“Pakistanis want to create problems because I am involved in it. They just look for bahanaas (excuses) to irk me” :Adnan Sami

Posted on: July 20, 2015

The verses of the Quran follow me from every corner of the house as I walk up to Adnan Sami’s living room in his sprawling duplex apartment at Lokhandwala in Mumbai. “This is the background music of the house,” the composer-cum-singer says. “I like to greet anyone who comes to my house with a lot of positivity and peace. Also, I want the house to be blessed with the verses of God.”

Sami, 45, needs the blessings. His Bollywood debut – the song Bhar do jholi which he sang for Salman Khan’s new release Bajrangi Bhaijaan – has kicked up a storm. Reports say that the music label EMI Pakistan, which holds the rights to the song sung by the Sabri Brothers of Pakistan, has sent a legal notice to Sami, Khan and the music company, T-Series, for using the song in the film.

But Sami denies having received a legal notice. “Music director Pritam along with the filmmakers have made it clear that this qawwali has been inspired by and recreated from an old folk qawwali,” he says.

The controversy, he adds, is uncalled for. “Pakistanis want to create problems because I am involved in it. They just look for bahanaas (excuses) to irk me.”

Indeed, sections of Pakistanis have often created problems for Sami. In 2013, he was attacked when he recorded an azaan (Call to Prayer).

“Many raised objections saying that only the muezzins of mosques were authorised to sing it. I told them, if I can sing much better than the muezzins, I will do it,” an agitated Sami says.

The controversies hurt him because his father, Arshad Sami Khan, was from Pakistan, while his mother, Naureen, was from Jammu. Khan served as a diplomat in 14 countries and was close to former Pakistani President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

“As a kid, I used to play with Pinky (Benazir Bhutto),” he says. In his living room, there is a framed photograph of Benazir with a signed message.

Sami’s father, who was the aide-de-comp (A.D.C.) to three Presidents, wrote a book titled, “Three Presidents and an Aide – Life, Power and Politics,” which was published in India and was released by former Indian Prime Minister IK Gujral in 2008.

“Pakistan was too scared to publish it,” Sami says.

Since his father was posted in different countries, Sami was studying in a boarding school in Rugby in United Kingdom. Then he studied Journalism & Political Science from the University of London and later completed LLB degree from the prestigious Kings College in London.

Sami’s father introduced him to jazz and Hindustani classical music. He introduced him to ‘Raag Durga’ and ‘Raag Darbaari’ too. Sami was introduced to various music instruments at an early age of five and he began to learn the santoor from Pandit Shivkumar Sharma while he used to visit India during his school vacations and adapted it to the piano. He is the first musician to play Indian classical music on the keyboard. He also got the title of the fastest man on the keyboard.

Sami’s younger brother, Junaid Sami Khan, is a businessman in Houston in the US but Sami was always inclined to music. His family’s wide circle of friends brought him in touch with musicians from Bollywood. While he was living in London, he met music director R.D. Burman and singer Asha Bhonsle, who were visiting the city for a concert.

He recalls that he was playing the keyboard at a friend’s house, where Burman and Bhonsle were present, and surprised the musician. “He couldn’t believe that I was playing the keyboard. So I played for him again,” Sami says. “You’ll be a composer one day,” Bhonsle told him.

And that happened. His first formal album titled, “The One &Only,” was an Indian classical album on the piano accompanied by tabla maestro Zakir Hussain was released in 1989 and his first vocal solo album “Raag Time” was released in 1991.

It was such a coincidence that Bhonsle sang for Pakistani movie, Sargam, for which he composed music in 1991. But then the film censor board of Pakistan did not allow the release of the film because an Indian singer did the playback. So the songs were re-recorded with a Pakistani singer, Hadiqa Kiyani. But he teamed up with Bhonsle a decade later and released a collection of love songs in an album titled, ‘Kabhi to Nazar Milao’ in India.

But it was during the shooting of ‘Sargam’, where Sami was also the lead actor, he met his first wife, Pakistani actress Zeba Bakhtiyar, who was paired with him. But ironically, his Pakistani connections have never worked. So this marriage didn’t work either.

