Where’ve you been?
(Smiles) I’ve been around, working on my music, trying out new things. I wasn’t too convinced about releasing my music in the last five years, because I wanted to be in control of my music, but when you work with a music company, they dictate terms, the music, and even tell you how to function. I wasn’t okay with that. So I travelled a lot, and recorded music all over the world.
What kind of music did you make during your travels?
Mike McLeary, who composed the music, and I, along with a fantastic French bassist, and a bunch of other talented artistes, travelled to places like Mauritius, Africa and England, and carried our studio along with us. We would just hook up a guitar and piano wherever we were, and record the idea there, and then come back here and finish it. The music has the influence and feel of the place we recorded in.
You are releasing XSuie online.
I want my music to be free, like the fruits of a tree — that doesn’t belong to anyone, and from which, everyone can benefit. But since this is the first time it’s being done in India, I need to pay off my producers, and then I’ll give it for free.
I wanted to take my music directly to my fans with this album. I’ve experimented in it, but the tracks are simple and retain my sound. I’m limited in my scale, but I’ve got the support of some wonderful musicians, so I’m happy with the way it has worked out. I’ve released eight tracks so far, and in the next six months, I’ll release 16 more. (Smiles) And then, I’ll take another big sabbatical.
Did your father’s death drive you away from music?
No, it was necessary for me to leave. The success of my first four albums was quite heady. I didn’t want to get overpowered by it. So I sat back and waited. Plus, I didn’t like the energy here. How do you talk music to someone who understands soap?
For me, my music is a labour of love. If I make a wh**e out of it; if I turn my love into a prostitute, I become a prostitute too. And I’m not one. I don’t mess around with what Allah has given me. It was tough and humiliating at times, because my contemporaries were working and it seemed as if I wasn’t. But as long as people love whatever I make, how does anything else matter?
Around the time you left, the whole Indipop scene collapsed.
The problem was, our music was selling a lot, and film music wasn’t. Big companies were making money off our music, and then balancing our profits against their losses. As an artiste, I saw through that. They killed their market, and I wasn’t party to that.
What do you think has changed in the music scene since the time you took a break?
I honestly don’t know. (Chuckles) To be frank, I don’t even have a music set at my house. I don’t listen to music at all. I have many instruments that make music, but I’ve never had the patience to listen to the music of others. I listened to music when it wasn’t available, when it came on radio.
I fear that I may get influenced, if I listen to others. After Sur and Kaante, which you received critical acclaim for, you didn’t do any A-list project. My father had passed away, and just two years before that, my brother had passed away. And that left a big impact on me. You do stuff to impress people close to you, yaar. When those people aren’t there, it’s disheartening. You tend to wonder, who are you doing it for?
I have made a lot of mistakes in life by taking up wrong work. I would judge a person by his nature and not by his ability to do good work. I did a bunch of bad films, but I have no regrets.
Why weren’t you singing for films in the meanwhile?
I take up a song only after looking at two things – how the song affects me, and why does the composer want me to do it. But most of the times it doesn’t work because the song or the producer is bad, or I don’t find it conducive to my mental equilibrium. I’ve refused even friends, if I didn’t find the song good enough.
Your first few songs were picturised on Hrithik Roshan, and you had said that you would sing only for him. It was never my desire to sing for Bollywood. You know, I’m a part of the fraternity, but I’m not a part of Bollywood. I did a lot of songs initially because of relationships. I belong to a film family, and sometimes, I did song because my father was friends with the producer or composer. I didn’t even charge money, many-a-times. I did it like a duty. But I’m tired of it all now.
Why do you feel that way?
I think, the message is through. I don’t want to force myself on anyone. If there are no words, what will I sing about? You have to be honest to your work for it to work. I don’t know where I will be two years from now. Maybe this will be my last album. But I’ll definitely be doing something special.
What was the one advice that your father gave you that you hold close to your heart?
I wasn’t born a son of the soil, but my father made sure I had my nose in the mud, so I became one. It wasn’t easy being Mehmood’s son. He had old school values, but I’ve always admired him for the values he inculcated in me.
He taught me about respect and honour. He told me that you get respect only if you give it. If you become big, fantastic; but if you don’t, then when you are on your way down, people who you’ve respected, will respect you back. His words always rang true. I take my father’s words after the Quran.
What do you keep yourself busy with, when you are not working in movies?
I’m a dreamer. I like my isolation in a way – it helps me reflect. I’m gregarious and don’t like being social. I always find that I’m the odd one out, but that’s fine by me. My interests lie in organic agriculture, and I’ve spoken to everyone from the President of India to the Prime Minister of Mauritius about it. I want to restore the status of farmers as kings.
I’m also a family man. I love spending time with my children. I may be their father but in reality, they are my teachers. My youngest son is only four-years-old, and yet he speaks with deep understanding and respect. I’m proud to have such a great family.
Are they interested in music?
(Smiles) My son learns the cello and has a good understanding of rhythm and percussion. My daughter has a true voice, she sings with an open heart. I had written the song, Nahin rakhta dil mein (Aks) for my son, when I was watching him speak his heart, once when we were sitting in London’s Hyde Park. His nature has inspired me too.