Composer and lyricist Amaal Mallik speaks to Priya Singh about his resolve to never restrict himself in terms of musical styles and genres, and about collaborating with his brother, Armaan.
Amaal Mallik is a music composer and lyricist who, over the last few years, has made a name for himself in the Hindi film industry. He made his debut in 2014, with the soundtrack of Jai Ho. In this conversation with Guardian 20, Mallik spoke about his career, his rise to fame in Bollywood and his future plans.
Q. You come from a musical family. How did that help you develop as a musician? Was there an added pressure, to live up to the expectations of your family, when you began your career in music?
A. We generally grasp the things that float around us as children. The same happened with me. In my home, right from my grandfather [Sardar Malik, music composer] to us, everybody is musical in nature. It helped me pick up some nuances that people miss out on as listeners. Since I was in the company of composers at home, I got to see the process [of making music] from its very root, and that
I was about 10 years old when my mom enrolled me in piano classes. Someone even gifted me a keyboard for my birthday, and I used to spend all my time beating it with my hands and mom still says I loved it more than my other toys.
Film music and Bollywood music sittings happened at home, and I often saw my dad’s [Daboo Malik] and uncle’s [Anu Malik] music sittings. But I learned most of my Hindustani music from my dada, Shri Sardar Malik. He was really experimental, he used to mix Indian classical with jazz and would come up with some soul-stirring stuff. It taught me a lot, but the lineage has cause more of a challenge than paved the way— I had to break out of the sadow of a successful uncle, my dad’s style and my grandfather’s greatness. I didn’t taste success right at the start, and I’m glad I didn’t, otherwise the journey wouldn’t have been this beautiful.
I tried my best, worked hard, experimented, tried to find my space and worked on creating simple, good music. A legacy of three generations and it’s achievements stood behind me and I knew it was never going to be easy, but the need to reach out kept me going.
What I want everyone to know is that everything has it’s pros and cons. Everyone has a journey, and I too was a poor hungry boy who had no option but to prove himself, I think people who don’t have a family lineage have their share of struggles as well. My father wasn’t half as successful as my uncle, so things weren’t offered to me and Armaan [his brother] on a golden plate. We clawed our way to be here, and you have to keep at it to be here.
So the pressure to deliver is there for sure—the criticism and comparisons that come with a legacy are
Q. Describe your style of composing songs. What inspires you as a musician?
A. The minute you develop a style for yourself, you cage yourself as an artiste is what I believe. An artiste should be a shape-shifter, he or she must be able to delve into any genre and style of music and find expression. So I consciously try and not develop a style for myself. The minute our brain gets attached to a style, its compulsive nature begins to draw it to that style all the time. As far as inspiration goes, I get inspired by the script, the situations I am in. But mainly it’s me plus the narrative, its characters and the song situation. That’s where I seek my melody.
Q. You collaborated with your brother, Armaan, for the song ‘Main Rahoon Ya Na Rahoon’. Are there any plans to continue this partnership?
A. We’ve consciously decided to never go on board as a duo. Armaan is a singer independently, and I happen to compose independently. Yes, being brothers, our careers may overlap at home, but as professionals we’re two separate artistes. Working with Armaan is easy because he is a phenomenal singer. He pitches perfectly and is all about soul. Also, we fight so much during recordings that we stop talking for weeks.
Q. In the Indian music industry, fame, success and celebrity are all short-lived. Old icons are replaced by new ones every few years. Don’t you feel apprehensive thinking about this?
A. I have always believed that good work finds its footing. The audience knows what it’s doing and we as artistes only need to dish out good stuff to them. I don’t see why anybody should be apprehensive about the scene unless they’re not sure about their own work. One’s work always speaks. Nothing replaces good work.
Q. Which songs of yours proved to be game-changers in your composing career?
A. I think most people know that the song that changed the game for me as a composer was “Sooraj Dooba Hai”, which then lead me to make songs like “Main Rahoon Ya Na Rahoon”, “Bol Do Na Zara”, “Kaun Tujhe”, “Main Hoon Hero Tera” and “Kar Gayi Chull”. These songs and a few more were really embraced by the audience and I thank them for that.
Q. What are your views on this trend of contemporary music composers reviving old songs?
A. Reviving old melodies is not a new trend. The likes of Bombay Vikings and other DJs in the ’90s made this into an industry of its own. As long as my opinion is concerned, if an artiste formidably contributes to the existing tune and doesn’t meddle with its purity, he or she should give it a go. It’s just that the ratio today is so high that we don’t see original music making its mark much.
It’s a trend to get a memorable old tune, and present it in a new form. I’ve done a few from time to time, where I could add my element to the existing song. As far as our listeners are concerned, they can’t be fooled. They’ll only embrace something that they connect with and that gets them going in some way.
Q. In Bollywood, both appreciation and criticism have come your way. How do you handle them?
A. In my opinion, constructive criticism should be grabbed by an artiste. That’s where all the learning is. Surrounding oneself with yes-men eventually works out for the worse because you’ll never tap into your potential unless someone stands up and tells you are wrong. If not handled correctly, there’s nothing that fails more than success.
Q. Any words of advice for aspiring singers who look up to you?
A. As a composer, my advice will be to stop chasing styles and voices. One should tune in and find one’s own expression. If that comes up, the microphone captures it and it reaches people’s hearts.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming ventures.
A. Right now I am working on a project with Akiv Ali and Luv Ranjan [film