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In tune with the times

Anu Malik talks trendy, wears trendy. An interview with the music director who's now all set for a new role

Anu Malik: `I can't write music notations, and yet I'm a winner.' — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

FROM TIME to time he changes his hat. And his hair. Sometimes, it's long and curled, sometimes braided, and at other times, short and trendy. Anu Malik, the music composer, who has enjoyed considerable commercial successes in recent times, loathes being left behind. His cool, punk makeover surely explains that. He has also been mostly in the news for all the wrong reasons — for alleged sexual harassment (remember Alisha Chinai?), plagiarising tunes, tampering with lyrics and for talking endlessly. But there's simply no denying that he's also made some lovely tunes. Like the catchy Ye kaali kaali ankhen from Baazigar and the wistful Baadalon mein chup raha hain chand kyon from Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi. In fact, every film that he has composed music for in the recent times has become a blockbuster in terms of its music. For instance, Border, Refugee (for which he won a National Award), LOC Kargil, Murder, Main Hoon Na and many more. The big news is also that he's made music for Gurinder Chaddha's film, Bride and Prejudice.

After establishing his credentials as a music director, singer, and even actor (in the yet-to-be-released Waqt), he now plays a new role, as judge for the talent search programme on Sony TV, Indian Idol.

Tough days

It's not that Anu Malik dropped on to the music scene from nowhere. His father Sardar Malik a gifted composer failed to make it big in Bollywood. The son didn't have it easy either. He started out working for orchestras, assisting music composers, while nurturing an ambition of becoming a music director himself. This composer wasn't going to model himself after his father. "I took a vow that I would work with the best directors in the industry; and here I am. Today, I have my own identity through my music," says Anu.

This image-conscious musician is very in with his language, body language, and appearance has had quite a roller-coaster career, even after hits such as Mard and Sohni Mahiwal. One flop in Ganga, Jamuna, Saraswati nearly did him in and he went into oblivion for a good five years. "I came prepared: I knew it wasn't going to be a cakewalk," he explains.In retrospect, Anu Malik can probably afford to talk the way he does. For, when he came into the scene, R.D. Burman, Laxmikant-Pyarelal, and Kalyanji-Anandji were calling the shots. It was probably Baazigar that made Bollywood sit up and take notice of him. After this blockbuster, many filmmakers such as J.P. Dutta came to Anu Malik for music. They went on to do several films together, including the award-winning Refugee.

The series of successes no doubt has given Anu Malik a great deal of confidence, but it also keeps him on tenterhooks. "My struggle has now taken on a different form. Earlier, it was to make a name, to get married... the usual things. There is now a greater emphasis to retain my position."

What is it like to work in a market that puts tremendous pressure to always produce a tune that sells? "Technology is ruling and there are some 50,000-odd composers, some of whom compose music on their laptops. I work with people who are technical wizards," says Anu.

The now sound

His music is upbeat, youthful, and has the now sound. Sure, it gets repetitive by the sheer volume being churned out and by the fact that the entire country now follows one brand of music: the A.R. Rahman brand. An alaap here, a violin flourish there, and lots of digitised beats and gizmo-generated music. As for the days, when the country listened to geniuses such as Pankaj Mullick, Naushad, S.D. Burman, R.D. Burman... perish the thought.

With the pan-Indian phenomenon called Rahman, the focus has now shifted down South. "That's a mistake," declares Anu Malik. "I think we made a mistake in modelling after him." But, he feels he's an exception. "All those who followed him made a mistake. I didn't because I always knew I make hummable tunes. I am a melody man and I put soul into the machine."

So how come such a melody maker hasn't been invited to score for an offbeat film? "I would love to do a Mughal-e-Azam, it's right up my alley." "It's because the way I dress and talk," he reveals, and goes on to complain about his being the victim of an image trap. And oh, how he would love to "jam with Kishori Amonkar!"

What about his knack for getting into trouble? What about all the accusations that have come his way, including from the legendary Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Bangladeshi rock band Miles, who said he'd pinched their tunes? "Certainly not. Nusrat saab and I shared a great relationship," he insists. Weren't Javed Akhtar and Majrooh Sultanpuri also fuming that he had tampered with their lyrics? "No. Then why would Javed saab continue to work with me? And Majrooh mama was like a grandfather to me."

On pointing out that there isn't any originality in his background scores either, a 60-second silence follows. "You understand what a time warp is? Well, you need to move with time. What about mobiles, computers... I'm sure you use them." Can't one be trendy without imitating? Aren't bands like Jung (Sayonee) proof enough? "That's what I'm doing," he insists, and adds his careergraph is just like Panchamda's, way ahead of his times.


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