Anu Malik, the popular music composer of Bollywood, is known for his trend-setting scores and numbers. His distinctive style and inimitable craft wow music lovers of all ages. His seminal body of work speaks long volumes about his versatility and creativity. Rohan Dua, the executive editor of The New Indian, speaks to the musical genius and gets to know the lesser-known facts about his chequered journey in the industry.
Rohan Dua: I begin this interview by asking you one of the most prominent questions which every fellow Indian wants to ask you. Your songs like East or West India Is The Best and many others have been a dominant force behind every patriotic ceremony for the last 20 years. How do you look at the 75th anniversary of India’s Independence?
Anu Malik: I am a very proud Indian. You mentioned East or West India Is The Best. Before that, when I was hardly 18 years old, I had composed and written a song which was my first actual solo independent music. Kasam Li Hai Humne, Kasam Na Todenge, We Love You O’ India Tujhe Na Chodenge. India O’ India Kya Kehna Tera. I Am So Lucky Ki Tu Hai Mera.
Rohan Dua: I remember. I listened to this song in 1997.
Anu Malik: (continues the song) Agar Mar Jayen To, Bichad Jayen To, India Me Lenge Janam Phir Se Dubara. I remember humming this tune first to my father. He loved the song and he said I love that line particularly: Agar Mar Jayen To, Bichar Jayen To. I sang, composed and wrote it. My father told me: ‘You really love your country’, and that was the biggest compliment. I said, Dad, I am crazy about my country.
At a very young age when I was writing these songs, he asked me to give him a reason behind my patriotism and love for the nation. ‘Dad, you have told me about Sardar Vallabhai Patel and Bhagat Singh and so…,’ I said. He would tell me stories. I am very indebted to my father, the great Sardar Malik Sahab. He told me about the greatness of all patriotic people, who shaped the future of our great country. And now we are in the 75th year of India’s Independence, Azadi Ka Amrit Mahaotsav. It fills my heart with pride when you mention these songs.
Right from the earliest songs that I composed, I used to search for a situation where I could speak about my country. I used to ask my directors to bring in some situations for patriotism. Now, if they are making a love story, so how do you bring a patriotic song? And I told them, if you don’t bring in such a situation, I will make a solo album.
And that’s why I made one. Kasam Li Hai Humne, Kasam Na Todenge. And how do I feel today? A sense of pride. I feel thrilled that I am born in this country. It is definitely because of God that I am what I am today. I am nobody without the blessings of Goddess Saraswati, and I would like to say that whatever I have become, whatever my fame is, it’s solely because of my country, India. I am a very proud Indian, because I feel that, if I had not been born here I would not be the Anu Malik that people know me as. I want to share something with you. I have not shared this with anybody.
Whenever I go and record songs, before I reach my studio and as I am about to enter the studio, I always pick up the dust from the ground – whether I’m in Maharashtra or Delhi or Gujarat – and put it on my head. I do so also before performing a show in the Northeast or South.
Rohan Dua: Amazing. Why do you do that?
Anu Malik: I feel the magic that the soil of this country has can’t be found anywhere else. I am the son of my country; I am the soldier of this country. I feel so blessed that I had the chance to walk on this earth and India, where my mother and father gave me birth, and this reflects in my music. Whenever I am composing a song, a patriotic one; I think of the Indian Air Force, the Indian Army, the police personnel… I think of all those people who are safeguarding our country. And my emotions overflow.
J P Dutta Sahab gave me a chance to work in ‘Border’. There’s this particular situation that moved me to tears. Javed (Akhtar) Sahab wrote the song. J P Dutta Sahab told me: Anu, can you compose tune? Sandese Aate Hain, Hamein Tadpaate Hain, and particularly that line, Aye Guzarne Waali Hawa Bata, Mera Itna Kaam Karegi Kya, Mere Gaanv Ja Mere Doston Ko Salam De, Wahan Rehti He Meri Boodhi Maa, Uske Pairon Ko Chhoo Ke Pranam De. I mean, I felt like I was hearing the words said by those great soldiers who leave behind their mother, children, parents, wife, sisters and friends. All they have is the overpowering feeling to safeguard their country.
Rohan Dua: Absolutely.
Anu Malik: So to show my love for these people and for my great country, my composition poured out. Today, when people talk about ‘LOC Kargil’ and my music, people talk about my patriotic spirit. I feel very proud. Especially, as you rightly said, these songs are being played at ceremonies, and when someone says these are Anu Malik’s songs, I say it is a show of devotion to my great country. One more thing I want to tell you. As a young child whenever I saw an Indian winning at a sports event on Doordarshan and when our National Flag went up, I used to suddenly stand up and saluted the flag. This feeling runs in my house; even my wife Anjani gets emotional when she sees me doing that. In the recent Commonwealth Games, when our medal tally increased, and I saw the great sportsmen and sportswomen being honoured, I got up from my sofa, and started singing our national anthem, Jana Gana Mana.
