In November 2013, in what was probably the most important meeting of his career, Anu Malik arrived at the office of Yash Raj Films(YRF) armed with a harmonium. Once a top Bollywood composer, Malik had been rendered jobless for about a decade, his last success being Main Hoon Na (2004). The producers and filmmakers who he used to share a good working relationship with in his heydays, had shunned him and the knocks on the doors of the big stars went in vain. Malik confesses that the rejection and humiliation could have driven him insane, but he managed to stay afloat, keeping alive the creativity within, waiting for that one chance to prove himself all over again.
A text message from YRF boss Aditya Chopra, also among the many people he had gone asking for work but had never worked with in his two-decade-old career, unexpectedly offered hope. “I may have something for you,” says Malik, recalling the words, as the two met in Chopra’s office. Arguably the most influential producer of the Hindi film industry, Chopra however, left the decision to director Sharat Katariya and producer Maneesh Sharma for their new project, Dum Laga Ke Haisha.
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When Malik went to meet these new-age young filmmakers the next day, he could have tried to play it cool in order to impress them. The tabla-dholak phase of Hindi film music, that we associate Malik with, is long out of fashion. And there has been a paradigm shift in the scene with more emphasis on the sound production than the playback singer’s artistry. But Malik chose to be himself. “I saw them exchanging smiles when I told them that I am from the old school of Hindi film sangeet, where you come with some tunes for a meeting and not the other way. And I believe that melodies are formed on the harmonium,” he adds. Katariya and Sharma were impressed by his honesty and Malik grabbed the opportunity with both hands.
The album of Dum Laga Ke Haisha, which in many ways invokes the nostalgic ’90s melodious Hindi film music, was created out of hunger. “When you are starved and something is dropped on your plate you are going to relish every bite,” says Malik. Seeing the YouTube hits and comments Malik feels a sense of fulfillment. “I feel incredible that I’ve managed to connect with the youth. In the period without work, I’ve tried to learn from them. I kept myself busy by taking up offers as a judge in reality shows. I gave a lot of attention to my daughters’ Anmol and Ada’s music,” he says.
Malik’s comeback trail continues with the forthcoming Hera Pheri 3 and he’s also one of the multiple composers of Welcome Back — a prevalent trend in film music that he is not very fond of. “I’m going to avoid such albums in the future,” he says.
As for Dum Laga Ke Haisha, a film set in the mid ’90s, Malik has mixed it up with some typical retro numbers — two romantic songs sung by Kumar Sanu recorded with an old style orchestra — but there are also new, contemporary touches. It comes from Malik collaborating with new age artistes, read Varun Grover, lyricist of Anurag Kashyap’s Gangs of Wasseypur, Indian Ocean frontman Rahul Ram, Punjabi folk singers Nooran Sisters and indie singer songwriter Papon. “When you work for so many years in the industry, you form your cliques. But I quickly realised that I have to be open to work with new talent,” he says. Songs such as Moh moh ke dhaage and Sundar susheel have a new age sound, a quality Malik says he has newly acquired.
But Malik’s approach to making music, with melody at its heart, hasn’t changed. “I am glad that I don’t have to deliver item songs as the trend is. The film has a great story and there is a song for every season of the human heart — from falling in love for the first time, of laughter, of rain and of heartbreak,” he says.