Glamour in ghazals, Screen

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Vatsala Mehra: Glamour in ghazals, Screen, October 28, 1988

She could have been an actress. She has the looks. She could have been a painter or interior decorator. She has the talent. She could have simply chosen any profession and made a success of it. She has the determination and confidence. The vivid and vast collection of books in her sprawling, posh Bandra apartment vouch for her intelligence as well. But Vatsala chose to become a singer, for it was an art closest to her heart.

“Music is in my blood. I think I would wither away without it.” As we review her rich repertoire of ghazals, we discover a powerful voice with tremendous range, the tone and timbre enabling her to experiment from the light and mischievous to the serious and classical. Her style of presentation seems to add a sheen to the timeless renditions as we witnessed her unique video cassette, now on sale. Joining hands with Garware, Vatsala cut her own video cassette ‘Nigahen’ selecting her best and most popular ghazals as gauged by the stage shows. The cassette was a direct result of popular demand by her fans! And having staged over 200 shows the world over already, there are plenty of fans no doubt.

In 1980, her first album ‘Guftugu’ was released. Since then, the trek has always been upward. It was followed by ‘Shamahhana II’ in 1981, ‘Khazana’-Part I and II in 1982 and 1983 respectively, ‘Nigahen’ in 1984, ‘Hasrat’ in 1985 and the latest, ‘Nashili Peshkash’ in 1988. Initially, having been thrown into the world of cut-throat competition from the hitherto protected atmosphere and comforts of home, Vatsala felt unnerved by the politics in the game. “It needs guts to continue on your own in the male dominated arena,” she says. But defeat does not exist in her dictionary for Vatsala is a lady to reckon with.

Today she has audiences asking for encores in her live shows, despite the presence of several known names. In fact, her maiden performance given in Bombay’s Bhaidas Hall, she had evoked this response from a noted critic, “She reminded us of the halcyon days of Begum Akhtar and Saigal.” No mean achievement. A great admirer of Ghulam Ali, (amongst others such as Geeta Dutt, Mehdi Hassan, Farida Khannum, Jagjit-Chitra Singh and Lataji), she was once offered to perform a stage show with him. The only problem was that the sponsor could not afford to have Vatsala’s orchestra along too. Naturally, she refused. “Ghulam Ali is fantastic. But I am different. I gave to be original. I do not want to emulate anyone I admire. After all I have chosen this profession because I want to establish an identity of my own.” Ultimately, of course, she is not here for money or name but more for the joy of singing, as she puts it.

Vatsala wants to cut a bhajan disc now, though her sponsors and fans picture her more easily going pop! Both offers are worth considering, no doubt. Married at the young age of 18 to “a wonderful person without whose encouragement this would not have been possible”, she is now an American resident although she is in India for more than half the year. Previously she had to come down regularly to her native place to learn music, now of course because “I love India,” she sums up.

When asked to describe herself, Vatsala narrated, “The best compliment I have received is that I have a beautiful soul. That’s what matters. I am ambitious and in the race but not in the rat race. Let’s say I am a derby horse. Besides, I am a very good friend, I’d do anything for a friend.”

That’s Vatsala for you. They say seeing is believing. And indeed you have to see her to believe her.