September 21, 2002 
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Lucky Ali
Lone ranger Lucky Ali
The singer-composer-actor on what makes his world go round

You could think of a string of equally good names for this gentleman. Like Classy Ali, Gentle Ali, or maybe even Loveable Ali. He is one of the nicest persons you will ever meet in the jungles of Bollywood --- cool, classy, calm, and competent in whatever he chooses to do.

That depends, Lucky Ali says, on the mood and opportunity of the moment.

He is the son of yesteryear titan Mehmood, who in his own way was an all-rounder who produced, directed, wrote and acted in films and also sang several songs. Lucky, too, is an all-rounder, but the baggage of being the son of the legendary King Of Comedy sits easy on him.

He has always been a wanderer by nature, and though he thinks of the world of his father, he tells Dr Rajiv Vijayakar that he would not wish to do all the things that his father did even if he could:

The rave reviews for your debut performance in Sur haven't stopped. But were you so confident when Tanuja Chandra and Pooja Bhatt approached you?

(laughs) Not really! I had come down to Mumbai in connection with some work for my last album Aks when Pooja and Tanuja told me about the film. At first, I thought that they wanted me to sing the songs. But when they said that they wanted me to play the role of the teacher, I hesitated. Not because I thought I may not be able to do it but because of the fear of commitment.

They promised me the film would be done in just a few months. I spent a month trying to run away from them! They were insistent, and the script was good enough to move me to tears. It feels good that everyone has liked me, but I hope that the film does well.

Everyone talks about the pain in your eyes and voice. What do you have to say about that?

That's painful! But it all depends on the person's perspective, I guess. My children see only laughter in my eyes!

Lucky Ali I remember you as a teenage Romeo, singing the Rajesh Roshan hit Dilruba aa meri baahon mein aa with Tamanna in the 1977 Chennai melodrama Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi. One would have thought that with Ek Baap Chhe Bete and that film, you would have taken anchor as actor.

Yes, but then I decided that films would not support me. My ideas were different. The travel bug bit me at the age of thirteen, way before movies happened. You talked about the pain in my eyes. Though there was nothing like that, my mental make-up came from the fact that because my parents were divorced, I was mainly brought up in Mussoorie. I was thus used to a lot of outdoors in my life.

To complete the list, I acted in Umesh Mehra's Hamaare Tumhare and played small roles in Shyam Benegal's Trikaal and Discovery Of India when I was also working with Benegal as an apprentice.

When did you discover the well of music within you?

I would say that music discovered me! I would be making songs for the heck of it. But then my family encouraged me to take bolder steps in that direction. I am not formally trained in music. But I am very serious about this hobby. I love music. I love listening to music and singing and composing.

Acting is something I just tried out.

Lucky Ali I heard you felt quite an outsider on the sets of Kaante among the stars. Is that why you quit the romantic lead in Dev Anand's Love At Times Square and chose to only sing and compose some songs?

Well, Devsaab's character would not have suited me. The role actually needed someone younger, and at an early point, we both realized this.

But you were to do all the songs, and ended up doing only three.

Look, a good tune can come in fifteen minutes or take a year. It would have upset Devsaab's schedules, which were all planned. So he went to others.

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If you get more acting offers, will you accept them?

I will do anything I enjoy if other things fit in --- I must spend six months every year in Australia. I don't call myself an actor. I would say I am more of a reactor.

Tanuja was like a teacher to me, telling me to be myself. Besides, both my films are different, they are not run-of-the-mill ones that would leave me cold.

So what is your Kaante role like?

I play the sutradhar (narrator) in the film. All the heroes, including me, are criminals, though there is an undercover cop amongst us. What is interesting is that I narrate their stories as well as my own.

You have written, composed and sung the song Maut in the film. Was it again a reflection of some inner feelings that seemed to fit the situation in the film?

(Laughs) The pain factor again! No, it was simply a song that they liked and found apt. I like to explore emotions and life's shades in my songs. In fact, the lyrics have been jointly written by Dr Arshi and me.

His name was mistakenly omitted from the inlays and we have instructed the music company to correct it in the next set.

Both your films have been musical hits. How was it working for M M Kreem?

Oh, the man is tremendous! Someone asked me whether I would have liked my own compositions in Sur. But I could not have done what he has.

Lucky Ali Your songs for Hrithik Roshan were a rage in Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai. Why did you not cash in on their popularity, since they could have established you in film music?

I don't think I want to become a playback singer. I guess I find it quite bizarre to imagine, and later also to watch, someone else sing my song on screen!

What else are you doing now?

Well, my fourth album after Sunoh, Sifar and Aks is ready. It is called Iksoi, which means direction as well as decisiveness. I have composed the music for Bobby Khan's Kya Main Ab Bhi Tumse Pyar Karta Hoon but the film is yet to take off.

What does music mean to you?

Music is something I have grown up with. To me, it is a way of communicating and of expressing a thought. I play the guitar and some keyboard and flute. I only sing about how I feel.

What are your own preferences in music?

I love all kinds of music, from Kreem and A R Rahman to my own.

What about old music?

Of course, I love old music. The men then knew their art, their music. They were not bull%$#& musicians, or fools like me who just pick on their guitars. All the music heard and created today is based on their legacy.

That's interesting, considering that your character in Sur discovers a musical phenomenon in a natural talent. Composers Madan Mohan and O P Nayyar were untrained too.

Of course, such people too exist. These are people who understand music. In my own way, I can understand music and can interact on one level with a Yehudi Menuhin and on another with the street-singer on [Mumbai's] Juhu beach.

As for Madan Mohan, whenever I hear his own rendition of Mai ri main kaase kahoon from Dastak, I cry. Even Lata Mangeshkar could not do 100 per cent justice to his vision! And remember, a song that makes you cry is a song forever!

How familiar are you with your father's body of work?

Very familiar. But I do not want to do all the things he did on screen.

But your eyes transparently lit up when someone said that you reminded him in many ways of Mehmoodsaab. How do you rate him as a father?

Well, he tried to be the best father in the best way an uneducated father could be, though I lived away from him most of the time. He showered a great deal of love on me and taught me all the good things.

The only flip side was his moods. But though he was a huge star outside, he was a very normal father at home. In fact it was through friends that we, his kids, gradually came to realise, 'Oh! Our father is the Mehmood!'


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