Singer and musician Lucky Ali shot to fame with the release of his first studio album, Sunoh, in 1996. He has since done playback for Hindi films, tried his hand at acting, and brought out a series of soulful and imaginative solo albums. In conversation with Bulbul Sharma, Ali talks about the highs and lows of his showbiz career.
Q. You have completed 30 years in the music industry. How do you look back on the journey?
A. I have been in the industry since I was two years old. My first film was a film called Chhote Nawab . So that’s how long I have been in the industry. My association with music began a long time after that, but I started when I was five years old. You know me from the time I did Kaho Na Pyar Hai , but I have been a part of the industry since long before that.
Q. You also compose your songs. Tell us about your creative process as a music composer.
A. The process varies and there is no given format. It can happen anytime for me. It can happen just now also. It just depends on the moment and if it is any good, you can get your idea down. Nowadays, there are cell phones, you can just search through those and get an idea. But I don’t work with that. Mainly it happens when I am in love.
Q. You seem to have distanced yourself from mainstream Bollywood. Has that been a conscious decision?
A. Yes, it has been a conscious decision because there is no love there.
Q. Your last studio album, Raasta Man, came out in 2011. It has been eight years since then. Why such a long break?
A. I have a simple explanation to this question. When I found out that there is no love in that place, I just left it—the industry, the music industry. Because these places are not about love, they are about something else. I feel love in what I do now. That’s love and that’s the way of connecting with people who have loved me only for the sake of the work that I have done. They had no obligation to do that but they still did. So when you are in front of them and it is a one-to-one experience, it feels great. Achieving this was my idea when I had started out as a musician and now I have it.
Q. You have given many chartbusters for Hindi films. Since you have closely observed the playback music scene in Bollywood, how do you think it has evolved over time?
A. It has regressed, because the great artistes are not respected any more. The music industry doesn’t respect even those who have been inspirational to artistes like myself.
Q. You come from a family that has strong roots in Bollywood. How do you think that has impacted your career as a musician?
A. Why do we keep calling it Bollywood? Bollywood came in after you were born. It was the Hindi film industry earlier. There is so much respect in words like “Hindi film industry” or “Tamil film industry”. By calling it Tollywood or Bollywood, you are creating a bad environment.
Yes, coming from an influential family, which was part of the Hindi film industry, did impact my career. I didn’t get a break until I was 36. Because everyone would say things like, “Oh, you are Mehmood’s son, you don’t need any work.” Everyone would think that my father had given me everything. But my father only gave me chappal and joote [slippers and shoes] and he was like, chalo bahar niklo aur kaam karo [now get out and work]. Everyone thought that since I was Mehmood’s son, I got his cars to drive. And he was like, chalo bus mai jao aur sham ko hisaab dena [take the bus and explain the expenses to me in the evening]. So that was my father to me. But it was all to the good, and I am happy with the way it happened.
Q. In one of your interviews recently, you had said that “you regret acting in films”. Why so and what do you think went wrong?
A. Nothing went wrong, nothing went right. I sometimes feel that I am having such a great time in music. This should have been my experience all the time. But look how much time I have wasted in cinema and that time I could have probably given to music. I want to know what raga I am singing but because I had wasted so much time in cinema, I don’t know what raga I am singing. I can sing it but I don’t understand what I am doing. That could have been an education for me, and I lost that… Cinema gave me another perspective. It broadened my perspective about life. It was a university in itself. I worked in Hollywood for Kaante , and got first-hand experience of how it works there. I also got to work with very good people, and the associations that I had were life-changing for me. The directors I worked with, the technicians in cinema, all changed my life. And then I got out of cinema when I thought that I can learn so much more with my musical talent. I haven’t received an education in music, I have only learned it by watching others.
Q. You are going to perform at the Riders Music festival on 22-23 December at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Delhi. Have you prepared any setlist for the show? And since this festival is about bikes, are you a biker yourself?
A. I am a biker but not a hardcore biker. I love riding my bike. The kind of music that I will be performing at the festival will go according to the mood that is there. So we won’t come in with any given format. Our music changes from concert to concert. It is not the same gig that we play every time. The music always changed because we have always done something different. As far as a setlist is concerned, I don’t believe in that. Most of my music is probably inspired by riding, going out to different places, being by myself, in the solitude. This is how you get a chance to think about so many things.
Q. Do you listen to some specific song when you are travelling or riding a bike?
A. I don’t like to listen to anything when I am travelling or riding. It is all about nature for me.
Q. You have also travelled extensively around the globe. Has travelling influenced you as an artiste?
A. I haven’t really gone around the globe as much as I would have wanted to. I haven’t gone to Antarctica as yet. I haven’t gone to the Arctic as yet. I was an hour away from Antarctica when I was in New Zealand. So yes, that has happened… There are a lot of things left to do as yet. But yes, travelling opens up your perspective. Even travelling from your home to the next village opens your perspective. The farther you go from your home, the more you add to your understanding.