When Jagjit Singh gave Ashok Khosla a break in the album ‘Brightest Talent of the 80s’ in 1981, the ghazal “Ajnabi Shahr Men Ajnabi Raaste” became his biggest hit. Ashok Khosla is a trained classical singer and over the years, he has been rendering ghazals with such a passion. While playback singing never really happened due to his busy schedules with shows in his heydays, he had the chance to collaborate with music maestro O.P Nayyar. These days, Ashok Khosla devotes much of his time to social work. Recently, he sang for Mahesh Bhatt’s new serial, ‘Naamkarann’, which is being aired on Star Plus (India) from 12 September 2016. According to the ghazal singer, it is his biggest compliment to date, to finally be given a chance to work with the renowned film-maker. They are all very excited about this collaboration.
Your song “Itni Shakti Hame Dena Data” from ‘Ankush’ is still played in Indian schools 30 years after its release. How do you feel about this as a singer?
I feel elated that my song is still being played. It is actually a great feeling knowing that children still connect with the song.
You recently sung “Dhal Gaya Chaand, Gayee Raat, Chalo So Jaayein” for Mahesh Bhatt’s serial ‘Naamkarann’, written by Late Qateel Shifai and composed by Aryan. How did all of this happen?
The truth is that I was trying to get work as a music composer, about some 25 years back. The great poet, Qateel Shifai, used to come to India and he was a great friend of mine. We used to have music sessions together. I got some poetry from him and we just planned to make Mahesh Ji listen to all these songs. And when he [Mahesh Bhatt] had one or two sittings with me, he liked 2-3 songs of mine very much. At that time, things did not work out. Mahesh Ji selected a few songs of mine to record, but that time, it all fizzled out. After all these 25 years, Mahesh Ji wanted to record this song “Dhal Gaya Chaand, Gayee Raat, Chalo So Jaayein”. So he approached me to get the rights of this song from Qateel Shifai Saab’s son. So I just mediated, got the song and spoke to Qateel Shifai Saab’s son. While things were happening, it stuck to Mahesh Ji that he had promised me so many years back to give me a chance to come up as a composer. He could not fulfill this, so he gave me the chance the sing this ghazal. He is also happy that he did something with me. It satisfied him as well as me. It was just by fluke and it just happened after such a long gap, because of those reasons.
Are you happy with the shows you are currently doing?
While I was away from the music scene, I have been doing some social work for 10-12 years. When I do something, I do it wholeheartedly. I forgot about my singing career when I was so involved in all the social work. After all that work which I started, which are all settled and everything is working fine, so I got time again for my music. So I started doing concerts for the fund collection of this social work. I got hold of all my colleagues, my friends; ghazal singers. Since the last three years, we are having concerts, ‘Ghazal Bahaar’, and all of them have been cooperating with me. They are all coming forward and not charging for the show. They have been very nice and helpful. We have been collecting some funds for the social cause. It is very satisfying and side and side, my career has also picked up, because I started singing in these concerts. I also got a few concerts which I did in India. About a year back, I also went to Bangkok for a show for the first time. Recently, about a month ago, I had two concerts in UK. I can say that it is picking up.
Which Hindi Film songs have you been listening recently?
I am totally out of touch with the current Hindi Film songs. I cannot relate to them and they do not attract me so much. Some of the songs are good and I like them, but unfortunately, I cannot even recall their names. I listen to the famous ghazal artists like Ghulam Ali, Mehdi Hassan, Jagjit Singh Ji and some of my colleagues. And of course, classical, Punjabi folk (U.P), which I enjoy listening.
Have any new music composers caught your attention, apart from A.R. Rahman?
There are so many right now but since I told you that I am not in film music, I don’t listen to them as such and therefore, I cannot even recall their names.
What are your thoughts on singers like Palak Muchhal, Arijit Singh and Jubin Nautiyal?
Palak is very sweet, nice and a very talented singer coming up. She is already a hit with ‘Prem Ratan Dhan Payo’. And I know her since 5-6 years ago and she came and sang in my ashram also. She herself has done a lot of charity and shows. She is a really good person and a great artiste. I really think she will come up a lot. Arijit is on top and is doing really well. He is a great singer and absolutely wonderful. Sorry, I have not heard of Jubin Nautiyal.
Some time ago, there was a petty controversy where Chitra Singh was not happy when you were singing Jagjit Singh’s songs in concerts. Can you clarify what exactly happened as we never got to know the truth?
