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MARATHI singer Bela Shende is a good example of reality television discovering a true talent. The story of her journey in the music industry that started when she was 16, made for an interesting afternoon conversation at Loksatta Viva Lounge, an interactive property launched by Loksatta Viva that celebrates the achievements of extraordinary women from different walks of life. It was held at Ravindra Natya Mandir Prabhadevi on Monday afternoon.
The session started off with actor and guest editor of Loksatta, Sonali Kulkarni, quizzing the Pune-based singer about which city she preferred more — Mumbai or Pune. Shende, who has lent her voice to songs in several Hindi, Marathi and South Indian movies, gave a diplomatic answer, "Mumbai is my karma bhoomi whereas Pune is where I grew up. I love them equally." Shende, who shot to fame by winning the Sa Re Ga Ma mega final in 1998, recounted how she took up this profession. "I come from a background where both my grandmother and my father pursued music. My sister Sawani is also a renowned Hindi classical vocalist. Being surrounded by music all my life, I knew this was what I wanted to do. But there was never any pressure from my family," she said.
Interestingly, Shende was all of 16 when she won the final that was open only to contestants above 18 years of age. "I had just finished my Class X board exams and I was a bundle of nerves when I made it to the finals. And luckily for me, Gajendra Singh, the producer, insisted that I participate because he loved my voice. That vote of confidence was a big boost for me," said the singer, who has worked with different genres of music — bhajans, ghazals and romantic film songs, among others.
After winning the show, offers started pouring in. While she lapped up movie projects, she stayed away from reality shows. "I strongly feel that music reality shows are just the beginning for young singers and not the end. But contestants often forget this and get lost amid the chaos of glamour," she explained. She thanked actor-filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar, who gave her a break with his Hindi film Ehsaas. "He met me at an event where he was the chief guest. As the event drew to a close, he approached me and asked me if I wanted to sing for his film. After that, I was inundated with movie offers," recalls the singer, best known for lending voice to Manmohana in Jodhaa Akbar, which she even sang at the session on popular demand.
In fact, recording for the song was one of the biggest highs of her life, she points out, as she got to work with AR Rahman. "He is a man of few words but never fails to encourage deserving talent. He also eggs you on to give your 100 per cent. Both he and Ilayaraaja are geniuses who respect discipline and hard work. I have learnt so much from them," she said.