Throughout the ‘90s and early 2000s, composer duo Nikhil – Vinay were known as T-Series’ blue-eyed boys. Together, the composer duo worked on many popular films and albums like ‘Bewafa Sanam’, ‘English Babu Desi Mem’, ‘Tum Bin’, ‘Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam’, ‘Jaan’, ‘Hasrat’ and ‘Phir Milenge’, among others. and delivered one chartbuster after another for years. Their first film ‘Pyar Bhara Dil’ released on November 15, 1991.
Nikhil Kamath and Vinay Ram Tiwari, who work independently now, have completed 30 years of journey in the Hindi film industry and delivered the kind of songs that would be remembered by generations to come. ‘Tum Bin’, a film which had some of their best compositions, completes 21 years of its release today.
In this exclusive interview, Nikhil – Vinay talk about their three-decade-long journey in the Hindi film and music industry, popular songs, important milestones, how they started working together, the reason behind their split, upcoming projects and more.
How do you feel about completing 30 long years in the industry?
Vinay: I feel very emotional about it. I didn’t realize that Nikhil and I started our journey 30 years back before you informed me about it. I am grateful to God for all the success He has bestowed upon us.
Nikhil: We feel happy to have completed three decades in the industry. It feels good to realize that we have been around for so long. However, I never counted the days, months or years while we were working. Even today, every day I get the feeling that I am a newcomer and I must work towards creating fresh melodies.
Both of you came from different backgrounds. Nikhil, your father was an engineer and brother has been a chartered accountant. You never had any formal training in music and after finishing law school, you decided to pursue music seriously. The first time you composed a tune was when you had to memorize a poem in school.
Nikhil: Yes, that’s right. I was not able to memorize the poem. So, I set it to tune so that I could remember it easily. I was in fifth or sixth standard and was 10-11 years old then. I had an interest in music but never got an opportunity to learn it. When I was in college, I tried playing the harmonium and learned it very fast on my own.
During this time, I realized that tunes were coming to me naturally. At our house, we never even had an instrument. I had a friend in college called Charles Vaz who was a famous guitarist. His guru was Charles Srinivasan. These two people played an important role in my musical journey. Charles Vaz showed me the piano at his house and taught me a few chords on it. Then, I got a few books from Furtados. I strongly believe that if you have an interest in something, you will pick up fast.
My first keyboard was gifted to me by Mr. Merchant, Salim- Sulaiman’s father. He was a very generous man and I would be forever grateful to him for his support. At that time, a standard keyboard would cost 3-4,000 rupees. He told me to take it and pay him whenever I could. When I went home with the keyboard, my mother got very upset. She asked me whose keyboard was it. I told them Mr. Merchant has given it to me for practice.
In due course of time, I did some small shows and paid him back. My friend Piyush Kanojia also taught me a lot about piano. Bharat Gosher gave me shows from time to time. Taufiq Qureshi, the famous percussionist, was a part of our group too. Another friend that helped me out was Raj Bafna. I was lucky to have such friends in my life who guided and supported me in my journey. I have faced many difficulties in life but I have no complaints. I was born on 15 October 1964. I lost my father when I was thirteen years of age. My elder brother supported me a lot and has been like a father-figure to me.
Vinay, your father Ramsewak Tiwari was a music teacher and you had learnt light classical music from him.
Vinay: Yes, he was into Indian classical music. He was a professional music teacher. I was born in Patna on 9 September 1962 and grew up in Kanpur. He used to teach music in Kanpur as well. My father was a film buff and would take the entire family to watch films. I used to love Madan Mohan’s music right from the time I was a child. We shifted to Mumbai when I was 17 or 18 years old. My father had joined Mumbai University as a music teacher.
Though I was the son of a teacher, I was not a very good student (laughs). You need a lot of patience to learn music properly and I was very restless. But, as they say, when you are destined to do something, it happens. I don’t believe in luck but I am a strong believer in destiny. I learnt a bit of music from Anup Jalota ji as well. I always say that music is the path that leads you to God. I am glad I got the opportunity to walk on this path during this lifetime.
Your journey in films began with ‘Pyar Bhara Dil’ which completed 30 years of its release last year in November. The film was directed by Chandra Barot who also happens to be the director of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer ‘Don’. What are your memories of working on this film?
