In the late ’80s, Nadeem-Shravan literally ruled Bollywood music, what with just one album of theirs (Aashiqui) selling over 1.5 crore units.
Later, began a story of underworld connections, court cases and a police chase. Nadeem Akhtar Saifi was implicated as the man behind the murder of T-Series honcho Gulshan Kumar in 1997. Raging a lonely battle from London since, Saifi was declared innocent in 2001 but is yet to come back. The Nadeem-Shravan duo has recently done a soundtrack together, Do Knot Disturb. We finally dug out Nadeem from Dubai on how life and music has changed.
Three years after last decade’s most prolific — and successful — music composer ‘jodis’ split, Nadeem-Shravan are back again in the reckoning. And with it, Nadeem Akhtar Saifi has made another determined comeback to the industry that was responsible for his meteoric rise, and for his near oblivion, after he was implicated in a court case for the murder of T Series owner, Gulshan Kumar.
But Saifi has never given up. Even while he was fighting a vicious court battle from London, his chartbusters, in the early part of 2000, saw the industry rake in money. Today, after he has been freed of all charges, the man gets back into his comfort zone of soulful melodies, which he, and his partner Shravan Rathod, had become synonymous with in the ’90s.
In a telephonic interview from Dubai, where he is settled since the last three years, Saifi, with his full-throated laughter, and an intense baritone, speaks out candidly on his return to Bollywood, his court case, and the ‘stupid’ music of today.
Where have you been?
(Laughs uproariously) If you’ve seen my career graph, there’s always been a two-three year break. But the surprising thing is, whenever I come back, the stamp of Nadeem-Shravan always spells a hit. That’s a very happy feeling.
Why have you been away from the music scene since 2006?
When I was composing from London, I gave music for movies like Kasoor, Raaz and Dhadkan, which were the biggest hits of the decade. But they didn’t give me the awards. I found a lot of politics happening there. I’m an artiste, not a businessman. I was so put off that I started concentrating on my perfume business.
Since you are a self-confessed devotee of music, how could you give it up so easily?
I didn’t give it up. Music is God’s gift to me. I can break into a song anytime. So, even when I wasn’t making songs commercially, I was still composing for myself round the clock. Sometimes, I’d get up at 2 am and burst into a song. I have at least 10,000 songs with me now. If I’m in the mood, I can create 17-18 songs in two hours flat.
What made you come back to Bollywood?
From the time I left, wherever I met my fans, they would coax me, plead me, even threaten me to return to music since they missed my melodies so much. They would say, ‘Why do you want us to hear the crap that’s coming these days?’
I also saw these talent hunts where the young kids are very talented, and they sing songs of the ’80s and ’90s. I felt so happy that the new generation wants to follow up on our own culture rather than sing the stupid songs churned out today. So I thought that it’s time to come back and give them some good melodies.
But Do Knot Disturb, hardly has the melody you were associated with.
The movie was trial and error for me. It was just a first attempt. (Chuckles) But I promise, the next one will be another Aashiqui.
You were supposed to come back with Raaz 2. Why did that fall through?
I think Mahesh Bhattji made a statement that perhaps I’d not be able to cope up with the new trend of music. But Raaz 2 was a massive failure, so the ‘raaz’ is out, that the real success lay in good music.
You know, when a producer doesn’t sign me, it’s not my loss, but his. I will offer my very best. If they take me on, they will get a big hit. Else, they may just get a hit, but not a big one (laughs).
How did the comeback happen?
(Laughs) I had a ‘Do not disturb’ sign on my board but Vashu Bhagnani, the daredevil that he is, and Big Music walked right through. After all, a rose will always smell sweet, and my music will always be melodious.
Now, I have films with Dharmesh and Sunil Darshan, Firoz Nadiadwala and many others lined up.
Why have you made such a low-key comeback?
I have been a victim of a lot of politics. The moment I start working, a lobby starts working against me, which is obvious because silly, fabricated stories about me start appearing on channels. They should know that I’m Mad Max and God is with me. I do not get beaten.
Why would people lobby against you?
It makes economic sense for them. There is a lobby trying to dominate the music scene. They feel threatened that I may come back and they will lose work and money.
You have worked with every major production house over the years. Who would the lobby consist of?
(Laughs) That’s for you to investigate. But yes, the only ones left to work with are the ones I have refused to give music to, at a time when I had 20-24 films a year. I would refuse politely but they may have taken offence and may not have forgiven me for that.
What’s the status of your friendship with your music partner, Shravan Rathod? You are back even though you split a few years back.
It was like a violin string that broke. We attached it again and Nadeem-Shravan are back again. But now we will compose separately as well.
On today’s music…
‘A R Rahman is overrated’
A few songs do impress me but they are one in a hundred. Everything that comes out today is below the belt and aimed at the dance floor. We’ll soon become a nation without a heart, without emotions. If our music isn’t good, we will not be able to love each other. We need to nurture talent. If we keep fabricating cases against good musicians, and encourage bad music, we’ll be hitting the axe on our own feet. ‘Haule haule’ (Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi) made me feel that there is somebody out there capable of working with melodies. But Salim-Sulaiman haven’t given anything else that’s great. You need to have consistency. You can’t give one hit and twenty flops. You might as well gamble in a casino.
On today’s music composers…
I am impressed with A R Rahman as a human being and respect him from the core of my heart. But I’m not impressed with him as a composer. I think he’s overrated. His arrangements are phenomenal and he is one of the greatest technicians in India, though. As for Pritam, who has given the maximum hit albums in the last few years, (laughs) I have no comments really on his music, though he is a good technician. Then there are composers like Vishal-Shekhar and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy who have done some reasonably good work. But they can improve too. I know my criticism always makes them work harder. One should never live on past glories. Even I believe I have to achieve much more. Yet, if I had to name one good contemporary composer, I’d point to the mirror (laughs).
On what’s lacking in today’s music…
Today’s music is a fad, like the bell-bottom age. They never came back after the ’70s. The same thing will happen to current music and we will soon go back to our roots.
On today’s singers…
I’m in love with Kailash Kher’s voice, which is fantastic. Another boy, Javed Ali, is also fantastic. Of course, Sonu Niigaam is an absolute delight. He can enhance your composition, when he is in a good mood. Anuradha Paudwal is always there. Shreya Ghoshal and Sunidhi Chauhan are very talented and of course, Lataji will always keep inspiring us.