Roshmila Bhattacharya (MUMBAI MIRROR; June 28, 2017)

Two years ago, he caught the eye on screen in Bajrangi Bhaijaan as a qawwal in a dargah singing, “Bhar do jholi meri”, his first qawwali, which he consented to only for Salman Khan, his oldest friend in Bollywood. Early next year, Adnan Sami will be seen in the romantic musical-adventure Afghan, not in another special appearance but a full-fledged acting debut. He plays an Afghan musician who, after facing discrimination in his country, comes to India where he finds love in many forms. Directed by Vinay Sapru and Radhika Rao, the film rolls in August and is targeting an early 2018 release.

Casually dressed in jeans and a black tee, Adnan reasons that facing the camera for music videos was easy as the songs were close to his heart and he was playing himself. But this time he will be living a character and the only connect is that being a musician with Afghan roots himself, he can empathise with what an artist goes through in the Islamic world, in particular a war-torn country where radical elements believe music to be haraam, a view not endorsed by the Quran.

Adnan, who gave the music for the 2005 Salman-starrer, Lucky: No Time For Love, has been waiting to reunite with its director duo. Afghan was born from their many guftugus about his forefathers. “We belong to the royal family of King Amanullah and still have palaces in Herat, Afghanistan. My great grandfather conquered Kafirastan and renamed it Nuristan. My grandfather was a provincial governor. After my father’s death, I’m the family patriarch now. I’ve never spoken about that part of my life because I didn’t want my family to open any doors for me but carve a niche on my own. Since I took a path no one had tread, they didn’t know which doors to open anyway,” he laughs.

He hasn’t been to Afghanistan in years but plans to shoot there and across India since his film celebrates Indo-Afghan brotherhood. He recalls being invited to an award function in Delhi where all those being honoured as also the audience were Afghans, discredited in their country, embraced by ours.

Adnan himself came to India in 1999 and after years of anxious wait for visas to be renewed, constricted by legal procedures and a little book called passport, he became an Indian citizen on January 1, 2016. “Under a Special Clause the Government of India can grant citizenship to someone for exemplary services in the field of art, science and sport. The clause, in existence since 1955, was applied for the first time in my case. And finally, the country I’d accepted as my aashiyana 17 years ago, woh India jise main qabool tha, became my own. It was a spectacular finale,” he beams, at home in his spacious 13th floor apartment. There is a sense of peace… of sokoon… here which he finds hard to put into words but promises that his children will never be allowed to forget the struggle their father went through to give them things on a platter.

His daughter, Medina Sami Khan, entered the world on May 10, and Adnan remembers staying up all night looking at her sleep, delighted to have the daughter he had been praying for. In just a month, Medina, named after his favourite city, has her dad wrapped around her little finger. “I’ve become an expert in shopping for baby girls, from hats and shoes to frocks and a baby suit that has ‘No dating allowed… ever’ scrawled across as a warning to future suitors, a la Robert De Niro in Meet The Fockers,” he chuckles, admitting that his daughter has come as a blessing when he’s just beginning a new journey.

Now that he’s an actor, will music take a back seat? “No, it won’t because it’s second nature to me,” he asserts. “But while I admire jugglers, I can’t multitask. Right now my focus is Afghan. I’m not just acting in it, I also have to compose seven songs for it.”

As you look around the cream and gold living room, your eyes come to rest on a photograph of Amitabh Bachchan and a grossly over-weight Adnan from the “Lift Kara De” days. “It feels like another lifetime. Everyone saw the smiles and the cute teddy bear looks but few knew the hell I was going through behind that happy happy fa├žade because of serious health problems,” he admits.

Equally eye-catching is a grand piano and Adnan reveals that the room which was just a shell when he bought the apartment, was designed around this piano. He was introduced to the instrument as a four-year-old when his diplomat father was transferred to Portugal. They moved into the fully- furnished residence of the ambassador in Lisbon and the little boy discovered a piano in one of the rooms. Despite being forbidden to touch it, it became his toy, and he secretly learnt to play the keys on his own, surprising his father who was trying to play a local song on it one evening and getting the notes wrong, with a perfect recital. Rather than reprimand him, his father encouraged his talent and he was composing his own tunes by the age of nine.

As a teenager, Adnan discovered Hindustani classical music and when he whined about not being taught an instrument like the sitar or the harmonium so he could play this music on it, his father pointed him towards the piano. When he protested saying no one played Indian classical music on a piano, he was told, “You can be the first.”

Sceptical, he started reading up on the subject and learnt that the piano and the santoor belonged to the same musical family. So then he learnt Hindustani classical music from santoor legend Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and began to play cover versions of classical legends like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan on the electronic piano. He was declared ‘Keyboard Discovery of the ’90s’ by an American magazine while the Swedish Radio and Television Broadcasting proclaimed him the fastest keyboard player in the world. “For me, it was enough that I can play Hindustani classical music on this piano,” he says, smiling down at his piece de resistance as he sets out on a different musical journey.