Planet Bollywood
"I am a simple plain artist" - Ashok Khosla
- Gianysh Toolsee           Let us know what you think about this feature article

Ashok Khosla needs no introduction. A renowned ghazal singer, trained in classical music; it was Late Shree Jagjit Singh, who gave him his first break in the album “Brightest Talent of the 80s” and the rest is history. ‘Ajnabi Shehar Ke’ has remained in our minds for years and will for centuries. A nice human being at heart and with a passion for singing, contracts started to flood from top music companies of that era. Music India released several of his albums. Ghazals became his forte but he also released several devotional albums. With a large repertoire under his kitty, he was soon giving packed concerts all over the world. As a note, he has the distinction of performing at the Wembley Conference Center in London three times. While this took a lot of his time, playback singing was relegated. However, he composed music for Punjabi and other of the films he gave music to films which never saw the light of the day. The collaboration with O.P Nayyar resulted in one album and the late maestro had only great praises for him.

Today, Ashok Khosla devotes a lot of his time in an ashram. In an extensive interview at his place with Gianysh Toolsee, he speaks his heart about ghazals, social work and the music industry.

Ashok Khosla will be performing at Rangsharda Auditorium, Bandra West, Mumbai on 17th to 18th January 2014 for Ghazal Bahaar, which will be in aid of the ashram. This ghazal festival will feature Pankaj Udhas, Bupinder Singh, Mitali Singh, Chandan Dass, Ghansham S Vaswani, Radhika Chopra, Anurag Sharma and Tauseef Akhtar.

Promo link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hL0CDsxqe5o

Did you take a leave from singing to concentrate on social work?

It just happened. I have never been commercially after music. Whatever happened, it happened to me. Like I love music, I sing, that’s my life but professionally, like going for things, I didn’t really have that killer instinct. I never really had that thing in me. Whatever came my way, I was easy. I was lucky to get so many things for my music. Like very easily I got my first album recorded in my voice, ghazal, which was my love. Things were good as it was the ghazal era (80s).

Your first ghazal was ‘Ajnabi Shehar Ke’. Tell us about your journey afterwards.

I got my first album in 1984 recorded by Music India (Polygram in those days). I recorded my first solo album called Taaruf and it became a hit. Then I started performing all over the world. In 1986, I first went abroad to Paris, Singapore and Japan (Yokohama), Taiwan, HK and London. It all took off from there. Before that I recorded one song for the film Ankush, ‘Itni Shakti Hame Dena Data’ which had music by Kuldip Singh. It was a big hit and it is played in the schools nowadays. That was the beginning. Then I started having my own shows and got pretty busy with my private shows and recordings. I recorded about 20 to 25 ghazal albums.

There was a slowdown in the release of your albums. What happened?

In around 2002, that was the slack and ghazals had gone down and I didn’t go to follow people and fixing things. It wasn’t me; Never done that in my life and never a good planner. I am a simple plain artist and an emotional person. At that time, I used to have a lot of time for myself. So, I used to go to this place in Akurdi, Puna. There my Guru, had made a spiritual place. I used to go and see and meet him quite often. He inspired me to do something about those old people who had a lot of trouble times. Now what’s happening is that the families are becoming smaller and the parents have been neglected. The time is going to come when they are going to be in big trouble. We should not just wait for the Government to do things, we should ourselves do something. Society should find solutions for ourselves. Then my spiritual Guru passed away and after 2-3 years, it came to my mind that this is a good idea. And I was free as I didn’t have much work but had programs here and there in between, but I wasn’t too busy or occupied. I was wasting my time.

How did you take this further?

Then I said to myself that let me do this as it sounds nice, very spiritual; something which will give me real peace and real happiness. This was always there in my heart. Some spiritual world was always there in me which I had to bring it out. And then it happened that I took it seriously. I started doing shows and collecting funds for the place and getting like-minded people on board. We all got together and contributed. The first building came out in 2005. In 2009, I met Jagjit Ji. He was saying; “where are you lost?” . I said I am doing this work and I am very happy. So he said, “It is very nice and wonderful. You are doing something really great. Count on me and I was to do something along with you. It would be great.” He came to the place and really loved it. He appreciated the whole work. Then he said, “Why don’t you buy the next plot over there. I said we don’t have funds. He told me, “I will fund you. After sometime, you will lose this plot which is so close to yours and tomorrow”. We bought that land and he gave us some money to build the place also.

Looking at your history with album releases, there was a big gap. In 1998, there was Tere Honton Ko Salam and then your next album was in 2011, Ishq Ke Aage which was released by Pankaj Udhas. Why this gap?

