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Rockstar

His next solo album will be out next year. Till then, here’s Atif Aslam unplugged for you.

You checked in at 10pm at Hyatt Regency on Friday and at 10.45pm you headed for Rockstar at Cinemax, Mani Square. How much could you, the real-life rockstar, relate to the film?

I remember Ranbir (Kapoor) telling someone on screen that the film is somehow related to Atif (me). The costume, guitar, energy… even the place where they shot one of the songs was where I shot Doorie. But I was expecting the life of a rockstar and not that of an ordinary person and his romantic pain… .

Do you remember your first ever performance?

I was 16 when my friends took me to a fair and someone was playing on stage. We had a challenge about the bravest going on stage and singing. They told me, ‘No, you can’t go, you’re a sissy.’ So, I went on stage and sang, Pehla nasha pehla khumaar… when I got off the stage, my friends were like, ‘wow’.

And your first performance for a fee?

I started taking part in college competitions… my first ever performance with a band was in McDonald’s and I got Rs 500. I still have the note.

You wanted to be a fast bowler. Did your family encourage the cricketer in you?

Never. They wanted me to become a doctor. Instead I became a computer engineer and I sucked at it! When I started singing, I didn’t tell them... they heard about it from friends!

When you broke away from Jal in 2003, you said, “The best thing to have happened to me is the break-up of the band”. Why?

The reason was, I made the band, I came up with the name, the thought behind it being: music that soothes you. And I was looking for a musician and I found that guy (Goher Mumtaz)... I shared my thoughts and compositions. We recorded one song called Aadat, which went on to become a big hit. And one fine day he said, ‘I want to be the frontman’. In a band, there’s only one frontman.

The other thing was my brother (Shahbaz) was managing our band at that time and his (Goher’s) brother also wanted to manage. So, it was all getting too complicated….

What made you do commercial music?

I wanted to try everything. I learnt a lot from playback singing. But at heart, I’m a pop rock singer, I’m a stage performer. Jaise bandh kar detey hain kissi ko studio mein, aawaz bhi bandh kar detey hain… .

Then why did you do Woh Lamhe?

I wanted to explore. So I tried it and it became a huge success. That song even inspired Himesh Reshammiya to sing, he said on Karan’s (Johar) show!

Your second album Doorie was a superhit but was that an Atif who just wanted to sell records in the belief that creating a fan base would then give him a chance to do the music he really wanted to?

Well, a singer explores himself every day and given the music scene is so bad, you have to try everything. Doorie was the kind of music where I fit into India, while Meri Kahani or Aadat is where I fit into Pakistan. So, that’s how I balance both. But I personally prefer my kind of music, which is Aadat.

Did you come into your own with Coke Studio Pakistan?

To be honest, the idea of Coke Studio is what I do on stage — impromptu stuff which always gives me a kick. Coke Studio is a platform for experimentation, it’s fresh and unexplored… the surprise element was people also liked Wasta and Mai Ni.

In September, you performed with the legendary Slash, Sean Lennon, Matt Sorum, Gilby Clarke and Lanny Cordola, in New York. What was the experience like?

They heard I was in New York and said, ‘Let’s catch up’. At the rehearsal, they said, we always do the song Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd. I said, ‘I’ve never heard the song but let’s do it!’ Suna aur bajaaya. Slash was initially not impressed with my singing but right towards the end of the song when I was doing my alaaps, he said, ‘You’re really good, join us on stage’.

Performing with these legends was a completely different experience. In the audience, there weren’t any Pakistanis or Indians… only goras. So that was my real test of nerves and being an artiste. Reeve Carney (American songwriter-actor) came up to me backstage and said, ‘If you can teach me some of the stuff you’ve done on stage’....

Having travelled to so many countries, where do you feel the maximum crowd adulation?

It’s more or less the same everywhere. It’s all about your time period. If you’re at the top, people worship you wherever you go. But when you’re dying down, it’s difficult to sell tickets!

So, where do you think you stand now?

I have no idea. I have seniors like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Sonu Niigaam… I think I have my own place, my own kind of music…

Finally, how much of the real you is expressed through your music?

In commercial music, not at all. But the whole of Aadat and Meri Kahani is about myself. I meet people and write songs about them. Joug (from Aadat) was about a drug addict, a friend’s friend who I met. When I heard his story, I wanted to talk to him… I met him a couple of times and started writing about him. He didn’t know that. He still doesn’t know. But I could relate to him. When I make music, I feel I don’t belong to this world. I’m in a different space.

WHY ATIF LIKES TO KEEP HIS LOVE LIFE PRIVATE

Would you like to begin with the easy or the tough questions?

