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Live Updates –Meet Salma Agha’s daughter, Zara Khan – brunch feature

Zara came to the industry to create a niche for herself as an actress, playing the romantic lead opposite Arjun Kapoor in Aurangzeb

Meet Salma Agha’s daughter, Zara Khan – brunch feature

After the release of my book 101 Haiku, Anil Virwani invited a select gathering of my friends to his sea-facing house at Worli for dinner. Zara Khan regaled us with her singing and her breathy rendition of her mother Salma Agha’s popular song, Faza Bhi Hai Jawan Jawan gave me goosebumps. Zara’s youthful voice was inflected with yearning and she had a clear gift for expression. “Why don’t you sing for films?” I asked. “May be some day in the future,” she demurred.

Two years later, Zara harks back to that evening and smiles, “Can you believe it, today, I am singing in six forthcoming projects!” She adds thoughtfully, “We think we know what we want but we don’t know what we need or what’s best for us. I firmly believe in Imam Ali’s sagacious words, ‘What’s yours will find you.’ I first heard this saying in 2017 and positivity just blossomed.”

Tone and mood

Zara came to the industry to create a niche for herself as an actress, playing the romantic lead opposite Arjun Kapoor in Aurangzeb (2013). But the Yash Raj film sailed into oblivion like a drifting piece of logwood. She sang the Barbadiyan number in the film when she was 17, and with hindsight analyses, “I don’t think my actual tone had even developed back then.”

She discovered her latent talent for singing in 2019, accidentally, when she was thrown into a vocal booth by friends

She discovered her latent talent for singing in 2019, accidentally, when she was thrown into a vocal booth by friends

She discovered her latent talent for singing in 2019, accidentally, when she was thrown into a vocal booth by friends. On hearing the recording, it dawned on Zara that the tonal quality of her voice had changed for the better. When she sent the track to her mother, Salma’s first reaction was one of disbelief, quickly followed by a shower of heartfelt compliments.

Having got the stamp of approval from her mother, Zara was ready to reach out to a wider audience. A song recording she had done with her young composer friends, Om and Dikshant, led to noted music director Tanishk Bagchi insisting she record for him too. Zara is now flooded with assignments, including a remix of Lehenga in Satyamev Jayate 2 and Sakhiyan in Bell Bottom, an Akshay Kumar-Vani Kapoor thriller. She has crooned Yeh Haalat for Nikhil Advani’s Amazon Prime show, Mumbai Diaries, and Nayee Dhoop, which will feature in another of the filmmaker’s shows. She is excitedly waiting for the release of Fakeeran, “a super dancey track with T-Series” and a single, Dulhan, “which I can’t wait to share with everybody.”

Though she isn’t a highly trained singer, Zara says with authority: “Singing isn’t about following notations, you have to act with the aid of your voice, infuse the words with emotions. I remind myself that unlike your performance on the big screen, they can’t see you, they can only hear you.”

“Of late,” Zara adds, “I am troubling my mother to help me brush up on my vocal training.”

Zara Khan pouting with mum Salma Agha who says “Zara has a unique voice”

Zara Khan pouting with mum Salma Agha who says “Zara has a unique voice”

Mommy first

Zara is evidently enamoured of her mother’s orotund voice; and actress-singer Salma Agha, who dazzled audiences in the 1982 blockbuster Nikaah, is clearly her daughter’s prime inspiration. The daughter exults, “Amma is a lethal combination of a velvety, classically trained voice and drop-dead gorgeous looks. Sometimes I feel I’m crushing on my mother’s look.”

“Amma [Salma Agha] is a lethal combination of a velvety, classically trained voice and drop-dead gorgeous looks. I’m crushing on mom’s look”

Salma readily spoke to me about Zara and maternal pride laced her professional assessment. Salma said, “Zara has a unique voice. It is a blend of two worlds – the East and the West. She has the grain of Western music and the texture, feel and melody of Indian classical music. Though her voice is not at all like mine, sometimes listeners mistake it for my voice. Strange, but true. I guess blood is thicker than water.”

For her part, Zara is rapturous when asked to pick her favourite songs from her mother’s rich repertoire. Zara selects Faza Bhi Hai Jawan Jawan from Nikaah, and the beautifully penned ghazal, Aaj Phir Aaine Ne Poocha Hai Teri Aankhon Mein Yeh Nami Kyon Hai, which was filmed on Shabana Azmi in Kamla (1984). “I love the dancey beats of Jhoom Jhoom Jhoom Baba and the RD Burman composed Oh Sajna from Oonche Log (1985).”

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Finally, Zara picks Yeh Soch Kar Ke Gham Ke Kharidar Aa Gaye because, “Mom was eight months pregnant with me and I have a video of that recording.”

Zara declares, “The love for music is in my DNA passed on through generations.” She sure does have eclectic tastes. Besides her mother, Zara is in awe of Noor Jehan and Whitney Houston. Among contemporaries, she feels, “Sunidhi Chauhan has a powerful voice and Arijit Singh is good for sure.”

When she is down and out, Zara listens to the song, Dynamite because, “it gets my feet in no time!” She ticks the boxes marked Beatles, Madonna and ABBA but is also partial to ghazals, Sufi, alternative rock, R&B. I ask if her tastes extend to acid rock and metal, and her voice rises by a few decibels. “It freaks me out! Music is about frequency and it shouldn’t be aggressive.’

Before we part company, I rib her, “I can now make a playlist for you.” She stumps me with the breadth of her musical choices by chiming in with, “Please include Nepali music too.”

Dinesh Raheja is a reputed film historian, columnist and TV scriptwriter who has been writing on cinema for over three decades

From HT Brunch, December 27, 2020

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