Nikhil: Working on ‘Pyar Bhara Dil’ was a very good experience. We knew a man called Rajeshwar Pandey who used to work in the production department of films. He took us to meet Anees Ahmed in Versova. We also met Umesh Verma who was the financer of the film and the owner of Aristo Pharmaceuticals. Vinay and I sung a few of our songs to them. They were quite impressed. One song that clicked with them immediately was ‘Banke Kitaab Teri’. Umesh Sharma took a liking to us instantly and wanted to help us.
Vinay: We met Chandra Barot after that. His brother was Pratap Barot who had married the legendary dancer Sitara Devi. Sitara Devi’s son is musician Ranjit Barot who was introduced to us by Chandra Barot. Ranjit programmed the song ‘Banke Kitaab Teri’ and later, worked with us on some of our other assignments too. Suresh Lalwani arranged most of the songs on the album.
‘Chor Aur Chand’ has been one of your most appreciated soundtracks from the ‘90s. The songs of that film sound fresh even today. How was the experience of working on that film?
Vinay: We had started working very closely with T-Series by then. Aditya Pancholi used to visit the T-Series office quite often and Gulshan ji made us meet him. One of the best things about working on this film was getting the opportunity to work with director Pavan Kaul who has a great sense of music. Pavan ji liked our sensibilities as composers and we got along very well with each other. ‘Chor Aur Chand’ is definitely one of our best works as composers.
How and when did the two of you meet?
Vinay: There is a long story behind this (laughs). I wanted to become a playback singer. I used to meet composers like Anand – Milind and Nadeem – Shravan and request them to give me work. A lot of composers would ask me whether I sing like Kishore da or Rafi saab. Fortunately or unfortunately, my voice didn’t resemble any popular singer. The struggle as a singer was very long and difficult. My father’s blessings helped me a lot.
Apart from my father, one person who inspired me the most was Kishore da. He was God to me. One fine day, I stumbled upon this idea of doing a show on my own. I decided to compose and write a few songs and perform to them myself. I thought if the show became a success, people in the industry will notice me. One of the first songs that I wrote was “silsila shuru hua wahaan se yahaan tak, pyaar ka silsila shuru hua” We used the song in the Govinda – Karisma Kapoor starrer ‘Dulaara’. For the film, we recorded the song in Sunny Super Sound with a 170-piece orchestra.
I had made elaborate plans for the show but was not sure about where I would raise the finance from. Today, a lot of people produce their own shows to showcase their talent but it was a very unusual idea then. Back then, a lot of souvenirs would get published. I decided to put together a souvenir and put ads in it. My idea worked and I was able to raise enough finance for the show. The show was called ‘24 Carat Gold’. There was a popular arranger called Ashok Panchal. I gave him the responsibility to arrange and conduct the show. I managed to get many popular musicians like Tushar Barde and Nitin Shankar for the show.
A large number of people turned up for the show and it proved to be a huge success. I hired the best equipment from Benny Mathews who is still a dear friend of mine. Vishnu Sharma, a popular anchor back in the day, hosted the show. There were nine songs in total. I had created a story around each of the songs. There was a song on drugs. When I got down the stage, a man congratulated him on the show. That man was none other than Nikhil (laughs).
Nikhil: I had really liked the way the songs were composed and told Vinay that he is a very talented composer. Vinay told me that he has no aspiration to become a composer and wants to be a singer. I told Vinay that I have got a TV serial project and asked me to join me on it.
Vinay: I spoke to my father about this. My father said that once I become a composer, it would be easier for me to get opportunities as a singer. Nikhil’s sister was a student of my father. In a way, Nikhil is responsible for me becoming a composer (laughs).
Nikhil: The Marathi serial that we worked on was titled ‘Jockey’ and was produced by Sushil Gajwani and Shashi Gajwani. It was the first-ever project that we worked on together. They wanted us to do a Hindi film after that. We worked on ‘Doosra Ghar’ that was produced by them. It had Daboo Malik in the lead role. It was the first film we worked on but released after ‘Pyar Bhara Dil’.
Nikhil-Vinay were known as T-Series’ blue-eyes boys for the longest time. How did your association with them begin?
