It’s been three decades for you as a performer. What has changed since you first started out?
(Smiles) A lot of things have changed. Like films progressed from black and white to colour, even music has progressed from just listening to songs, to watching them on videos. Videos have had a bigger impact on the listeners than listening has ever had. Ringtones and caller tunes have been invented, new sounds have come up and music has gone digital.
Are you happy with all the changes?
Not all change is bad, and in the same way, not all change is good. I’ve seen quite a few ‘oot pataang’ things in music, and have seen best-selling artistes going into losses soon enough. But to be honest, I’m quite happy with all the reality shows that have come up. Talented kids, who’ve learnt classical singing, and can sing pop songs, and dance at the same time, are coming into the limelight. It’s going well so far.
Punjabi music has gone mainstream since then.
(Chuckles) Yes, I hear ‘Chak de’, ‘Balle balle’ and ‘Shaava shaava’ in every second song. And I feel very proud that Punjabi sounds are being used to represent happiness, energy, and fun. You never hear sad Punjabi songs in movies, you only hear stuff that makes you want to jump up and dance, which I think is a great representation of the Punjabi culture.
Of course, I also feel happy when folk songs from any region make it mainstream. I know films are twisting folk music, but at least they are giving it attention. Maybe in today’s times, the ‘tadka’ is important.
Have you been experimenting with your music?
Yes, I try not to stay behind the times. I never compromise on the quality of music or the lyrics and at the same time, entertain the people. I’ve collaborated with UK’s Sukshinder Shinda to bring the new world Punjabi flavour to my music. My traditional songs have also made it to the top of the charts in Europe, but I’d like it if a collaboration of mine makes it to the English top 10 too. (Laughs) I want the present generation to dance to my tunes too!
What do you think of Pritam’s music? He’s promoted Punjabi music in Bollywood.
I enjoy Pritam’s music. He’s created a new style of Punjabi music, maintaining the ‘josh’ in the music. The film industry has always used Punjabi very well in their music, be it O P Nayyar in ‘Udein jab jab zulfein teri…’ or ‘Yeh desh hai veer jawaanon ka…’ to Pritam in ‘Nagada nagada…’(Jab We Met). Even Rahman’s Punjabi tunes in Rang De Basanti were fantastic.
So why don’t you sing for Bollywood much now?
I think it’s a minus point for me that my voice has a very typical, stage performance type of style. Playback singing requires a refined, trained voice, which I don’t have. So usually whenever composers have asked me to sing, like in Veer Zaara, they then ask me to star in the video also, because they don’t think it suits the actors.
You haven’t come up with an album in a while.
I’m trying to concentrate on my film releases and stage performances now. When I’m doing movies, I don’t get much time to concentrate on my music. Shooting for films is a tiring job – you have to give a shot and wait for some time, and then give another shot, and wait some more. But of course, I sing my own songs in my films, and I keep giving stage performances because I want to strike a balance.
Your next release as an actor, Sukhmani, is again a patriotic movie, like many others.
(Laughs) It was my childhood dream to join the army. I love the army and since I can’t be on the front and service my country, I try to give them a tribute through my movies.
The army has a lot of emotions associated with it, and not only those of being brave. The emotional trials they face with their families, the love affair they have with their country, the fact that they have a tough exterior but a warm interior, has many stories hidden in it.
Sukhmani is a story about an army General, Kuldeep Singh, who overcomes the trauma of losing his wife and child, Sukhmani, to uphold the honour of a woman rejected by society.
How did your wife come to direct the movie?
It was actually supposed to be directed by Manoj Punj, who unfortunately passed away before it could be made. Since the subject matter was so close to his heart, my wife, Manjeet Maan, decided to take it up. And I must say, I was initially nervous, but after I saw the movie, I hugged her, because she’s done a wonderful job.
You usually do emotional, dramatic movies. When will you do a complete song-and-dance entertainer?
(Laughs) I want to do something of the sort too. In fact, I want to do an autobiographical movie, which will show all the highs of my life as a musician, and the bitter experiences of my life too. Maybe I’ll do something about it in 2010.