The celebrated Bollywood singer, who is known for his smash hits such as Radha (Jab Harry Met Sejal), Ikk Kudi (Udta Punjab) and now Shauq (Qala), spoke exclusively to OTTplay about the trials and tribulations he has faced trying to becoming a singer, and explained why the politics of music almost had him quit. Read on...
Pallabi Dey Purkayastha
Last Updated: 09.52 AM, Jan 19, 2023
Some say that a soulful song is better than the company of a cold heart. If that is true, then Shahid Mallya must be friends with a whole lot of people out there.
Known for his notice-from-afar voice, Shahid has rendered many music anthems over the years. But, even for a calm person such as himself, as he puts it, there are boundaries. “I do not work on projects where I have this intuition that the song might get redubbed or there is some politics involved. I have become smart now (smiles!),” said the Shauq hitmaker when asked about being replaced without notice from films.
In this free-flowing conversation, Shahid Mallya spoke in great detail about the heartbreak that is the Hindi music industry, shared how Babil Khan had spent hours with him while he recorded his songs, and explained why the ups and downs in Bollywood should never be taken seriously.
Edited excerpts from our interview with the soulful musician:
Qala is such a complex tale of love, loss, betrayal, among other emotions. What was composer Amit Trivedi’s brief to you?
SM: So, the brief for Qala was that we have to add an old-world feel to the songs like how Mohammed Rafi saab, Kishore Kumar saab used to do. Purane music composers ki tarah gaane main bohot saadgi aur adayein dikhani hain. I remembered Rafi saab and tried that the song (referring to the songs from Netflix’s Qala movie) ends up being a masterpiece. So, the first song that got recorded was Rubaiyaan.
You are considered one of the most soulful musicians In Bollywood. And your latest track Shauq is a testament to that. How do you add feelings to your music? Does one have to be heartbroken to feel the pain in his music?
SM: I consider myself lucky that I got a project such as Qala to work on. Also, Amit Trivedi ji (singer-composer of the movie) really trusts me and experiments with my voice and I have always liked working with him. My association with Amit Trivedi ji started with Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana, then we had Udta Punjab and even then went on to work on Manmarziyaan. For Qala, I got so many beautiful songs to sing and Shauq is a song that is very special to me because it was written by my favourite lyricist Varun Grover. It always feels good when you work with such a talented poet. Besides, Amit Trivedi ji himself is such a skillful music composer. Unka composition ho aur Varun ji likh rahein ho toh apne aap main ek masterpiece ban jaata hai. I organically added feel to the song because I have listened to a lot of retro songs and old melodies. In such songs, you notice that they have great poetry, achi raag main gaana hota hai jo dilko chhu jaata hai. Right from the start, old melodies have had a great hold over my heart. And, even to this day, when I do my riyaaz, I listen to old songs and practice them. Because of this reason, I can feel the pain conveyed through these songs and I could do justice to the overall feel of Shauq.
After Ikk Kudi and Radha, you did not see a lot of global massive hits in terms of your music. How did you handle that relatively low phase in your career?
SM: After Ikk Kudi and Radha, I also had this song Daryaa from the movie Manmarziyaan. But after these songs, I did not have any big hits. I feel the lockdown had a role to play in it and before that, the industry was carrying out a lot of experiments in the sense that new singers were being tried out and then we also had the phase of remixes. So, obviously, I got less songs to sing.
I have struggled a lot in my life, I mean I have struggled for 11-12 years. Toh main rejection ko bhi handle kar sakta hoon. I never get disappointed and always tread on like the optimistic person that I am. I always believe that I will achieve my goals today or tomorrow. I stay hopeful and motivated and that is why I don’t face any problems (in that regard).
In terms of characterization and doing justice to your songs in the movie, how do you think Babil Khan has performed?
SM: Babil Khan is an honest and promising actor. Because, first of all, his dad (late actor Irrfan) has imbibed a lot of qualities in him. Above everything, a person should be a good human being first, then a good actor, and the third thing is that he should be honest. And Babil Khan has all those qualities in him. He has done complete justice to all the songs.
Babil Khan looks like a singer in the movie and in fact, he had called me to ask how to sing and he used to show up to my recording sessions and would watch me sing. I think he went deep into the skin of character (that of a singer in Qala, named Jagan). He has done justice to his role to a great degree and was quite impressive. I think he was very good... mashallah!
Qala seems to be about rivalry amongst musicians. Have you ever felt envious towards anyone from the Indian music industry? Or, has any other musician tried to drag you down or jeopardize your career owing to his/her own insecurities?
SM: In this industry, there are a lot of ups and downs that take place but we do not really notice these things and move on with our work and life. And, that is how even I function. I never really took failures to heart but I would definitely get disturbed by them.
So many of my songs have been redubbed that went on to win Filmfare awards and IIFA awards and that would cause me a lot of pain. I would not carry that problem for too long. It would break my heart and I would even contemplate leaving the industry. But, then again, you have nowhere to go. Yahanpe kuch toh aiesa chalan hain, jahaan outsiders ko bohot problem hoti hai. Outsiders yahaan kaam karte hai aur unko pata hi nahin chalta ki kab unke saath politics hogayi. An outsider spends his time trying to figure out who had caused him problem and how. That becomes a mystery and you get used or should I say misuse. You are made to sing a song, the song is also shot using your rendition and in the editing process, too, your version is retained. But when you see the final output in theatres or on your TV screens, then you see that an entirely new singer has taken over that song. So, I can handle rejections but I also do not work on projects where I have this intuition that the song might get redubbed or there is some politics involved. I have become smart now (smiles!)
With the rise of OTT content on a huge scale, a lot of people from the creative arts industry—musicians included—have started getting more work and global recognition. How has the boom of OTT helped you in your career?
SM: OTT platforms, in today’s day and age, are working as a revolutionary source (of entertainment). I am happy that so many musicians are busy now who, in the last 10 to 12 years, were not very busy professionally. And, releasing a movie on an OTT platform is way less risky because the films get digitally promoted and one does not need to hold big movie premieres. At the end of the day, it is a very good step as we are living in the digital age and OTT platforms are playing a major role in getting us more work. In recent times, a lot of my own music have released digitally: be it films or web shows. Humlog kaam kar rahein hai aur apne kaabiliyat ka kaam kar rahein hai. We are doing the work that we like and are experimenting at the same time. A good talent, a good story and a talented musician now gets that viewership because of OTT platforms.