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Change The Only Constant

Digital era has changed the face of Bollywood music, but is it for the better or worse?

Change The Only Constant
Rumba Express
The ­vibrant Chaiyyan Chaiyyan
Photograph by Alamy
Change The Only Constant

That film music has undergone a paradigm shift over 25 years is the understatement of the millennium. The country has changed and so has society, and films reflect these changes, whether for the better or for the worse. Liberalisation with globalisation, emerging new technology and the digital era have slowly but inevitably changed the face of everything.

Back in 1992, cinema was witnessing the peak of a new romantic, musical era that had come in from the late ’80s, the consolidation of Aamir Khan, Salman Khan, Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn and the beginning of the creative and commercial decline of most of the old guard in almost all departments. Big screen was back, stereophonic sound had become a compulsion—not a luxury—thanks to better electronic equipment even at home. Theatres too had to follow suit or perish (many did). The stage was set for multiplexes and home theatres for a better cinema experience within five years. Video CDs, along with audio CDs (already out since 1989) would soon replace cassettes.

Have we changed?

And so, for GenY, 1992 can be termed dated! But the big question is, have we and our ‘likes’ really changed today? Do even Siri or Quora have answers to this?

Like it or not, we must acc­ept that the new that works most in 2017 is really a recycle of the old. In Judwaa 2, “Chalti hai kya” and “Oonchi hai building” have scored highest, and both songs are re-creations from the original, Anu Malik’s Judwaa (1997), of which this film too is a reboot!

Rajesh Roshan’s Kaabil, earlier this year, saw re-creations of songs from his 1975 Julie and 1981 Yaarana, while the multi-composer Raees saw Kalyanji-Anandji’s cult “Laila O Laila” (Qurbani / 1980)  being re-created. Add Shankar-Jaikishan’s “Chalat musafir” (Teesri Kasam / 1966) reworked as “Badri ki dulahnia” and Bappi Lahiri’s “Tama tama loge” (Thanedaar / 1990) as the two principal hits from Badrinath Ki Dulhania and we see this controversial trend possibly at peak time.

Obviously, these and many other new versions (worse-ions?) are called tributes by those who choose to remake such classics. The counterview is that such songs mutilate the originals, as they are poor in lyrics and orchestration and are terribly sung and filmed. Worse, there is often no link between the (original) words and the new visuals!

It’s about composers, lyricists and singers making money second-hand without even thinking of anything original.

In a nutshell, it’s really about making money second-­hand by composers, lyricists, selectors and singers who do not even attempt to design anything comparably original! The theory, what worked big-time decades down will surely work again. A generation that has never heard or watched these humdingers will be hooked by the substantial tunes and words!

Who cares, then, if this and future generations might never know the original creators? With India’s negligible implementation of copyright laws, why even pay royalties to those who actually created this goldmine? The music companies can gobble the amounts. Alongside, the actual original creations mostly lag behind in quality as well as popularity. No one seems really interested in the classic kind of situational film score, wherein songs are created for movie-specific situations, like Pritam’s wonderful extravaganza of music, Jagga Jasoos, or Anu Malik’s sensitive Begum Jaan. The same goes for rare lovely “singles” (a ‘today’ term imported from the West!), like “Kanha” (Shubh Mangal Savdhan) or “Gori tu lath maar” (Toilet-Ek Prem Katha).

All this reflects a paucity of talent and commitment (in his time, the musically-untrained O.P. Nayyar composed classical delights when the situations warranted!) and a killer insecurity. A film composer, lyricist and singer must be an all-rounder, declared Javed Akhtar once, but that is not the case anymore.

Sultry Swing

Rangeela’s Tanha Tanha

Many music buffs, even young ones, opine that film music is all but dead. Purists say that the last rites have been performed years ago! Songs are no longer like friends or precious, relatable memories and thematic soundtracks are rarer than eclipses. Even lip-sync songs are recorded for the wrong reasons—as dance tracks that a star needs for shows, rather than as the narrative device that was Indian cinema’s USP.

And to understand why, we must go in flashback mode.

Blossoming acorns, crumbling oaks

The years 1992 and 1993 were significant. The mighty legends—the oaks of music—had begun to crumble. R.D. Burman and Kalyanji-Anandji were all but passé, and even Rajesh Roshan was at low ebb. Majrooh Sultanpuri, Indeevar and Hasrat Jaipuri were down, so were other master lyricists. Singers Manna Dey and Mahendra Kapoor had almost stopped recording.

Fighting with their backs to the wall were stalwarts Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Anand Bakshi, while Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle were still like Supreme Courts—available for songs that composers thought were beyond the powers of the “lower courts”, that is, the younger singers. Slowly but surely, even the older lot of musical filmmakers and stars had faded away, though Rishi Kapoor was still around. Now, Anil Kapoor, Govinda and newcomers Aamir Khan and Salman Khan were inspiring composers. Thanks to the revival in music since the turn of the decade, Madhuri Dixit and Sridevi were musically big as well, the former comfortably ahead of the latter. And a new star was added to this starlit musical sky, who was to redefine music and romance in the next 15 years—Shah Rukh Khan.

