For Mumbai-born Amar Muchhala, life was on the bitter side growing up in a society where stammering garners mockery and discrimination. During school days, Amar was the boy who took ‘forever’ to complete one sentence. The more fun people made, the lesser Amar talked.
Creating a shell around himself. Amar became withdrawn and fiercely guarded his personal space.
Today, almost two decades later, the shy and introverted boy is an internationally-renowned opera singer who has performed in countries like France, Germany and the United Kingdom. He has mastered one of the most challenging tenor arias, ‘Komm, O Holde Dame’ and is said to be the first Indian to perform Chamber Opera (an opera genre).
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When asked if had ever imagined singing live in front of thousands of people, he tells The Better India:
“I grew up learning Hindustani Classical music and harmonium. Since it was the only time when I did not stammer, I enjoyed and felt at peace while singing. I grew up in a Gujarati household where there was no exposure to Western classical music and so it wasn’t until I moved to America for studies, did I know what tenor meant.”
Amar’s love for music was limited as a hobby, “Not for once had I thought of music as a career option. It all started with an accidental encounter with a peer at Franklin and Marshall College.”
While pursuing his graduation in Business Management and French Literature, Amar decided to try his hand at choir music. To his surprise, the choirmaster immediately made him a tenor (a singing voice between baritone and alto or countertenor, the highest of the ordinary adult male range). College days saw him participating in several choir performances which helped him gain confidence in singing for a live audience.
After completing his studies, Amar returned to India and joined the family business as the plan was. Though he missed singing, the busy schedules did not allow him to pursue his passion. But, fate had other plans for Amar. Even before Amar identified his calling, his professor back in the United States knew the boy had a special voice.
On his teacher’s encouragment and of course his closeted love for western classical music, Amar took the plunge, “There were very limited options for learning opera in India. So I decided to go abroad. From there, learning opera was a very organic process.”
Hitting the Right Notes
Revealing his plans to quit his stable profession for opera singing did not go down well with his parents at first.
“Pursuing art as a career is rarely encouraged in many Indian households as it lacks financial security. All their concerns were justified but when I sat them down and expressed my passion for opera singing, they were quite supportive.”
Amar got into the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and moved to London in 2004 for a 5-year course.
The training, which included voice, linguistic and breathing lessons and amplifying voice without a microphone was very helpful in reducing Amar’s stammer.
After his first public performance in 2009, there was a dull period for nearly three years. Amar even contemplated quitting after innumerable auditions and rejections.
“There were two points in my life when I thought of quitting. But something in me did not allow me to give up. So I took a break and moved to Mumbai but somehow I kept going back to music. The fear of getting stuck in our family business pushed me to try again,” says Amar.
Life took a dramatic turn in 2013 after Amar was offered a lead cover role in Benjamin Britten’s opera Gloriana at the prestigious Royal Opera House with The Opera Group.
“Honestly, it was totally unexpected. Opera singers take years before they reach the Royal Opera House. I was surprised when they selected me, an outsider who had very little experience. After that performance, people started noticing the brown boy who had a peculiar and warm voice. It got me back my confidence,” shares Amar.
Since his debut performance, Amar has come a long way but even now auditions are hard in the ‘ruthless’ industry. The only difference now is that he is in a position to choose his roles.
“I have made decisions that did not work in my favour. People judge you mercilessly in my industry during auditions. Overtime, I developed the nature of the beast and only auditioned for principal roles. The best advice I give to myself is to put my best foot forward and present myself in the best light possible,” he adds.
Failures and rejections no longer discourage Amar. In fact, he tries to see them as lessons with which he can excel in the future. Amar does not believe in plan Bs. According to him, an individual can never give his 100 per cent if he or she knows that there is something to fall back on.
Among the many praises he has received, the most memorable ones are always from people who are in awe of the fact that Amar is a Gujarati from Mumbai.
“Three days ago I was in Brussels when this gentleman came up to me and said they had never heard anyone like me, it was elegant and warm. Such praises always motivate me to perform better.”
Even after letting his talent do the work for him, there are times when Amar is afraid to speak, thanks to the judgments passed by the society.
“Back in those days issues like speech impairment and dyslexia were brushed under the carpet leaving no medium for discussions. The kind of television and movie content we have in India is also majorly responsible for the lack of sensitivity and awareness. It is important for people to know that making fun of someone’s speech is not okay.”
With every opera performance Amar is breaking his own limitations, proving that no force in the world can pull you down if you tap into your potential.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)