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Bollywood singer Sonu Nigam, who will perform in Dubai on August 21 at a socially distanced indoor concert at the Dubai World Trade Centre, claims he has no regrets about taking on the Bollywood ‘music mafia’, specifically T-Series chairman Bhushan Kumar. He did it for survival.

In June, Nigam famously posted a video claiming the Bollywood music industry was run by just two labels who enjoyed a complete monopoly, and these labels held arbitrary powers over singers and the work they were offered.

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Ever since actor Sushant Singh Rajput’s death on June 14, debates about the toxic working culture in the Hindi film industry has been re-ignited with several talents calling out unfair practices. Nigam was at the forefront calling out the music mafia running Bollywood.

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Bhushan Kumar and wife Divya Khosla Kumar. Image Credit: IANS

“I think what was required was attended to at that point. My life is not about other people and what other people think of me. But if somebody interferes in my space, I won’t tolerate it,” said Nigam in a video interview over Zoom before his concert rehearsals.

Currently, he claims there’s an unofficial truce between them.

After Nigam, 47, made claims against T-Series chairman Bhushan Kumar about scuttling real talents in Bollywood’s music space, Kumar’s actress-wife Divya Khosla Kumar defended her husband. There was a war of words between the two.

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The ‘Kal Ho Na Ho’ singer is now moving forward as he trains all his energy on making his first live concert after the COVID-19 outbreak monumental.

Excerpts from our interview with the singer as we talk about the new normal after COVID-19, his reluctant respect for Kangana Ranaut and why he is a mad man when it comes to injustices against him… “Don’t mess with me,” is his credo.

You will be staging your first live concert in Dubai after the world became busy with handling the coronavirus outbreak. Your thoughts?

People around the whole world have gone through a very intense period because nobody expected this period to last this long. Nobody ever thought that the world would combust by something as massive as this.

Sonu Nigam at his Dubai concert in 2016. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai has thankfully opened up and things have gotten back to normal. People have been sensible in this region and the government has been sensible, but the rest of the world is still are still in clutches of coronavirus.

My concert in Dubai this Friday symbolises opening up of this city. It symbolises that there’s light at the end of any tunnel. In many ways, we are making a humble statement that we can hold a concert by following all the social distancing norms. We don’t want the audiences to be at risk or us to be at risk.

As an artist, did you miss staging concerts with real audiences? You have done virtual concerts, but did you miss the interacting with the crowd or hearing those sounds

Nothing can compare to live concerts. No amount of virtual, technical brilliance can compete or take over the grandeur of a live concert. Even if we have a small number of people in the audience, when you are singing live you are feeding off each other’s energies. After this interview, I will dive straight into my rehearsal for the first time and it is going to be very emotional for all of us.

Earlier, international flights weren’t operational and we were not even expecting our team from India to be in Dubai. Thankfully, they are here now and we now have a mixture of musicians and technical team from India and beyond. It is a truly global concert because we saw artists from various countries audition. I will be listening to all their auditions tonight. I hope my concert will open up the doors for concerts all over the world because in a way Dubai is hosting the first indoor concert in the entire world. Earlier, there were outdoor concerts with audiences sitting in their car or open spaces, but we are going to host the first indoor concert.

A concert of Sonu Nigam and Atif Aslam in Dubai World in 2015. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

You have spent a few months in Dubai already. Are you feeling at home here?

I do not like randomness in life. I like people following rules and respecting each other. I like it when people have to be considerate towards each other. Over here, I see people following rules and there’s a system which people appreciate and follow … There’s a love the rulers have for their people. And my mind boggles that they converted this desert into one of the most mind-blowing places in this world. I live in the Al Barari community and I cannot believe what they have done to this place. People take care of each other in Dubai and I got the chance to spend a lot of time with my son, my family and to take care of my health. I have also done some good work this summer. I sent many songs and recordings to India.

Are you required to wear a mask while performing on stage this Friday and are you worried if people will turn up in person owing to fears of infection?

We don’t have to wear a mask while singing on stage, but we need to maintain the social distancing norms strictly. As of now we do not have that kind of stress [of people not turning up] because a huge number of people have already booked the tickets for the show. Many from India — my friends — are specifically turning up from the UK and other countries to watch me perform. They are all taking this concert personally. It is no longer just my concert. It is a statement that Dubai wants to make. It is a statement for music lovers and art lovers; they want to make a statement. My brother is coming from UK with all his people. Right now, we are just all holding hands and praying that all goes fine.

Your stay in Dubai was also eventful. You spoke out against the music mafia ruling Bollywood and you specifically called out T-Series’ head Bhushan Kumar for promoting select talents. How do you look back on that outburst and do you regret lashing out?

No. I think what was required was attended to at that point. My life is not about other people and what other people think of me. But if somebody interferes in my space, I won’t tolerate it. I do not wage any crusade against anyone. When I see something praiseworthy, I praise it. Similarly, when I see something objectionable, I raise my doubts against it. There is no agenda in my life. Although I do not see myself as a crusader, I don’t think people should take me lightly either. If somebody takes me lightly then I show them my true colours because I am not scared of anybody. I have a lot of courage in my life. If I am smooth-sailing then let me smooth-sail, but if you put your feet on my tail then I will show you my true colours. At this point, there is an unexpressed truce which is fine with me as long as you lead your own life and I lead with my own. Do not mess with me and I will not mess with you.

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Sonu Nigam in Dubai. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

So you now have a truce with the T-Series family?

Absolutely. In this industry, people often start taking themselves too seriously and they being to think that they are the bosses. We are the mafia and we will take over everybody. They may ask: ‘who are you?, who are composers’?

But, don’t you dare do that with me. You should be scared of mad people and I am mad. So when you try to instigate a mad man, then the mad man cannot be stopped. In the Bollywood film industry, there is this girl that I absolutely love and respect. She’s also a mad woman, but I love her. It’s very important to be mad because sometimes people do not understand the language of love. She has her own stories to say and she her own journey. While I do not belong to the category of people who think that I am always right and everyone else is wrong, you should not mess with people who have no fear of losing.

So are you telling them not to provoke you?

I always surrender to a higher power and am thankful to the almighty. But everybody has started taking credit for another’s success. I believe in God and I believe in the universe and one creator for everyone. Perhaps, that’s why I do not hate people. I don’t have any nastiness for anybody. I will be a bad child of God if I hold grudges against people. But at the same time, I have to protect myself too. If somebody is trying to block my chances of survival I will hit back at that person and I have all the rights to do that.

Don’t miss it!

When: August 21, Friday

Where: Shaikh Rashid Hall, Dubai World Trade Centre

Tickets: Dh250 to Dh1,200 (tickets are sold in group of twos due to coronavirus social distancing norms)