“I absolutely love experimenting” – Shalmali Kholgade

She’s spontaneous and full of life; no wonder this translates into her music. Mumbai girl Shalmali Kholgade has lent her voice to some of the hottest Bollywood beats in the last few years, from the award-winning ‘Pareshaan’ in Ishaqzaade and ‘Lat Lag Gayee’ in Race 2 to ‘Baby Ko Bass Pasand Hai’ in Sultan. She tells HAIR about her musical journey and more…

Tell us about your journey into music…
My mother taught Indian classical music at home. She is the reason why I sing at all. Till my mother was eight months pregnant with me, she went for her music lessons to her teacher Smt. Shruti Sadolikar. She believes that this affected my musical leaning in some way. My mother made it compulsory for me to attend music class twice a week, and though I reluctantly sat for it, I owe so much to those classes. As I grew older, music has been around me thanks to my parents and brother. I enjoyed listening to Hindustani classical as well as western bands since I was little. My brother, who is eight years older than I am, listened mostly to English rock and pop bands. I picked up the guitar watching him play. He has been my encyclopedia of English music.

I liked to sing English songs more, rather than doing Hindustani classical riyaaz. Till I got to college, I wasn’t sure music was the thing for me. This was until I found myself in the final round of a solo singing competition at a college festival. I sang Desperado by the Eagles, and as I ended the song, I held the last note till I ran out of breath! I wanted to stay in that moment as long as I could. It was so fulfilling that I’ve tried to find a moment like it ever since. It hasn’t come again. But I think I fell in love with music then.

How did Bollywood happen?
I did not plan to enter Bollywood at all. It was just a freak accident. I was heading  to the U.S. in 2012 to pursue a Master’s in vocal studies. Two English demos, which were meant to be used solely as audition material to get into the LA Music Academy, were sent a week later to Amit Trivedi’s studio. I did this on being persuaded by a friend who worked with Amit then. The day I sent the demos, I got a call back from Amit’s studio, and I ended up recording a scratch version of Pareshaan that same night! On day two, we were recording the final song and, as they say, the rest is history.

shalmali kholgadeYour debut song became an instant hit and even won you awards. What was the feeling like?
Singing for Bollywood films was something I did not expect to do. To top that, winning accolades for the very first song I sang for the movies came as a huge wave. There’s no denying the fact that it was wonderful to be noticed and appreciated.

Hard work or luck—what do you attribute your success to?
I’d have to say it’s the marriage of my luck with the voice I was naturally endowed with. My voice has done the hard work of giving my vocals an edgy quality. I’ve been told that I don’t acknowledge that I’ve worked hard on my voice. In my opinion, I could do better. Having said that, I’ve had diverse musical experiences that have shaped the voice I have today. If you call that hard work, then yes, I have worked hard.

Who is your inspiration when it comes to music?
My all-time inspiration would have to be Amy Winehouse. More recently, I have been bitten by the Beyoncé bug. I also am a huge admirer of John Mayer. Closer to home, I love Sunidhi Chauhan and Arijit Singh’s singing and A.R. Rahman’s music.

You flaunt such lustrous hair. Any hair secrets or specific haircare regime you follow?
I didn’t have a ‘regime’ earlier, but I do now, given the fact that my hair is an important part of my work, as it contributes hugely to my appearance.

I wash my hair every 2-3 days or when my scalp gets oily. I use a colour protecting shampoo and conditioner that moisturises and repairs my hair. I’m currently using the TIGI Bed Head Urban Antidotes Resurrection range. It cleans my hair well, softens it and has a wonderful fragrance. I follow it up with a few drops of Moroccanoil on damp hair. If I am to blow-dry, straighten or tong my hair, I spray my hair with the Moroccanoil Heat Styling Protection first. I also do two hair spas every month to keep my hair hydrated. An occasional oil head massage also does great and feels wonderful!

Shalmali’s signature hairstyle is…
Messy! I am a carefree person and I think that contributes to my comfort with big, messy hair. I absolutely love experimenting. I love updos and braids that make a statement. In fact, I remember sitting in a local market in St. Petersburg in Russia and getting my hair braided by a hair artist. It was so beautiful! I love colour as well. I’ve experimented with the brown-blonde range of colours, but my last highlight session had me try ash highlights on a dark global which I absolutely loved.

Five hair care products you can’t do without…
Shampoo, conditioner, Moroccanoil, two hair pins, a hair tie; and no, I don’t need a comb. That’s how I maintain the messy hair!

Like most girls, do you have a certain ‘hairmare’?
I have very fine hair. So I have to figure ways in which I can keep it looking less limp given the humidity in Mumbai. Recently, I met a hairdresser from Belarus who gave me a simple tip on making hair look bigger—dig your fingers into your head, massage your scalp in a small circular motions all over. It feels great and gives you volume.

shalmali kholgadeAny advice for young women about beauty?
As clichéd as it sounds, beauty is a reflection of a happy heart. It’s important to stay fit and healthy, both physically and mentally. When you have that under control, what you put over it is only going to enhance what you already have. Less is more. Save your dashing looks for special occasions to impress yourself and your friends.

What projects keep you busy these days and what’s in the offing?
There are always recordings, which is an ongoing process. That, coupled with traveling for shows, is a regular. My lifetime project of bettering my live shows keeps me occupied most times. I am also currently working on my English single which I composed a while back.

We know Shalmali, the singer. Tell us about the person behind the voice.
I wish there were more hours in a day and I didn’t have to sleep every day, so that I could do more with my time. I love the arts and crafts. I’m a big granny; I love knitting and crocheting! I collect yarn from every country I visit. If I’m at home, you’ll find me with my art material making something. I block printed paper recently to make a paper lampshade for my dining table.

Dance is another passion. I have learnt Kathak for most part of my life, but am now learning jazz funk and hip hop which are styles better suited to my profession. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy it! Other interests include meeting new people, interacting with folks from different countries and getting to know their culture. I’ve also discovered a love for baking. I can’t say I can do much yet, but I can whip up a good cheesecake!

(Photographs by Salamat Husain)