Adnan Sami is in a great space at the moment. He has some exciting new projects coming up in music as well as in films. What's more, he will now add the title of ‘actor’ to his list of credentials. Yes, Adnan has been signed on to play the lead in Afghan - In Search of a Home, a film to be directed by Radhika Rao and Vinay Sapru. According to media reports, the singer will be playing an Afghan character in the movie, a nod to his own Afghani roots. But what excites him most is the birth of his daughter Medina, who he calls the ‘light of his life’. Talking to him is a pleasure, for he is a man with no filters and neither does he believe in hiding behind a cloak of diplomacy.…
You’ve been missing in action for some time now after Bajrangi Bhaijaan. What have you been up to all this while?
I took a break because I was concentrating on some mammoth tasks that had to be addressed. One was my Indian citizenship that came through last year for which I spent a lot of time in Delhi. Though people thought it happened easily, actually it was a process that took 17 years and included three rejections. And after that there was a lot of follow-up paperwork as I went about changing my life including a passport, identification, voter card, Aadhar card and such. I also wanted some time for myself to reinvent my music and to be able to understand new formats.
Why was Indian citizenship so important for you?
I have got so much of love and acceptance in India that it was important for me to take on citizenship. I found peace for my soul in India. My soul is my music and when my music finds peace, so does my soul. I am of Afghan descent, born in England, my wife is from Germany, I could have gone for any of these but India was where I wanted to be. I have always loved History, particularly the golden period in India’s history. In college, I did my theses on Gandhi.
Congratulations on having signed your first Bollywood film. How did it happen?
I’ve signed a Bollywood film and like they say ‘Mullah ki daud masjid tak’ it is about music but I’m not playing a singer. It’s a drama. This project is very important for me since it will be my first as an Indian.
You and your wife Roya recently had a baby girl, Medina. How has she changed your life?
This might sound strange but I’ve become a burp expert (laughs). I feel a great sense of achievement when I get Medina to burp! I know that she has got relief and that gives me a lot of peace. I had always heard a lot about the special relationship a girl shares with her father and used to wonder what the big deal was about. And then she was born and I spent the entire night sitting on my bed, not moving an inch, just staring at her. She is the light of my life, my greatest gift.
Where does the girl child fit in today’s environment especially in our part of the world?
I have always said women are far stronger than men and I say this from experience. Take my wife, Roya. Her father and brother were both in the army. She had two married elder sisters and two younger sisters. So in the family home, being the eldest, she completely took over. She came into my life at a very turbulent time when I was going through a divorce. Despite being a qualified telecommunication engineer, she left everything. She was thrown into the deep end of Bollywood but just held everything together. The strength she gave me was momentous. Women are an asset to anyone and should be given the respect they deserve.
How have Roya and Medina changed your music?
I’m an incurable romantic. I’m in love with the idea of being in love. I’ve had two failed marriages; not just failed but turbulent as they ended in a very unceremonious way. Yet I never lost faith in the institution. And Roya coming into my life proved that my belief was not in vain. The whole sense of romance and stability that she brought into my life reignited my creativity. I was able to regain the softness in my melody. And I feel the same with the music I have been composing after Medina. I have always been a strong advocate of melody. You can have all the beats and arrangements but what stands out is that one little tune that you hum.
Adnan with wife Roya
In an argument with Roya who wins and who apologises first?
I have no hesitation in apologising when I have made a mistake. I am a non-confrontational person; life is too short, I don’t hold grudges and I just want to resolve things and move on. I know exactly what my assets and faults are. Roya also has no problem admitting it if it is her fault. So we do have petty disagreements but it’s all easily resolved.
Is it true that you are prince of a province in Afghanistan and have three palaces?
