The living room of his flat in a Mumbai suburb is crammed with cheque-books, suitcases and dozens of trophies hung, placed or lying everywhere, topped by the framed Padma Shri.
Shanu Kumar Bhattacharya, known to the world as Kumar Sanu, is languorously seated on a chair in a Tee and shorts, unceasingly answering his cell-phone and speaking in Bengali for at least half of the 30 minutes we spend with him. He has to catch an early morning flight for a show, he tells you.
In the same breath, the man complains that the media is ignoring him and also that he is not bothered about that. "Hum news ke peeche nahin bhaagte. You have come to meet me because I have recorded a song for Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Rowdy Rathore. But I am still singing a song or two every day," he says.
Sanu claims that he has recently sung or recorded for 40 Hindi films. Asked to name a few, he mentions The Weekend directed by Tinu Verma, Zindagi Ho Tum and Touch. He adds that he has completed an album called Tu Hai Ek Gulab on Venus. "The promo on Internet has got them lakhs of hits!" he says. "I am doing two more albums."
Kumar Sanu is also recording frequently in the South and for Bhojpuri and Bengali films. He has sung in a lot of Marathi, Oriya, Assamese, Nepali and Gujarati movies and in a Marathi bhajan album. He names music composers Ashok Patki from Mumbai and South composers M.M.Kreem, Devaa, Raj Koti, Hamsalekha, Chakri and Vande Mataram Srinivas.
He has business interests in Dubai. "I am settled there with my family," he says. "I am here for about 20 days every month as my work is here." Why did he shift there? "There were reasons," he says mysteriously. "Mumbai is not safe anymore."
How did Rowdy Rathore happen? "As soon as Sajid-Wajid composed the tune and made Sanjay Leela Bhansali listen to it, Bhansali just said, `Kumar Sanu'," he declares. "I am singing for him again after our mega-hit Aankhon ki gustakhiyaan maaf ho from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and of course Khamoshi - The Musical earlier. I had not sung much for Sajid-Wajid earlier, but they are very good and have come up with a fantastic song. Faaiz Anwar, who wrote my songs like Dil Hai Ke Manta Nahin's title-track and Imtihaan, has written the lyrics and I am singing after many years for Akshay Kumar. Akshay was so happy that he made them increase my portion in the duet and stated that my voice had the same magic as in Churake dil mera from Main Khiladi Tu Anari 17 years ago."
Kumar Sanu's reign at the box-office came after six long years of struggle. For those who came in late, Sanu had started his career in 1984 with a multi-singer song for R.D.Burman's Yeh Desh (1984) that starred Jeetendra, Zeenat Aman and Kamal Haasan, significant because Kishore Kumar and Amit Kumar were both active then. "I sang my lines for Kamal Haasan. I was on a visit to Mumbai then." The singer was billed as Shanu Kumar Bhattacharya in the song.
When he arrived in Mumbai finally, "I started my career with Shatrughan Sinha's home production Aandhiyaan that was never completed. It was a song to be enacted by him and was composed by Jagjit Singh. Later I recorded for Amitabh Bachchan in both Kalyanji-Anandji's Jaadugar and Rajesh Roshan's Insaniyat. Jagjitsaab again called me to sing for Rajesh Khanna in Khudai (1990)."
But with Khudai not getting a proper release and Khanna's career on a fadeout, Sanu, a clone of Khanna's pet voice Kishore Kumar, never formed a team with the actor, despite some more songs in Wafaa (2009). But Sanu's career zoomed after the 1990 Aashiqui, which he got because he had recorded cover-version albums of Kishore Kumar for T-Series. "Kishoreda had heard me sing Jab dard nahin tha seene mein (Anurodh) from one of the volumes and expressed a desire to meet me. But somehow that never happened."
In the '90s, Sanu sang for almost every composer from Naushad, Kalyanji-Anandji, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Pt.Hridaynath Mangeshkar to all the younger, big and small names. The youngest composers included Himesh Reshammiya ("I sang a lot of songs for him and he is a superb composer") and Vishal-Shekhar.
"My best work was with Nadeem-Shravan, Anu Malik, Jatin-Lalit, Anand-Milind and also Rajesh Roshan and Bappi Lahiri," he tells you. "I sang at least one hit for almost every star — Dharmendra, Jeetendra and Vinod Khanna included, and several hits for all the Khans, Akshay Kumar, Rishi Kapoor and many more." For the record again, the youngest stars for whom he lent his voice include Hrithik Roshan and Shahid Kapoor in their debut films.
He dismisses our statement that his name sold film soundtracks whenever his songs dominated. "What is more important is that my songs became the most popular ones in so many soundtracks where others had more songs!" he crows. He also scoffs at the idea that his career could have lasted even longer with a team-up with a star: "I preferred to be more versatile. I never changed my voice for any star, but concentrated on the needs of the song."
Does he miss those times? "Of course, I do," he says instantly. "But I never went and asked around for work then and I don't do that now. Can you imagine that Don was remade but I was not called for the re-creation of Khaike paan Banaraswala?"
So what does he think of today's music? "No music director, singer or lyricist has an identity any more. Everyone sounds like each other and songs are 15-day sensations till the next so-called hit comes along," He says. "There is too much orientation towards Western music, and lyrics like Munni, Sheila and now DK Bose, which coming from Aamir Khan, is a shocker. There are very few songs that connect. I loved the title-tracks of Guzaarish and Kal Ho Naa Ho and Chand sifarish from Fanaa was fantastic."
Does he intend to compose music again after Utthaan six years back? "That was a film," he says. "But I have always been composing, even for albums. That's my shouq, not my main profession. I also acted in just one Bengali film. I have a production company and I have even made two serials."
How does he look back on his long journey? "I am very, very happy! Socha nahin tha utnaa diya ooparwale ne!" he declares.