I have travelled across the world but trust me, there is no country better than India. And that is the very reason that at a very young age when I had gone for a show outside the country and came back, I told my producer; I have got a mukhara: Yahan Kee Ladki Wah Wah, Badan Pe Saree Wah Wah, Mathe Pe Bindiya Wah Wah, Kaano Mein Balee Wah Wah, Pairon Mein Payal Wah Wah, Hothon Pe Lalee Wah Wah, Sare Jahan Se Achha Hindustan Hamara, Ham Bul Bule Hai Isakee Yeh Gulistan Hamara, Hamara Yo and I also got this mukhra… East Or West, Yo, India Is The Best, Yo. East Or West Bharat Is The Best. It just comes out of me spontaneously. People of India, their culture, their exoticness, is beyond magic.
Rohan Dua: I want to go back to your career in the 1980s. You began with a very modest and humble beginning. How did you actually get a chance to work with someone like Manmohan Desai in the 80s, when he was the number one director?
Anu Malik: There was a time when Laxmikant–Pyarelal, the great composers, were ruling the industry. There was Kalyanji–Anandji duo as well. Some new composers had already stepped in. But as a young boy of 16-17, I just had my harmonium with me. And I used to feel and say aloud, ‘I am the king of the streets, my heart is my wealth, and my harmonium is my baja (music instrument)’.
I have roamed a lot on every street. Those days, there were very few recording studios. All were occupied by the great composers. They are top producers, big production houses, like big corporates, these days. In the past, you had J. Om Prakash ji, Manoj Kumar sahib and a few others making films, great films; but they had their composers with them. And it was difficult to get work with these legends around.
But it just happened that I met a choreographer, Kamal master ji. I used to go to the sets and I saw him choreographing movies for Amitabh Bachchan, Vinod Khanna and Shatrughan Sinha. I used to stand quietly and during lunch break, meet the choreographers, and sing my compositions to them. And one day, one particular song caught the fancy of Kamal ji, and he took me to Manmohan ji.
I met Manmohan ji, hummed the same songs, and surprisingly, he asked me to keep in touch with him and that’s how began the journey of a thousand miles. I started to meet him, whenever he was shooting his films. And one fine day, he actually came to my place, which was near Juhu, and the whole society was shocked to see such a big van and a big celebrity come out of it. The rest is history. I sang some of my compositions, and but unfortunately, Bachchan ji got injured during ‘Coolie’.
When he recovered and came to give the first shot of Coolie again, I was called at Chandivali Studios. Manmohan ji called me and asked me to bring my harmonium along. And I remember that it was a very tough day; I didn’t have enough money to even carry that harmonium in a taxi or on a rickshaw. I had nothing with me. I carried that huge harmonium, which belonged to my father, in a bus and reached the studio with a dholak player. They made us sit in a cabin room and suddenly, there was a huge noise and Amitabh Bachchan walked in. As Bachchan ji walked in, I looked at him in awe. You can imagine his charisma back then. He just looked at me and Manmohan ji said, “Suno isko (listen to him).” I hummed at least 100 different tunes. Suddenly, Manmohan ji asked me to stop and wait outside; and I heard some discussion going on. And Manmohan ji came out, and asked, “Tu shirt to nahi fadega?” I asked him – “Why?” He replied, “You are my composer for Mard.”
Mard Tange Wala; Sun Rubiya and all the songs were huge hits. And there was another song, Maa Meri Maa Se Mila De Mujhe, and Mata Rani’s ashirvad has always been on me.
Rohan Dua: You found another discovery through this film. You found out an incredible singer for Amitabh Bachchan.
Anu Malik: Yes, Mohammad Rafi had passed away and Manmohan ji was a bhakt of Rafi sahab. I tried to find someone who could sing like him. Someone informed me that there is a guy who sings
like Mohammad Rafi in shows, but we did not have his address. And after countless efforts, we found a small place in Goregaon where he lived. I went out early morning, without any Google map, to find him. Around 1.30 am-2 am, I found the house of Mohammed Aziz , and met the boy. I sang him my mukhra, and I asked him to sing right there. He sang the Mard Tangewala song on the spot. The very next
morning, I invited him to my place and he sang in front of RD Burman. Burman was surprised and found his voice quite similar to Rafi Sahab. The rest is history.
