We step into the enchanting world of music as we interact with the soul-stirring voice behind numerous Bollywood chart-toppers and mesmerising renditions of Indian classical ragas. Shilpa Rao has won the hearts of millions, from Bollywood classics like ‘Tose Naina Lage’, ‘Ghungroo,’ to her latest releases such as ‘Besharam Rang’ from Pathaan and ‘Rua Rua’ from PS2. Hailing from a lineage of musicians, this versatile singer who has also been a Grammy nominee has left an indelible mark on the music industry.

1. You had a huge success with the song “Besharam Rang” from the movie Pathaan. What was your reaction when you first found out that the song had become such a hit?
We don’t all start with the idea of creating a hit song. Our intention is to craft a good song that complements the film, conveys something about the character, and does justice to it. However, it is the crowd that ultimately turns it into a big hit, not us. Once we complete the song, it no longer belongs to us; it becomes for the fans. We were genuinely delighted by how people embraced it and resonated with the song’s vibe.

2. You’ve had the opportunity to work with some of the biggest names in the industry, including Siddharth Anand and Vishal-Shekhar. Can you share some of your experiences working with them?
I have been working with Vishal-Shekhar and Sidharth since 2007. Our journey began with ‘Khuda Jaane’ for YRF – it was my first recording at YRF. Since then, we have collaborated on numerous projects, such as ‘Anjaana Anjaani,’ ‘Bang Bang,’ ‘War,’ and ‘Pathaan.’ It’s great to reunite in the studio and work on a fresh new song. Personally, I think we all love it. There are times when we are busy with our individual work and don’t get to meet each other frequently. However, once we start working on the song, we light up. It’s wonderful to have those creative energies come together and create something we have never done before. The entire process is incredibly fun, and we thoroughly enjoy ourselves. It’s a delightful madness of joy.

3. How was it working on the song “Ruaa Ruaa” from PS2 with Mani Ratnam and Gulzar Sahab, and what were some highlights of that experience or something you learned from them?
I believe Mani sir has been an inspiration to all of us since ‘Roja.’ I don’t think any 90s kid’s childhood would have been complete without it. We all have our own memories and personal expressions connected to it. He provided us with a significant consolation that we could be ourselves and still be artists; we didn’t have to fit a certain mold. That’s something both he and Rahman sir did for us, and I believe many of us are pursuing our artistic paths because of their influence. Gulzar sahab, on the other hand, has been a part of our lives since the time our parents listened to music or watched movies. So many things we say on a daily basis are because Gulzar sahab wrote them. They have set a standard that we can only aspire to as artists. One of the crucial lessons we learn from great artists like them is that being a good human being is vital in life.

4. This is your third collaboration with the legendary AR Rahman. How has your working relationship evolved over the years and what have you learned from him?
I hope that at some point, we can all become like him. He is someone who sets major life goals. It’s incredible how he consistently remains inspired and motivated every single day. I believe his aura is present in his music. Even if he’s not physically present in the room during recording, his strong presence is still felt. I still feel intimidated when talking to him. He’s not scary at all, but when he’s right in front of you… all his remarkable work flashes before your eyes, and the legend himself is standing there. I am simply left speechless. He inspires me in so many ways, and though I want to express my thoughts to him, I often find myself unable to say anything. I hope that someday I will have the opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with him. Until then, I find myself just staring at him without being able to articulate my thoughts.

5. Can you give us a sneak peek into your upcoming projects?
Sneak peeks are tough because the release dates keep changing, but we will make sure to keep you updated on when it will be released. Currently, there is a lot of work lined up for the entire year, and I am eagerly looking forward to it. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it. There are some exciting songs with Pritam, Vishal-Shekhar, and Sachin-Jigar, and they are a lot of fun. I really hope and would love to sing something in other languages. I have done songs in Tamil, but I want to do some more now. I hope that happens.

6. Aside from your music career, what are some of your other passions and hobbies?
I like to travel a lot. My husband and I are travel geeks, and it’s something we have been doing since we met. It’s a consistent part of our lives, even now. We continue to visit places that inspire us, where we can sit and get mesmerized by the surroundings. Traveling is something I truly love. I also enjoy watching things that inspire me, whether it’s a documentary, cinema, series, movie, or anything else. It’s nice to gain insights from these stories that I wouldn’t come across otherwise. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I started reading a lot. I wasn’t much of a reader before, but now I have rekindled my interest in books. Reading has become a significant part of my life again. These activities make up about 10% of my life, but the remaining 90% revolves around music. My friends and I often discuss food, dream about visiting different places, and savoring the local cuisine. Food holds great importance in everyone’s life, and it never gets tiring. It is always enjoyable and never overrated.

7. How do you adapt your music to connect with diverse cultures and audiences, and what have you learned from these experiences? Also, how do you manage to balance staying connected with your fans while maintaining your privacy?
I strongly believe that art exists because we cannot communicate in all languages, and we cannot possibly know everything about every person on the planet. Art fills that gap. It is the only medium where two people can understand each other without saying a word. Music, in particular, is incredibly self-explanatory. When it comes to finding balance, I believe staying true to what you’re doing is more than enough. If you approach your art with enough conviction and authenticity, the person in front of you will understand it in the same way. There’s no need to worry too much. It’s perfectly fine.

8. How did you develop your unique sound and what advice do you have for artists trying to find their own style?
The first thing is, don’t try to imitate someone else’s style. Instead, find your own unique style. Each person has their own face and DNA, and it’s essential to discover your own voice. This is particularly important because the world needs more voices that speak of love, peace, and hope. These are crucial elements in today’s time. It’s a misconception that one is born with a voice. In my case, I wasn’t born with my current voice; it was something I consciously worked on. I dedicated time and effort to find my own voice. It takes time, perseverance, and experiencing life’s ups and downs, but it’s all worth it. So, please go out there and discover your style and voice.

9. How do you balance preserving the essence of classical music while also experimenting with new sounds in your work that blends traditional and contemporary styles?
I believe that art, in any form, is all about evolution, change, and adaptation. Just as our society undergoes transformations, so does art. It serves as a mirror reflecting the changes happening around us. Art is a dynamically evolving entity, and therefore, we must also be open to change and adaptation. It’s essential to have an open mind and heart, remaining receptive to anything new. Even if we are unfamiliar with something, it is important to approach it with an open heart, whether by listening to it or experiencing it. This willingness to explore and embrace new ideas and perspectives is crucial in the world of art.

10. You have a huge concert coming up in Mumbai. What can your fans expect from the performance and how are you preparing for it?
Yes, we are incredibly excited about it. We are in the process of revamping several aspects, including myself, the musicians, and the entire team. We are putting in a lot of effort to bring newer elements and make it a more enjoyable experience for everyone.

11. You have done a huge number of songs over the course of your singing career. Which song do you have a soft spot for, or which song has always been your favourite to sing or listen to in your own voice?
I still think it is “Tose Naina Lage”, my first song. I think it’s such a… I don’t know. I won’t be able to sing it like that anymore, in that particular way. But it is a very special song for me.