Kumar Sanu, one of the evergreen voices of '90s Hindi cinema, will soon be heard in a Bollywood film for the first time since 2012's Rowdy Rathore. The 57-year-old singer has sung two songs — 'Dard Karara' and 'Tu' — in the upcoming 'Dum Laga Ke Haisha', a romantic dramedy starring Ayushmann Khurrana and newcomer Bhumi Pednekar that releases this Friday. What's more, the music for this has been composed by his frequent erstwhile collaborator, Anu Malik.
Sanu was one the most prolific Bollywood singers of the '90s, an unstoppable juggernaut ever since he was noticed for his work in the 1990 hit 'Aashiqui'. However, by the time the decade ended, his voice was being heard less frequently, with the industry’s tastes changing in favour of younger, fresher voices such as Sonu Nigam and Pakistani singer Aatif Aslam.
Since 2008, he has been largely absent from the Hindi film industry, the only notable exception being the song 'Chhamak Chhalo Chhail Chabeli' from Rowdy Rathore (2012).
However, for Sanu, who was honoured with a Padma Shri award in 2009, nothing has changed.
“I am actually busier now than I was in my Aashiqui days,” he says, in a phone conversation with HuffPost India. He says he still records a song a day and has nearly 50 films lined up for release, in 24 regional languages.
He has also been performing live “very, very often…so often that I have to say ‘no’ most times” both within India as well as abroad. Last year, in late November, he performed with Alka Yagnik — also a '90s mainstay — to a packed audience at London’s prestigious Hammersmith Apollo theatre.
“I do at least two or three live shows a month,” he says. Apart from that, he also releases singles online regularly, his latest one being this saccharine-sweet ballad he put out on the occasion of Valentine’s Day just two weeks ago.
Still, it seems quite obvious that while Sanu is busy riding a wave that is over two decades old, when it comes to current-day Bollywood he is a bit of an ancient relic. In a recent interview to BollywoodHungama.com, Malik related an anecdote about the first time he approached Sanu to sing for Dum Laga Ke Haisha. “You know, when he [Sanu] walked into my house, he was shaking…like a fig leaf,” says Malik, in the video. “I could sense his discomfort, his uneasiness, and his fear.”
When asked about this incident, Sanu laughs and admits that he indeed wasn’t sure at first whether they would simply record his voice and dub over it using someone else’s voice later (he declined to comment upon how many times this has happened to him before).
“What is ‘Chaar Botal Vodka’? What is all this rubbish?"
“I’m happy that YRF (Yashraj Films, producer of Dum Laga Ke Haisha) showed full faith in both of us and assured us that we would not be replaced,” he says. In the film, the protagonist Prem (played by Khurrana) is shown to be a huge Kumar Sanu fan, making the singer an obvious choice for its soundtrack.
While he has little interest in being considered for the style of music that rules Bollywood charts nowadays (“What is ‘Chaar Botal Vodka’? What is all this rubbish? Most of today’s hit songs are polluting our society.”), he is only keen on doing the kind of work that brought him fame nearly 25 years ago. “The songs we did had longevity and didn’t require big marketing budgets to be ‘turned’ into hits – they became hits because they had melody and soul.”
He refuses to share details of his upcoming films, but a glance at his filmography on Wikipedia reveals that we might be hearing a lot more of him this year.
It is clearly never too late to return.