Rohan Dua: ‘Sohni Mahiwal’ was a huge blockbuster. But it was ‘Baazigar’ that changed the entire perception about you. You tried something new in ‘Baazigar’, that actually became such a huge rage in the country. You brought the soft romantic numbers, and you introduced Vinod Rathod, and even launched the careers of such actors. What was the new element which you added in these songs?
Anu Malik: That is a very good question. You know there was a different type of music happening at that time being composed by the legends. But I wanted a different kind of style, one which reflected Anu Malik’s style. So one day while I was doing an album for Venus Music, someone told me that Ratan Jain, would like you to come to his function at Juhu Centaur. I agreed and it was a silver disc function, and silver disc was given to someone whenever someone’s music was great.
And Ratan Jain walked up to me and spoke to me of his future film, where there was a new guy, Shahrukh Khan and a new girl, Kajol and the director was Abbas Mustan, and the film was ‘Baazigar’. I was newly married then, and he asked me to make the score of ‘Baazigar’ and try something new and special for Baazigar’s music. I expressed my gratitude, because I was in the new lows of my career then..I jumped from the wall of Juhu Centaur Hotel on to the beach, and just to tell the good news to my wife that I got a new job and my newfound happiness. I tried romantic tunes, it suited so well with ‘Baazigar’, but it was difficult to make these tunes at that time, Baazigar o Baazigar….Tuhe Bada Jadugar, Dhak Dhak Dhadakat He Yeh Dil.. So this kind of romantic tunes was produced less then; so when I hummed these songs to my directors and my singers, they loved it and they said these are very romantic you know, especially Yeh Kaali Kaali Anakhein, it had a bit of digitised kind of recording.
Rohan Dua: Although you really depended on a lot on percussion.
Anu Malik: I also had to use it, for a song like, Uuf Teri Dillagi, that too had its own charm…so these kind of melodies were loved by the masses of India; and suddenly, they said that there is something in this guy. Churaake Dil Mera, Goriya Chali …was a runaway hit. So, I have been a fan of the kind of music where music director can compose a deshbhakti song, a romantic song. Sandese Aate Hain, Hamein Tadpate Hain (plays the notes on piano).
Rohan Dua: Your songs also create buzz during the festivals whether it is Diwali or Holi like Chunari Chunari from Biwi No. 1. So did you compose the song keeping in view the festive spirit?
Anu Malik: Whether it is Holi or Diwali or Ganesh Chaturthi. Songs get composed against such an backdrop/environment. Recently, I composed a song on Ganesh Ji and gave it to a company. I will inform
you the progress after the completion of the project. Songs are composed in the ambience of particular atmosphere. Chunari Chunari was composed because David Dhawan and Basu Bhagnani ji were asking for a song for Sushmita (Sen) ji. At that time, one chorus came to my mind Aaja Na Choole My Choonari Sanam… and David Dhawan liked this chorus. I made this song in Goa. I didn’t have the player to record the song, so my daughter remembered the song. I came to Mumbai and asked my daughter to sing that song. Bollywood stars like Salman Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Amir Khan and Akshay Kumar also contributed in the success of my songs. It is said that ‘good songs get good actors’. When the song Moh Moh Ke Dhagee was picturised on Ayushman Khurana and Chura Ke Dil Mera picturised on Akshay Kumar, both played key roles in the songs’ success. They performed so well. What I am trying to tell you is that basically, it is a team work. I don’t think songs would have been so popular if it was picturized on someone else. In Ek Garam Chai Ki Pyali Ho, Salman Khan’s swag clicked.
In Baazigar O Baazigar, Shah Rukh Khan packed punch. So you need a star. I want to say that there is not only a Anu Malik, it is also the lyrics writer, the singer, the director, the actor, the producer, the choreographer who make a good song. Where there is such a wonderful ambience, it becomes a lasting, timeless song.
Rohan Dua: Who was your toughest competitor in the 1990s and 2000s? When you established yourself, how did you face the competition, and how did you vanquish them?
Anu Malik: Listen to this shayari, even the moon looks like a roti, when you are hungry.
I was so passionate and hungry that I did not know who was ahead and behind me. I knew that my father was jobless; I did not have a source of income; I had two more brothers, and I was recently married. I did not see who was my competitor, be it Laxmikant-Pyarelal, or Kalyanji-Anandji, or R D Burman, or Bappi da. Many others were there. I just saw how to establish myself as a composer. I didn’t try to defeat anyone; I came to earn my bread, I did not try to snatch anyone’s name and life, and I tried to earn my livelihood with the gift Goddess Saraswati gave me. I ran home to give my mother the first salary I received: Rs 100, and that Rs 100 was a big achievement for me. I touched my mother’s feet and signed the first film, in front of my father, as a writer. He said nothing but his eyes lit up with pride. I did not try to vanquish anyone; I didn’t have any vindictive nature. We are musicians, we spread love.
