By Deepa Gupta
Malini Awasthi is looking forward to being at the Rashtrapati Bhawan to accept her Padma Shri from the President of India on 28 March. Her daughter has especially flown in from the US where she is currently pursuing her Master's degree. The excitement in Awasthi's voice is palpable — the same voice that enthralls listeners when she sings folk numbers, and explains the folklore associated with the music.
Today, Malini Awasthi's is a name that is synonymous with folk music. She remains rooted in tradition and culture, even as she bends down to touch the feet of her elders seeking blessings right before a performance.
Currently busy with lots of shows, Malini has also recently recorded songs for films. In the pipeline are Prakash Jha Productions' Lipstick Wale Sapne, where she has an interesting wedding track set to the tune of traditional marriage songs from Afghanistan. In yet another film that stars Vivaan Shah and Akshara Haasan and releases in October this year, she has two songs to her credit.
Having sung earlier in films like Agent Vinod, Dum Laga Ke Haisha, Soundtrack and Jaanisar, Malini doesn’t see it as much of a challenge. But Lipstick Wale Sapne was interesting because she could sing it her way.
For the film Soundtrack, she was asked to sing ‘Yeh Jeevan hai…’, a track originally from Piya ka Ghar. “I was surprised and I wondered how could I ever do justice to this Kishore Kumar number? But they told me to interpret it in my own way. So I did. I did not like it but they loved it,” she laughs.
“I did not have to struggle to sing in films. And that was never the intent. I want folk to gain respect. Especially Hindi folk which has been neglected for so many years. I have been working tirelessly towards that end. It’s not about me being highlighted; even during my performances, it is the music that I am taking ahead with my rendition," says Awasthi, who is upbeat about her nomination in the Best Traditional Folk Single category in the GiMA awards this year.
“I have always enjoyed live shows more because they give me an opportunity to connect with the common man”, she states. “I sing about the life of common man. Nothing gives a greater high than being among people. The connection with the audience is very powerful and that comes only when you are on stage in front of a large audience. It doesn’t seem like work or performance. Mujhe lagta hai ki yeh mera farz hai," she tells us.
Having collaborated with Midival Punditz, she has also performed with them in the band. “They are into lounge music and electronic music. I have done a few numbers with them — one in Bhairavi, one in raag Pilu and two thumris," she says. It was a different experience for Awasthi to work with this group and she saw it as an opportunity to take folk to a younger generation of listeners through this collaboration.
“The impact of folk is so great that wherever I am going for performances since the last few years I have been getting a standing ovation. Even in places like Azamgarh, Benaras, Indore, Bhopal, Kolkata, Chandigarh, Hyderabad — who could have imagined that UP folk could be so popular in such places where the language is hard core Punjabi or Telugu... where language is completely
different," Awasthi says.
She speaks of her experience at a university in Greater Noida where she was performing before a very young audience: “They had a DJ also after an hour of folk. I was taking this as a challenge because we have a very intelligent, rational young generation who wants to understand and go deep into the meaning of a song so that they can appreciate the same. I started performing and the one
hour stretched to four. My artists had a train to board and they had to miss the same. The registrar requested us to go on. After three hours my throat began to hurt. And the students would just not let go. And the next hour they only danced to my music. That experience said that I can rock the stage and I realised I can shake any audience anywhere. If I can connect with the youth, I can connect with any audience."
So does folk have a future?
“Oh yes folk has a great future," says Awasthi. "It is an art form that has to pass on with the oral tradition. Everything is passed on from one generation to another. And today we have to take up this challenge of passing on traditional folk to the younger lot. In earlier days we did not have so many facilities. Now we have the support of technology. It’s much easier to pass on traditions with the help of audio-visual aids, documentation, explanation, archiving etc. I think it’s the collective responsibility of the current generation to sensitise their children. They will listen to folk provided they understand it”.