Non Film music has taken a big bashing because of piracy. Even film music had been hit by this but non-film music was really bad. And particularly ghazals and only the top singers like Jagjit Singh were sought after and even Pankaj Udhas had a tough time getting their records released. The music companies were not getting their returns on the money invested because 90% of the releases were being pirated. They just stopped producing albums and artists had to promote themselves to keep themselves in the market. They had to record themselves and at least let the music companies release the album. They have a distribution and they can release and distribute the CDs. The artists can be seen in the public eye. That was the main idea. This album was recorded by Amarjeet Bajwa and he is a music composer from Singapore. Produced by him and released by Times Music. They didn’t do any publicity for the album. All the publicity was done by us through media and internet. Times are bad for private music. Anybody says that music companies recording them and paying them is not true. The truth is that somebody records it from their home/studio and gets the music companies for release and distribution. But they don’t get anything out of it. No returns are there.

This is so sad because more music could have been produced. More ghazals could have been created.

One good thing has happened. Nobody is recording albums. What they do is that they record a few numbers, and put it on Facebook and YouTube. The platform is there. They get the recognition and name. This is a good opening for any good artist. The main thing is that you need to record yourself. Studio recording is expensive. If you make a video, there are expenses involved there. But that cost has come down. People recognize that talent and they get promoted.

There are a lot of new singers. The audience doesn’t remember the name of the singer but do remember the song.

So many artists have come up. There is a wide choice for music composers for films to record. And the trend has become now that they don’t want to rely on one voice. Like a superstar voice like Rafi and Lata at one time. These other singers are there and they come and go. Five to ten years is their maximum life. The amount of songs which Sonu Nigam used to record five year back was a lot and, now he hardly records a song. He is now very selective because people want change and they don’t want the same voice. Kunal Ganjawala is also a good singer but what happen is that people listen to them for sometimes and music composers want the change. Shaan is my personal favorite but he is also out and doesn’t have as many recordings as he used to do few years. Even K.K. The trend has changed. Each one is looking for survival. Before they had to have a Lata, Rafi, Kishore or Mukesh song. They were the greatest singers at that time and people never ever wanted to change these voices. The trend is they don’t give the name of the singer, composer or lyricist. Just the film’s name and that’s it and the music company promoting it. Anyway, it is good thing that they don’t give away the name of some lyricists anyway as it would be such an embarrassment because of such cheap songs coming out (laughs). The world is changing and the full circle is coming. In the past, one could easily refer to an O.P Nayyar or Naushad song.

Today it has become hard to distinguish music as everyone is using the same softwares to produce music.

Out of all these people, only one person stood out and it is A. R Rahman. Because his style for some of his films like Jodhaa Akbar were remarkable, the rest are all mixing with folk music song and you cannot even remember the melody. The lyrics were so good or either the tune. Nowadays there is nothing there. Even the youngsters don’t even remember these songs. Till the film is there, the songs are there. Even the youngsters are singing the old songs.

How do you see the ghazal scene today with Jagjit Singh Ji passing away?

It is a great thing that people are trying to make it survive and now it has got some life because film music has gone terribly wrong. The same thing happened when Bappi Lahiri’s music became superhit. The ghazals came at that time in the 80s. Because at that time, there was a vaccum of good music but it wasn’t as bad what it is now. So ghazals came out and it was something new. People wanted to listen to good music and good poetry. And now again, that thing is happening and this era should come back. Till Hindi and Urdu language is alive, it will be there. The world is becoming very small. One mother tongue for everyone is becoming English, the world language. The new generation is also very well talented like Tauseef Akhtar, Jazim Sharma, so many of them are doing so well. So many singers are there. Forget our generation. Take it over for another 30-40 years. For 40 years, we don’t have to worry. Nobody wants to sing those film songs or remember those film songs. Melodious songs in the forms of ghazals are coming back. If people do not neglect our Hindi language, I hope this music will be alive for a long time.

Because the ghazal era is now back, can we expect ghazals to be back in films?

These things happen and cannot be planned. A good situation comes up and there is a good voice. When it is a hit, then there is a queue. People need desperately some good melody and poetry. They have everything mix together nowadays. What a kichidi it has become today. One song comes by chance and it will just change the whole thing. Ye Hit Hai. Just like item numbers. People are sick of it now. Something good comes and it will click and it will become a hit. In fact, this is the right time.; something to soul their mind and soul. Now I am very hopeful of these new ghazal singers. My generation was mediocre.

Ghazals has always been an interactive form. It is usually how the ghazal singer communicates with the audience. Have you seen a change in that now? You have been in the industry for a long time. Has the audience evolved?

The audience is now more demanding. You will need to perform really well. They are also exposed to so many different kinds of music, singing and talent in the industry. They need better performers and class of singers. You have to be something really good because of the competition and the audience understands the difference between a mediocre and a good artist. They are more matured than the early days. The language has taken a hit. People don’t understand ghazals as well as they used to. That is why all singers now see to it that the language they are recording is simpler and everybody can understand it.

In past, did they use an old type of poetry. Contemporary style is more common today than the very old style. Your comments?

The old poetry is also very selective. There is a lot of depth in it. The main idea is that the content should be great. If it is simple and everybody appreciates it immediately. Straight away touches your heart. It reaches the wider audience. The language is a bridge. They might take another route. That is the reason. People are very busy and disturbed and do not have time to think too much about the language.

There has been a lot of clichés, perceptions created in ghazals like Pankaj Udhas singing shaarab songs. What are your views?

