This story originally appeared in Mumbai Mirror’s March 22nd Edition.
Anu Malik interviewed by a fan. Recorded and replayed by me.
The lobby of JW Marriot, sheathed in marble, rich brown wood and other expensive looking things has a doorman that greets visitors with a Namastey that is as quick as it is rehearsed. But for Anu Malik the welcome is more gratuitous, even if it is by a few seconds. The little courtesies extended to Mr. Malik’s presence continue beyond the doorman’s extra seconds of bashfulness as head turns and double takes accompany him like an entourage of missed opportunities, and inadequate bravado. His interviewers, Kunal and Dhaval, childhood friends steeped in 90s lore, and worshippers of Mr. Malik, are on time, but have yet to appear. Mr. Malik, meanwhile is unfashionably early. Eventually they storm in, and as Mr. Malik greets them with the joy of reuniting with a lost kidney, the envy the two young fans suffer from the influential crowd in the vicinity, is palpable. As the hunt for a private pocket of space ensues, Kunal acquaints Mr. Malik of his private little connection with him.
“Sir, your daughter has taken Math tuitions from my mother.”
“Really?”, Mr. Malik responds with genuine surprise. “What a small world” he says to everyone else assembled as he slaps his hand on Kunal’s back and leaves it on his shoulder, much to Kunal’s delight. One of the most noticeable things about Mr. Malik at this point is his uninhibited extension of camaraderie to everyone. Very soon, smiles were the currency being dealt in and Mr. Malik was the purveyor of transactions. Dhawal’s first question though, touched upon a prickly topic.
“Why has it been so long before Dum Laga Ke Haisha, sir? Where have you been?”
Such a question would usually invoke a guarded reply, of offers made but rejected or stories of a self imposed hiatus. But Dhawal’s query was soaked in heartfelt concern. And somewhere that resonated with Mr. Malik who replied with an honesty, one would rarely associate with a Bollywood celebrity.
“My life has been a roller coaster with highs and lows. My last big hit was Main Hoon Na. It won the Filmfare. I became the face of Indian Idol, got busy in television for which I owe a lot to Sony. It created my ‘Love me or hate me you can’t ignore me’ persona. I composed for a few movies . But in reality nothing was happening. New composers walked in. No director no producer had any work for me. Things changed, years went by and there came a time I started wondering what’s happening in my life.” He paused now, reminiscing like the underdog hero in any of the many films he has composed for, before continuing with an unexpected line.
“And thats when Sachin Tendulkar happened” he quipped with a mischievous gleam in his eyes, as he looked at Dhawal and Kunal who were flummoxed. Satisfied by the response he had invoked he continued “In 2005, when Sachin got injured. He asked god to give him another chance and in 2005 he slammed a double century. It inspired me to do the same thing. Beg the almighty for just one more shot.”
The simplistic distillate for those of faith sometimes blinds them to their own struggles often crediting a silent whisper to an invisible universal benefactor for their change in fortunes. For Sachin, a return to the basics exfoliated some of the dead skin from his technique. For Mr. Malik too it was a return to the basics, albeit of a different kind – The despairing walks of a struggler to the array of disinterested studios that line the inner streets of Andheri. In one of the many visits he made to YRF studios, looking for work, Aditya Chopra got him on board for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, a movie which in its reverence for the 90s could have had no better representative of the era at its operatic helm. Lesser coincidences have been deemed acts of god.
Mr. Malik’s exposition on the problems he faced during his re-initiation to music composition had two parts. The first part had to do with the new instruments of the trade.
“We used to work on live music. We used to have a full ensemble orchestra with seventy people. The world changed. Technology went through a sea of change. Everybody now works on things like Logic (Pro), Nuendo and I realized that this is the new world. Instead of being critical and saying “humnein kya kaam kiya tha” I immersed myself into this new world. And all credit goes to my two daughters who pushed me onto everything I had rejected. Technology is such a thing that we are not used to it unless we use it. I started tinkering on the laptop and saw that this is the new world. And there was so much catching up to do.”
The second part of his problem had to do with the lack of melody and purpose in the songs these days. To exemplify this he broke into a rap. It sounded exactly how you might think it did.
The songs of Dum Laga Ke Haisha exploded Anu Malik to nationwide relevance again. ‘Moh Moh Ke Dhaage’ has surged to the top of every music chart. But Kunal’s fascination was glued to a different track of the film – Dard Karara. His reason? Mr. Malik’s reunion with another 90s stalwart – Kumar Sanu. Instead of regaling them with tales of nostalgia, Mr.Malik reveals a tender anecdote of their reunion at the studio.
“When Kumar Sanu came into my studio I found that he was very nervous. His hands were shaking. And I realized he was completely broken. A man who has sung his heart out for the best composers was nervous! But what he did not know was that it was not only he that was broken. I was broken too. And I realized that if I show him my pain, how will I be able to make him sing. So I sat down with the harmonium I said ‘Sanu lets go back to the time when we first walked into these corridors. He started looking at the awards, he seemed very shaken and lost. And he said ‘the smell of the room… its the same. For the next hour we just spoke. And then we began to work on the song. I hummed the tune for him and the moment I was done, he just got up and he gave me a big hug. I cannot explain to you what that feels like. You can only experience something like that yourself. We were two hungry people, and the music for this film, that song has been born from hunger.When you are hungry for something and someone gives you that food, you eat it with relish.”
As the interview wound down, and selfies were clicked for memories, under the benevolent golden light of a setting sun, Kunal and Dhavan basked in the warmth of a different star.
“We look at them from afar, but never realize that they are human beings just like any of us. And it makes so much sense that his music sounds even better now than anything he has done before. He has taken all that pain and pushed it into his music” recounts Kunal, clearly starstruck. While Dhavan had a more rousing perspective on the matter, “That man is a phoenix. He turned to ash and now he has been reborn. His music will heal souls like never before.”