Kanpur boy Ankit Tiwari is the toast of Bollywood now, but the singer-composer of the moment doesn't forget to visit his hometown, once a year, at Diwali. This rootedness keeps him grounded in the face of success. When this writer last spoke to Ankit, Aashiqui 2's music had just released and had yet to take off. He's changed very little as a person since then. And yet, as is common knowledge, so much has, in the span of a little over a year since he found fame. He was at the Wagah border when we caught up over the phone late one night, between rehearsals for an Independence Day event organised for the BSF. Excerpts from that conversation...
So, what's new?
Well, I'm doing music for a lot of films coming up after Villain's Galliyan. First up, there's Singham Returns. Then there's Mr X, Roy, Khamoshiyaan, Humari Adhoori Kahaani, Sonali Cable, Yaara, Lag Gayi Luck Ki, Yaara Silli Silli, Akshay Kumar's Baby, two films with Vidhu Vinod Chopra and starring Farhan Akhtar and Amitabh Bachchan. We're also in talks for this Dharma-Balaji project called Badtameez, but let's see how that works out.
You're really busy!
That's not all. I'm composing the title song for Vipul A Shah's limited-episode fiction show for Life OK. This will mark the Holiday producer's return to television after a very long time.
How did that happen?
The channel hosted their month awards show recently and I received the Best Music Director and Best Playback Singer trophies for Galliyan. Vipul ji picked up the Best Film award for Holiday and the Best Director award for the film on behalf of A R Murugadoss. I was sitting in the audience when the head of the channel announced that there would be a TV show directed by Vipul ji, which would last 10-15 episodes with freedom as the subject and on the lines of Holiday. Then he announced that he hoped I would compose the show's title track. It's a big project for the channel and it is an honour for me.
What do you make of the multiple-composer trend in Bollywood films these days?
I feel it became a trend after Aashiqui 2. Also, having several composers on a soundtrack is time and cost-saving. More competition means you do better work and a better product emerges. Having more people on board means your work gets done faster. At least, that's how I believe producers and directors see it.
So you're okay with continuing to give one track a film?
I'll be satisfied if that one song does well. It means I have more options to work with for my other films.
And the actors-turning-singers fad?
Well, I don't think it will carry forward. Both are different fields. I've acted once (in Aashiqui 2, where he and his brother Ankur played themselves), but it was an impromptu cameo and something Mohit Suri wanted us to do. It's not really acting and it's not what I normally do. I acted once, but I cannot always do that. I do support it sometimes when it benefits the film through its promotional value. Salman, Alia and Shraddha did it to support their films. But it doesn't necessarily mean they will continue singing. It all depends on what the stars feel comfortable with. Not everyone can sing the harkatein (nuances) and with depth as that needs training. I feel it is the director's responsibility and risk. If it works, you're sorted.
In Aashiqui 2 and later, in Galliyan, and now in Singham Returns, your hits have had female versions. A conscious decision?
In Aashiqui 2, the situation demanded it. We had to establish the connection that the heroine sings the hero's superhit. In Ek VIllain, it was a promotional activity. But it's the film's director's call. He remains the captain of the ship.
Do you think Shraddha will make it as a singer?
I heard her before Aashiqui 2 began and I think she had a good voice.
Do you still go to your brother for advice?
It's a combined effort. There is a mutual understanding between us. Sometimes, I'm convinced about a track but my bhai is not. I tell him I will work on it, and he will see it my way. I believe a filtration process works, where you need someone to listen, before the track goes out into the world. We are even open to suggestions from our team.
Are you still as close to Tigmanshu Dhulia (gave Ankit his first break) and Mohit Suri (gave him his first hit)?
They are like my elder brothers. But they don't advise me, apart from their own films. They come to us with out-of-the-box ideas, but whatever they tell me, I'll incorporate. Creatively, they're spot-on, having worked so many years and having tasted both success and failure. So they know what sounds good for their film and what doesn't. Also, I am only three films old. I'm comfortable being around them. Our relationship is less personal and that helps bonding. I never need an appointment to go meet them. They are family to my brother and me. I can call them whenever I want to.
I remember you telling me you almost gave up in those early years of struggling...
I almost did. And my brother has been struggling since 15-16. He was one of the composers for the Do Dooni Chaar soundtrack at age 18 in 2010. And I take strength from that. I am very serious about my career. I left my native place to come to Mumbai, got routinely cheated, was given bad words, had phones and doors slammed on me. All my work and time was going down the drain. I didn't get credit for some work I did. I was disillusioned...
Tell us about the not getting credit part.
I'd rather not.
I believe Ankur helped you through a tough period recently when you had allegations made against you...
My brother made sure I forgot the entire incident the next day and our management team, my directors all made sure it stayed that way. I called Mohit Suri when I was able to and he didn't ask me a single question about what happened or enquire about the incident. He just called me up, told me about the situation for the next track and said, 'Get me the music'. Thanks to his support and of others, I was able to move on to a new responsibility and to new work. Within a week I was able to get out of that bad space.
If you had to take time off, where would you go? What is that happy place you'd like to escape to?
My workstation in my studio. My brother recently got me a surprise package to a hill-station, but I said no means no. He says I'm addicted to my work (laughs).
We know you're awesome with romantic numbers. When are you going to come up with, I don't know, say some peppy stuff?
I did do a disco number in Samrat & Co (Tequila Wakila). But I guess it didn't get promoted as much. That happens. Of my upcoming films, Mr X and Lag Gayi Luck Ki will feature peppy tracks by me, while Yaara Silli Silli will see me doing a Sufi track. I am working with different genres. But I am ready for anything. I believe there's a time for everything.
Any parting words?
I don't care about the world. What matters the most to me is my maa and my music. That's it!