When Sanah Moidutty met A.R. Rahman for the first time, he spoke to her in Malayalam. His Malayalam was correct but she was too excited to respond. In front of her was this great musician she had grown up listening to. Inside her head she shouted ‘Wow, is this really happening?’. But outside, on her face, it was a strange look of confusion. Looking at her, Rahman asked, "Is my Malayalam that bad?"
Sanah laughs as she recounts that first meeting, before she sang for him in the Tamil film 24. That tale and her last name point to the obvious Kerala connection of this young singer. Yes, she is a Malayali born to parents from Malappuram and Palakkad, and raised in Mumbai. Now, only a couple of months after 24, you spot her name coming thrice below a YouTube release of the songs of Mohenjo Daro, ARR’s latest, starring Hrithik Roshan.
All three appear along with ARR’s, the man she calls her biggest inspiration. She’s sung with him for Tu Hai... and Sindhu Ma..., and Mohenjo Mohenjo... is mostly a chorus. "Working with Rahman sir has by far been the best experience of my life. It was more than just a dream to meet him and work with him," says Sanah in an interview. "He took me out of my comfort zone while recording for Tu hai... and Mei Nigara... (song from 24). When I heard myself at the end of the recordings, the first thought that came into my mind was ‘Wait, I never knew I could do that!’ His vision is extraordinary."
Just as she breathes out Rahman sir’s name, Sanah keeps referring to another guide that had led her into the world of music as a child — her mom Razia. "My mother was a singer herself so she used to train me to sing songs — Hindi and Malayalam. Since childhood, I had learnt to balance my music and my studies. All thanks to my mother. She gave me the strength to not compromise one for the other. She enrolled me in a music class when I was five as she felt I had an inclination towards music."
It was Carnatic music at first with guru Sundari Gopalakrishnan, for six years. Then there was Hindustani music for seven years with guru Madhuvanti Pethe. She also trained under Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan Saahab for a few months. All this happened in school and college days. "I remember taking up shows before exams and during the crucial Class 10, 12 and engineering exams. There were times I used to sit backstage and study."
She went on to learn western vocals from Samantha Edwards and the intensity of training kept increasing with time. Subconsciously she had made the choice — it was not going to be engineering for her once she finished college. She would pursue music. She was already performing film music with Hindi and Malayalam bands and used to sing in an English band as well. Her first playback happened in 2011 for the film Always Kabhi Kabhi.
"I had participated in a talent hunt competition in my engineering college. The judge, Shree D. noticed me at the competition and called me for this song. And it got approved." And then her manager Ben Thomas took her to Vishal Sekhar. They liked her voice and called her for Gori Tere Pyaar Mein. Sanah has a YouTube channel where she regularly posts videos. Her covers of Manmarziyan from Lootera and O Rangrez from Bhaag Milkha Bhaag are pretty popular.
"I plan to keep that consistent irrespective of the film music scene. I really enjoy the whole process of coming up with something from scratch, and building on it, musically, visually and aesthetically. I have a brilliant audio and video team who give life to my vision. I have written a couple of songs which I plan to execute when I feel I’m ready for it. Having an independent music scene is very stimulating, emotionally and mentally. And yes, I have performed with amazing bands/artists and human beings like SANAM, Vishal Shekhar, Keerthi Sagathia, Ash King. I definitely plan on having my own band with a distinct sound. The process of connecting with new musicians and talents for this purpose has been exciting. It’s like searching for a family outside your family!"
Talking of family, she comes to visit the ones in Kerala. "If you hear anyone in my family talking, you could hear the famous Malayali sarcasm and wit in almost every line. I’ve got that streak in me too! Almost every funny situation will have a Malayalam movie dialogue that follows! And my management company’s name is Kurian n Company. The Kerala connection cannot get stronger than this I guess!" she laughs.