Why have you been away from playback singing?
I've always had an interest in ghazals. But film songs have given me immense popularity. I like playback singing, but my only condition is – quality. In more than 30 years, Mukeshji sang less than 1000 songs but they're immensely popular to this day.
Whatever happened to your autobiography, which was to hit the bookstands this year?
I'm still working on it. When I started writing, it was brisk. I'd write about 60 odd pages at a time. But then my commitments sprung up.. concerts and music recordings were happening every now and then.. I've been traveling as well. In fact, I'm so committed to writing that I even carry my laptop on a flight and write!
Is the ghazal culture dying? How do you go about popularising ghazals?
(Laughs) The appeal of ghazals can never be outdated.. as musicians, we should continue to incorporate modern sounds so that it remains in sync with the times.
The reason why I keep doing concerts in dozens of different places is that I'd never want the ghazal culture to fade. I came out with my first music album in 1980.. since then, I've been able to take my music to every nook and corner of the country.
There's still a niche segment which listens to ghazals. What I did was bring poetry and melody together in a simple, hummable format.. so ghazals became identifiable.
How are your concerts received abroad?
Ah, they have been really successful. Even in areas where one doesn't expect people to be familiar with Urdu like South India or Europe.. my concerts have been extremely well received.
What happened to your music label?
It exists.. unfortunately the music industry is facing a slump lately which is why my music label produces only my albums.
Today, promoting a new artist is a draconian task. I also have a production company.. my daughter, who's interested in media, will take charge of it soon.
<b1>Your songs mostly talk about heartbreak, longing and intoxication. Why?
(Laughs) I consider myself unlucky in that aspect. In any case, people have started associating me with alcoholism.. not my fault. It really hurts because it has never been a conscious effort to promote maikhanas.
In Urdu, a whole lot of ideas are expressed with the help intoxication.. propping up suffering as a metaphor. It's not meant to be taken literally. Omar Khayyam used words like maikhana to stand for the world as a whole and paimana to mean a glass brimming with life.
One of my albums was titled Nasha.. it was appealing but misleading. It can do nothing about such things.
Has the song, Chitthi aayee hai, been a boon or a bane?
(Laughs) Yes and no.. it continues to be a highlight of my career but there have other equally landmark songs, which got eclipsed. At concerts I get plenty of requests for Chitthi.. I guess I'll go to the grave with it. But I'm proud of every song I've sung.
You share a great rapport with Anup Jalota, don't you?
Why only Anup? I share a great friendship with Talat Aziz too.
Any competition from them?
Oh, they are contemporaries.. and extremely talented. Our music doesn't get in our way of friendship.
Why do you think your brother, Manhar Udhas' career didn't take off?
He is talented but he was unlucky because he faced stiff competition from Manna De, Mukeshji, Kishoreda, and Rafi saab.