On paper, Bollywood composer and singer Amaal Mallik got a dream debut when he created music for Salman Khan’s film ‘Jai Ho’.
But the star-driven movie underperformed — at least by Khan’s box office standards — and the young musician’s dreams of being plucked from obscurity remained a pipe dream.
“After ‘Jai Ho’, everyone in the media had written me off … I had no work and I was ready to even sell burgers in New Zealand … Did you know that I assisted 20 composers before I got any break?” said Mallik in an exclusive interview with Gulf News in Dubai.
But his brush with failure proved to be the biggest leveller in his life. Six years after his blink-and-miss-it debut as a composer — the son of musician Daboo Malik and the nephew of music composer/singer Anu Malik — Mallik now has songs in several hit films to his credit and will now feature in his new single ‘Tu Mera Nahi’, shot entirely in the UAE in October.
“Just because I am someone’s son, it didn’t open doors for me … I remember sneaking into T-Series [music label] office after waiting outside their gates for over 20 days … Nothing came easy to me,” said Mallik.
The brother of popular singer Armaan Malik is also an advocate of copyright reforms in the Indian music scene.
“Let me tell you about the late composer Santhosh Anand, who wrote that beautiful song ‘Ek Pyaar Ka Nagma Hai’ ... His wife was seen begging at a railway station and his daughter-in-law and son committed suicide. All these things are not spoken about. But they didn’t have any money or the legacy from Santhosh’s hit song and that needs to change. My fight is for them,” said Mallik. He insists that every artist that worked on his songs gets credited.
Excerpts from our interview as we talk about the deluge of questionable remixes of old Hindi songs and the monopoly of music labels …
Why did you decide to film your music video ‘Tu Mera Nahi’ in Dubai?
Dubai is a place that evokes nostalgia. In 2014, I composed the music for ‘Jai Ho’ which premiered in Dubai and I was a 23-year-old kid back then. I reached out to the world with my music from here. Now, India is not safe to shoot … At first, we thought we will go to Lonavla, but then Dubai is just two hours away from Mumbai and we ended up shooting at the Al Qudra desert, Dubai Twisted Bridge and so many other beautiful locations. It was a reboot for me and this feels like my second innings. While I have done a lot of independent music which my brother Armaan or Arjith Singh has sung, this is the first time you will see me in a music video.
When compared to your brother Armaan Malik, you maintain a low profile. Is this music video an attempt to change things?
Sometimes, people assume ‘do bhai hain … [there are two brothers], one is Armaan and the other is Malik’. They don’t even know there’s an Amaal Mallik too. But that happens to all the composers in our country. If a song does well, it’s always credited to singers like KK, Sonu Nigam, Armaan or Arijit Singh. We music composers are like film directors in a movie, we may hold the whole fort together but if that film does well, we associate the hit with the actors in them … Personally, I am not an outgoing or flamboyant guy. This whole industry vibe is not in me. I am too chill for Bollywood.
Armaan handles them better. For instance, he meets and socialises with industry folks, but in an hour or two he is out. I feel bad to do that and when they tell me to wait or give them a few hours, I end up giving seven hours of my life. I want to a batman in my cave writing good songs. But it has been my dream to feature in my own music video and do independent work with no film scripts dictating it. Composing your own music — independent of films — is now the order of the day. All those aspiring musicians should not be dependent on the film industry to give them a chance. They want profit, above all else.
Music composition is an intrinsic part of Bollywood in India, so why are you trying to branch out?
Many people get work in films because they are much easy to work with or maybe they just listen to the powers above. But I am not going to do any of that. I’m talented and I don’t listen to people. I have a mind of my own. In the last four or five years, I have composed 75 songs and I am just 28 years old. I am done with that. For the last two years as I touched 30, I have been wanting to show my face more. The Bollywood music industry is going through a debauched phase. We are making remixes after remixes and no one is doing what their heart wants to do. The independent music zone does not dictate what kind of music I should make … Also, this might make Armaan feel a little insecure [laughs].
Have you lost out on work because you have spoken your mind?
I am vocal about things and many assume it’s my ego or my attitude or my arrogance. But it’s no such thing. I know there are millions who are better than the ones working in this industry today. As an artist, I feel a big sense of responsibility. Many musicians I know play safe now.
They talk only when they have made their billions or after they acquire their eight mansions or 17 cars. I don’t care about those things and it’s very easy to talk from that position about our industry being bad or that youngsters are doing bad work. But the truth is that they don’t know what the youngsters go through. I don’t blame many musicians for doing excessive remixes. We don’t have proper laws set on copyrights. We don’t have rights to our own songs. If I sing my own song ‘Sooraj Dooba’ in this interview, I will have to call that label to ask for permission to sing my own song … Also, our music industry is not very close knit and we are ready to cut each other. If I leave a film project, there will be 30 others standing outside to do that.
So you are dispensable …
Not just me, everyone is … People have thrown me out of their films because I am averse to the idea of doing too many remixes. If they want original songs, I am there for them … Also many can’t manage a great album because they have no time to work on it. Many composers are asked to come up with three great songs in ten days … But it’s rare for us to pull that off. You cannot force the brain to make a great song and I’m very scared of doing bad work.
Is it true that music labels dominate the film industry scene and dictate what you listen to?
Let’s face it: music labels have the power and the money. There are certain music labels who are also into film production … For instance, my career started with Bhushan Kumar [T-Series]. He gave me that break and he runs one of the biggest music companies in India and has millions of subscribers. But I still look him in the eye and request him about wanting to do great work. There may be others who cannot convince him about their original works … But as artists, we have to put up that fight. If you are running after crores [millions], then enjoy the money. But you will not get any love.
Speaking of substandard work, the recent ‘Masakali’ remix, which was originally composed by AR Rahman, was panned universally...
On that day, I decided that I will not listen to what Bollywood is putting out there … Imagine what went through Rahman sir’s mind. He’s such a big legend and we all bow down to him. He’s one man who has kept his rights and his royalties. He has made it clear that his music is not for sale and that he is just loaning you his work. And you must respect someone who has brought us Oscars and the Golden Globes glory. So are you telling me that you took his song without telling him? … If someone took my song and destroyed it, I will feel bad too as it was my baby … And the gentleman that he’s, he put out a statement about how 200 musicians worked on his original.
“There’s such an overflow of labels creating music without a director. The captain of the ship is not involved in making of the musical album. I don’t like to work on such projects … Also, I cannot ever work for someone’s film without ever knowing what the director’s thought process for that project,” Amaal Malik on what’s ailing the Indian music industry today.