Vinay: Anuradha ji had heard a couple of our songs and asked us to come to the T-Series office one day. We met Gulshan ji and he asked us how many songs we have with us. I never believed in creating a music bank, so we had just about 13 songs ready with us. Gulshan ji gave us a good amount as advance money and asked us to start working for him immediately. He gave us a few bundles of cash in a wooden box that used to hold cassettes. We came out and sat in auto-rickshaw. Nikhil asked me, “is it really happening?”. We started collaborating with many established musicians in the industry. Initially, we used to record most of our songs in Shree Sound Recording in Dadar. ‘Tere Bin Kahin Jiya’ went to Chor Aur Chand. ‘Chand Bankar Tum Gagan Se’ was also from that bank.
Nikhil: Gulshan ji was very fond of us. He used to tell us that we are lucky for the company. Apart from films, the bhajans and pop albums we did for them did very well. I remember going to his bungalow in Lokhandwala complex. We used to have sittings in Pallavi building in Juhu. Ajit Kohli, who was working with T-Series then, would allot us work. We benefitted a lot by working with T-Series as they would promote their music extremely well.
Vinay: I would always be grateful to Gulshan ji for all the opportunities he provided us with. We got into mainstream cinema because of him. Bhushan ji also encouraged us. All the times we spent with him shall always remain etched in our heart. At that time, music companies would be closely involved in the music making process. He has a very good understanding of both music and lyrics. After Gulshan ji, we had a great association with Bhushan ji. He was very professional in his approach and had a good ear for music. With Bhushan ji, our siting would start at 10-11 pm and would go on till 5-6 am.
Do you hope to work with T-Series in the near future?
Vinay: If they call us, we would love to work with them again. T-Series gave us a lot of work. Back then, we would be doing 3-4 recordings with them every day. Sometimes, other music labels would assume that Nikhil-Vinay do not want to work outside T-Series. If producers had already sold their music to another label, they would not prefer working with us. Because of this, we did very little work with Tips, Venus and other labels.
How would you describe each other’s strengths?
Nikhil: Vinay was a very good singer and composer. I always enjoyed composing and arranging songs. My people’s skills were good and I would mostly meet producers and directors.
Vinay: As far as working together was concerned, it was a joint effort. Sometimes, we would work on different departments of the song and there would be times when we would complete each other’s tunes.
You introduced several new singers to the industry.
Nikhil: Yes, we always wanted to encourage young talent. Gulshan Kumar gave us a break even though we were very young and didn’t come from an influential background. He inspired us to give work to new talent. Sonu Nigam got his big break with ‘Achcha Sila Diya Tune’ from ‘Bewafa Sanam’. We launched Farid and Saeed Sabri with ‘Deewani Deewani’ from ‘Uff Yeh Mohabbat’. It was director Abhishek Kapoor’s first film as an actor. Harshdeep Kaur sang her first song (‘Sajna Main Haari’ – ‘Aap Ko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai’ for us. Viiay Tambe played the flute on ‘Achcha Sila Diya’ and his career took off in a big way after that. I had introduced ghazal singer Jaswant Singh to T-Series.
‘Bewafa Sanam’ was quite a big project. For this film, you had recreate some of the songs of Pakistani singer and composer Ataullah Khan.
Nikhil: Yes, Ataullah Khan’s songs had become very popular then. Anuradha Paudwal ji asked us to rearrange the songs and give them the kind of flavour that would work with the Indian audience. Some of these songs were used in the film and many became a part of different albums. Vinay was always clear about the fact that we would only create original songs. I, on the other hand, didn’t want to say no to any kind of work. We told T-Series that Ataullah Khan’s name must be mentioned as the composer and we should be credited with re-arranging the songs.
Vinay: I have never lifted anybody’s tune. We also lost a lot of work because of that as in the ‘90s many producers insisted on copying songs from the West or Pakistan. In ‘Aapko Pehle Bhi Kahin Dekha Hai’, we were asked to do ‘Pakistani-type song’. I told them I will not reuse a song but I will make an original song according to the brief given. We made ‘Sajna Main Haari’ and the producers were very happy with it. I am okay with people not liking my song but I want to feel proud about making original music. Several years back, I had met Attaullah saab in London. I explained him to him the situation under which we had to work on the ‘Bewafa Sanam’ songs.
You had a long-standing association with lyricist Yogesh.
Vinay: Yes! During my struggling days as a singer, I would do a lot of dummy recordings for Usha Khanna ji. Usha ji and Yogesh ji had worked together on many projects and I was hugely influenced by his writing. When Nikhil and I started working for T-Series, we needed a lyricist to work with us. One day, I managed to get Yogesh ji’s address from somebody, went to his house with Nikhil and asked him whether he can write songs for us. He said a yes immediately.
