“This is my small contribution to the society”, says Smita.
It was during the time India was opening up to pop music. She released her first music album ‘Hai Rabb’’ in 2000. From then to now she has seen it all – music piracy, opening up of digital space, online music streaming portals, the rise, fall and rise of independent music, she acted in films, operates a successful business and has always followed her own rules rather than industry trends.
Singer Smita, as she is popularly referred to as has launched a new talk show ‘Nijam’ (Truth) on Sony Liv, which has a unique vibe and character. The show stands out for its illustrious and accomplished guests and the way they appear to be honest, opening up with their views, opinions and experiences, even as Smita cajoles them into answering the most probing questions in her inimitably composed manner.
Socially, when I wanted to say something or comment, I wanted to say it through music, until Nijam, which is again a shift,” shares Smita in an exclusive interview.
“Before you figure out your comfortable spot – everyone of us goes through a turbulence. When I would think of what is the best way to contribute to the society – I would become vocal sometimes and say and comment on things without a filter. Then I realised that more than saying- the best way is to design a right approach by being in the neutral space in your chair – Nijam is that space for me. When I enter that space, I am neutral and let the guests speak.”
Smita is her usual unfiltered self in this interview and admits music is her constant in life, and she one day aspires to be international, which has been her desire from the time she started. ‘Nijam’ is her contribution to society where she tells positive stories that are inspiring and ends them on a musical note – a tribute to her true love.
What made you take up shift from your music and do a talk show?
This is not the first time that I am hosting a show. In 2008 when my friend Swapna launched Local TV, I did a show called Mustafa – where I would walk in, look at the questions, do the show and come out unlike now when I am involved in the concept, as a producer and a host. I am extremely conscious of what happens around us, socially aware of everything that matters and which bothers me. I felt that I must contribute something good to the society though it might be a drop in the ocean. I was having a conversation with my mentor on what I could do and we were discussing about my feelings. I sometimes felt I was sidetracking from music by concentrating on business, but then I am also aware that I am providing employment to many. Amongst the multiple things we discussed – he said – you have a connect with fans, and you can be a good instrument to do good things. And through these conversations the idea of doing a talk show that is impactful came up.
How did the show come together and what has been the reason for the choice of guests?
Every bit of it was thought through including all the guests. I had 26 guests in my mind. When I approached Sony, I went with a different name, and it had a slightly more serious and deeper tone. The creative head at Sony were keen on I doing the show but wondered if I am okay for a small shift. ‘What you want to do – let it still be there’, they said. I took a day but arrived at my decision sooner. It is only something that will connect more people to the show and I felt it was worth it. The conversation I had with them was very interesting. They liked the concept of having a topic for each episode. There are lot of subjects we thought about, but picked topics that connected more to the public. We begin with talking about personal lives of the guests and go into deeper topics as the show progresses and the guests become comfortable.
I had list of 26 people with me, and we decided we will start with people who are more recognized in the beginning, and balance it without compromising with people who played pivotal roles in their fields but may not be in the public eye. Chiranjeevi garu and Chandrababu Naidu garu are two people we had in our minds from Day1.
Chiranjeevi garu’s journey is extremely inspiring – from a lower middle class to where he has reached today; his entry and exit from political life; his life with so many variations would enlighten us all – we named his episode – Upward Mobility.
We wanted Chandrababu Naidu garu for his background and number of decades of political career. He is known for development of what he envisioned for Hyderabad and Amaravathi when he was the chief minister – We called his episode – Development versus Populism.
Nepotism is another topic that is discussed a lot – more so in Bollywood. And, it is not just in cinema or politics but these two are more in public eye. For the episode we had Nani who comes with no background and Rana who comes with three generations in cinema.
We have had guests from different fields. From sports we had Pullela Gopichand. I heard stories about his life that are extremely inspiring. I had lot of questions to ask him. And, I knew a few things that I wished everyone knew, and personally, I wanted to touch upon them. For me, more than being a host or a producer, as someone who has driven this – it has been very satisfying.
One woman from mainstream cinema whom I wanted to have on the show has been Saipallavi. She comes with different set of strengths and mindset. She is more than popularity or success, and has the strength of a mainstream hero in her space. What went behind this is what we wanted to explore.