With the gift of Goddess Saraswati, I tried to mend up someone’s life, bring a smile on someone’s face. Like a true artist, I competed for sure, but to get a film, my sole focus was to get the best of songs. Recently, three of my songs won national awards, but it were my songs which received the awards, not me. Like Moh Moh Ke Dhage…So people ask me in the 80s, how did I make the songs? I tell them that it is Goddess Saraswati who made me do it. I am sincerely focused on my work. And when I wake up, I go to the studio; I try to work for films and the world changes. There are good singers everywhere. I still persevere to get work, and try hard till date.
Rohan Dua: On India’s 75th Independence, when I went to border, either Wagah or Attari or Sani, you won’t believe, everywhere, only this song is played.
Anu Malik: You won’t believe it, when jawans meet me, they talk to me in such a way that I break down. They say, ‘Sir, you have given us a great gift’ and that is the biggest gift, that a composer can get when you have the Indian Army hugging you.
Rohan Dua: Which are your favourite songs that are very close to your heart and you like to listen in solitude?
Anu Malik: I move ahead after the completion of one song. My hobby is to make new songs. But I am a big fan of Pancham Da (RD Burman), one of his songs which I like most: (Sings O Mere Dil Ke Chaain). I like this song because it consists of love. What lyrics and beautifully sung by Kishore da!
I think the ratings that should have been given were not given to many of my films like ‘Ishq’, ‘Ashoka’, ‘Filhal’ and ‘Fiza’. Hear songs of Ashoka (sings Bhare Naina). One song was from the movie Filhaal written by Gulzar Shahab and this was the first film of his daughter (Meghna Gulzar). (Sings Le Chale Doliyon Mein Tumhe). I like this type of songs and also my song that recently got the National Award. (Sings Yeh Moh Moh Ke Dhaage). I listen to all these songs. (He also sings the ‘Main Hu Na’ title song on being requested). You are reminding me of all my songs and I am getting emotional.
Rohan Dua: You have worked with legendary singers, Because of your melodies, they reached dizzying heights: be it Kavita Krishnamurthy, Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik, Udit Narayan or for that matter, Alisha Chinai. Who is the singer who touched your inner chord? What is the unique quality of these singers that you have worked with? Why did you handpick some of these singers repeatedly?
Anu Malik: Sonu (Nigam) ji, (Kumar) Sanu ji, Alka (Yagnik) ji, and all other singers that you mentioned, they are very unique singers. Singers are in need of good lyricists; they say tune is the king, but words are the crown; what is a king without his crown?
So as we make a song, we visualise a singer in our minds, and the singers that you took the name of, they have been excellent singers, and the tune is good, a singer pours his life into it. It’s all about right casting: of the right voice for the right song. Everyone contributes to the music — singers, lyricists, music composers and the entire team.
Rohan Dua: Among all these unique singers, who attracted you the most?
Anu Malik: I believe that every singer has his own magic; some songs that Alka ji sings can’t be copied by anyone else.
Rohan Dua: Like which ones?
Anu Malik: Alka ji sang some of my songs, like Churaake Dil Mera. She sang it so perfectly…Esa Lagta He too. She also sang the ghazals for Umrao Jaan. Sanu ji and Sonu ji sang all kinds of songs that I composed. There should be right casting for the right singers.
Rohan Dua: Also if I talk about Alisha Chinai…
Anu Malik: They were great singers, but let me tell you, when you go back to the greatness of R D Burman, you might have noticed, that Asha Bhosle ji, sang fine ghazals. Pancham da made her sing like that. The singers you mentioned were born/made to sing a particular song, and you can’t opt for a wrong singer. Lata Mangeshkar sang a song Mein Kya Karun Ram Mujhe Buddha Mil Gaya, and another one, Aa Jaane Ja; so it depends which singer came when and why?.
Rohan Dua: Which are the songs that Lata ji sang for you?
Anu Malik: Lata ji sang for me many songs. Baali Umar Ne Mera Haal Woh Kiya, Jan Chhuda Li Maine Dil De Diya, and many others. What can I say about her voice; when we met her, we always touched her feet. Today too, we remember her so fondly; Lata ji, Asha ji, Rafi ji, Kishore ji, Mukesh Ji, they were fine people.
Rohan Dua: You composed all these ideas at night or you had your team with you for the lyrics?