Nikhil: It was an honour to work with Yogesh ji. I was a fan of his songs right from my school days. When I was in school, I had sung his song ‘Kahan Tak Yeh Man Ko Ghere Andhere’ (‘Baton Baton Mein’) during a cultural event.
You composed for a bunch of Shah Rukh Khan films too.
Vinay: I remember meeting Shah Rukh Khan through Pavan Kaul. We first worked on a film called ‘Jadoo’ which got shelved and then, released after ten years as ‘Yeh Lamhe Judaai Ke’ with new actors. Since the film was shelved at one point of time, we reused some of the tunes we had composed for the film in ‘Tum Bin’. The songs we composed for ‘English Babu Desi Mem’ were very popular. ‘Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam’ was stuck for a few years and when T-Series bought its music rights, they asked us to compose a fresh title song for the film. It was used as a promotional song and helped the much-delayed film considerably.
Nikhil: We worked equally hard on every project that was given to us, regardless of whether it had a big star or a newcomer. We tried to give our best as composers to every project.
Years back, Sonu Nigam had called the two of you as two of his favourite composers. You did so many memorable songs with him.
Nikhil: We used to sit in the Juhu office of T-Series and jam together. Bhushan ji had asked to make a couple of songs which would have a similar feel to ‘Deewana’ which Sajid-Wajid had done for them. We made around 25 songs and made them listen to Bhushan ji. He liked the songs and said we will make an album called ‘Jaan’. Sonu is very professional and works very fast. He is one of the best singers we have ever had.
Vinay: Sonu is like my younger brother. He has always treated me with a lot of love and respect. We have spent many precious moments together. Whenever he comes to London, we meet. Recently, I recorded and released a song with him under my label. He is one of the hardest working artists I have across. His humility has been one of the biggest reasons behind his success. We record a song in 20 minutes and then, we would talk for three hours.
Both of you were working together till 2005-06. Why did the split happen?
Vinay: There was no reason as such. We shared a wonderful working relationship. We worked for 18-20 years together and that shows we were in sync as professional partners. In hindsight, I feel I am responsible for it. I wanted to do a lot of things like writing and directing films and therefore, had to function independently.
Both of you have done many projects as solo composers.
Nikhil: It was very difficult to start afresh as a solo composer. Getting work after your brand dissolves is tough. There were many producers who wanted to sign Nikhil-Vinay but skeptical about working with me as a solo composer. Slowly, work started coming in and I managed to do many projects in the last fifteen years. All the ‘Bewafai’ albums with Agam Kumar Nigam were done by me. I have been working on both Hindi and regional projects.
Vinay, you produced Aanand L Rai’s first film ‘Strangers’ and then, shifted to London.
Vinay: When I was based in India, I would visit London often. The city always fascinated me and I felt a sense of calm every time I visited it. My brother and Raj Kundra were producing ‘Strangers’. Nikhil and I had just split. Apart from giving the music, I was also the creative director on that film. On the last day of the shoot, I asked Aanand whether he would shoot the songs later as they had not been shot by then. He realized that he had missed out on shooting the songs. Later, he used montages for the songs. I was a little upset about this but I guess that was destiny.
I wanted Lata ji to sing ‘Jaane Thi Kaisi Raahon Mein’, one of the songs in ‘Strangers’. I called Lata ji. She picked up the phone, spoke to me and told me that she is not singing very often these days. I hummed the tune on the phone. She asked me to send her the cassette. My manager went to her house and gave her the cassette. I was working on the song with Javed saab. Suddenly, Lata ji called me. Lata ji asked me when I would want to record the song. I told her I will record it once I am back from London after my recce. Prior to ‘Strangers’, I had worked with Aanand L Rai on many projects including the TV show ‘Teacher’. Nikhil and I had composed its title track and it was very popular.
Vinay, how did you get interested in filmmaking?
Vinay: I always had an interest in filmmaking. Before I started my career as a composer, I worked as an assistant director in the late ‘80s on a film called ‘Misaal’. I used to give clap and write continuity. I really enjoyed that process. Getting into filmmaking was always there at the back of my mind. I am very active as a filmmaker now. I have a production house in London. Last year, I produced and directed a film called ‘Forever’ which had Raqesh Bapat in the lead role. We released the film on Amazon Prime Video.