In one of the episodes, we talk about the brave hearts of India, who protect us at the borders. We sit here peacefully and fight about petty things like politics, films, caste and religion while the army man is fighting to safeguard us. The episode is about what goes on in their lives. We salute him or put a post when he dies. We hope to make at least one out of a lakh people think about the lives of army people every day, after watching the show.
We have one episode with Ram Madhav and Jayaprakash Narayan garu on religion and society. We have one of Influence of Cinema with Sandeep Reddy Vanga and Dev Katta.
Every guest on the show was very candid- They revealed aspects of their lives they did not speak about before. Even Chiranjeevi garu posted on social media saying he spoke about things that he never talked about in any of his interviews until then. Perhaps there is some energy in the seat that everyone opened up so well. That is the success of Season 1.
Your journey too has been interesting. There were pauses and shifts – and then there is the spiritual side of you, and now this!
I have been fortunate and blessed to have made my own rules and connect with the audience with my rules. I did a lot of experimentation. There were times I shifted gear to do something else, and came back and every time the audience showed love.
When I first sang in the music show ‘Padutha Theeyaga’ I was 16. And unlike the kids of this generation, we did not have any exposure. It was my dad’s idea that I must do independent music, and my mother put6 in all the effort. They are big music lovers. They still have the ticket to Michael Jackson’s show from the 1980s. My father always said I would be a good performer. It was around the time Indipop was coming up, a concept unheard of in Telugu. We did the Hindi album with Archies Music but kept the rights for the combined state of Andhra Pradesh. It was a major hit, and that a Telugu girl from Vijayawada made it big in Hindi caught people’s imagination. A young school girl singing ‘Hai Rabba’ just connected with the audience. We remade the album in Telugu which was a big hit as well.
Till I was 24 it was my mother, who guided me and from then on it was I who was taking decisions.
The pause in my music career came when around 2008 people were shifting from the CDs to music downloaded on to the computers and pen drives and Music Worlds and Sangeet Sagars were shutting down. The revenue model for music online was still being figured, band I took a break to see how viable making music would be. Shivi was born and I was also getting into spiritual space, even though I was the same person deep down. My way of giving back to my spiritual journey was to make music, and we made ‘Ishana’, which was received well.
Can you share your takeaways personally from ‘Nijam’?
Chiranjeevi garu’s episode was very inspiring for me. We could bring out the beautiful side of the megastar that we did not know existed. It was an example of how to deal with hardships and come up in life. And, our purpose was met.
Babu garu’s episode was a mind opener. Not many know of him as a youngster, teenager and from his college days. At this age too the way he sees every crisis as an opportunity to grow is something.
The episode on nepotism was full of life and fun; Gopichand’s episode has so many inspiring moments. There is one episode on comedy – Humouropathy – which too has its moments. Each and every episode has had something for me to take away and it will be the same for the audience as well.
Your daughter is also into music; she was also in a music video with you. Is she following your footsteps?
My daughter Shivi as a human being is very sensitive, sensible and mature for her age. Ever since her birth it has been a great journey with her. I have learnt so much from her. The way she takes care of me, I feel I am blessed to have someone so evolved as her in my life. I feel that my spiritual journey accelerated because of her- experientially a lot of things changed for me.
She has always loved music. She wants to play an instrument, learn music, learn a classical dance form. My duty is to expose her to all these and give her training. I do not force her to take up anything. I just tell her that whatever she does she has to do it seriously and fully. I am not sure where she wants to be but she is working towards it for sure.
What’s your mantra – what keeps you going?
The most important thing in my life is that neither success nor failure impact me. I did not let any success go to my head or let failure bring me down. It always has been the journey that has been exciting. I only keep doing things that my heart wants to do, even while doing fun and commercial videos like ‘Bahakiliki; I felt that it’s been a while since I did a fun pop video. I did not know what people will make of it or if public needs it.
Being on the journey and doing what my heart really wanted to do is what keeps me going. Nijam too came about from what my heart wants. That said, music is an important part of me and even with ‘Nijam’, I have not left it out. Every episode ends with a song specially made on the topic of the episode.