He comes from a small town in Himachal Pradesh’s Sirmaur district. And today, Mohit Chauhan is considered one of the most prolific singers in Bollywood. He says it was his “urge to make music” that led him to the film industry. Interestingly, Mohit is also a popular name in the country’s independent music scene. In fact, he was one of the most popular indie pop musicians in the ’90s – his soulful number, ‘Dooba dooba rehta hoon’, from his first album, Boondein, was a hit.
The singer, who has recently crooned a song for director Imtiaz Ali’s next, talks about his journey, “guru” AR Rahman, independent music in India, and more.
How has your journey in Bollywood been so far?
It’s been interesting and fulfilling. I had never expected it to be like this. I am glad that things fell in place, and I got to work with so many talented composers and filmmakers. I feel content.
Your film debut, as a singer, came quite late in your career. Was it not on your priority list?
At the time of my graduation, when I was in Himachal Pradesh, I used to make songs. A bunch of us got together and formed the band, Silk Route, in 1998. I started making a living as a musician after that. Because of my band, many people from the film industry invited me to sing for them. So, I never had to come to Mumbai and struggle for four to five years to get work. It was after I sang various jingles for advertisements that Bollywood happened.
You have worked with AR Rahman on several Bollywood projects. How has the experience been?
He is my guru. My soul is connected with his, and I feel spirituality in music whenever I sing for him. It’s very difficult to express that feeling. From Rang De Basanti (2006) to Imtiaz’s upcoming film, our collaborations have been amazing. In Rockstar (2011), he gave me a chance to sing so many genres. Take ‘Kun faya kun’, which is such a beautiful Sufi number. Rahman saab has a spiritual aura, and he also has a great sense of humour. When I was going to sing for him for the first time, I was really nervous.
You never received any formal training in music. How did you acquire the talent for it?
The atmosphere at home was always one of books and music. My grandfather was a very good singer. He used to tell me that music is food for the soul. That got into my head. So, my music was always for my soul, and not for any commercial gain. I used to listen to a lot of music, and played various instruments. I was an ardent lover of ghazals; I used to sing ghazals by (late) Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali and (late) Mehdi Hassan. I also listened to Kishore Kumar’s songs, and western music.
Your band, Silk Route, earned you a lot of recognition. Why did the outfit get dissolved? Do you ever think of reviving it?
Yes, I do think about doing that, but I don’t know what the future holds. Coming to why Silk Route disbanded, I think, when creative people come together, after a point, everyone wants to pursue his or her own direction. That’s what happened with our band.
Your song ‘Dooba dooba’ is still popular today. How close is the track to you?
I composed ‘Dooba dooba’ when I had just completed college. I was amidst nature, in Himachal Pradesh, when I came up with the song. I never thought that it would become part of my album, and would be loved so much. It’s extremely close to me.
You entered the indie pop scene when it was relatively new in India. But now, it’s huge. What’s your take on the way it has evolved over the past decade?
I think there is more visibility now, because of the digital space. New artistes upload their work on various platforms, and get recognised across the world. There are also various channels that promote independent music. However, I still feel there’s a long way to go. Content is very important. So, while it is good that more and more people are making music, and entering the scene, the quality needs to be maintained too.
You have been singing for Bollywood films since 2002. Which songs are the closest to you?
‘Khoon chala’ (Rang De Basanti; 2006) and ‘Masakali’ (Delhi-6; 2009) are extremely special to me, because they gave me the opportunity to work with AR Rahman saab. Working on ‘Tum se hi’ (Jab We Met; 2007) with Pritam da was also a great experience. I think these songs have longevity.
Many musicians feel that it is futile to produce albums, as they don’t sell much. But you have released your compilations quite frequently. Do you think differently about the issue?
I do. I converted six poems by late APJ Abdul Kalam into songs for an album. That gave me a chance to meet and interact with him. So, at that time, I never thought ki yeh album bikega ya nahi (of whether this album will sell or not). The urge to make music drives me. The business aspect comes much later.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am working on an album, and it should be out next year. I might release one single at a time.
Do you ever plan to compose songs for films?
Yes, in fact, I keep making new songs. I have made a few people listen to them too, and they have liked the tracks. I am hoping that something materialises on that front. Since most of the tracks that you’ve sung for Ranbir Kapoor have been hits, people feel you’re the perfect voice for him…(Laughs) I am glad that comes across on-screen. This used to happen back in the day, when the voice of a singer suited a particular actor.
Despite so many new playback singers getting breaks in the industry, you have never run out of work. What do you think sets you apart?
I just put my heart into whatever I sing. I think that’s my purpose in life. I am glad that my fans have always loved my music. I am very thankful to them.
Why do you keep a low profile?
I intend to be true to who I am. I just want to do my work.