If I get the right script, you might see me on your TV screens delivering dialogue, teases Atif Aslam
Atif Aslam got candid with the BBC's Haroon Rashid on his show Beyond Bollywood recently and spoke about everything from his Bollywood career, desire to work with new artists and how he doesn't listen to his own songs.
One thing he revealed is that he will venture into acting if he finds the right script. "People might be able to see me on TV delivering dialogue," he said. But don't count on seeing him too soon. "I’ve heard the rumours [of his acting debut] too but I don't know," he laughed.
One thing you can, however, count on is seeing Mahira Khan in a music video this year. While discussing the starlet, Aslam said she was lovely and that they will be collaborating again this year.
He started off by speaking about his newest single 'Rafta Rafta' and working with Tarish Music, a new record label company. "To be very honest, it's all about good music. Music should win, no matter if it's a new label or old label," he said, adding that new labels must be encouraged because the people and market need something fresh.
“So if there’s a bedroom producer listening out there or a writer who’s writing in the back of his notepad in school...” Rashid said. "Yeah, come on over here," Aslam laughed. He said he's welcoming of new artists and new faces and loves working with them. "I take pride in my work but it's not very tough to work with me," he smiled.
The music video for 'Rafta Rafta' was set in Gilgit-Baltistan and the reasons for shooting it there were twofold: Aslam wanted to showcase the beauty of Pakistan and he wanted a vacation. "It’s been a long time," he admitted.
He praised Sajal Aly's professionalism and said they had a great time working together for 'Rafta Rafta'.
Exploring new genres
"To be honest, when you’ve been working for 16 to 17 years, you want to experiment with your sound. I'm at a stage where I want to experiment, I want to create my own genres and where I think people should be able to sort of make out from the sound that we haven’t heard this before," Aslam explained.
He said 'Kadi Te Hans', his song for Velo Sound Station, was an experiment. Trying out new genres is a conscious effort, he revealed.
"It's a great melody and I wanted to pay tribute to the legendary artist Shaukat Ali saab. My point of doing a cover, there’s always a respect in that and I always appreciate the artist because if I'm not going to appreciate the artist, no one is going to appreciate me later on in my life," he said.
He also discussed his 2004 album Jal Pari and said he's very proud of it — as he should be. "Creatively, that era was completely different. What people hear today is different, which is why you need to upgrade yourself and reinvent yourself every now and then to understand the industry and the art itself," he explained. The only concern for the singer is creating music that he thinks is great.
"There’s a time for everything, Jal Pari had that time. Call me lucky, lucky that everyone appreciated that album," he said modestly.
Talent versus being blessed
Rashid noted that one word people — and Aslam himself — often use to describe the singer is "blessed". But is there a difference between being blessed and being talented, he asked.
"Talent is also a blessing, so I mean without it nothing happens. I don’t think it's possible to just be talented," said Aslam. "There are lots of people who are more talented than Atif Aslam but they haven’t gotten this kind of respect but I admire their work, I appreciate their work," he said, quoting a verse in the Holy Quran that loosely translates to God gives to whom he pleases. "It's all in Allah's hands," he said.
But being blessed comes with a lot of responsibility. "It doesn’t come easy. It looks easy, but it's not easy at all, it's a huge burden," he said.
"When there’s a label involved, the label comes in for numbers, publicity and this thing called 'number one', but for an artist like me, I don’t consider myself as someone who is number one," the singer explained. "I don’t think there is such a thing, being number one, being on top and stuff. I think everyone replaceable."
Partnering with a label means you have to give your best, so there's automatically a burden there, he said.
Projects like 'Raat' are there in my heart, he said. "I don't care if the label doesn't release them. I don't care because my music is my music. I should put it out by my gut but I can't be feeding everybody," he said.
What then of his Bollywood career, making songs for films, asked Rashid.
"There were a few songs I had to change the lyrics for and I really felt very bad about it. I didn’t want to do that, but yes I had to for some reasons. Which is why I say there's a lot of burden and responsibility," he explained. "There's a difference in doing your own work and doing it for someone else," Aslam said.
That's not to say that he didn't enjoy making that music. "I loved that journey, it has taught me how to be more humble, creative and patient, and also try out new genres and new studios around the world. I don’t think someone from here has recorded in so many studios and performed at that many venues and every venue and performance has a different feel to it."
You were ruling the Bollywood music scene and then there was an abrupt end to everything for reasons beyond human control, noted Rashid. Is looking back on it bittersweet, asked the reporter.
"It's not bittersweet. You can’t do anything about," he said pragmatically. "I don’t look back and regret it. It is interesting in a way, that I have worked the most over there and enjoyed myself thoroughly. The love I’ve gotten from there, I still have it, my heart has it. It can never be bittersweet," he said.
Aslam is a firm believer in if it's meant to be, it will be and that's how he looks at his Bollywood career. "It was not in my control to stay back in Pakistan or not sing for Bollywood movies," he said.
The singer also clarified news that he said no when asked by Shah Rukh Khan to sing a song for his movie. "No, no, there was nothing of the sort," he laughed. "I've just come across him once in my life and he was a wonderful person."
He said Khan never asked him to sing the song personally. "His team got in touch with us and we recorded the song and sent it back, but I don't know what happened. Something happened that was not conveyed to him," he said. "Next thing I see is Shah Rukh Khan saying Atif Aslam is too busy for my song, maybe he's too busy singing for a Chinese film," he laughed.
"If Shah Rukh Khan sees this, I was not busy, I’d never be busy for you! I’d love to sing for you anytime," he promised.
A star who doesn't like his own music
When it comes to big stars, people might think they love hearing their own voices and perhaps listen to their own music, especially if they have a voice like Aslam. Unfortunately, that couldn't be further from the truth. When asked if he listens to his own songs he responded with a resounding "hell no!"
When my first record was released, I had some friends in the fashion industry and they told me my song played at a mall in Paris and I was so excited, he said. But now when he listens to his own work, Aslam critiques it.
The pandemic has given him time to reflect on his journey and he has been thinking of all the good things fans have said, the bad things he has been through and everything in between. "At the end of the day, I could just be thankful for what I have. Life has been so fast and now I realise how fast that was, I was thankful but I think I should be more thankful for what Allah has given me through the years."