Regarded as the undisputed king of Bhangra and the biggest pop sensation in the 90s in India, Daler Mehndi singlehandedly helped escalate Punjabi music on the global map. His debut song, Bolo Tara Ra Ra (1995), redefined Bhangra, a genre previously considered to be strictly folk. Wearing his colourful turbans and long, flowing robes, he went on to deliver successful songs such as, Na Na Na Re (1997) and Tunak Tunak Tun (1998), among others.
Singing for the Indian film industry was probably a natural progression for Mehndi, who, with his uniquely resonant voice, had hits like Rang De Basanti (Rang De Basanti, 2006) and Zor Ka Jhatka (Action Replayy, 2010). More recently, he sang for Dangal (2016), Bahubali 2: The Conclusion (2017) and Uri: The Surgical Strike (2019). Mehndi rocked the stage at the Dhaka International Folk Fest yesterday. Ahead of his performance, he sat down with The Daily Star for a candid chat.
Before we jump into music, tell us a little about your fashion style. You have created a very distinctive style for yourself which is instantly recognised worldwide. How did you come up with your iconic wardrobe?
I wanted a unique look for myself which would stand out from the crowd. It was also important for me to keep evolving my sense of fashion. So, I have tried different colour combinations for my turbans and different styles for my clothes throughout the years. Thus, my wardrobe became a part of my personality.
How does it feel to be in Bangladesh for the Dhaka International Folk Fest?
I have performed at weddings in Bangladesh before, but this is my first public concert here. I think it is a really nice place. I love the food here, especially chingri maach, bhaat, alu bhaaji, and of course, the biryani. I actually only came to know about the Dhaka International Folk Fest a few months ago. I hope that the audience enjoys our performance.
You were one of the forces behind the success of independent music when it was just taking off in India. How do you think your music helped the industry in the early years?
I am happy that my music helped the industry in a big way and carved a path for independent music. Before Bolo Ta Ra Ra, what worked most at discotheques and parties was English music. After that song came out, hotels, night clubs and other places started playing it. I was producing honest and authentic Punjabi music that resonated with audiences across the globe.
Your song ‘Kudiya Seher Diyan’ was remade for the film, ‘Poster Boys’. How do you see the trend of remakes in India?
Many popular songs of the yesteryears are reaching the younger generations because of the trend of remakes. It is good that we are remaking our own songs, and not going after or copying music of other nations.
Would you like to collaborate with any artistes from Bangladesh?
Absolutely! I have sang Jiyo Re Bahubali in Tamil, Telegu and Hindi, and I would love to sing with any artiste from Bangladesh. I don’t know the language of the country, but I would love to try singing in it.