How Aamir Khan became a singer with Ghulam

The 1998 action flick saw the star croon the ‘Aati Kya Khandala’ number which became a chartbuster.

Onward to Khandala: Aamir Khan and Rani Mukerji

Mayur Lookhar

Tinsel town is going gaga about Salman Khan the singer. The reigning superstar is even supposed to be launching an album soon. While Salman Khan has emerged as a surprise singer, he is not the first Khan to test his vocal chords. Turn the clock back to 1998 and you will discover that it was Aamir Khan who first took to the microphone to sing.

He did not have too many trophies, but Aamir Khan stood out as the trendsetter. Vikram Bhatt’s 1998 action flick Ghulam saw Khan make his debut as a playback singer with the cheeky track Aati Kya Khandala. The lyrics weren’t poetry but unheralded writer Nitin Raikwar penned a simple, conversational track.

There was talk that in his college days, Aamir Khan used to sing a classic romantic number appreciating the woman's eyes to woo Reena Dutta. While Dutta was touched by the gesture and became Khan's wife and bore him a son and a daughter, she wasn’t moved by the voice.

Jatin-Lalit had previously composed music for an Aamir Khan film in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander (1992) and it took six years before they collaborated again. Lalit Pandit shared the inside story of Aamir Khan’s playback singing debut.

“Vikram, Aamir, and I were travelling together to Film City. During the ride, Aamir was casually singing the classic track ‘Sagar jaisi aankhon wali yeh toh bata tera naam hai kya’. I was impressed by his voice and lauded him. He though t was making fun of him.”

There was no doubt in anyone's mind that having Aamir Khan sing would be good for the film's success as well. Vikram Bhatt, too, liked the idea. So he coaxed Khan to agree.

“We told Aamir that we will make a track that will suit his expressions, his voice," Lalit continued. "A sceptical Aamir asked whether this was possible. I assured him it was possible. He hesitated, fearing that if the song did not turn out right, it would result in great embarrassment for him. We assured him that if anything went wrong, we would not release the song.”

But working with a perfectionist is never easy. As he was devoting maximum time for the shooting of the film, Khan requested Jatin-Lalit to adjust the song recording schedules accordingly. He also demanded utmost secrecy and was reassured that the news would not leak out.

Aamir Khan had shone as a street-smart loverboy in Rangeela (1995) and with his Ghulam character requiring him to play a rough-and-ready character again, lyricist Nitin Raikwar penned the track ‘Aati Kya Khandala’.

Having given his nod, Aamir turned up for the rehearsal. “On the first day of rehearsal, I realised that Aamir was only comfortable with 4-5 notes," said Lalit. "So we composed the track in these few ranges. The best part of the song was the lyrics by Nitin, who kept it very simple. Also, the song was shot several times, because Aamir, being a perfectionist, wanted it to come out right. Extinguishing the matchstick on his tongue and the Buddha dance style were suggested by Aamir. It added to the beauty of the song."

It is one thing taking to the mic, but getting down to the actual business is always a challenge for a debutant singer. Lalit Pandit, though, showered praise on the actor for the efforts he made. “Before he got down to recording, Aamir rehearsed the track for over a month," the composer recalled. "He used to turn up at the studio at midnight after completing his shoot. At times he slept on the chair but continued his rehearsal the moment his eyes reopened. This  used to run till morning. As he had rehearsed vigorously, Aamir didn’t have any difficulty at the actual recording.”

Lalit Pandit felt ‘Aati Kya Khandala’ was like a lyrical Q&A between lovers, reminiscent of some SD Burman tracks from the golden era of Hindi film music. The preparations were near perfect, but how did it Aamir Khan fare when the moment arrived when he had to sing with an established professional like Alka Yagnik?

“The recording happened at Sunny Super Sound Studios," Lalit reminisced. "We finished the recording in one whole day. The month-long rehearsals had paid off as Aamir didn’t take much time. He was creatively involved in the tracking. They didn’t sing together, but both Aamir and Alka recorded on the same day."

Aamir Khan was the first to take charge while Yagnik recorded her parts later, Lalit said. "She was pleasantly surprised by Aamir’s show. She immediately remarked that the song would be a super hit. In fact, all the praise left Aamir blushing."

Lalit said the entire processing of the song was completed in two days flat, which, he said, was unheard of then.

Now, actors taking to singing is fairly common, but most composers will readily admit that advanced technology has helped turn even someone who can't hold a note into a singer. However, back in 1998, Aamir Khan did not have that luxury. “Unlike the current Pro Tools and other software, Aamir recorded the song on a machine which had no tuning," Lalit pointed out. He said some other actors were keen on singing at that time but they could never get the desired results.

Aamir Khan received a nomination for playback singing at the Filmfare awards that year. While winning was out of the question, the nomination was proof that he had succeeded in his singing debut. Eighteen years later, 'Aati Kya Khandala'  remains a very popular song. Tune in to relive the magic.