It is not fair but sometimes the artist himself become a prey of his own doing. It is like an item number. Just because the last one was a hit, they want to put it. It is sometimes a commercial thing which cannot be avoided. Music companies will ask to put one sad song and you have to do that. Only compulsion and what happen is that you get a stamp. Now he has to sing shaarab numbers in all his songs and concerts. What happened is that it became such a hit that even Jagjit Singh Ji started singing shaarab number at that time.

Is there any training for a ghazal singer?

It is always compulsory for any form of music. You cannot get the soul of your art from just the computer. Every singer is a born singer and a sense of ghazal and music in-born. He has to see that he has got the talent. That talent has to be polished by the teacher. You need to learn from a person like the small nuisances. Few singers say that they have not learnt. But in some way or the other, they have. Kishore Kumar used to say he wasn’t a trained singer but his guru was K.L Saigal. You have to have a guru, somebody to guide you.

Looking back where do you see yourself where you should have gone, project yourself long time ago when you first started?

I tell you very honestly, I never had targeted my music and smoothly it just happened. It was just happening and I was happy about it. I didn’t keep a target for myself. Maybe I was wrong. I should have put some target for myself. I never had targets to achieve and whatever came my way, I went on enjoying them. I enjoyed my music and now also I am performing at the same time and I am doing this social work. I am really thankful to God for giving me this seva and work to do. I don’t have any great things to compete like to become number one etc. This has also given me a lot of peace and I am also not in a disturbed state of mind. Had I had some targets, I would have done better. I am happy right now and whatever God has given me. I am very thankful to him because what I doing right now [social work] is giving me more happiness than anything else in my singing. Seeing a smile on these people’s faces. They do not have tensions on their faces and they know that this is their house and nobody will throw them out. They are going to live their lives here. No amount of money can buy that amount of happiness.

But I am still performing. I have recently performed at Cloud Nine with all three of us [Ghansham S Vaswani and Tauseef Akhtar] and we have heard a lot of good feedback. Another program that I am doing in the aid of my ashram called Ghazal Bahaar, being held between 17-18 January 2014. Everyone and every singer is coming out and helping me out for this cause. These are my small targets now and I am not too much worried about the targets. Things are happening and they will happen.

You had the chance to work with big music directors and released one album with O.P Nayyar. Tell us about this.

He was one of my favorite music directors and I went to go crazy about his music. I was really surprised to once see him during a walk. After a few years, my music company was asking me why don’t you try to collaborate with one big music director like O.P Nayyar and Khayyam Saab. It is a good idea and I talked with him. He was so loving and generous. He accepted the offer. For two months, I used to go to this house every day and we selected a few songs. “O.P Nayyar presents the magic of Ashok Khosla”. I was insisting that he puts the magic of O.P Nayyar! It came in the market and it wasn’t distributed properly and the publicity wasn’t good. Company made a few loses. People also never thought that O.P Nayyar had this image to go with ghazals. I had a great experience being with him. He is an absolute genius.

In the past, you also composed for a Punjabi film and you had a few film assignments. With the state of music industry, if you get a chance one day to compose a movie, where there is scope to include ghazals, will you take back this opportunity?

Definitely. My passion is music. All these opportunities came to me and I accepted them. The songs turned up with very well and very nice but some of the films didn’t come out and never seen the day of light. You reach a much wider audience with film music. My only regret is that had I continue with my film career also, I would have been in a much better position that what I would have been today because my few of my songs like in Ankush, ‘Itni Shakti Hame Dena Data’ is a super duper hit song which the world knows. ‘Mangee Hai Humein Dua Hai’, which had music by Ram Laxman in the film Sun Meri Laila by Rajshree Productions. People are still going crazy about it. During that time I had my shows and I was a shy person. When I got all these shows, I got busy and I got an excuse. I am busy, why should I go to them. Let them come to me. I should have been in touch with them.

Any stories to share with us?

I was very fortunate to sing in front of Lataji and Rafi Saab. When I started, I was quite shy. He was a chief guest. And I also sang his songs in front of him. I sang ghazals in front of Lataji. That was really satisfying. She was supposed to release my friends’ book on film and music industry. My friend was a very big journalist. She told me the first half of the show you will be singing and then Lataji will be coming and you have to sing a few songs in front of her. I was supposed to sing only three songs. When I was about to finish my last ghazal, she said, “Aur gaye!”. That was a great honour and I sang another two ghazals. She came back and told me that it was very nice.

For Donations to the Ashram:
Sant Baba Moni Saheb Vriddh Anand Ashram
Survey No.133, Near Gurudwara Mansarovar
Gurudwara Road, Behind Akurdi Station
Walherkarwadi, Chinchwad
Pune 411 033
Phone: 020 27657088
Email: vriddhanandashram@gmail.com

Bank Name: Axis Bank
Account No: 103010100478557
Branch: Chinchwad
IFS Code: UTIB0000103
Name: Sant Baba Moni Saheb Vriddh Anand Ashram
Contact No: 9763138908, 9820294301


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