Twenty years ago, Shahid Mallya was singing shadabs and kirtans in gurudwaras in Ferozpur in Punjab. He eventually moved to Mumbai to pursue a playback singing career, but didn’t get assignments easily. After a long stint in television, Mallya scored his first hit with the Pritam-composed Rabba Main Toh Mar Gaya from Mausam (2011).

Five years later, Mallya struck gold with Ikk Kudi (Udta Punjab). He sang two other very different songs in the film, the folksy Hass Nach Le and hypnotic Chitta Ve, which attested to his versatility.

In the eight years since his Bollywood debut, Mallya has sung for leading composers. This year began with Mallya winning the News18 REEL Movie Award for Daryaa (Manmarziyaan, 2019), along with Ammy Virk, in the Best Playback Singer (Male) category. Mallya was recently heard in the peppy wedding song Bibi from Gone Kesh. He also provided vocals for a song in Robbie Grewal’s Romeo Akbar Walter, titled Bulleya, along with Rabbi Shergill. Romeo Akbar Walter will be released on April 5.

Lambi Judai, Shahid Mallya.

What keeps Mallya motivated to give his best shot in the studio? The singer shared with the music and the singers he seeks inspiration from and the songs he hears on loop these days.

Shahid Mallya’s playlist

“Listening to instrumental music builds up your musical acumen and allows you to appreciate the finer aspects of composition. When you tie music with lyrics, you are trapped with words. With instrumentals, the thought behind the music can be understood better. Also, your hearing capability and musical appreciation improve. Words bind music with a story in your head. The music alone opens up your vision.

I listen to a lot of Indian classical music. In sitar, I hear Ravi Shankar. In flute, Hari Prasad Chaurasia. In Santoor, Shiv Kumar Sharma and Rahul Sharma. Our base is Hindustani classical music, and that should be strong for any Indian singer. Now, I listen to Western music too, but we cannot forget our culture by trying to adapt to Western styles. We should instead strengthen our own and add what’s good from the outside.

I cannot pick any specific instrumental track, but I am a huge fan of listening to just ragas. You have ragas for early morning, day, afternoon, evening, midnight, for every weather, mood and emotion. I love them all, but my favourites are Raag Pahadi and Raag Shivranjani. My song, Rabba Main Toh Mar Gaya was composed in Raag Pahadi. In Raag Shivranjani, one of my favourites is Mera Naina Sawan Bhadon, composed by RD Burman. AR Rahman uses Shivranjani a lot.

Among singers, I listen to Rafi saab, Lata ji and Ghulam Ali saab a lot. Off the top of my head, the songs that I will pick as my favourites now would be as follows.”

Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari, Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959). Singer: Mohammad Rafi.
“People come into our lives, but they are bound to leave, one by one. This is a fact of life, and it’s beautifully expressed through poetry and music here.”

Dekhi Zamane Ki Yaari, Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959).

Ajeeb Dastan, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960). Singer: Lata Mangeshkar.
“I love the song’s lyrics. And while I love all of Lata ji’s songs, there’s something in her voice here that makes it special. The way she has sung or the song has been recorded helps express the true innocence of her artistic self. I am at a loss of words to talk about Lata ji, honestly.”

Ajeeb Dastan, Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai (1960).

Jab Chali Thandi Hawa, Do Badan (1966). Singer: Asha Bhosle.
“No matter what the situation is when I listen to this song, I actually feel a cool breeze slowly taking over me.”

Jab Chali Thandi Hawa, Do Badan (1966).

Sandese Aate Hain, Border (1997). Singer: Sonu Nigam, Roop Kumar Rathod.
“I feel energetic and patriotic listening to this. Whenever someone’s spirits are down, they should definitely listen to this song.”

Sandese Aate Hain, Border (1997).

Bin Tere - Reprise, I Hate Luv Storys (2010). Singer: Shekhar Ravjiani.
“The next two songs are both composed by Vishal-Shekhar and sung by Shekhar Ravjiani. He has a beautiful voice. Bin Tere, the reprised version, really makes you feel that there’s someone special missing in your life, and the combination of Shekhar’s vocals with just the guitar is amazing.”

Bin Tere Reprise, I Hate Luv Storys (2010).

Zehnaseeb, Hasee Toh Phasee (2014). Singers: Chinmayi Sripaada, Shekhar Ravjiani.
“This is such a beautiful composition. I swear, I can listen to it 100 times in a row.”

Zehnaseeb, Hasee Toh Phasee (2014).