“Within two years, we fell apart,” says Sami, who feels that his failed relationships helped him to compose superhit romantic numbers such as “Bheegi Bheegi raaton mein” and “Tera chehara jab nazar aayein.”

He was not allowed to meet their son, Azaan, for 10 years. But now they are in touch, and Azaan is even following in the footsteps of his father, having composed a song for the 2010 release Bumm Bumm Bole.

Sami stresses that he has the capacity to face pain. “I believe in the philosophy of turning the other cheek,” he says, pointing to his right cheek – once remarkably chubby, now even more remarkably chiselled.
I take the liberty to tell him that I liked him more in his earlier avatar. He laughs.

But Sami has gone through many failed relationships. In 2001, he married an Arab, Sabah Galadari but this marriage too ended in a divorce, a year-and-a-half later. He remarried her in 2008, only to divorce her for the second time in 2009. But a case of domestic violence was lodged against him by her.

She also claimed this 5.3 crore house, where we are sitting now, was being gifted to her by him and filed a legal suit. But ironically, the house has now been confiscated by the Enforcement Directorate on the ground that Sami cannot buy a house because he is a Pakistani. “I have put an appeal before the ED. Till the final verdict is out, I am allowed to stay here,” he says.

Sami was a Pakistani passport holder, but surrendered his passport in May. He had twice applied for Indian citizenship and been rejected. He has now applied for it again. “I have been staying in India for so many years. It’s my home now,” Sami, born on the Indian Independence Day, August 15 in 1969, says.

Sami talks incessantly. Some of his answers are 15 minute-long. I often interrupt him and nudge him to answer the next question.

As we talk, Sami, dressed in a black T’shirt with the image of Beethoven imprinted on it and a pair of blue jeans, gets up to get his pack of cigarettes. I notice, a collage of photographs with Amitabh Bachchan, Pandit Jasraj, Zakir Hussain adorn the walls of his living room. Besides the platinum records of Michael Jackson’s Thriller and the handwritten manuscript of Rudwig Von Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, framed posters of the epic ‘Ben-Hur,’ romantic drama, ‘Casablanca’ and the science fiction, ‘Matrix’ along with the miniature celluloid reels of the films are also part of his classy collection.

He comes back with a pack of Marlboro and lights up one cigarette. He wears a platinum bracelet embedded with semi precious jewels including his birthstone, Peridot. A Rolex watch adorns his slim wrist.

“I have many Rolex watches but this is precious. This was a gift from my father,” he says while keeping the cigarette in between his fingers.

The fact that he lost 167 kilos over four-and-a-half years is known to anybody who has followed Sami. But he holds that he was not an obese child. “I was very active. I used to play rugby, polo, tennis and cricket in school. It was only in the 1990s, when I used to live just opposite Harrods in London, that I started putting on weight. I used to have my breakfast there every day,” says Sami, who now weighs 75 kilos.

His father nudged him towards losing weight. Once, in a London hotel room in 2007, after a doctor had warned him that his organs would pack up, his father voiced his worries. “I don’t want to face the pain of having to bury you,” his father said.

That was the turning point. Sami went to a nutritionist in Houston, where his father lived, and followed a strict diet. “I was on a high protein diet: no bread, no rice, no sugar, no alcohol. I could eat a horse, as long as it was barbequed or steamed,” he laughs.

After the weight loss, he met his current wife Roya Faryabi, who was a telecommunications engineer in Germany. “She was visiting Mumbai on a project. We met through common friends and clicked,” he says as Roya walks in to say hello.

It’s time to wrap up the conversation. Before I leave, he shows me a piano, one of the five he owns, in his bedroom. “Sometimes, I make music in my sleep. So I get up, put on my headphone and compose it on the piano,” he says. There’s music in every room, and, clearly, through day and night.

( A shorter version of the story is published in The Telegraph, July 19, 2015. The link:
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  • ranginee09: It is clear, justice eludes many but to imprison a man for his humanitarian deeds in a civilised society leaves an permanent blotch in our criminal ju
  • ranginee09: The article points-out a very pertinent social ill. Social ostracisation in childhood may have unwanted results later in life. A child victim is not a
  • Seeker and her search: Thanks for reading, Anne. Yes, I know what you are saying.
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