'I am not comfortable singing all kinds of songs'
William Shakespeare may have many followers who agree with his What's in a name but Tochi Raina is definitely not one of them. The singer from Punjab, who sang the foot-tapping Dev D song called Pardesi, has suffered a lot because of his name.
Since it is similar to reality show participant turned singer Toshi Shabri, credit for his earlier songs was mistakenly given to Shabri. But now, Tochi seems to be getting his foothold with his latest hit, Gal Mithi Mithi Bol from Aisha.
The singer tells Srabanti Chakraborty more about his music.
Tell us how it all began. Were you always interested in music?
I am from Patiala in Punjab. Everyone in my family has been fond of music. My younger brother, Arvind, is a composer in Malaysia and my younger sister is a lecturer for vocal music in Patiala.
Yet, I never got any support from my family to make a career in music. Maybe because my uncles were into music, they knew how difficult it is to make a career in it. So they never encouraged me or my brother.
But I was addicted to music right from my childhood, especially Sufi music. I started training formally at the age of 15. While I went to Delhi to learn music, my brother came to Mumbai.
I used to practice for 10-20 hours daily at that time. There was a time in Delhi when I lived my life on just Rs 500. My food comprised of black gram and water. No one helped me during those days. Only after I started teaching music did I manage to earn money and solve my financial problem.
Image: Toshi Raina sings a song from Aisha
'With no godfather, I ran from pillar to post and met everyone for a break'
How did you come to Mumbai?
I came to Mumbai n 2003. I realised that it is very important to know the history of Indian films to make a career here. I met Dev Anand during my initial days. He listened to my songs and blessed me. With no godfather in Mumbai, I ran from pillar to post and met almost everyone for a break. It was during one such visit that I met music director Amit Trivedi, who gave me this song in Dev D.
Was Bulleshah your debut song? It was quite a hit.
Yes, my first song as a playback singer was for A Wednesday. The song, Bulleshah, was composed by my friend Sanjay Chowdhury. It happened by chance. He asked me to come over and told me that he had a very good tune in mind and wanted me to sing it. I sang a scratch version. He recorded it and told me that he would get back to me within a couple of hours.
That was a very tough time for me -- my mother was suffering from cancer and I was not doing well in my career. Instead of a few hours, Sanjay took more than a year! I was in Patiala when Sanjay called me. My mother had just expired. He wanted me to come down to Mumbai and record the song. I still remember that I recorded the song on July 11 and shot for the promotional video. It became a reasonable hit after which I got the opportunity to sing Pardesi from Dev D. The song became a big hit.
Image: Toshi Raina sings Bulleshah from A Wednesday
'Luckily, most music directors are offering me songs that I like'
Though you had such a big hit, very few people got to know about it. Why do you think?
When Pardesi became a hit, people started thinking that it was sung by Toshi Sabri. I was not aware of this for almost four months. After my mother passed away, I lost my brother too and was in a deep state of depression. I did not care about what happened around me. Only after a friend called me to inform that in a portal my songs were listed under Toshi Sabri's name did I realise what was happening. I met Munir Merchant from UTV and after that they took legal action. That is why few people know about me.
I have also sung Iktara from Wake Up Sid and currently Gal Mithi Mithi Bol from Aisha. But I am not comfortable singing all kinds of songs. I have my genre and would like to stick to that. Luckily, most music directors are offering me songs that I like.
Image: Toshi Raina sings Pardesi from Dev D
'I want to go international with Sufi music'
You are part of a band as well. Is that right?
Yes. I am part of a band called Bandagi. I am on the lookout for about 150 people to be a part of the choir for our band. I want to go international with Sufi music once my band is established.
You have come to limelight the traditional way -- learning music and then struggling your way up. What do you think about reality shows, and instant stardom?
I feel you can't learn singing without understanding it. One should have a lot of patience to become a good singer. It is not about whether you come up the traditional way or through reality shows. You have to learn music properly because these singers are the future of our industry.
You are also into music therapy. How do you do it?
I am doing this for quite some time now and have treated many asthma patients. I plan to take this forward and organise workshops on this. I want to help people who are suffering.
Image: Toshi Raina sings Iktara from Wake Up Sid