Parsis: The Zoroastrians of India Pakistan and The World

Peenaz Masani: The Ghazal Queen

It is refreshing to speak to ghazal exponent Penaz Masani who is steeped in tradition, says Monarose Sheila Pereira

Padmashree recipient Penaz Masani is a ghazal singer who has carved a niche for herself. She performs in India and abroad and her mellifluous voice leaves the audience spellbound.
She is blessed with a glorious voice, impeccable Urdu diction and good looks. She has one Platinum and three Gold Discs to her credit. She renders a vast repertoire of ghazals from the traditional to the modern. She is also the only woman to have achieved success in what is traditionally a male-dominated scenario. She has received several state and national awards.

What made you choose to be a ghazal singer? 

I did not really have to choose because singing was in my family and in my genes. My father Doli Masani was disciple of Aftab-e-Mausiqui Ustad Faiyaz Khansahab of the Agra gharana. He performed as a classical singer in the court of Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda in the 1930s, and later guided me to take my first lessons in Indian classical music under Ustad Amanat Hussein Khan.

Who have you trained under?

I learnt classical music from Amanat Hussein Khansahab of the Agra gharana. Then when I was in my last year of college. I participated in a music competiton where Jaidevji, Raj Kapoorji and Naushad sahab were judges. I got the first prize called the Sur Singhar. Jaidevji was very taken up with the fact that a young Parsi girl can actually sing Hindi songs. So he took me under his wing when I was studying F.Y. B Com at  Sydenham college. Then one day he got a call from Doordarshan, which was a big thing then; saying they needed a singer and he recommended me. That is how I got my first break in television. I sang a Surdas bhajan and it became immensely popular.

What made you specialise in ghazals?

Jaidevji told me, "If you are really interested in music then you should learn under India’s most prominent and exquisite ghazal singers of our times -Madhuraniji.” That is how I was introduced to the world of ghazals and became her disciple.

How do you describe a ghazal?

A ghazal is a form of Urdu poetry coming from Persia and you must have a very good command of the language. One has to master the classic form of music and it has to come from deep within.
A ghazal talks from within and is very intense. It started as poetry in the royal courts praising the king. Then it evolved to singing praises to the beloved either about requited or unrequitted love. Later, it became the poetry of life. The line – Ghazal zindaji ka doosra naam hai (Ghazal is another name for life) is very true.
Today, through a ghazal, the poet or singer talks about feelings through couplets, which could be about turmoils and hardships and all aspects of life.
Besides singing well, what else is essential for becoming a successful ghazal singer?
Since ghazals are about feelings, it is important to learn how to express oneself while singing. You must learn music as a whole; in totality. Madhuraniji taught me not only how to sing ghazals but how to talk, sit and listen to music. The entire ambience has to be understood. I am still studying with her. Art is a lifetime of endeavour.

Is it necessary to be qualified as a singer or ghazal artist?

Of course, I firmly believe that you must learn art…any form of art. It is important to have talent but it is very important to learn from a good ustad, or ustani (lady expert). It will help you polish the diamond that you possess.

How do you prepare for your performances?

In the morning I go for a walk or to the gym. I visit Madhuraniji’s house and do a little bit of riyaz. Sometimes I attend conferences or do a performance. I do a riyaz before going on stage. It is like a warm up, like sports people also do. I have a certain inkling in mind as to what I am gong to sing. If I am singing in Lucknow or another place, depending on the kind of people, I choose what I am going to sing. If I am singing for college students I select something light. I take the name of God and go on stage. I do have a list of songs that I plan to sing on a particular day.
Any interesting anecdotes you would like to share with us?
Once, when I sang in Ghana, the president and the vice president told the representatives that they would come for a few minutes only. That day I sang rag darbari and they sat throughout the entire show. That is the power of music. I was thrilled and it was a great compliment.
How do you take care of your voice?
It is very important to take care of my voice. I wake up early and do my riyaz which is very important. I do not have any cold drinks or ice creams. I do a hot water gargle every day. I drink milk with haldi and generally take care of myself.
If my voice is not up to the mark on the day I have a performance, then I have hot water with honey; it helps to clear the throat. However, sometimes if I am not too well, then I sing in the lower range of notes.

What factors have given ghazals a boost today?

Now people have started viewing ghazals as very classy and very upmarket. However, ghazals could do with a little more exposure on TV and radio which is lacking.
Is music getting too commercalised?
Ghazals are not, but music as a whole is. Music is not about presentation, dancing, dressing up. The concept of good music is taking a backseat nowadays.
What is the remuneration one can expect?
That depends on how senior and good you are in your field.

Is modern music too gimmicky?

Of course it is. The bottom line now is how you can sell it. Naushad sahab once said, “Today, music is more about looking than hearing.” Well if you have both, good looks and a good voice, then you are lucky.
What are the opportunities?
With the media all around, opportunities are wonderful and the sky is the limit. But it is difficult to establish oneself.
How does one find a good teacher?
First, it is important to hire a private tutor to learn the language. Then find a good ustad or ustani. There are no institutes teaching ghazal singing. One must be the disciple of an ustad or ustani. However, some artists have started institutes to teach.
What advice do you have for those who want to learn ghazals?
One should never think of music as a career. First think of music as a passion. If you pursue it as a career you will not be true to your passion. Money will come along the way.
It is important to get your foundation right. Let success follow you, you should not follow success. If you are good at your art, people will come to you.
Besides being qualified one must want to learn, have an inquisitive mind. Having a wonderful heart is very important to pursue music or any art form. One must learn ghazals as a passion and not  as a livelihood. Some artists do take up other jobs to sustain themselves and their families. One must have determination. Times can be tough, especially in the initial years; so staying in power is important.
One has to look after oneself, be disciplined. One should have their feet firmly planted on the ground. There will be many temptations like compromising on the purity of your art, money power, late nights, partying, admirers and so on; but it is absolutely necessary to be focused.
Ghazal singing and any art form is very pure and it is important to let it be pure.

Here are some of her awards

  • Debut award for the best child singer in the year 1976
  • Vasant Desai Swar Prathistha award by late Shri Yeshwantrao Chavan in 1977
  • S.D. Burman Trophy for the most promising classical singer in 1978.
  • Padmashree