Actually, she is right in her own way and thinking that people are singing Jagjit Singh’s songs left, right and centre, making money from shows; she thinks it is all doing injustice to her, by not bringing the loyalty to her. She has the right and any artiste’s family cam claim and this is what she wants. We have been doing earlier one concert called ‘Yaadein’ with Ghansham Vaswani and Tauseef Akhtar. In the first one, we did not use Jajgit Singh’s portrait in the publicity and she was okay with that, but for the last show, where we had the death anniversary, it was necessary for us, to put his photograph where we were paying tribute to him. She sent us a legal notice that we cannot do that. Well we respect her views and feelings and we have stopped doing the shows of ‘Yadeein’. That’s it.
Are ghazals becoming more and more mainstream these days?
I’ll be very happy if that happens but we are trying our best. But I don’t think that it is that hot right now, as it was earlier, but we are still trying. Sometimes, we get some good concerts and good receptive audience at some my places. My last concert in UK was very wonderful, both the shows were housefull and it was very satisfying. It still needs more of popularity and more audience around the globe. Jagjit Ji was the only artiste who could fill the great halls and second comes Pankaj Ji. Lately, it is getting tougher and tougher.
What is the age group of your audience for your shows overseas?
Are the ghazal shows in India profitable?
Not exactly but we are still trying as much as possible, but they are still not profitable. I do concerts for my charity. I sometimes get sponsorships and donations but that is a different question altogether. People get sympathetic towards my cause and they come forward and donate. This is how we can pull over the show. Otherwise, it is difficult for a ghazal show to make a profit.
With all your professional and non-professional commitments, how much time do you spend with your family?
Nowadays, most of the time, I am with the family. Musicians’ office is at home only. So they don’t miss us. In fact, when we go for tours, they are very happy that we are leaving as we are at home all the time!
You are known to be a very humble person in the industry, despite all your achievements. Any comments?
That is my basic nature and I cannot help it. I can’t change myself. It is very natural and I don’t have to do any efforts. I like to do things truthfully and this is what I like to do.
You have already sung in front of Lataji and Rafi Saab and received a lot of appreciation. How are these moments precious for you today when you look back?
I still think about those precious moments and it gives me immense pleasure. They are unforgettable. I get really excited when I think about the whole thing and the whole scene comes in front of me, when I was singing in front of Rafi Saab. Backstage, he hugged me and gave me a nice pat on my back, and he signed an autograph in my copybook. Even the moment, when I sang in front of Lata Ji. They will always be cherished and great moments till my last breath. That is why artistes live for; their dream to be anywhere near their idols, forget seen but if they meet their idols; I sang for 2.5 hours in front of them, Naushad Saab, even in front of O.P Nayyar Saab.
You are a trained classical singer and you started off with ghazals. Has it ever occured to you to sing an ‘in-and-out’ film song?
It is not very difficult. If it fits my style of singing and my voice, whatever it can be, it is not difficult. It will be difficult if it’s only a different style from mine.
Your song “Mangee Hai Humein Dua Hai”, which had music by Ram Laxman from ‘Sun Meri Laila’ by Rajshree Productions is still popular. Thoughts?
Actually, this song is popular everywhere in the world, except for India (Laughs). I was really amazed when I was in America, a Pakistani asked me to sing this song and I asked him, how does he know this song. Because the film was not a big hit in India but it was a big hit in the video circuit overseas, especially in Pakistan. It was quite a pleasant surprise for me.
How much time do you still devote to social work today?
Most of the time. I spend daily about 3-4 hours, apart from my music. Everyday, I have to put in for my social work.
What can destroy a friendship in this industry?
(Laughs) When people become selfish, they forget the long standing friendship is there. This usually destroys the whole thing.
What advice do you have for new talent wanting to jump into the ghazal bandwagon?
Very frankly, I am nobody to give advice to anybody because today’s generation who is singing, is much better than our generation. They are very well-trained, talented, know their job very well and very hard-working. I find myself not capable of giving them any advice. I take inspiration from their singing and their hard-working nature.
What is your idea of leisure?
I get the most of my happiness from the social work I do, much more than my music. I enjoy music immensely but the social work is my ‘seva’. Though I am more coming back into music, my ‘seva’ is increasing day by day.
What does the future hold for you?
Everything is happening so nicely and very soon. I am getting blessings from some past karmas and whatever I have been doing recently. It is all because of that and the goodwill and the good wishes I have from my music friends who know me. I can see that even further, good will happen in my career and my music scene.