Ayaan Ali Bangash Recounts his Time as a Judge on the Hit TV Show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa
The seventh generation in a family of classical musicians, the scion of the Senia Bangash Gharana had to unlearn years of training for Bollywood
Music has been my life since the day I was born. To me, a job is paid work that may mean stepping out of your comfort zone and for which you are accountable. I came closest to having one in the years 1999–2000 when I was asked to appear as a judge and then offered to host the television programme Sa Re Ga Ma (later known as Sa Re Ga Ma Pa). Producer–director Gajendra Singh offered the job to my brother Amaan and I. At a time when the television industry had not yet gone through its boom and the culture of reality TV hadn’t yet seeped into our lives, Sa Re Ga Ma instantly became a huge hit.
When the last season was being filmed with singer Sonu Nigam as the host in 1999 in Indore, Amaan bhai and I were invited on the show as judges. That was perhaps Gajendraji’s way of observing us through the camera lens for screen presence, even though he never said it. Soon after, he called and asked us to travel to Mumbai for a shoot. That’s when we shot the first promo of the show in March 2000. He then matter-of-factly asked, “Are you OK hosting the show?” It was as unceremonious as that and the magnitude of it didn’t hit me until much later.
By then, Sa Re Ga Ma had a cult following, so at 19—still a teenager and barely an adult—it was a big break for me. Hosting the show was a giant responsibility and full of challenges because I hadn’t grown up in a filmi music environment. We were focused on classical music and introduced to Bollywood songs in senior school through friends.
In the show, each episode opened with the host singing. While I sang as part of my training, I am essentially an instrumentalist. I requested the producers to modify the opening sequence for 12 of the 24 episodes in the season, so at least half of them began with us playing film songs on the sarod instead of singing them. This was an opportunity to show the connection between Indian classical music and film songs.
The first day of the shoot was not easy either. I was used to being in front of the camera, having performed publicly since a young age, but here they had five cameras, which took some getting used to. But the biggest challenge for me was speaking chaste Hindi. This was before the time of teleprompters, hence one had to memorize the script. I had grown up speaking English and Hindustani, so the dialect of the undiluted form took some work. I started reading Hindi novels and newspapers to get comfortable with the language and expand my vocabulary.
We ended up doing three seasons and the experience made me evolve as a person. I was used to public attention but I got to see the other side of success through the rejection the participants faced. One of them passed out due to shock when the results were announced and she found out she had lost. Besides the buzzing excitement, I saw a lot of heartbreak on set, which was humbling.
I also came to understand the power of television. We were called the “Sa Re Ga Ma boys”. We had been already travelling the world for classical performances but post TV, the number of shows went up and our fan base broadened, with the film music audience coming to our classical concerts. People who listened to ‘Satyam Shivam Sundaram’ were now coming to hear Raga Yaman. It was rewarding all the way.