To club Anu Malik with the relics of 1990s Hindi film music alongside Jatin-Lalit, Nadeem-Shravan and Anand-Milind would, perhaps, be unfair.
For one, Malik continued to produce chartbusters well into the 2000s when Hindi filmmakers and producers were moving away from the melody-based sound that Malik was known for. It was in 2000 that he won his one and only National Film Award for JP Dutta’s Refugee. Five years later, Malik won his third Filmfare Award for Farah Khan’s Main Hoon Na (2005).
Though big banner work kept decreasing over the years, Malik continued to compose music for Hindi films at a steady pace culminating with his stellar work on Sharat Katariya’s Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2016), which put him in the spotlight again.
Longevity aside, Malik proved his versatility time and again: consider 1997, when he produced, among others, three entirely different kinds of soundtracks: Virasat, Border and Judwaa. For Aaja Meri Gaadi Mein Baith Ja and Julie Julie, there’s Panchi Nadiya Pawan Ke Jhonke and San Sanana. But subsequent allegations of plagiarism – something his peers had to deal with as well but could not recover from – took the sheen away from Malik’s body of work bit by bit.
Malik tasted success with the soundtrack of the Sunny Deol-Poonam Dhillon starrer Sohni Mahiwal (1984), based on the Punjabi folk tale. A young Malik got Asha Bhosle to sing four songs, including the popular title track. The soundtrack got him his first Filmfare nomination for the Best Music Director award.
Malik continued to work steadily through the ’80s, getting to compose for big-budget films, such as Manmohan Desai’s Mard (1985) and Ketan Desai’s Toofan (1989). Despite working regularly in Hindi films and producing the odd hit like Julie Julie from Jeete Hai Shaan Se (1988), Malik did not break out in any substantial way.
It was his soundtrack for Abbas-Mustan’s Baazigar (1993) that made Malik a name to reckon with. He won his first of three Filmfare Awards for Best Music Direction for Baazigar.
Malik quickly went on to become one of the top Hindi film music composers of the ’90s. On the one hand, he became known for the madcap dance songs he lent his voice to: examples being Yeh Kaali Kaali Aankhen (Baazigar), My Adorable Darling (Main Khiladi Tu Anari), Ladke Aaj Ke Ladke (Vijaypath), and Judwaa’s Oonchi Hai Building and Go East or West.
Malik reiterated his melody magician credentials with such songs as Sandeshe Aate Hai (Border) and Taare Hai Baraati (Virasat). Filmmakers who worked with him once kept repeating him in films. David Dhawan, who employed Malik on his directorial debut Taaqatwar (1989), went on to work with the composer in 10 more films till Shaadi No. 1 (2005). Mahesh Bhatt worked with Malik on 12 films, including Duplicate (1998). Since the success of Border, JP Dutta worked with Malik in all his films.
It was around the late ’90s that the plagiarism allegations came to the forefront. By the early 2000s, Malik’s name became synonymous with copying tunes. The chargesheet is long and runs the gamut of genres: Beethoven’s Fur Elise (Jaane Mujhe Kya Hua from Baazi), Deep Purple’s Sweet Child in Time (Aisa Zakhm Diya Hai from Akele Hum Akele Tum), Boney M’s Bahama Mama (Jawani Deewani from Chamatkar), Nino Rita’s Love Theme from The Godfather (Raja Ko Rani Se from Akele Hum Akele Tum).
Malik continued to do first-rate work in the 2000s, with Josh (2000), Refugee, Fiza (2000), Asoka (2001), Mujhe Kucch Kehna Hai (2001), Yaadein (2001), Aks (2001), Filhaal... (2002), Munnabhai MBBS (2003), Main Hoon Na, Umrao Jaan (2006) and Jaan-E-Mann (2006). It could be argued that his career-best compositions are from the first half of the 2000s rather than the ’90s: the title track of Yaadein, Raat Ka Nasha from Asoka, and raag-based compositions from Umrao Jaan, Filhaal... and Aks, for example.
In the mid-2000s, as Bollywood warmed up towards the sample-based sound of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Pritam and Vishal-Shekhar following in AR Rahman’s footsteps, Malik shifted his attention towards reality television. Malik was one of the judges of the singing competition-based reality show Indian Idol, a local version of the British show Pop Idol, in 2004, and he continues to be associated with the show. Malik and his Indian Idol co-judge Farah Khan went on to become judges on another reality show, Entertainment Ke Liye Kuch Bhi Karega.
In a music scene currently dominated by electronic dance music, Punjabi hip-hop and Arijit Singh weepies, Anu Malik’s range is hardly acknowledged unless one of his biggest hits has to be remixed for a remake of the film for which he had originally composed the soundtrack.