Nikhil-Vinay’s music was synonymous with Indian melody. How did you develop your signature style?
Nikhil: Vinay and I were both big fans of RD Burman and wanted to experiment a lot with Western music but when you are working on a film you need to do what a producer wants you to do. In the ‘90s, Indian melody was big and every producer wanted that kind of a sound for their films. We enjoyed doing that then. Now, I am doing a lot of independent projects and getting the opportunity to experiment with different sounds and instruments.
Vinay: I have always loved Indian classical music as it was a part of my DNA. My grandfather Pandit Siyaram Tiwari ji was a dhrupad singer. He was the recipient of the President Award. Whenever I would compose a song, I would ask myself whether this is something the common man would want to hum. While composing for films, our focus was on creating simple melodies.
Is there a chance of you working together again in the future?
Vinay: Why not? Nikhil and I meet whenever I go to India.
Nikhil: We have plans of doing a project together soon.
‘Tum Bin’ has just completed 21 years of its release. What are your memories of working on the film?
Vinay: I would often sit with Yogesh ji and make songs. ‘Koi Fariyaad’ was made for a TV serial directed by Ravi Rai, Aanand L Rai’s brother. It had lines like “maine pucha jo zindagi tumse, tu bata tujh mein kaisi dilkashi hai…..”. I made Anubhav listen to this tune. Anubhav loved it. We called Faaiz Anwar saab and he wrote the song. It was shot in my voice. Jagjit Singh saab had come for the dubbing. He heard the track and told me, “bahut changa gaaya tu, dub karne di koi load nahi hai”. I folded my hands and told him that he was the only person who could do justice to the song. I remember visiting London for the mastering of the song. Anubhav Sinha has a very good sense of music. We have some great memories of working with him on multiple films and albums.
Nikhil: We would spend a lot of time deciding the singers for each song. Apart from Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam and Anuradha Paudwal, we got a couple of singers on board who were not singing for Hindi films frequently then. We had recorded ‘Meri Duniya Mein’ with Sonu Nigam. Anubhav Sinha wanted a female version of the song well. S. P. Sailaja had done some cover songs for T-Series. Mukesh Tomar, who was working with T-Series then, suggested that we get her to sing this song as she has a good range. It was probably her first Hindi song. When we met Sandali Sinha, we realized she had a very gentle voice. Both Vinay and I decided that we would take Chitra for the title song as her voice had the kind of innocence that would suit Sandali.
Tum Bin was one of your biggest successes as composers. After the release of the film, one expected you to sign multiple films but that didn’t quite happen.
Nikhil: The industry doesn’t work like that. There is no formula. After delivering a big success you might feel you will get a lot of work but they will not call you. You have to go out again and ask for work yourself.
Vinay, do you regret not pursuing your singing career alongside being a composer?
Nikhil: Most of the songs composed by Nikhil-Vinay were first dubbed in my voice. I had often thought about coming up with an independent album when we were working together but I was committed to multiple projects as a composer all the time. I never pushed myself for singing. I didn’t want Nikhil to feel that I am ignoring my responsibilities as a composer. Now, I am releasing many singles under my label Mac Music which has songs written, composed and sung by me.
Which has been your favourite Nikhil-Vinay film and album?
Nikhil: ‘Tum Bin’ and ‘Jaan’ have been my favourite Nikhil-Vinay albums. If I have to pick two songs, I would name ‘Koi Fariyaad’ and ‘Tera Milna Pal Do Pal Ka’.
Vinay: As far as films are concerned, I like the music of ‘Tum Bin’ and ‘English Babu Desi Mem’. I think ‘Koi Fariyaad’ and ‘Tum Bin Jiya Jaaye Kaise’ were very strong compositions. In the non-film space, I feel ‘Jaan’ was our best work.
What are you doing next?
Vinay: I am making a film on Indian classical dance. It will be shot in Varanasi, Ukraine and London. It is a musical thriller. I am creating a lot of fresh music under my label Mac Music.
Nikhil: I will be coming out with many singles this year which will feature many popular singers of today. I recently released a single called ‘Dard E Tanhaai’ that was sung by Mohd. Irfan and Sana Aziz. It was released on Panorama Music and was received very well. I have a couple of Hindi and regional films releasing this year as well.