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With a Little Bit of Luck
Text by Jayashree Menon. Photos by Hardeep Sachdev.
PUBLISHED: Volume 11 Issue 3, Third Quarter 2003
You could call me a maverick. What you see is what you get. What is important to me is the now. If the now is uncomplicated, the future will take care of itself.

Often labelled the oldest newcomer in Bollywood, Lucky Ali has wandered into the worlds of playback singing, acting and stage shows, with fame following closely behind.

Jayashree Menon quizzes the affable son of yesteryear’s comedian, Mehmood, about his two wives, his passion for flying, the school he has started, and, lest we forget, his latest album

He is late. The 10 a.m. appointment stretches to noon. And then way past. The Verve team has been laying siege at a Juhu hotel since 9.30 a.m. The receptionist makes reassuring sounds. Yes, they have a reservation for him. Yes, they have received a message saying he’s on his way. Yes, he’ll be here any minute. Yes, he would have been here except that he is stuck in a traffic jam at Panvel. Finally, closer to 3 p.m., Lucky Ali arrives with wife and two angelic kids in tow. He has driven down from Bangalore. After unplanned detours at Shimoga for dinner and Palolim for lunch, he was indeed stuck in a traffic jam at Panvel.

He’s apologetic and ready to do anything – everything – to make amends.

We take him at his word and make him sit in the baking sun for the photo shoot. He’s sporting and smiling. Even runs up to the beauty parlour to get his hair gelled for a shot.

But then, hasn’t Maqsood Mehmood Ali aka Lucky always been a late Latif?

He laughs, “Well, you could say that. After all, my first music album, Sunoh, was released when I was 36.” The album sold over 4,00,000 copies and won him several awards, including Best Pop Male Vocalist at the 1996 Screen Awards, the Channel [V] Viewers’ Choice Award (1997) and stayed on the MTV Asia Charts for 60 weeks. With a fan following that spanned generations, Ali, a far cry from your gum-chewing, skimpily-clad, attitude-driven pop star, was suddenly hot in decibel land. His films, Sur and Kaante, released last year when he was 44 and he was nicknamed the ‘oldest newcomer in Bollywood’. “Did they really say that?” He is genuinely amused. “But I’d acted before, you know.”

His first appearance in a Hindi movie was when he was but a two-year-old toddler. “It was a film called Chhote Nawab which my father had produced, where I played the young nawab. Being Mehmood’s son and having several other relatives in films meant that you ended up doing these small roles whenever the need arose. In Kunwara Baap, dad needed a kid to pick someone’s pocket, so there I was again, playing a pickpocket,” he laughs.

A few years ago, when he made his foray into playback singing with the phenomenally successful Kaho Naa... Pyaar Hai that launched Hrithik Roshan, he walked away with the Filmfare Award for best playback singer.

How did that happen? He shrugs, “Rajesh Roshan and my father go a long way. He’d done the music for my dad’s Kunwara Baap. So when he asked me to sing, I couldn’t refuse.” Though both his numbers in the film – ‘Ek pal ka jeena’ and ‘Na tum jaano na hum’ – were smash hits, Ali did not cash in on their success. Instead, at the height of all the hype, he just disappeared. “I will sing what I want to sing,” he says simply. “Just because I have a couple of hits, does not mean I turn into a full time playback singer. I should enjoy doing the work. But yes, I have just finished recording a Tamil song with A. R. Rahman. And then, I’m rushing to Chennai to record another song with him. This time in Telegu.”

As for films, after playing the angst-ridden Vikramaditya of Sur and narrator-cum-mole of Kaante, he has now signed a film called Giraft.

“It’s got loads of violence. And I’m the one doling it all out,” he says, with obvious relish. Discussions are also on with director Sadanand, for a Hindi/English venture where he may play a taxi driver.

Horse breeder, singer, carpet seller, oil rig worker, actor… how does he don so many avatars? “That’s because my plans have never worked. Everything that has happened has never been planned. I don’t want to get stuck in the rut and do only one thing. I would rather do what I feel like doing and things I feel right about. I am a nomad at heart.”

But, this nomad is now firmly rooted in Bangalore. “That’s home. That’s where my farm is. I am an agriculturist who grows wheat, rice, fruit…. I have also started a school called Oasis International. We began four years ago with four students. Today we have 150,” he says, with pride. He is also firmly committed to his new passion – flying. “I have done over 45 hours. The next time you want to meet me in Mumbai, I won’t drive down…I will fly solo!” As director of Aviation Technology and Turbine Services (ATTS), he has turned entrepreneur as well. “We are into refurbishing aircraft. ATTS can give your plane a total facelift at half of what it would cost abroad. We have already completed an assignment for Saudia.”

In the middle of the photo shoot, we catch him staring at a shapely blonde in the swimming pool. Unabashed, he grins. “I have the glad eye. I told you I am a reactor (as opposed to actor)!” All the while, his wife of 10 years, Meaghan Jane aka Masooma aka Maymunah, has been siting in burqa-clad dignity watching daughter Tasmiyah (5) and son Ta’awwuz (7), frolic in the pool. “She’s my childhood sweetheart,” Ali waves expansively in her direction. “We met in Mussoorie where I was studying at Hampton Court and she at Woodstock.”

She refuses to comment on their romance. “What has he told you?” she asks cautiously. “Whatever he says, I’ll go with that.” She does divulge that though Kiwi by origin she was brought up in India by her missionary parents and that Ali ‘is a good father’. “But, the children hate it when he is in the middle of an album. Because then he’s cut off from them for long periods.”

Out of her earshot, I finally grill Ali with the one question I have been dying to ask: “How many wives do you have?”

“Why, two…how many did you think I had?” He is curious. He met his second wife, Anahita aka Inaya, during a recording. “It was serious. I could not insult our relationship. I married her.” Inaya has just had a baby. “Sara is just a month old, that’s why Inaya could not travel with us,” says the proud father.

He’s been there, done that…. That too, so much of it. Can he be slotted? “Maverick,” he rolls out the word. “You could call me a maverick. But then it varies from person to person. What you see is what you get. What is important to me is now. If the now is uncomplicated, the future will take care of itself.” But, he is changing. He can feel it. “I am metamorphosing. This is the first time in years that I’m travelling without my paraphernalia. I’m not even carrying my guitar....”

Ali has parted ways with the music companies that released his previous albums Sunoh (BMG), Sifar and Aks (Sony). For his new album, he has tied up with T Series. Hearing my audible gasp he explains, “There is a misconception about T Series. It is a homely company – very straight, open, clear, clean. I loved the way Bhushan Kumar approached me.” He continues, “I like to work with people who have a thought-process similar to mine…we have to vibe on a similar wavelength. That is why my albums take two years.”

Final question. What turns Lucky Ali on? Fame, money…? “Not money. I’m happy with what I make. Not fame either.” He ponders, then says with a disarming smile. “Simplicity. What turns me on is simplicity.”