Meet Benny Dayal – The man behind ‘Pappu can’t dance’

His debut song Pappu can’t dance saala made even non-dancers tango. And his subsequent songs said Tu hi to mera dost hai to the charts. Screen checks out Benny Dayal, who still refuses to market himself because music “is not an imposition” What does music mean to you? Music is one of the greatest energies given to us by God. It has the power to make us laugh and cry and create emotions within us. It can change our life and even heal sickness. I decided on music as a career after I attended a A.R.Rahman concert in Dubai, where we were based then. It was the turning-point. Did you formally train in music, and if so, in which genre? I learnt Carnatic classical from the age of three-and-a-half in Dubai itself. My teacher was a South Indian. I am now based in Chennai right from my college days and now I am learning Hindustani classical music from a North Indian teacher! Rahman inspired you – but that’s not a passport to sing for him. How did you get to sing for Rahman? I was part of a band called S5. We sang songs for a Malayalam movie called By The People with music by Pravin Mani, who was Rahman-sir’s assistant. Rahman-sir heard them and called me.

My first song was Balleilakka in Sivaji as a chorus singer. After that I sang Maduraikku pogadhedi and Nee Marylin Monroe, both in Azhagiya Thamizhmagan composed by A.R.Rahman. Have you sung for all the South languages? Yes, but strangely, I had not sung solo in my mother-tongue Malayalam. And frankly, I have not tried too hard. Actress Asin hails from Kerala but has done just one Malayalam film too. Why is this? One reason is that I am based in Chennai, and most of the music for Tamil, Kannada and Telugu films is also done there because we have better studios and technicians. But the Malayalam industry operates out of Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram. I am also not averse to Malayalam songs. But music cannot be like an imposition. It is something that is beautiful and I believe that we cannot force it. We have to let it happen and work towards it, that’s all. How did your Hindi break happen? I speak, read and write good Hindi. Rahman-sir mentioned this to Abbas Tyrewala when the song Pappu can’t dance saala came up in Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na. This was way back in November 2006 when we recorded the song. After that I have sung in his Yuvvraaj, Ghajini and Delhi-6. Have you tried approaching other composers in Mumbai? No, but Pritam called me for the song Is there a vacancy. But maybe I will soon meet composers with a demo.

Why is there the need for a demo after giving so many hits, including all your Hindi songs? Why not? That’s the proper way because then music directors get a complete picture. Remember that I have yet to take off, so there’s no harm in considering myself a baccha, for that way there’s more scope to grow! Music directors seem to be shifting to trained singers after a short phase when training wasn’t really considered vital. Training consolidates your command on sur and taal. But it is not a hard-and-fast rule in playback singing. Today’s music directors look at how much you can sing from the heart, and sometimes you have to actually forget your classical lessons to get the song right. Music directors like singers who are very fast at work, and those jo harkatein dil se lete hain, gale se nahin. They want a human element, but they do not want a main sab kuch jaanta hoon attitude. Look at Shankar Mahadevan and Kishore Kumar – the way they bring emotions into songs is just superb. So I too approach a song as if it is my first-ever, but on the other hand, I put in my best – as if I have been singing for the last 20 years! Are you into strict riyaaz? Frankly, I do not do much riyaaz. But I listen to a lot of music, and the effect is largely the same. I love R & B. I hear lots of Blues, Arabic and African music. I listen to Mirza Ghalib and Mehdi Hasan. I am absolutely crazy about Rajasthani folk. Apart from that, from childhood I have been exposed to Hindi film music. I love Rafisaab and O.P.Nayyar and Kalyanji-Anandji are special favourites, especially for the songs of Shammi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan respectively, but even otherwise. Coming from a double classical background, so to speak, how do you view the way our music is becoming increasingly influenced by the West? Aren’t we at one level making music that is a pale shadow of theirs and at another losing our identity? We will never lose our identity! On the contrary, we are very soon going to be at par with Western music in reach and fame. Today, Indian music is played at discotheques all over the world. In London, every week there is a Desi Nite when only Hindi and Tamil music is played in so many pubs. And at the end of the day, it’s about knowing and not forgetting our roots, while learning and incorporating new things. Portraying our roots all the time is not needed. And I know that I can sing Carnatic classical any time I want! Screen India.

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