Mikey McCleary and Natalie Di Luccio, two expats in Bollywood bond over lunch

Dec 05, 2017, 09:44 IST | Shunashir Sen

That might sound similar to the name of a popular Facebook page, but it's also an apt description for Mikey McCleary and Natalie Di Luccio, who have been creating a buzz in the Hindi film industry

When we reach a swish Bandra restaurant at the exact hour scheduled for lunch with Natalie Di Luccio and Mikey McCleary, we find Natalie already seated there. Mikey, though, hasn't arrived yet, and this leads to inevitable jokes about 'Indian Standard Time'. But to be fair to the New Zealander, he reaches only a few minutes later and immediately hits it off with Natalie, whom he knows from before. But the two haven't met in a while, their individual projects having kept them too busy to find the time. Mikey, 48, is a composer who dabbles in Bollywood projects such as Shaitan (2011) and most recently Ribbon, which released last month. Natalie, a 28-year-old Italian-Canadian, has made a mark in Bollywood too, as a playback singer in films like English Vinglish and Chennai Express. A Hindi video in collaboration with Raghu Ram is also just around the corner. She's recovered from an appendicitis operation only a few days ago, she tells us, and explores the menu with Mikey before they settle down for an engaging conversation.

Mikey McCleary and Natalie Di Luccio at a restaurant in Bandra West. Pics/Shadab Khan
Mikey McCleary and Natalie Di Luccio at a restaurant in Bandra West. Pics/Shadab Khan

Shunashir to Natalie: How did your relationship with India begin?
Natalie: Well, I remember I was in the library in McGill (a Canadian university where she studied) around 2009 and I had all my songs on Myspace at the time. I don't know if you remember Myspace?
Shunashir: I do remember it.
Mikey: Yeah, I do too.
Natalie: So this is then, okay? And I got a message on Myspace from someone from India, who said, "Hi, we'd like you to come to India and record on this fusion album on the chakras." But the whole thing didn't make sense to me at the time. So, I said, "Thanks; yeah, maybe one day." But I didn't know who that album was by. Long story short, they messaged me again and said, "Can you do some recording for us from Canada?" and I said, "Okay." Two months later, I get back home from school in Quebec and there's a CD in the mail; it's Sonu Nigam's Maha Ganesha album, which is what I sung for!
Mikey: Wow.

Shunashir: Yeah, wow. And how was it for you, Mikey?
Mikey: My relationship with India actually began because I was born here, in Chennai. My parents were missionaries in the country, in Andhra Pradesh. But anyway, let's fast forward. I moved to New Zealand when I was five years old, did my schooling there, got into music, moved to London and got a studio there. And one day, somebody knocks on the door of the studio, some Indian fellow, and says, "Hi, I'm your new brother-in-law." And this guy is Lucky Ali.
Natalie: Oh my gosh!
Mikey: Yeah, but he hadn't released anything then, so he wasn't known as a singer. He had come to do some sort of recording in Watford and said, "Can I come in and maybe, we can do some music together?" So, I said, "Okay, come back over the weekend," and that's how we recorded a couple of songs, Oh Sanam and Sunoh.
Shunashir: ...Which kind of changed the Indi-pop game at that point of time, at least in terms of videos.
Mikey: Right. And the Oh Sanam video was shot in Cairo, at the pyramids. And the woman who was dressed in the purdah, with everyone in India wondering who this person with blue eyes in Lucky Ali's big hit song is — that's my sister!
Natalie: That's so funny, and really cool.

(The food — poached pear and blue cheese salad, grand chicken Caesar salad, meatballs in creamy sauce and pizza American — arrives)
Mikey: Have you noticed how so many Mumbai menus suddenly have watermelon and feta salad?
Natalie: I think it's a Greek combination and you're right, it's everywhere now. But the pizza in Italy (which is where part of her family is from) is totally different from the one we get in Mumbai. They have less ingredients and the main thing is always the tomato sauce. You can tell the restaurant by its tomato sauce.

Shunashir: Have you not taken to Indian food?
Natalie: No, no. It's not that. But I am fonder of North Indian food because I find that it's a little sweeter in general, all your butter chickens and navratan kormas. And I think North Indian food is pretty much what you mean by Indian food elsewhere in the world, right?
Mikey: Well, do you know what the national dish in the UK is?

Shunashir: It used to be chicken tikka masala, but I'm not so sure about now.
Mikey: I think it still is. By "national dish" they mean the most commonly ordered dish in restaurants.
Natalie: I don't know why it is, but when I'm at home here, I don't like having cooked food as much. Maybe it's the weather?
Mikey: Yeah, it could be. You'll also see that countries that are hotter actually have more chilli in their food. That's because it's counter-intuitive. Chilli kind of cools you down, and brings the heat out.
Natalie: It's so funny how that works.

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Quick takes
Your favourite classic Bollywood song from the '50s or '60s:
Mikey: I would say Chalte Chalte Yunhi Koi from Pakeezah. 
Natalie: One song I really find fascinating is Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo because it has such a strong jazz influence.
One place you haven't visited in India and would love to:
Mikey: I really want to go looking for tigers in Ranthambore. It's something I've always wanted to do, though I know it might sound a bit touristy.
Natalie: You know, I have not done any of the mountains yet, like Ladakh or Dharamsala.
A genre of music you would listen to at home after a hard day's work:
Natalie: Oh, mine would definitely be crossover opera.
Mikey: I now have a six-month-old baby, and I'm playing a lot of classical stuff for her, mainly because children's music is just awful!

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