Best foot forward
As Batla House dance number O saki saki becomes the latest chartbuster, Nora Fatehi and singer Tulsi Kumar discuss the thrill of recreating hits from the past in this digital age of replicas and adulation
Tulsi, you are known for soulful numbers. How different was it to sing a dance number like O saki saki?
Tulsi Kumar (TK): I have done many dance numbers earlier too. I did a song called Love mera hit hit in 2009, then there was Nachange saari raat and Gulabi 2.0 – but definitely, O saki saki has grabbed all eyeballs for the right reasons. It has brought immense love and appreciation for me and my team including Neha Kakkar, B Praak, Tanishk (Bagchi) and Nora. The combination played out very beautifully. As far as my vocals are concerned, everyone relates me to soulful and melodious numbers. But I think this was a challenge for me to get out of my comfort zone and do something very different. I am happy to be a part of O saki saki and really elated that people love this new side of Tulsi.
Nora, your song Dilbar became a huge hit last year. Did that anywhere pressurise you to match expectations while preparing for O saki saki?
Nora Fatehi (NF): Yes, of course it did. After Dilbar, Kamariya followed and after that, everybody saw the Arabic version of Dilbar. That pressure was most when Kamariya was releasing, which was just about a week after Dilbar had released. When I did the Arabic Dilbar too, there was fear about whether this will be accepted by people here. I made it for a different market but since I am working here, I need things to work out for me here even though I am creating something for another market. The day before Arabic Dilbar was releasing I was quite stressed and finally it was received well by people despite it being in a different language!
As we shot O saki saki, I was just more excited to offer something different visually and take the dancing to a new level. But the day before Saki was releasing, that pressure came back to me all over again. It was an overwhelming fear – will this be as good as Dilbar? Of course, you can't compare it to Dilbar because it is totally different both visually and musically. Even the dance style is different. My fear was about whether the audience will appreciate this song as they had earlier.
When you see people on social media making dance videos, doing their own workshops and trying to learn the dance steps, then you know that they have enjoyed it. Right now, my Instagram is flooded with videos of people dancing to Saki saki, attempting the hook step, doing their own choreography and so much more!
Do you feel that this age of overwhelming digital and social media helps singers and performers connect better with their audience?
TK: Definitely! There was a time when you didn't know how your song was faring. You would know after maybe a couple of days when you chance upon the song playing somewhere. Those were the parameters, but now it is all in front of you because of social media. The comments, the numbers, the views and the 'likes' will tell you how the song is doing with the audience. Like Nora said, there are so many digital platforms like Tik Tok, YouTube and Instagram where people are uploading performances on the song. You then know that your song is actually being loved and talked about!
NF: As a performer, I would say that the digital platform is adding a new dimension to our work. The way we can engage with our audience is mind-boggling. This is why whenever I do a project, like a dance number, I make sure it is engaging. People would want to try it at home or with friends. It should be engaging, it should make you want to get up and hit the dance floor. It needs to be aspirational and energetic.
I remember, during Dilbar there was an argument where I thought, should we really do something like this? It might be tough for people and how do we know that majority of people can attempt belly dancing? But we thought we must as it was something very different. Once the song became a hit, all these girls and the belly dancers within them had come out and they were doing the hook step so beautifully! I was so impressed to see those girls attempting it with confidence, then I thought, don't underestimate the audience!
Would you consider Dilbar to be a turning point in your career?
NF: You know, for the longest time I thought Dilbar was the song because everybody just said that Dilbar is the reason why I am here. But you know what, it's not; it is Naah, the song with Harrdy Sandhu. Naah was the first song to reach five million views on YouTube in India and it broke a record. At that time, I was just a girl from Bigg Boss and Jhalak Dikhhla Jaa. People and even filmmakers actually noticed me in that song! Secretly I feel that is what propelled my career while Dilbar was the boom!
Tulsi, recently your two songs Tera ban jaunga and Shaher ki ladki got more than 100 million views. What does this mean to you considering one is an original and the other is a recreated version?
TK: I think every song has its own charm and destiny. The end product is what the listeners get to hear and the prime motive is to have them entertained with these songs. Both my songs in the last month, Kabir Singh's Tera ban jaunga and Khandaani Shafakhana's Shaher ki ladki did well. Shaher ki ladki was again the iconic recreation in which we had Raveena (Tandon) Ma'am and Suniel (Shetty) Sir as a part of the video, which was amazing. I was really thrilled to be the voice of Raveena Tandon. I have grown up listening to her and watching her on screen and here I was to be her voice!
When you make a recreated version of an already popular song, what nuances do you add to make it look fresh while you also maintain the original flavour?
TK: That is best done by Tanishk. When he recreates a track he ensures that it isn't a simple copy – and that's why they are called recreations and not remixes. With this recreation too, we began with a totally new part in Main teri aankhon ka sahil, main tere dil ke hi kaabil... In fact, in between too there are several new aspects that are combined with the hook of O saki saki. When I am a part of recreation, I don't like to go back and watch or hear too much of the original song. That was an already iconic song and here we were trying to lend new perspective to it. So, with due respect to all iconic songs that are recreated, I try to add my own feel and flavour.
There's always a set of people who negatively react to recreations. How do you deal with that?
TK: With love there has to be some criticism, especially with recreations. Some sections of the audience are so attached to what they have heard earlier that they can't accept anything new. But on the other hand, our newer generation enjoys these iconic songs in a recreated version. Recreations should be done with a lot of care and when handled properly, there is no harm!
NF: They are created for entertainment and not to stress you out, so people shouldn't get really emotional about this. These songs are made for you to dance, have fun and enjoy. In Batla House, there is a reason why the song happens, why my character is dancing, etc. When you see the film you will understand why the song is there!
Nora, you are known for your chartbuster songs. The trailer of Batla House shows you doing something different. What can we expect from your character?
NF: I play a character called Huma and she is a small town girl. She is a performer. She is really important for the story. You have to see the film on August 15 to know what it is about. For my career, it is a step up. It is great that Nikkhil Advani gave me this opportunity. It was very exciting for me because these are the things that I am really looking forward to doing more and more in my career.