Rajesh Roshan has been composing for Hindi movies for over 50 years. Actor-filmmaker Mehmood gave an 18-year-old Roshan his break as a composer in his 1974 classic Kunwara Baap. Two years later, Roshan won his first Filmfare Award as a composer for Julie, beating RD Burman’s soundtracks for Sholay and Khel Khel Mein.

In 2020, Rajesh Roshan has his director brother Rakesh Roshan’s Krrish 4 in the pipeline, along with the Vivek Oberoi-produced Iti, his first project outside his family banner in more than 15 years.

The secret to the 65-year-old composer’s success and longevity? His ability to constantly reinvent himself, especially after he formed a formidable partnership with Rakesh Roshan, he told Scroll.in.

“When Rakesh became a director, we got new confidence in ourselves, and we decided that we will pick singers based on the quality of the tune and not chase trends,” Rajesh Roshan said. “So we used Nitin Mukesh and then a newcomer Sadhana Sargam for Khudgarz. Then Lucky Ali in Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai. Even today, I try to make new kinds of music. With Covid-19, it’s difficult to get musicians and singers together in a room, so now I’m working from home. Here too, I am adapting.”

Roshan’s knack of studying fellow composers across generations and being inspired by their styles was among the topics discussed in the July 11 episode of the MX Player series Times of Music. Roshan was paired with Himesh Reshammiya, who beautifully reworked the veteran composer’s Chukar Mere Mann Ko from Yaarana (1981). Roshan did a version of Reshammiya’s blockbuster hit Aashiq Banaya Aapne.

Rajesh Roshan and Himesh Reshammiya on Times of Music (2020).

We got Roshan to reveal the stories behind some of his hit tunes, how he survived the 1980s disco boom even as other composers fell by the wayside, and how he has stayed up to date with musical trends.

Let’s start with an all-time hit, ‘Dil Kya Kare’ from ‘Julie’ (1975).
I was very new then. I went with the tune ready to Anand Bakshi ji’s house, with some trepidation. When he heard the song, he liked it, and finished writing the lyrics within two hours.

We used a 100-piece orchestra for the song. Till date, it’s one of the best songs sung by Kishore [Kumar] da. When he sang it, I was over the moon. I was very, very young at the time, so I couldn’t resist myself during screenings, shouting, wah, Kishore da, kamaal kar diya aapne [Kishore da, you were fantastic], and everyone would try to stop me.

Did you like the remix by Instant Karma, sung by Shaan?
It is hard to say if a remixed song is good or bad, because you are remixing something that’s already a hit. So it is given that whatever you do with it, male or female singer, done with whatever instruments, it will also do well.

I can only say that nowhere it could reach Kishore da’s level. Not that Shaan is a lesser singer. I really like his voice, and I’m a big fan of his private albums.

Dil Kya Kare, Julie (1975).

‘Kya Karoon Sajni’ from ‘Swami’ (1977).
Basu [Chatterjee] da gave me a free hand with the music. Nobody could dictate to me which singer to choose. I picked Yesudas from the South. He was a rage at the time. Basu da was not happy with it, as [Mohammed] Rafi saab was available for the song at the time, but he said fine go ahead.

Later, I was complimented by Hema [Malini] ji, for choosing Yesudas, saying he is a great singer, he’s from the South. Must have shared old sentiments.

Kya Karoon Sajani Aye Na Balam, Swami (1977).

The ‘Do Aur Do Paanch’ (1980) title track.
When I sang the song for Kishore da, he said he won’t be able to do it as he can’t sing it without breathing in one take. I said, at least try. So he did, he enjoyed it, and was surprised by himself.

But in the studio, he took breaths once again between singing. I protested, and he said, if you scold me, I will leave. So he sang the song, taking quick breaths. If you listen closely, you can hear them.

Do Aur Do Paanch (1980) title track.

‘Na Bole Tum’ from ‘Baaton Baaton Mein’ (1979).
At the time, Kishore da was on top, but I wanted Amit Kumar for this. I asked Kishore da, will Amit sing? He said, yes, why not? But Amit was nervous, saying I can’t sing like Kishore da. We encouraged him a lot. Asha [Bhosle] ji, his co-singer, calmed him down in the studio, saying you’re like my son, don’t worry.

Those days, all singers sang in the same studio, the same 10 feet by 10 feet singing booth. Kishore da, Rafi saab, and Lata [Mangeshkar] ji stood from left to right and sang Chal Kahin Door Nikal Jayein for me.

Na Bole Tum, Baaton Baaton Mein (1979).

You produced melodious hits through the disco wave in the 1980s, when Bappi Lahiri reigned supreme, and eased into the next decade.
I try to adapt. When disco came, even I had to work according to it. So I made Disco 82 for Khud-Daar. It got so popular, people think it’s for a movie called Disco 82. I asked Lata ji to sing it, and she just wouldn’t, saying Raju, your taste has become so bad, what are you asking me to sing? I said, disco is in now, you will be left behind like this, chalo mere saath [come with me].

Then I made many other such fast songs. Jab Chhaye Mera Jadoo for Lootmaar. Sara Zamana for Yaarana. Hum To Aapke Deewane Hain for Aap Ke Deewane.

Recently, I couldn’t get Arijit Singh’s dates for the Kaabil title track. And it’s hard to find a singer of his genre. Then I found Jubin Nautiyal at the Radio Mirchi music awards, and I thought, that’s my guy. It’s all about trying something new, and working with Rakesh [Roshan] gave me that confidence.

Badan Juda Hote Hain, Koyla (1997).

On that note, let’s talk about the ‘Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai’ songs sung by Lucky Ali. At that time, the only unconventional voice in Hindi films was Sukhwinder Singh.
Our connection actually goes way back. Mehmood saab had given me my first break. And Lucky Ali [Mehmood’s son] used to be my assistant back in the 1980s, when I was composing for Mr Natwarlal and Yaarana. He used to play the guitar for me. He had fought with his father, left home, and needed cash. He stayed with me 24 hours a day, dined with me, worked with me. I’d introduce him to producers as my assistant and get some payment for him.

Much later, his album Sunoh became a hit. So I got him for the movie. And he walked in with three-four of his own musicians, said, keep them around. I said, sure. Since, Lucky had been my assistant before, he helped in arranging the chorus and other things. Our lyricists were also new, Vijay Akela and Ibrahim Ashq. That freshness showed in the music.

Naa Tum Jaano Na Hum, Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai (2000).