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Q n A with Baba Sehgal

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"Autograph is better than a photograph because it involves effort"  

How do you make the king of cringe pop, cringe? Simple. Show him a frozen fanboy moment from the '90s. When people extend their cellphones to show him pictures they'd clicked with him during his "Thanda Thanda Paani" and "Aaja Meri Gaadi Mein Baith Jaa" days, singer Baba Sehgal recoils in embarrassment at the sight of baggy pants, oversized belts and other wardrobe staples that fashion designers would convince him to wear saying it would complement his bald look.
Today, the singer has traded the colourful vests for black leather jackets, moved on from MTV to Tollywood and replaced Manjula with Rihanna in his rap lyrics, but there's one thing that has remained as consistent a part of his uniform as his devotion to desi parodies of foreign melodies. "I always keep a pen in my pocket," says Sehgal. In an interview, the singer--who is dubbed India's first rapper--tells us why

What is your earliest memory of giving an autograph?

When I was young, I always wanted to be like Kishore Kumar. I've always maintained that I have been a huge fan of Kishore Kumar. There was no social media then. My mom used to get cassettes. We also used to listen to live shows. Live shows of singers were recorded on audio cassettes. One day my mom said "Beta, give me your autograph" just to motivate me. So, I gave my first autograph to my mom. This was before I started my career in this particular field in the early '90s and before I became Baba Sehgal.

What is the significance of an autograph?

Autographs have been an integral part of everyone's life, not just that of celebrities. I've always maintained that an autograph is better than a photograph because you see someone's handwriting and there's an effort in it. The person comes up with a piece of paper and he's looking for a pen, he's not able to find it. Then he asks around: "Bhai saab, aapke paas pen hai? Please de do." I always keep a pen in my pocket so that every time somebody comes up, he doesn't have to look for a pen.

 How do you sign autographs?

That itself is a story. I thought about how I should sign. Should I simply write "Baba Sehgal" or should I create a different font? Every time I would come back to my hotel room after my first few shows, I would curse myself saying the signature wasn't great. So, I reworked my signature and decided to keep it simple and stick to writing my name: Baba Sehgal. I didn't make it fancy. I am a painter as well so, sometimes, I make a cartoon smiley and say things like: "Stay blessed." or "Stay strong."

When was this?

I remember many people wanted my autograph after the song 'Thanda Thanda Paani'  released in 1992. My first major show then was in South Africa, not only in India. This was in November or December of 1992. I signed a lot of autographs then. I got the feeling that I've arrived or I've become something. People are coming to me for real autographs. 

Do you remember any strange requests from autograph seekers?

People want autographs on their T-shirts, on their pants and weird places. Girls used to seek autographs of actors mostly and I was the only  singer then that girls approached for autographs saying: Write it anywhere. So that itself was a high. It made me feel that singers also belonged to the same breed as actors.

Is the culture of autograph seeking dying?

Yes, people don't have the patience to take out a paper and pen. Everyone has a phone. They boast about their phones. But that's okay.

Do you still get fan mail?

Earlier the fan mail used to come by post. I used to get proposals from girls. Now, these fan mails have transformed into social media messages and direct messages. Recently, I put a post on Instagram about Baba ho gaya deewana and people got nostalgic and spoke about the lyrics. Their comments were like fan mail. Earlier, fan mail was only for me. Now everyone can read the comments, good or bad. Now you reply in emojis. Earlier, it was handwritten. By post, I do get letters in my academy and my house, but that is from smaller cities mainly and the number has dropped drastically. I used to get letters in thousands. In Kolkata, I used to do a charity events. I used to get letters and thank you notes from the families and from the elderly people. I do miss having a bunch of letters lying on the dining table. I would make it a point to reply to at least half of them saying "Thank you. Love you."

Do you remember any strange selfie requests?

Sometimes, they say "Sir, please sit here in the corner" or "Sir, my friend is climbing up to the second floor to take a picture, please wait". Sometimes, you have to be blunt saying: "I have a flight to catch.

Any difference you find between autograph seekers in India and abroad?

Emotions are the same. A diehard fan is someone who knows your career graph, the lyrics to your songs, your last Instagram post. After my new song "Protein", my take on the song "Rasputin", I got some 20000 messages on Instagram. That itself is a great feeling and makes you feel relevant. As long as you are relevant in the industry despite not being part of the mainstream, that feels good. You have to evolve. I'm glad people talk about "Chicken fried rice" and "Going to the gym." My motive has always been to make people laugh. I'm not a serious guy. This is my way of expressing myself. Autograph and photograph requests will increase when you do good content.

Any crazy fan encounters?

In December 2020, I was in a bar or by the poolside in a hotel in Goa when I met this guy who ran to his room on seeing me and brought back a T-shirt that I had signed on 22 years ago. He hadn't washed it. I asked him if he carries it everywhere. He told me he didn't know why he had brought it along. His wife and kids were also there. The kids were talking about my new social media songs. I remember when I gave him that autograph, I had said something to him because he was acting funny. He must have been very young. He had a paunch. I had asked him why he didn't take care of himself and advised him, just as i advise everyone, to eat and drink less. He had made me write "Aaja Meri Gaadi Mein Baith Jaa, With Love Baba Sehgal." I told him it won't fit, but he showed me how he wanted the autograph written and made these weird demands saying "Baba Sehgal should be in one line" and all that.

Does it get tiring?

It depends on how the person is requesting. That's very important for an autograph. Sometimes, people are not humble and you feel an instinctive repulsiveness. But people have their moods. Even we have our moods. I had once had a hairline fracture after a fall during a Telugu film shoot and my lower back had taken the impact. So, when some people came for an autograph, I signed it seated. Then they asked for a photograph and felt snubbed when I didn't stand. I could not tell them I had back pain. So, I had to make an effort and smile. Because these things remain etched in their memory.

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