Yes, that’s true, we do have three palaces in Hairaat but I haven’t been there, primarily due to the unrest. I am due to go now. We have people who look after them and as a Khan who is leader of the province, I would be referred to as the Shah of the province. Of the three palaces, one was converted into a Governor’s house and is still used today as such, and the family maintains the other two. You asked me why I didn’t speak about this earlier. I could have come into the industry and flaunted my antecedents but I wanted to succeed on my own merit. I worked hard and didn’t want it to be dismissed by people saying ‘Nawab ka beta hai, iska kya hai’.
What’s your first musical memory?
It was in Portugal where my father was posted as ambassador. Our Lisbon residence had a piano. I was four and a half years at the time and I wasn’t allowed to touch it. Which of course made me want to, even more. So whenever my parents were away, I’d randomly hit the keys and start putting melodies together. My father would occasionally play something after a tiring day. At that time, there used to be a popular tune in Portugal which he tried playing but couldn’t. I had already sorted it out, so I told him he was making a mistake. He brushed me aside but when I persisted, he gave me a chance. I played it to him and got caught for having touched the piano. It was then that he opened the doors of music for me and gave me permission to play! What also impressed my father was that I could play a tune just after hearing it once. That is a gift.
At a concert
When we see your videos and songs you seem very serene and calm but what makes you angry?
It takes a lot to anger me but lying does so. Tell me you’ve made a mistake but don’t lie to me. The other thing that angers me is when someone tries to insult my intelligence. I respect everyone so if that is not reciprocated I feel insulted.
How has film music evolved?
We are living in a transitory time. Earlier, everything was compartmentalised and great music was composed. Now everything is grey. People who are putting in money feel that they have a creative bone in them and start interfering. When you have suits telling you how to compose, it doesn’t help. Another trend is getting multiple singers to render a song and then choosing one. A composer composes keeping the range and style of a particular singer in mind. Then how can someone else sing the song? This stems from lack of focus and insecurity. Melody has also got lost somewhere in the process.
Are you on board with multiple music directors for one film?
This, according to me, shows confusion and stupidity. In the west, OSTs have different songs from different composers. But that’s okay. If there is a composer, there is just one. He is the one who takes the graph of a film’s music through the film; only he knows what the music should be. In original soundtracks, different songs are taken and either used as they are or are reworked, so having different bands is fine.
And how about having different singers for one actor in a movie?
That is just silly.
What’s your take on Pakistani actors not being allowed to work in India?
While sport and the arts are a form of soft diplomacy, frankly it makes no difference. No artiste was able to prevent Kargil. If you want to work with them, do so but if you are trying to say it will make a difference to the political or geographical scenario, forget it. Let’s be candid, you’re not hiring an actor from Pakistan to promote India-Pakistan friendship. You’re hiring him to gain value from him, make money and find a foothold in his market.
You tweet a lot and a lot of your tweets are about US President Donald Trump. What do you think of him and his administration?
Undoubtedly, Donald Trump is a character! I might come across sometimes as a Donald Trump hater but really, I don’t give a damn. I’m not American, I care a damn if the Dems are in power or the Republicans. There’s no love lost for Hillary too. But the US is a huge influencer in the world and whatever comes out of that office is going to affect me, people around me and the country I live in, in the long run. Hence, what he says, the hatred he is perpetuating, is very frightening.
Do you get trolled?
Not on the subject of Trump but I get trolled by Pakistanis. For example when the Snapchat controversy happened and I tweeted to their CEO, a number of Pakistanis seemed offended. They can’t seem to get over the fact that I have taken Indian citizenship. At another level, this trolling was rather more sinister. Pakistan is going through turbulent times and it needs to deflect attention. Remember that an extraordinary amount of patriotism is propagated in countries that sometimes feel insecure. Now, when someone like me, with all the privileges in the world, belonging to the elite, makes certain statements about the state of the country, then how are they to justify it to their public? It was in order to counter that, this campaign was done.
Musically, what can we expect from you?
Even though I have been rather quiet because of circumstances, I have always been creating and have accumulated a lot of stuff. Now that I’m in the right frame of mind you’re going to hear a lot more from me. As Roya often says, my music doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the world, to my fans.