When popular playback singer Vijay Prakash performed in Charlotte on May 12 this year, he simply hadn’t imagine what would follow. The concert was such a hit that the town has decided May 12 will now be Vijay Prakash Day, an honour he received from Charlotte Mayor, William C. Dusch in June this year. “I never imagined it. Who dreams of having a day named after them,” asks Vijay. One of the four voices of Slumdog Millionaire’s hugely popular ‘Jai Ho’, which fetched him an Academy Award, Vijay has sung over 5000 songs, including Kavite, from the Kannada film, Gaalipata and ‘Nammooralli Chaligaladalli’ from Beautiful Manasugalu. He talks to Aksheev Thakur about his gurus’ on being a linguist and why quitting college is never a good idea!”
Growing up in a musical household, the son of Vidwan L. Ramasesha, Vijay Prakash’s tryst with singing began long before his official training. His grandfather, L. Lakshmipati Bagavatha, who was the biggest influence in the life of son, Vidwan Ramasesha, was a driving force for Vijay, too, as was his mother. It was a time of “unconscious learning,” as Vijay describes it, “a powerful, organic learning.”
Vijay Prakash is a familiar name in India - he has lent his voice to Bollywood films like Swadesk, Raavan and Force, performed with legends like Ustad Zakir Hussain and won the award for ‘Best Playback Singer’ in 2016, given to him by the Karnataka government for the song ‘Nammooralli Chaligaladalli’, from Beautiful Manasugalu. In 2008, his star rose even more, for his was the voice that sang the magic words ‘Jai Ho’ in the global superhit Slumdog Millionaire. As every Indian will remember, it took India all the way to the Academy Awards. Vijay recently earned himself a new, rather unusual distinction: May 12 will now be celebrated as Vijay Prakash Day. Where? North Carolina!
It began with a 2019 tour of the United States and the U.K, on which Vijay happened to perform Charlotte. The show was such a hit that they decided to name a day after the singer, who has given his name to over 5000 songs in multiple languages. The honour was awarded to him by Charlotte mayor William C. Dusch in June.
Vijay, like most of his peers, ended up in an engineering course. He already knew, though, by this point, that music was his only passion. “There was a serious desire in me to be a musician and special skills require special attention,” he says. He dropped out of college to do that, although he adds quickly that nobody should follow in his footsteps! “I would never tell anyone to discontinue their studies. I realised the importance of education later in my life. It just that I happened to be l ucky enough to sail through,” he says.
In 1996, he moved to Mumbai and came to be under the tutelage of Suresh Wadkar, who exposed him to Hindustani classical music. “I owe the developments in my musical journey to the maestro and I still consider him my guru,” he says. In 1998, he appeared on the famous show, Sa Re Ga Ma, making it to the mega-finals in 1999. He would go on to compere the show in Kannada, smiling as he recalls: “It feels good to be a judge on this show, because I once stood here as a participant. Of course, it doesn’t mean I have achieved everything in my life but stil, this is satisfying.”
His beautiful voice aside, Vijay had one more great talent, which would, quite unexpectedly, boost his career too - a flair for languages. A multi-linguist, he has sung in various languages, especially after he made his foray into advertising. This broadened his horizons, opening him up to various forms of music. He has sung over 3000 jingles and lent his voice to over 10,000 ad films in several Indian languages.
“I grew up in surroundings where we were encouraged to learn languages. My family was open-minded and they pushed me,” he says. “Being a linguist is a skill but one has to drive it.”
Despite being an ‘outsider’ in Bollywood, Vijay has some big hits to his credit. His first exposure to it came through the weekly popular show, Chitrahaar. “The show had an impact on me and when I went to Mumbai, the seeds that had been planted earlier exploded into a whole new world. I didn’t have formal training in the genre but I sang for Amitabh Bachcchan in Cheeni Kam,” he says, visibly proud.
As for the slew of awards under his belt, Vijay says the highlight of his career was winning the Academy Award for Jai Ho. “The success of the song was a surprise and as it happens, Jai Ho is still relevant today. It was the biggest thing to happen to Indian music and the magnitude of that success was greater than I could have imagined. I have a lot of hits to my credit but this remains special,” he says.
As for Vijay Prakash Day, named after his May 12 concert in North Carolina, he says, “I never dreamed of anything like this. After all, why would I dream of having a day named after me? Like Jai Ho, this was out of the blue,” he says.
The music scene has transformed since he arrived in the 1990s. “The change is inevitable,” he remarks. “Some people don’t like the change but others enjoy it. I have always been open to change. We have come from the time of Ilaiyaraaja to A.R. Rahman. No change can be described as good or bad.”