For National Award winning singer Shashaa Tirupati, language was no barrier when it came to feeling the pain that AR Rahman's 'Vaan varuvan' induced. The song from Kaatru Veliyidai is unforgettable for this singer and not only because it has bagged one of the country's most prestigious awards.
Shashaa has sung three dozen songs for AR Rahman and several more for other composers in 12 languages but till date, 'Vaan varuvan' remains the melody she has found most challenging.
"I didn't understand the lyrics completely and was given an idea of what the song meant. But the melody was just too haunting. It hit me really hard and even till date I sing the song with a heavy heart," she explain to TNM. "There is just so much pain and heartbreak in the way the song flows. When I sing 'garvam konaal kalaai uraivan' and then move on to the resolution which goes 'kaadhal', it is simply divine," she adds.
Shashaa recalls sitting with her mentor AR Rahman even as the song and its melody was created and says it was a beautiful experience. One that left her in tears at the end of it.
"We recorded three different versions of it before Rahman sir was satisfied with the output. He is very self-critical and tweaks and changes his own music constantly," she explains. "After we finished recording though, I really broke down in my hotel room. It was a very emotional experience for me," she says, her voice soft.
Anybody who listens to 'Vaan', can feel their heart break a little for the heroine trapped in an emotionally abusive relationship. But from where did Shashaa channel this pain into the song?
"Heartbreak plays a major role in any artist," she says candidly. "It could be losing a close friend or member of your family and the hurt you experienced because of them. When that emotion is inside you and you connect to a melody, it immediately taps into the pain. I've been through tremendous loss and pain in my life and I think that at some level I define pain," she adds.
And despite this tremendous journey she went through with this song, Shashaa could hardly believe that she had won the National Award for 'Vaan'.
'I was asleep'
It was around 12.30 in the afternoon when Shashaa began getting phone calls. Her phone was buzzing but she was fast asleep.
"When I finally picked up and they told me I had won, I was just really confused," she giggles. "I was like what the hell are they saying? I really thought it was some kind of a mistake or prank," she laughs.
And by the time the news sunk in, she was howling, "I am a National Award winner" to her shocked mother on the phone and the singer was crying in happiness. The Tirupati household then proceeded to churn out ladoos out of joy and offered prayers to God.
"When I called Rahman sir with the good news, he said it was a reward for my hard work and perseverance. But honestly, it was only because of his faith in me that I have achieved this," she says. "A lot of composers look for a singer with branding and existing position in the industry. But Rahman sir just looks at talent, even if you are a newcomer," she adds.
Rahman's favourite singer?
Well in Shashaa's case, the musical genius sure did look at talent. In OK Kanmani alone, she has crooned three songs - 'Naane Varugiren', 'Kaara Aatakara' and 'Parandhu Selava'. All of them, to her credit were different genres of music. She has also sung in Kochadiyaan, Lingaa and Mariyaan for Rahman in Tamil.
So, would she consider herself his favourite singer.
"I would love to believe I am his favourite," laughs Shashaa. "You would die to hear that from the person you've worshiped for 12 years. If he were ever to say that to me I would die happily at that point. He has ensured I don't get typecast as a singer," she declares.
Shashaa'a association with Rahman began in 2012 when she began singing on MTV's Coke Studio. One day in July, Rahman apparently asked who Shashaa was among the group of singers present there. She identified herself and then immediately decided it was because she had done something wrong.
"I couldn't sleep all night and thought I'd really messed something up. So, the next day I mustered the courage to go ask him why he asked for me and he said that it was because he thought that my voice sounded like the duk duk (a wind instrument). One of his assistants had made him listen to some of my work. I was so thrilled," she reveals.
But Shashaa's ambitions don't end with winning the National Award. She looks forward to singing for various other composers and is also writing and composing songs herself. And one of them is about the rape culture in the country.
Exploring other avenues
"After the Nirbhaya incident, I penned a song but it has been in cold storage because the musicians I want to collaborate with for the project were not available. But I plan to finish it now and the time is right for it," she says. "It pays homage to rape survivors across the country," she adds.
In addition to this, she has joined theatre and is acting as well now.
Shashaa received her National Award on May 3, but her association with the song that has catapulted her to national fame is not over yet.
"I want to adopt a girl child by 2020. I want to ensure that there is another strong woman out there in the world and I have decided to name her Vaan," says Shashaa. "After all, the sky is the limit."