Benny Dayal interview: ‘Being an underdog keeps me grounded’

The multilingual singer initially trained as a dancer before conquering the mic.

It has been over a decade since he started singing in films, but Benny Dayal’s attitude towards fame has stayed the same: sing like there is no tomorrow.

Dayal got his break with AR Rahman’s Tamil film Sakkarakatti (2007), in which he gave voice to the zesty Chinnama Chilakamma. The pair’s winning collaboration continued for many more compositions, including Maduraikku from Azhagiya Tamil Magan (2007), Omane Penne from Vinnaithandi Varuvaya (2010), Koddu Potta (2010) from Ravanan and Kaise Mujhe from Ghajini (2008).

Numerous earworms with other composers followed: Yethi Yethi from Vaaranam Aayiram (2008), Badtameez Dil from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013) and Ude Dil Befikre from Befikre (2016). The multilingual singer is working on his singles series, Swaganusar, and recently rolled out the devotional song Ganapati Bappa in time for the Ganesh festival.

“I remember going door to door and asking for opportunities as even to sing a chorus part, I cannot just go to someone and say ‘Hey I want to sing a lead song,’” Dayal told “I climbed the ladder the way everybody does and got where I am today.”

Ganpati Bappa.

How different is ‘Ganapati Bappa’ from a film song?
There is always a huge difference. Our Indian music comes from folk music and classical music. As a playback singer, utilising that classical aspect of singing becomes very rare. But singing of such spiritual music takes you back to your childhood days where you learnt classical music. Ganesh Chaturti is a huge spectacle in Maharashtra. Living in Bombay and singing a song for such an amazing occasion is an incredible feeling.

How did the project take shape?
I was on tour with Mr Rahman and Ashwin Srinivasan [the flautist], who is the composer of the song, approached me. I agreed at once.

It has been over a decade since you started singing film songs. How has the music scene changed since then?
It has moved forward in terms of the technology. Basically music is music and it is just the way you hear it now. The thing that makes you tune into the music today is the technology that is involved in making the sound more superior than what it used to be.

Chinnama Chilakamma, Sakkarakatti (2007).

You have said that you like to be the underdog, and that being high-profile doesn’t fetch you more work.
I like to be an underdog because you are not very celebrated. Once you are celebrated, you become one of the professionals and one of the regulars. But for me, being an underdog keeps me grounded.

I always have that feeling that I am going to record a song today and I know that there is a chance that maybe my voice might not suit the song or it could be rejected. That keeps me wanting to do better because if you have that feeling in you, it makes you become focused and give your all every time. Your heart is such a pure place and sometimes when you know too much, you never let your heart speak. And music requires a lot of heart. So I just let it trip and let it go and every time I sing it I give it my best.

How did you enter the singing profession?
I definitely had a lot of ups and downs – a lot more downs more in the beginning. I have been rejected a lot to an extent where it just makes you feel very hopeless. Even to sing chorus, it was very hard in those days because people weren’t willing to take a risk. Then eventually Mr Rahman discovered me.

Kodu Poatta, Raavanan (2010).

Any memories from your first recording?
My first recording was way before I got my break with Rahman sir. I was doing a lot of Christian devotional songs back then. Just the feeling of being inside the studio and letting that fire out of you – the fire that was always suppressed – was wonderful.

At what age did you know that singing was what you wanted to do?
When I was 13 or probably 14. I was actually a trained dancer in bharatanatyam, kuchipudi and mohiniattam. And then I started singing for a couple of stage shows and people came up to me and said, you sing so well. A lot of my friends used to tell me that they liked my dancing but they preferred my singing.

I couldn’t believe it because I was a dancer and that is what I was known for as a child. So I started singing and just for fun’s sake my mum started enrolling me in small competitions, which I began winning. Only then did I realise that I must be good at singing.

You sing in Tamil, Hindi, Telugu, Kannada and Gujarati. How do you manage?
Actually, that is very easy. They are all sounds. They are the same syllables mixed and matched here and there and they become words and languages. If you limit yourself based on language, you are creating a block. I listen to the tune carefully, write down the lyrics carefully and also sing it carefully.

How did your single series ‘Swaganusaar’ take shape?
In Swaganusaar, we tried to explore different genres through the series and at the same time show elements of swag. That is where the title comes from. Every song that you listen today, they all speak about swag. So like Swadh anusaar, we picked Swaganusaar.

Swaganusaar: Lapata.

Which are some of your favourite songs?
Kaise Mujhe Tum Mil Gayi from Ghajini, Badtameez Dil from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Bang Bang from Bang Bang, Tu hi to Meri Dost Hai from Yuvvraaj and Dum Dum Mast Hai from Band Baaja Baarat.

Was there any song that was particularly challenging?
Definitely Kaise Mujhe Tum Mil Gayi because it is not an easy song to sing. It is still one of the hardest songs. It is very challenging at an emotional level and at a technical level.

Kaise Mujhe Tum Mil Gayi, Ghajini (2008).
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

Watch Big Little Lies Now

4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

Watch The Night Of Now

5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

Available starting October

10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

Watch Rome Now

For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.