lover Shankar Mahadevan.
Firstpost: Was he already a singer when you met him?
Sangeeta Mahadevan: No , not really. I knew him first when we were kids, I was 14 and we played badminton together. He lived in a building diagonally opposite our small ground floor bungalow in Chembur, and we would all get together and play every evening. I knew nothing of his background. I was not even aware he was learning to sing.
But there was some occasion surely when you heard him sing?
Well we used to hang around generally, and one day I heard him humming a Kishore Kumar song. I remember telling him, "You have a good voice, you could be a singer one day."
Was music the initial spark then?
No, I think we just fell in love. It’s almost natural at that age.
And marriage followed…
Not so quickly. I was so young and he was just two and a half years older. My brother, who is nine years older than me, and was also in our badminton group realized that I was in love, and he began the elder brother act. There were restrictions on our meeting after that. But of course we kept meeting.
Was he seriously into music by then?
Well, he was studying for his Engineering, and then completed it and got a job. But he had been learning Carnatic music and would perform at concerts. On the side there were jamming sessions with friends, where he played with the Divya Band. Music was a part of his life by then. Then just before we got married, about six seven months before the date, he quit his job.
Why did he do that? How did you react?
Music was his passion, and his job was hindering it. If he got a call, he would not be able to take the assignment because he had to go to work. It was a risk, but I was with him. He was so passionate about music that it was obvious that he needed to change tracks.
Was life a bit tough then?
When you are young you don’t think about the future. We both came from middle class families, and we were quite happy with whatever we had. We lived in his Chembur house with my in-laws. I gave up my job soon after marriage when I got pregnant. When work started coming in, Shankar would be away for long hours, at the studio...
That must have been tough, his being away so early in married life?
Of course I felt that my husband is not giving me enough time, and so early in the marriage. But we were in it together, and had known each other so long. Luckily for us, we had no family pressure either. His mother said, “it’s your life, you make your choices...” so there was no tension. We had an open house, I got used to it, there were people coming in and music happening all the time. The phone would keep ringing.
Now, we have learnt to get away from it, sometimes. We have a getaway farmhouse. No calls, no couriers, no people landing up... it’s amazing, and he makes time for it, for us. I think that shows how he balances his life and priorities.
Does he have time for any chores around the house?
He enjoys cooking. In fact, he is an excellent cook. I do believe if he had not been a singer, he would have been a chef. He loves to experiment with food, he can cook Thai, South Indian, make great salads and soups. It suits me fine, I am neither a great cook nor do I enjoy cooking.
Has he tried to teach the boys music? Has there been any effort to make them follow in his field?
My boys are 19 and 11 now. He never forced music on them, but there was music all around. So when he has a classical concert it was only natural that the entire family would attend. He would also do fusion, jamming, and all of it spilled on to his children too. The older one is already composing for Marathi films and has sung a few lines in Hindi songs for films. He has teamed up with my nephew, and together they compose and sing small corporate songs.
And what about you, are you untouched by the music?
I love to sing, but I don’t want to make it a public thing. I don’t want too many singers in a family, as it would become too much.
How does his relationship with Ehsaan and Loy work?
It has been a lovely relationship till date. The three of them don’t get involved in one another’s personal life. They hang out at the studio or spend an evening together, that is one reason it works so well. And also they have three different fortes. And that gives each his personal space.
Do you have any idea how they work on a song?
Well, it works in different ways. Shankar could start with the first line, and the antra could be by Ehsaan with a lovely piece by Loy in the middle. Or it could be Ehsan who starts the song and sets the mood of the tune. The Kal Ho Na Ho title song was initiated by Loy who set the tune.
Are they alike as individuals? Is there a common personality trait?
They are really very different. Shankar is chilled out, unflappable but he gets things done. Ehsan get worried easily. He’ll say, "It’s not happening. What shall we do?" Loy, on the other hand, can just drift off into a piece of music on the piano. He is a pure musician, not concerned with the other aspects of recording. Yet they get on very well.
So, is it easy living with someone so engrossed in his music, so busy, caught up in recordings, and a world removed from the real?
Shankar is not a fussy man. He is a normal person. He is religious -- like I am too -- and will pray to Siddhi Vinayak, and Balaji, but we are not into ritual. But during Ganpati Puja , for example, we have the idol at home for the ten days, and we have aarti twice a day everyday through that period. We have Bhajans the whole night for one night and 25 singers come to sing.
Has your relationship changed then, settled into the humdrum of married life?
Not always... Shankar involves me in his music to an extent. He will run his tunes past me, take my view on it. So there is a lot of interaction in that way.
The great thing about him is that he is a romantic. He loves giving gifts and surprises. Recently, he told me, “Chalo, we are going for lunch”, and to my surprise, we were at the airport: he had booked tickets to Dubai, done the visas everything without my suspecting a thing, and we were off! It was so fantastic. It is lovely to have such romantic surprises after so many years of being married.