Anu Malik: No, no; songs and tunes used to come at night. Still today, ideas prop up at night but now my wife is also fine with this. But earlier, my daughter used to wake up when I sang songs in my room. And she used to say ‘Daddy is composing’. I composed lyrics between 2 and 4 at night.
Rohan Dua: You brought a new culture in this industry and used English words in songs like Sexy-Sexy, Unchi Hai Building, East or West. You touch the millennials and even the people of my generation who didn’t have any interest in movies, by using these English words. We used to listen and sing all these songs during our college days. All these songs drew us towards you.
Anu Malik: Why I did all this? Today people are listening to lots of songs, they used to listen songs in the past too, will listen them tomorrow too. How can you be different from others? I also felt I have to step out of the style and patterns that others were following in creating songs. There are set patterns, set rhythms, a set chorus, a set verse. I write my lyrics also. Most of the songs sound funky written by me like Ek Gram Chai Ki Pyali Ho, Unchi Hai Building. I have the audience in mind. The people of India understand me and I understand them.
Whenever we make a song, people know from my distinctive style that this is Anu Malik’s song. It should be the stamp of Anu Malik. You may like it or not. Some people like my songs and some of them don’t. But today I am vindicated when people copy my rhythm and get inspired from my songs. Suddenly, today lots of songs are based on my rhythms. I wanted to set a trend. Way back when people said don’t make this type of songs, I said, ‘I will work on these songs.’ It seemed weird at that time because ghazal was the trend. Beautiful ghazal songs were made at that time but I wanted to be different from them so I came out with Tan Tana Tan Tan Tan Tara Chalti Hai Kya ….” After that I made patriotic songs like O Jane Wale. So, I believe that a composer should compose all kinds of melodies.
Rohan Dua: People feel you should have been awarded the Padma Shri. What are your views?
Anu Malik: I would consider myself lucky if my loved countrymen, my great nation, award the Padma Shri to me. When a child excels in work, his parents pat his back. For me, India is my mother and father, and if it pats my back, I will be grateful.
Rohan Dua: I recently saw your picture in Delhi when you met the Vice President Jagdeep Dhankhar. You also had meetings with some other top leaders of the country across political parties. Vinod Khanna sahab, Sunny Deol, Hema Malini ji joined politics. You have reached a stature and iconic stature where people look up to you as someone who is a tiger of our country, who holds lot of pride for this country. Would you like to enter politics at some stage?
Anu Malik: I want to serve my country through my music. You don’t need to enter into politics to serve the people. Politicians are doing a great job. There is a saying ‘I know that I don’t know’. I know my music and I am learning it, trying to understand it. Lata ji (Lata Mangeskar) used to say “This is a big ocean. The deeper you dive into it, the deeper you will see.” I don’t know politics but I want to serve the society. I met Vice President Dhankhar ji. I have seen some of his interviews. I find him a very witty person and an amazing personality. I went to Delhi to meet the Vice President. Luckily, he gave me time. I sat with him. He is such a lovely human being. He also knows about music. A two-minute meeting was scheduled; but he talked for 10 minutes. I wished him and said I am glad, very proud that you are the vice president of India. I wish you all the success.
I made a video of 7,500 km coastal area. I feel Prime Minister Narendra Modi ji has a dream of making a plastic-free zone around the coastal area, which is a fantastic step. Whenever I get a call (from him) to serve the nation, I will be there. But I want to tell you, I won’t join politics. Whenever any minister calls me for any campaign or project, I will be there. I think this is also a social service. I want to teach music. I think our country is on the right path and many development works are taking place in our country. I want to wish everyone all the best once again. I want to tell you I won’t join politics because I don’t know politics but I will continue doing social service.
Rohan Dua: Your initiative to clean the coastal region is mentioned and recognized by all the political parties.
Anu Malik: I have been doing that since long. I have done all those things that were asked from me during the Swachh Bharat Mission. My songs were played during the 75th Independence day and I feel very fortunate.
Rohan Dua: What would Anu Malik be like to be known as in this country and what would he want India to be known for in the next decade?
Anu Malik: I think India is poised for a great victory. It is already a glorious nation. If you notice, when we travel to a foreign country, I am filled with pride. People love our country. I have seen the zeal of working in Indian girls. In every field — whether it is Science, Maths, Technology or Fine Arts — they are rocking. We are way ahead of other countries in terms of sanskar, manners, respect for
elders. Anu Malik likes to be known (and would like to be remembered) as a melodic composer who always thinks about others. I try to reduce the pain and bring a smile on the face of my audience. My entire mantra of life is to make such music which brings a smile on the faces of those listening to it. I am married to a Saraswat Brahmin girl — her name is Anjani — I am an Arya Samaji and Krishna Bhakt. Music is my religion.