Despite the unnecessary hype and propagandist storyline that director Kabir Khan’s Phantom stood on, the film fell on its face at the box office. However, its music which was produced by Pritam Chakraborty proved to be the only highlight of the film. The track Afghan Jalebi became a massive hit.
Two versions of the song were released and interestingly, both were sung by Pakistani singers. Singer-songwriter Asrar Shah lent his voice to the Ya Baba version of the song while folk singer Akhtar Chanal Zahri sang the dumbek version. Both the tracks were widely appreciated for their respective upbeat and earthy themes, garnering millions of views on YouTube.
However, Zahri regrets the day he gave the nod to his Bollywood debut. It all started when the singer got a call from a Karachi-based man who called himself Dr Israni. “He said he was calling on behalf of the Phantom team,” Zahri told The Express Tribune. Dr Israni asked him to sing the “item song” for the movie. “I told him that I am a folk singer and that my voice wouldn’t suit the item song but he said they want a folk feel to the track so I sang it.”
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He said he also had objections over the song’s lyrics and had demanded to change them. “It was against my conscience to sing such words in a tapori song. I informed Pritam who changed a few words in my version,” he added.
Zahri eventually travelled to Lahore to record the track and he was paid “only Rs15,000 for the trip” in terms of travel expenses. “I was told that they’re recording a trial version.”
Zahri claimed he later received another phone call, informing him that his version was not approved and will not be a part of the film’s soundtrack. “Later, I saw that it was released! The discovery was both shocking and disappointing.” According to the singer, he is yet to be paid for the song. He did travel to Karachi looking for the mysterious Dr Israni but did not find him. “I do not even know his first name.”
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Despite not being compensated, Zahri is proud that his first ever song in Bollywood became a success. “Pritam really polished it and made it sound nice,” he said, adding, “But I have learnt my lessons.”
He said he did the song for the sake of promoting brotherly relations between India and Pakistan. “I did it for the sake of brotherhood between the two countries. I have now learnt that one needs to be careful before making decisions like these.”
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The government awarded Zahri the Pride of Performance award back in 1998. However, he came into the limelight with his appearance in Coke Studio. He has travelled around the world and played live at concerts in the American and European continents.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 13th, 2016.
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