Arijit Singh has signatures: the smiling-through-sadness smirk that underlines his whiny songs about unrequited love. The familiar huskiness. Sometimes he turns the nasal on, a spot of Udit Narayan there. And as with any playback singing superstar of a generation, there are also clones, sing-alikes or whatever you call them, proliferating like bought views on YouTube. In such an environment, what choice does Arijit Singh have other than to reinvent himself and sound different, that vague word. Whether it’s adopting a whole new singing style to inhabit a complex movie character, or letting the cracks of his voice show, here are 5 songs that showcase the many modes of Arijit Singh.
Binte Dil (Padmaavat)
I never thought I’ll see Jim Sarbh, the hip model-turned-actor, lip syncing to Arijit Singh. It feels wrong. Playing a eunuch who lusts over Ranveer Singh in dreadlocks making love to the maidens in a bathtub, Sarbh looks like he is having a hard time keeping a straight face. But the most complex job here may have been Arijit’s, who achieves a sort of playback singing equivalent of a Daniel Day-Lewis level physical transformation, doing some crazy inflections in this Arabic-sounding song. Sanjay Leela Bhansali the composer — who has a good ear for singing talent — has always given Arijit something special to sing (“Laal Ishq”, “Aayat”). But what he brings out of the gifted singer in here is a different beast. The National Awards got this one right.
I am India (Qaidi Band)
Arijit has been the voice of a musician hero before in Aashiqui 2 and Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, two of his most iconic albums, which established him as a playback singing superstar. Wonder what it says that he sounds beyond recognition in Qaidi Band, best exemplified in “I am India”, a lively, peppy number. Unlike other songs in the list, you can’t even trace the faintest hint of the core character of his voice. Cast as the voice of a fresh-faced debutant actor here, Arijit doesn’t sound like Arijit at all. After listening to it carefully I’ve arrived at the conclusion that it may have been somewhat digitally manipulated. But then the singer has proven that he has many vocal tricks up his sleeve.
Baaton Ko Teri (All is Well)
In another time, Himesh Reshammiya, the composer here, would have also sung it. You can imagine it in his voice and lose yourself in cheap 15-year-old nostalgia. But the tables have turned. It’s almost as if Reshammiya, who once was all the rage with music labels, had to grudgingly give away the song to Arijit—the singer who is all the rage with music labels today. I don’t know what transpired in the recording studio, what directions the composer gave the singer, but Arijit sounds less like himself and more like Reshammiya. Maybe the singer figured a way to keep both the label and the composer happy. It’s not a good song by any measure. But boy does he sound different.
Yeh Ishq Hai (Rangoon)
A friend who likes the song had told me that he had thought it’s Vishal Dadlani who has sung it. I wouldn’t go as far as that, but I see what he meant. Arijit sounds unusually gravelly: the parts that he sings low — which is pretty much half the song — operates almost entirely on the cracks and grains in his voice. You could say that the first few notes are even a bit off, but never not in control. Only someone who is great with the lower notes can go as high as he does in the song’s mad, Sufi climax.
Jwalamukhi (99 songs)
After having been around for almost a decade, Arijit’s voice has acquired a patina of heavy richness, like dark chocolate. It has become more bassy. AR Rahman taps into these subtle textures in the singer’s voice for his heartbreak ballad, the newest song in this list, which Arijit delivers with punch and attitude.