Renowned classical and ghazal singer, Mehnaz says that her entire family is very artistic in one way or the other and had she not been a singer, she would most certainly have been pursuing some other art-related profession. It is not surprising therefore, that in whatever free time Mehnaz has, she does fabric painting. However, even today, when she sings mostly for pleasure, Mehnaz spends so much time doing rayaz and research of Hazrat Amir Khusro’s kalaam that she doesn’t have the time to do much else, which is why her public appearances are also minimal.
In spite of her preoccupations, though, Mehnaz says she does manage to spare time for reading, especially travelogues, and her most favourite travelogue is Shikariyat written by Maqbool Jehangir, which she says is “Simply amazing”. Says she, “I’ve travelled so much all my life that I really enjoy reading travel books. I find Amjad Islam Amjad’s travelogues enjoyable too and also like the writings of Ali Sufiyan Afaqi, the author of Filmi Alif Laila. I’ve worked a lot with him, although he hasn’t mentioned me in his book.”
Mehnaz says she doesn’t read digests at all and enjoys good poetry, especially by Ahmed Faraz, Parveen Shakir, Javed Akhter and Himayat Ali Shahir. Says she, “It is a matter of tremendous pride for me when one of these great personalities acknowledges my contribution. I was thrilled to learn that in one of her interviews, when Parveen was asked what she enjoys the most, she said ‘Mehnaz’! Similarly, Ahmed Faraz is known to have announced in one of his mehfils that he was dedicating his song Jana, Jana to me. It is such a great honour to receive such tributes from them.”
Continuing about the kind of books she enjoys reading Mehnaz adds, “My mother was very much into reading, especially Islamic history, and had a whole library full of very precious books. So, whenever I get the chance, I pick up one of her books to read.” Asked to name one writer or poet as her absolute favourite, she says it would be Ahmed Faraz.
While it’s not surprising that Mehnaz is fond of listening to music, it comes as a pleasant surprise to learn that she also enjoys Western music, and is particularly impressed by Whitney Houston’s voice which she describes as “Amazing — it’s so powerful.” Explains Mehnaz “My younger brother, who is a terrific guitarist and now settled in the US, used to listen to Western music a lot. And as the songs would waft through my windows, I became fond of listening to them too.”
Among the other Western singers she mentions are Mariah Carey, Kenny Rogers and George Michael. She says she loves the way Carey sings and says appreciatively, “She has really worked on her voice and takes it to such a crescendo in her songs. Her voice quality and range is truly great.” As for a favourite from among Whitney Houston’s renditions, Mehnaz says she likes the theme song of Bodyguard the best.
From local classical singers, Mehnaz finds Roshan Ara Begum’s voice unmatchable. Amir Khan sahib is another of her favourite classical singers who she describes as “A genuine singer.” According to Mehnaz, “That’s what singing is about. Singing is synonymous with peace — not the ‘hangama’, which is passed off these days for singing.” She recalls the songs of Pakistani film Aina and says they are among her favourite ditties.
Mehnaz also raves about the hard work that Tina Sani has put into her singing and is appreciative of how far she has come because of it. Says she, “She has proved that hard work and commitment pays and I have been very inspired by her dedication. In fact, it was she who got after me to change my style of singing and to incorporate ghazal in my repertoire.”
Still on the subject of local talent, Mehnaz adds, “I also like Nayara Noor’s voice and enjoy Arshad Mehmud sahib’s compositions a great deal. And, of course, I admire the work of our seniors like Niaz Ahmed sahib and Javed Allahditta. I think I have been lucky in that no other artiste has managed to do as much work as I have done with music directors. I have done a lot of work with Ustaads and have been their favourite artiste.”
When asked to name one favourite singer, she says without a moment’s thought “Mehdi Hasan sahib. He is the ultimate. I have heard ghazal singers from all over the world — Anup Jalota, Pankhar Judhas but none of them hold a candle before him. Just his alaap is enough to overshadow anyone.”
As for Indian singers, Mehnaz says it is her dream to one day meet Lata Mangeshkar in person. She hopes that time will bring the legendary crooner to Pakistan so that she can have the opportunity to meet her.
With regard to movies, Mehnaz says she watches “Good films”, whether Indian or Pakistani. Says she, “Our old Pakistani movies were really good, and some of our Punjabi movies are great too. I saw Sayyed Noor’s Churian some time back, and really enjoyed it — it’s a very sweet movie and I liked Saima’s acting in it. From the vintage local movies my favourites include Mosiqar, Sabiha Khanum’s Daman, and Pehchaan, which bagged seven awards and had Bazmi sahib’s music. My song had become a super-hit in it too.”
As for Indian movies, Mehnaz says Baghban is her favourite. She also recalls thoroughly enjoying Daag, starring Amitabh Bachchan, and Black. Of the latter she says “Rani Mukherjee has acted so well in it that you can’t call her an actor — she is an artiste in the true sense of the word. I feel she is in the same league as Dilip sahib and Amitabh. But, of late she has begun to do glamour-oriented roles — although there is no need for her to resort to it. People who don’t know how to act should do such roles, not someone of her calibre.”
FAVOURITE POET: Ahmed Faraz
FAVOURITE SINGER: Mehdi Hassan
FAVOURITE MOVIE: Baghban
FAVOURITE BOOK: Shikariyat