Meet Ajay Jhingran – A trained singer, an acclaimed lyricist and a composer

His Munni ki baari from Welcome To Sajjanpur and Billu bhayankar from Billu both raked in accolades for his vocals. But Ajay Jhingran is not just a trained singer – he is an acclaimed lyricist, a composer and a performer too and dabbles in jingles and television. In short, variety could well be his middle-name Despite his consistency as a lyricist all the way from his early films like T-Series’ Papa The Great and Tips’ Kya Yehi Pyaar Hai and albums like Sanskar and Mausam (both with Sonu Niigaam) and Shiva (with Jagjit Singh), Ajay Jhingran has come into focus of late more for his unique voice in the few songs he has sung in films and albums. He won a prestigious nomination for his debut song, the semi-classical Mann yeh banwraa which was co-written and co-rendered by him with Swanand Kirkire for Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi. “The nomination was only for new talents, which was very gratifying,” says Ajay. “My title-track for Khoya Khoya Chand drew attention to my unusual voice, while Munni ki baari from Welcome To Sajjanpur had people even asking actor Ravi Jhankal whether he had sung the song himself!” But unlike the trends of today, Ajay isn’t moonlighting when he lends his vocal chords. Ajay hails from the lineage of the Bijnor gharana and his Saharanpur-based father, grandfather and others were accomplished singers. “My father was also a Kathak dancer who learnt from Achchan Maharaj, father of Birju Maharaj,” he reveals. Ajay is thus fully trained in classical music besides being a graduate in Literature from the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University and a post-graduate in Indian theatre from Punjab University. How did he land up with these songs? “It was Shantanu Moitra and Swanand Kirkire who recognised the earthy quality my voice possessed,” he said. “But the Billu song was pure destiny!” Reveals the verse-atile Ajay, “One day, I sent composer Pritam an sms that read, “You know me as a lyricist. But I am blessed with an earthy rustic voice, please use my vocal chords.” The same evening, I was attending a function at South Mumbai and had kept my mobilephone on silent mode.

At 2 a.m. when I was leaving the party I saw some 12 missed calls from Pritamji. When I called him up, he actually asked me if I could come and record a song straightaway! I told him that I could definitely come and hear the track but that my voice wasn’t at its best. At 2.30 I reached his studio in the same formalwear and when I heard Billu bhayankar, I knew that the song was my forte. I recorded it the next morning and Pritamji wasn’t even present for the ‘take’. As he put it, ‘You don’t require a composer! The song requires acting. Just see that you do not sound shahari (urban)!'” Adds Ajay, “But I voiced my insecurity about them retaining my voice, especially because I realised what this song could do for me. Pritamji assured me that they had been thinking of someone else earlier, but now no one would dub the song. This was important because such things happen frequently nowadays. My song Munni ki baari, for example,had been dubbed by several singers before me but they had not been happy with any of them!” What did Gulzar, who wrote Billu bhayankar and Shah Rukh Khan think about his vocals? “I have not met them after the recordings, but I heard they had praised me,” smiles Ajay. And what about the protests against the film’s title and songs? “They are very unfair and so unnecessary,” rues Ajay. So how does he plan to move on – will he be doing more of writing or singing? “Obviously both, though aaj ek lyricist ki haalat sab se kharaab hai!” he says. “By the way, my debut album came out in October last year – Sun Le Sachche Bol Miyaan, which I wrote and sang and also composed. My next album will also be out soon.” As a trained vocalist, wasn’t he keen to break out of the rustic image? “Yes, you will see that in my new album. But I think that doing quality work is more important than being different for the sake of it. Besides, I am getting interesting combinations – like in the forthcoming Pradeep Guha production Phir Kabhi I am writing all songs – this is my first solo with Shantanu Moitra as composer – and also singing two songs. Rahul Vaidya, the Indian Idol finalist, is insisting that I write and compose his new album. I have just sung a song for UNICEF that is neither written nor sung by me, though I am acting in the video with Sachin Tendulkar.”

These are but the latest achievements for Ajay in a line of work that include writing title-tracks for cricket tournaments, national sports events and social issues and various live and television reality shows and for albums with Asha Bhosle, Jagjit Singh, Sonu Niigaam, Daler Mehndi and Mahalakshmi Iyer, He has also contributed a track for the Karsh Kale-Anushka Shankar album Breathing Under Water and is writing a Jagjit Singh album composed by Deepak Pandit. And Classically Mild with Sonu Niigaam remains a benchmark. But to return to his earlier remark, why are lyricists in an unenviable condition today? “It’s like this,” he says thoughtfully. “It is always the lyrics that decide the enduring power of a song. But while every writer has a guru or inspiration – for me it is the immortal Neerajji – it is only the craft that can come from such inspiration. The thoughts and the language should be your own. Today we are in an era when lyricists with no knowledge of literature thrive, whereas the minimum a songwriter must have read and absorbed is lots of Hindi and Urdu literature. I also feel that lyrics should never be vacuous, even if in an “item” song. A thought or a philosophy must be incorporated along with certain aesthetics. Then it does not matter whether you are writing a Bijuria, my hit song with Sonu, or a Classically Mild.” Screen India

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