It’s all good…anything…

We know very little about your love life…

Oh, the personal stuff! Well, I would suggest not getting into that…

Exactly our point. You’ve always kept a very low profile about love. Do you feel your fan following will be hit if girls know you’re dating someone?

No, nothing like that. I believe there are things that are very personal. Like when I’m reading namaaz, and people ask me, ‘Do you pray five times a day?’ But I would say, ‘That’s my personal thing.’ It is, you know, if I like somebody, that is very personal... I won’t like to share it… I’m a private person…

Most girls want to know the answer to the question: Are you single? Yes, no, or you don’t want to say…

Does that make a difference to people? A lot of people have been discussing, ‘Is he single or not?’ ‘Is he engaged or not?’ But I want to know why is it so important?

Well, you’re a star and a star’s life is always of interest to fans…

Ya I know… but when I get married people will get to know. I would tell them, I mean, it’s gonna be everywhere.

So, you’re not answering the question…

I don’t know.... I wouldn’t want people to find out… (pauses).

So, that was the tough section of the interview? (Grins.)


FAST 15

The craziest thing a fan has done:

It was my birthday and there were six-seven chicks in a car outside. When I went outside, they were like, ‘Hey Atif!’ and they threw a box at me. It was full of Jockey underwear!

Did you keep the gift?

Well, I did. But I threw away their undergarments which were also in the box!

There was a rumour in 2009 that you had throat cancer. What’s the next most bizarre rumour you’ve heard about yourself: I bought Aadat (album) for Rs 6 lakh.

Your dream band would have: John Mayer, Chris Martin and Chris Cornell.

Your most messed-up concert: In Karachi when people broke barriers and came after us, I escaped in a boat in the middle of the night with six guards.

Where do you keep the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz, the fourth-highest decoration given to a Pakistani civilian based on their achievement: It’s still on my sherwani.

One thing you’d like to buy and the one place you’d want to visit in Calcutta: A sari for my mom and the dargah in Kidderpore.

The song you grew up listening to: The whole album by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook.

The song you least expected to become a hit: Jal pari.

Songs whose picturisation embarrassed you: Hum kis galli and songs featuring Emraan Hashmi!

Which actor, if any, has called you personally to thank you for making him sound good on screen: On screen, Ranbir thanked me for Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani… and I met Vivek (Oberoi) the other day and he thanked me for mere khuda (Prince) because he’s getting a lot of shows for that…

Three friends in the Indian music industry: Nobody.

The best feature on your face is: My evil smile.

Your signature rockstar move on stage is: The backward bend.

Something you’d like to say to your fans: I don’t have a personal Facebook or Twitter account. The official one is Aadeez.

From the floor

Off stage, Atif is soft, somewhat restrained and talks with a lazy drawl. On stage, he transforms into a completely different person. Confident, vigorous and in charge, a hungry Atif thrives on the crowd’s energy. He yields to the frenzy of his fans. His pitch rises with every shriek and with every waving hand. He is the real-life rockstar. Or pop star.

Spinning his brand of magic, Atif Aslam took the stage at Calcutta Boating Complex on the EM Bypass at 8.30pm on Sunday. Titled the EMTA Atif Aslam Live in Concert, presented by Calcutta Boating & Hotel Resorts, in association with t2 (organised by Narkesh Events & Promotions and managed by Mirage), the show doubled as the inauguration of a “unique” wedding destination at the Boating Complex, designed by RK Weddings.

A 2,000-strong crowd waited 90 minutes before the rockstar walked in at 8.30pm. His opening track? Woh lamhe. Fireworks lit up the sky as the audience — mostly girls and ladies of all ages — SCREAMED. And when his husky voice took the shape of Doorie, the audience in the last few rows felt it the most as they reached out as if to make up for the distance! Even front-row seaters gave up their coveted seats for an even closer glimpse of his signature backward bend — the plugs of his guitar pointed towards the dark November sky.

“What do you want to hear?” asked Atif. Tera hone laga hoon… chorused a giant section. And almost on cue, the beats of the Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani love anthem filled the air. The show went on as the women surrendered to the soft strains of Main ek fard hoon, Maahi ve, Tum hi ho, Aadat and more. In between, the rockstar galloped across the stage, looping the mic’s wire around his fingers with skill that only comes with doing it over and over again.

His X-factor? “The fact that I interact with my fans,” he had said. So Atif dramatically tilted the mic towards the audience to complete the lyrics and even dedicated jaane jaan to a front-row fan, as he strummed along.

“For me, the best moment of the show was when he went quiet on stage and then suddenly he said, ‘Baby I love you’. He went on to sing Pehli nazar mein... ! I also liked that he tried to interact with us fans,” said Zora Rahman, 23, soon after her rockstar had wrapped up the 90-minute show with “Thank you Calcutta!”

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