With her strong voice mastering lower octave notes powerfully to perfection, Shubha Mudgal’s work ranges from Hindustani classical, khayal, thumri and dadra to pop music and Bollywood film songs. She doesn’t quite fit into any one particular genre – then again, she does not want it to, either. Even as a kid, when asked by a kathak dance instructor, “Aap kis gharaane ka naachti hain?” (What gharana/house/style do you dance from?), she cleverly retorted, “Hum apne gharaane ka naachti hain” (I dance from my own gharana).
Born in 1959 in Allahabad to parents who were professors of English literature – and who also valued the performing arts – Mudgal has been trained by an ample number of musical maestros in Allahbad and Delhi including Pandit Ramashreya Jha, Pandit Vinaya Chandra Mudgalya, Pandit Vasant Thakar, Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki, Naina Devi and Pandit Kumar Gandharva.
“You know, in a way, with traditional master-disciple/guru-shishya learning, it’s not very common to change teachers,” she once said in an interview on Monsoonmag.com. “In fact, I haven’t really changed teachers. It has been possible for me to learn from several people because almost all the people I learned from had an eclectic approach themselves… I think that is the best part of learning from different people. Each one has focused on a certain aspect of music. And these aspects I learn from all of them. It becomes far easier for me to become open about gharanas, to follow and emulate their ideals, and to see how one can actually borrow from different styles, forms, gharanas and enrich one’s own experience.”
Being taught by a variety of teachers sure shows in her work, which is just as eclectic as her training. “Khayal and thumari are my favourites, but that doesn’t mean I should not experiment with other forms. Why should I curtail my musical urges?" Mudgal said in an interview on Planet Radio City and further added in an interview on Sadarang.com, “Other genres and influences are also incorporated and adapted in my work to create a tapestry that uses and warp and weft of the classical and the contemporary.”
A strong opponent of getting slated into a particular style, Mudgal has 10 albums and a decent number of Bollywood songs to her credit: “Ali More Angana,” “Ab Ke Saawan,” “Dholnaa,” “Nadiya” and “Patjhad,” from her soulful albums come to mind immediately, as does her work from Ramchand Pakistani, Kabul Express, Laaga Chunari Mein Daag, Sehar, Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi, Satta, Yeh Mohabbat Hai, Chandni Bar, Lajja, Aks, 1920 and Kama Sutra.
Despite having won a National Film Award for composing for Amrit Beej in 1996, and also being bestowed with the Padma Shri in 2000, she still thinks she is learning. Actually, she happens to be rather modest, claiming her voice has “its limitations and imperfections” and maintaining that she doesn’t think she has done anything new – “There are always so many people who have already experimented that I guess people like me can only try in our own little way what is new for us. But actually in the world of music too much has been done for me to be able to say I’ve done something earth-shatteringly different.”
While the technologically-savvy Mudgal isn’t in the recording studio or performing live in concert, she is busy running a music label with her husband titled Underscore Record Private Limited().
Mudgal seems to approach her work with honesty, her passion for music coming across very clearly. “I don’t do music because that's the only thing that can earn me a livelihood,” Mudgal said. “It also happens to be my profession. But even if it didn’t earn me money or fame or concert tours to the United States, I’d still be doing that, which I have done. When one learnt music, it was because one felt compelled to learn. Perhaps one of the greatest things that you learn from music is a sense of humility.”