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FirstPerson: “I don’t listen to my songs” – Atif Aslam

FirstPerson: “I don’t listen to my songs” – Atif Aslam

What does Fahad Mustafa have in common with Bollywood superstars Ranbir Kapoor, Akshay Kumar, Shahid Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan? They all have lip-synced to Atif Aslam’s distinctive voice on the silver screen one time or the other.

Be it Tera Honay Laga Hoon from Ajab Prem ki Ghazab Kahani, Tere Sang Yaara from Rustom, Bakhuda from Kismet Konnection, Be-inteha from Race 2 or his latest hit Dil Dancer Hogaya from Actor In Law, Atif Aslam has always delivered the goods.

The singer now returns a changed man after a self-imposed hiatus, which in his words was a good thing. “Fatherhood has changed me and my perspective towards life,” he says while talking about the reason he took a break. “Before becoming a father, I wanted to be No.1 but now I feel that there is no such thing. I just want to do my job and entertain as long as I can because that’s the best way to win people over.”

For someone who has won countless hearts and minds, Atif Aslam is unique from his contemporaries – he doesn’t listen to his own songs!

“That’s true,” he confesses. “I don’t listen to my songs. The only time I do it is when someone points out a flaw in the end product.” Maybe Atif doesn’t realise their importance in keeping his fans from becoming severely depressed after a messy breakup or cheering up those still in love. “People come to me and thank me for being there during their breakups or matchups. It seems awkward but I’m glad to be of assistance during their light or dark moods (laughs).”

Atif Aslam has been instrumental in bringing Pakistan into the international arena. After making a name for himself in dozens of Bollywood films and then Hollywood with Man Push Cart and The Reluctant Fundamentalist, the pop star decided to re-enter local filmdom some five years back by acting and singing for Shoaib Mansoor’s Bol.

“It was high time that I gave the industry something in return after Bol which literally kick-started the revival of cinema in Pakistan. As I hadn’t done playback here, it seemed the best way to make a re-entry. The song Dil Dancer Hogaya from Actor In Law isn’t just another romantic number. It has a different feel and unique lyrics which required something extra, and that’s what I have always wanted to do.”

There is a story behind why he chose Actor In Law for his return. “Om Puri sahib is possibly the reason. When I went to the sets of the film to meet him, the producer Fizza (Ali Meerza) complained to me that I didn’t get back to her for Na Maloom Afraad. The truth is I didn’t know they were looking for me. So I decided to do a song for the film and that’s how Dil Dancer Hogaya was conceived.”

Atif Aslam has been winning hearts in India, Pakistan and even the West. He has a huge fan following that remains unmatched. When asked about the secret of his success, the vocalist has little to say. “There is no secret to my success. It was a dozen years back when I started off and people loved my style of singing. Since then I have been touring all around the world, and there came a time where I got tired of the routine. That’s when I needed a break but now I’m back to what I’m best known for.”

In the last one month, Atif Aslam has released not one but four numbers – two for Actor In Law, one each for Rustom and The Flying Jatt, and all of them have gone on to become chartbusters. “Insecure people don’t stage comebacks since they don’t leave the scene. I gave my best to the songs that were offered to me and the result is Tere Sang Yaara (Rustom) which had 10 million hits in the first five days of its release. I am thankful to Allah for keeping me grounded and my fans for believing in me. For someone who is not trained but self-taught, the journey has been huge.

“Interestingly, I have been loved in both India and Pakistan and trust me, only a few press conferences have messed it up. I have been very successful in handling people who hurl abuse simply by being patient. Ignoring them is the best policy because afterwards it’s the fans that criticise these so-called celebrities for their bad conduct. There are good people as well in India and colleagues who praise me. I have learnt from experience that being insecure never helps and neither does pulling anyone’s leg.”

The man with the magical voice says he believes “for every rise there is a fall” and adds that that’s the very reason he doesn’t want to get into the race for the top. “I don’t care about being No 1. I just love to do what I’m doing. Wherever I go, I am loved by the people – be it Nairobi, the West Indies or even South Africa. I cherish their love and they are the reason I am in the reckoning for so long.”

The singer who became a sensation after the song Aadat refers to his recent concert in Singapore as well as one in Norway six years back as his best moments on stage. “There were over 70,000 people in Norway and I have never been more charged. I also cherish the time when I got to perform with Slash (of Guns ‘n’ Roses fame), the great Peter Gabriel who had worked with Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and the recent team-up with Sonu Nigam in Dubai where we gelled well. I’m looking forward to the second leg of that concert later this year.”

When asked what song he wishes had been his, he replies by honouring the greats on both sides of the Wagah Border. “There are many songs of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan that I would have loved to sing. I had no idea that my cover of Mohammad Rafi’s Gulabi Aankhen would go on to become so popular since I first sang it casually in a cafeteria. It has now become one of the most requested songs wherever I go. I would have done anything to have sung it when it was first released nearly 50 years ago.”

Travelling back in time, what advice would Atif Aslam give to his younger self? “I would like to tell him not to get famous,” he replies without blinking an eye. “I really miss my youth. I’m not being ungrateful but there was an Atif who used to roam the streets, who didn’t care whether his photograph was taken or not, who used to hang out without people staring at him. I miss that carefree life and would give anything for it, even if it only lasts a few moments.”

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, September 18th, 2016

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