Shashaa Tirupati must have been around five when she sang her first song. In Canada, sitting on the floor playing with the race cars of her brother, Shashaa hummed the run (a fast sequence of musical notes) from Lata Mangeshkar’s “Jao Re Jogi Tum Jao Re” from the film Amrapali. The young Shashaa had heard the song in one of the multitudes of cassettes that her mom had played of Lata Mangeshkar. Listening to their five-year-old daughter sing a run, Shashaa’s parents were astonished. There began a journey that after several twists, turns and countries would end up in giving us National Award winner Shashaa Tirupati.
Another defining moment in Shashaa’s musical journey was when she decided to drop out of a pre-medical course in Canada to pursue music full-time. Listening to AR Rahman’s “Dum Tara”, Shashaa decided that singing was what she wanted to do. A huge fan of Rahman, the songstress had worshipped him for years. So, one can imagine her delight when she not only got her big break with the legend but also her first National Award for his song! “I get incredibly overwhelmed when someone asks me about my experience with AR Rahman sir. Gratitude is the first thing that hits me — for a girl from Canada to come to Mumbai, with no contacts, and get a break with someone whom she has worshipped for years? And getting my first National Award with the same person, it feels unreal,” gushed Shashaa.
While Shashaa Tirupati received her National Award for “Vaan Varuvan” from Kaatru Veliyidai, AR Rahman also won two National Awards this year — for the songs of Kaatru Veliyidai and the background score of MOM. Shashaa admitted to being more excited about Rahman winning two awards, forgetting her own accomplishment. Her unmasked admiration shines through as she spoke of Rahman, her mentor, in between long pauses as she frantically searched for the right phrases to express her gratitude. “I was nothing when Rahman sir took me in under his wings. And, I feel “Vaan Varuvan” is so gorgeous that anyone could have sung it and won an award for it. It is completely Rahman sir.” And, when Rahman congratulated her for the win and told her that the award is a product of her hard work and perseverance, Shashaa told him that it was Rahman’s faith in her voice and abilities. “He has pushed me beyond what I thought I could do. I never thought I could sing things that sir has made me sing, like a Naane Varugiren.”
Shashaa might be humble but there is no denying that she can truly enchant with her voice and beautifully intricate aalaps — a feature that has been part of several of her chartbusters. Take “Naane Varugiren”, or “Paranthu Sella Vaa” or “Raasali”. It began with wanting to be able to sing difficult pieces, listening to it online and practicing it diligently. “When I was really young, it was more about showing off. But that is how it began,” she said with a chuckle.
For the listener, it is natural to wonder how she does it as her mellifluous voice deftly skids over notes like an ice skater creating figurines. The burgeoning curiosity is what led Shashaa Tirupati to do tutorial videos on YouTube breaking down several of her complicated runs for aspiring singers. “I received a lot of fan mail from people who wanted to know how I sing it. I just thought that this would be something that would be helpful. It is very selfish actually. It gives me a lot of satisfaction.”
Apart from playback singing, Shashaa’s voice will also adorn the independent music scene soon. The songstress will soon come out with a song that revolves around ‘survivors’. “This is a song that I had made after the Nirbhaya case and sadly, I have heard about so many more cases recently.” There is also an indie set of songs composed by her in the pipeline.
More interestingly, Shashaa Tirupati recently made her acting debut with a play called ICloud, written and directed by Mayur Puri. Does that mean we can see her on the big screen soon? “With the small experience I have had, I have realised how empowering acting can be. It is kind of addictive. I would love to try new modes of expression. Somewhere they are all emotionally intervened. Whether it is acting or singing, it is all art.”