Rahman sir guided me line by line for Alaikadal song: Antara Nandy
Antara debuted as a playback singer in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan-1
Internet sensation Antara Nandy debuted as a playback singer with the song 'Alaikadal' from Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan-1.
Antara shot to fame during the lockdown with the Balcony Concert series. She is known for ranking in the top 10 of AR Rahman’s YouTube Original show ARRived and as a finalist on Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Lil’ Champs.
In PS-1, Antara has voiced for 'Alaikadal' in four languages — Hindi, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. Composed by AR Rahman, the song's lyrics are penned by Siva Ananth.
Excerpts from the conversation
Tell us about yourself, how did you take up music professionally?
My parents noticed that I hummed a lot when I was a toddler. When I was four, they moved from Assam to Kolkata to have me trained under Ustad Rashid Khan in Hindustani classical music. That was the beginning. When I was nine, I participated in a singing-based reality show. I went there for fun but kept qualifying. Until then, I was singing ragas, and knew only two songs. It was surreal when I reached the final. After this, I started taking up music more seriously. I had my focus on two things: academics and music. I balanced both and I’ve completed my masters now.
How did you come under the eyes of AR Rahman?
During my teens, when my voice broke, I couldn’t sing for two years. When I was 14, I got the chance to train at KM Music Conservatory (founded by AR Rahman). And there, I was helped to get my voice right and get back to singing. In their annual function, which Rahman sir attends, usually they let senior students perform. However, I got a chance to sing and I put together a unique fusion piece of western and Indian classical music. This piece was in the middle of the play and the audience gave a standing ovation once I was done. This was my first time meeting Rahman sir, so after the event got over, I waited to take a picture with him.
In 2019, I was also part of a YouTube reality show which had Rahman sir as the chief guest. While other judges were not impressed with my performance at times, Rahman sir was like, “I like anything Antara sings” (laughs). And before the finale of the show, when I was preparing for an exam, I got a call asking me to catch a flight to Chennai, as Rahman sir wants me to record a song with me. For the first time, I left the exam and went to Chennai. It was to do a scratch and then on, I sang scratches and jingles for Rahman sir.
When did you get on board for the 'Alaikadal' song from Ponniyin Selvan?
One week before PS-1’s audio launch, I got a call that my scratch of 'Alaikadal' has been selected. When I couldn't recollect the track, I was told that it was recorded in 45 minutes and I was freaking out. If I had done it in a short time, I thought there would be mistakes in it, especially since it was a language which was not in my mother tongue. Immediately I mailed sir asking for a redo, since it was getting confirmed and I recorded it in a short time. I never heard from him. Later, I was informed that I will have to record the same song in Hindi, Telugu and Kannada as well.
I got my debut playback in the best way with Ponniyin Selvan, and in addition, it was a debut in three more languages. All this happened one week before the launch. I also got to perform the song on stage.
Tell us about the recording session. Was it difficult to sing in Tamil?
When I got there, I was completely panic-stricken. Rahman sir was recording it himself. Mani Ratnam sir was in the studio too. Sir told me one line brief, “I want it to sound like the waves of the ocean, it should have ups and downs. It has to flow”. Then Mani sir also explained the scene to me. That it is a song voiced by a strong boatwoman, singing to her love of the life who she’s longing to meet. It has to portray love. Though I knew the lyrics, I didn’t know what each word meant, so I was worried. Rahman sir completely guided me, going line by line. That’s how we recorded the song. After he started guiding, it became so easy.
What was AR Rahman’s reaction once the song was out?
After the song was out, I mailed him, thanking him for the opportunity. He wrote back, saying, ‘yes, you nailed the song’ with a rose emoji (laughs), it made my day!