EXCLUSIVE | PVR INOX MD reveals reason behind singing ‘Ik Onkar’

| Updated: 05 January, 2024 9:29 pm IST

NEW DELHI: The New Indian’s Executive Editor Rohan Dua engages in a compelling conversation with PVR INOX Managing Director Ajay Bijli, exploring his musical journey, particularly his composition of ‘IK Onkar,’ prominently featured in ‘Dunki’. The business tycoon reveals his fondness for singing, for which he found new reignited passion during Covid.

Here are a few excerpts from the interview:

Rohan Dua: What essentially ‘Ik Onkar’ means to you. Is it because of the fact that Guru Nanak is seen as the Kali Yuga avatar of Lord Vishnu or is there an innate desire inside every Punjabi to once in a lifetime become charitable and give his spiritual thoughts more dominance than anything else?

Ajay Bijli: It’s just that I have been very fond of singing and when you sing you sing Hindi songs, English songs and bhajans. So I’ve been very fond of bhajans as well. My mom has brought us up in such a way that we have a temple in different houses as well. And because I was fond of singing, rather than just reciting the prayers by reading them, I started singing those.

Hanuman Chalisa by Shekhar and also Harshadip Kaur and A. R. Rahman’s version of ‘Ik Onkar’. These are the ones I really enjoyed singing and of course there’s so many other bhajans that I sing. And during COVID, ‘Ik Onkar’ really worked for me and my mom was there to guide me, my three children, and my wife.

Rohan: Did you get affected by COVID at that time?

Ajay: Very badly because business was affected and personally, I was quite impacted by it, but I found this as a release. I reconnected to singing and you know different songs and prayers mean different things to everybody. I just found a lot of solace not because of any religious affiliation, just generally anything that gives you peace is something that you should sing, and I like this a lot.

I’m going to probably do other songs, other prayers as well as other religious affiliations. So I just spoke to Shekhar and I said, listen, I’ve been singing this, I really enjoy it and can you do a rendition for me of Ik Onkar? With my band I do cover songs, English songs, Hindi songs but I want to get into recording.

I said, before I start my original recording of songs that I want to do let me first record a rendition of Ik Onkar and he brought the music and shared with me what he had in mind, the melody, the Waheguru loop and I said wow this is very good.

I made a few of the people whose judgement I trust that listen to what you think of this, they all liked it and that’s how it all happened. And I’m not on any spiritual journey because I’ve got a lot of work to do. I have a company to run. I’m just saying that I’m as spiritual as the next guy who does believe that there is somebody up there to ensure that you know the difference between what is right and what is wrong. That’s all.

And you have to do a good job of all the multifaceted roles that we play in life. But this was really to start off this singing side hobby, not the main career, side hobby, with something that I really liked. It just grew organically.

First Shekhar did a fabulous job, then Rakesh Om Prakash Mehra, who I approached to do a video suddenly came out of this thing that let’s do it in Pathar Sahib in Ladakh, which I’d never been to. So organically it just became something which became very exciting for me.

Hirani, Shah Rukh, Bhushan Kumar and Pritam all agreed to put my song in their album in ‘Dunki’. I still haven’t seen the movie. I am going to see it maybe tomorrow. So, it all just turned out to be something amazing. I am quite excited about it.

Rohan: I have often felt and believed that people with latent talents, the hidden talents, are also the most successful people in this country. Whether it is reading, dividing time between music as a hobby, collecting stamps or anything. Is it because you have had this latent desire to sing, or is it something which came at a time when ‘Dunki’ was getting promoted?

Ajay: I’ve been singing all my life. I was in a modern school as well. I used to sing there as well. I was in a choir over there. I did a lot of school competitions. I sang in Hindu college and I made a band, so it was just something that I was doing, but I completely lost touch with it. And because in 1990 I started the cinema business. It’s been 33 years now since I opened Priya. That became my passion to build cinema. So, singing took a back seat.

But during Covid, I needed something other than thinking about the business, which had completely been decimated. I mean, our business was completely down in the dumps. I needed a release, a respite. Therefore, I once again said, listen, I need to get into my passion. And it started with that.

Rohan: Many people also believe that because PVR Pictures as a production house ventured into ‘Taare Zameen Par’ and ‘Jane tu Ya Jane Na’, it brought you closer to Rakesh Omprakash Mehra and Amir Khan. Of course, Rakesh is part of this project. Are you going to work with them in future as well?

Ajay: I did two films with Amir. And I have always liked him as an actor. We became friends. But yeah, PVR pictures did bring me close to a lot of people because I was doing production very seriously.

Shekhar also did music for a movie called Shanghai, and then, Rakesh did a very small movie also. So, yeah, I mean, in this business, you are joined at the hip with the film fraternity. And on the other side the developers, real estate developers. So, we are in the middle of it.

You do develop friendships and you do develop affiliations. But currently, we’re doing more distribution business rather than production business. Not production at the moment.

Rohan: Rakesh has used Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s hymns quite significantly whether it was ‘Bhaag Milkha Bhaag’ or ‘Rang De Basanti’. So, he also sorts of introduced it, so it comes as no surprise to me that he chose to shoot.

Ajay: I chose him. He was busy with a very big project because of two films. And just like suddenly I got gravitated towards Shekhar because of his Hanuman Chalisa, I got gravitated towards Rakesh Omprakash Mehra to make a video. He heard the Waheguru version and he said let’s do this but give me time. I’ll let you know where to do it. Let’s do something very exciting.

Rohan: Do you recite these prayers inside your home as well?

Ajay: Yeah. Every morning. And Hanuman Chalisa and so many others.

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