Well, 1992 began with the legacy of a music-studded 1991 behind it—Hum, Saudagar, Lekin, Saajan, Phool Aur Kaante, Lamhe and Henna were solid soundtracks, lighting the way forward. Nadeem-Shravan and Anand-Milind were now leading the roster of busy names. Lyricist Sameer, backed mainly by these two duos, had a quantitative edge over the prolific Anand Bakshi, never mind if the lexicon of his verse was limited, as per market diktats. After all, individual-driven music companies (T-Series, Venus, Tips) now commanded more clout than the corporate HMV, as SaReGaMa was known then. Into the competitive arena stepped in Jatin-Lalit, who delivered three diverse but whopper musicals with a fresh sound and strong melody—Khiladi, Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikander and the film that was to clinch a long association with SRK—Raju Ban Gaya Gentleman.

Against this mélange of newcomers, Laxmikant-Pyarelal could garner success only with Amitabh Bachchan’s home production opus Khuda Gawah, while Bappi Lahiri scored one of his career-best scores in Zindagi Ek Juaa. The young acorns continued to blossom through 1993: Alka Yagnik and Kavita Krishnamurthi (now Subramaniam) forged ahead of Anuradha Paudwal, and Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan and Abhijeet overtook Mohammed Aziz, Shabbir Kumar, Amit Kumar, Nitin Mukesh and Suresh Wadkar.

Open Secret

Khalnayak’s iconic Choli Ke Peeche

The ’90s revolution

The era of blatant double-entendre in songs was flagged off by three 1993 chartbusters, “Choli ke peeche” (Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s last cult song among dozens) from Khal-Nayak, “Gutar gutar” from Dalaal and “Rukmani Rukmani” from the dubbed Roja. For some time, this pernicious trend flourished, boosted by erotic camera angles and filming. After the endemic popularity of the cultured lyrics of 1942-A Love Story, Hum Aapke Hain Koun!.... and Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge in the next two years, it died an uneventful death. And a trend that remained in overdrive for a while was Rap, which arrived with Bali Brahmbhatt’s “Lena hai lena hai” from Bomb Blast.

The year saw the most spectacular comeback achieved in Hindi cinema. Composer Anu Malik slalomed to centre-stage, and finally the top, with Baazigar (a film rejected by N-S because it had “no scope for music”!), Sir and Phir Teri Kahani Yaad Aayi. Malik’s reign as Numero Uno extended to 2005 with a now-legendary range that includes Border, Judwaa, Virasat, Asoka, Filhaal, Munna Bhai MBBS, Ishq Vishq, Saaya, Main Hoon Na and No Entry!

The year 1993 saw Anu Malik move to the top with Baazigar that Nadeem-Shravan had rejected, saying it had no scope for music.

However, the ’90s also was the decade of imitation. Songs were copied, inspired by and cleverly modified, from all conceivable sources: old Hindi songs, regional hits, Western numbers and Pakistani and Middle-Eastern sources. Composers followed legendary names in style, so did lyricists, while clones of playback titans ruled. Space constraints permit only three examples: Anand-Milind borrowed from Ilaiyaraja and L-P, and Sanu and Paudwal went, respectively, the Kishore Kumar and Lata Mangeshkar way!

A.R. Rahman, whose Roja had been a blockbuster in Tamil, came into Hindi films with its dubbed version, which also became huge. The biggest positive change ARR brought in was a new sound that forever revolutionised Hindi film music as we know it. ARR’s mega-­success was a trailblazer, and music makers who would never have dared to venture into the domain of this El Dorado now followed suit: It was no longer necessary now to have a classical Indian background, or to assist a senior composer, to be successful.

However, there were powerful negatives: with ARR, the importance of proper lyrics and expressive singing with correct diction diminished fast, and after the success of his Hindi debut Rangeela (1995), filmmakers now looked at a song as an independent music video more than as a part of the story! Side by side, new traditional composers also winged in, led by Vishal Bhardwaj (who broke through with the 1996 Maachis). However, the late ’90s saw a curious phenomenon: leaders-to-be in the millennium made their debuts working only on a song or more, not the complete score: Himesh Reshammiya and Sajid-Wajid in Pyaar Kiya To Darna Kya, Vishal-Shekhar in Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi, and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy in Dillagi.

The struggling Sonu Nigam broke through with “Sandesen aate hain” (Border) and Sukhwinder Singh with “Chal chhaiyyaan” (Dil Se…). KK made his debut in Maachis but struck big with “Tadap tadap ke” (Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam). Shaan made his debut with “Musu musu hasi” (Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi) and Sunidhi Chauhan, whose debut song as a child-singer, “Paro” (Shastra) was popular, recorded “Ruki ruki thi zindagi” (Mast) for the film’s heroine. Newbie composer Ismail Darbar raised gargantuan hopes in 1999 with Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, but despite some decent work later, like Deewangee, he could not maintain momentum, except for Bhansali’s Devdas.

The ’90s is also known for passing sensations in playback, like singers Ila Arun, Pankaj Udhas, Bali and Baba Sehgal, with some significant contribution from S.P. Balasubramaniam and K.S. Chithra from the south. And from the late ’90s, wordsmiths Gulzar and Javed Akhtar became busier.

The millennium’s challenges

Shreya Ghoshal, introduced in Devdas, and Pritam remain the brightest discoveries of the decade. Shreya, who consolidated her success with extraordinary work in Jism and Saaya, along with Sunidhi, maintained the dignity of playback singing in its purest sense, after a married Krishnamurthi curtailed work and Yagnik lost out to the young brigade. After Sunidhi and Shreya, many have tried to make the grade.

Second Love

Aashiqui again in Aashiqui 2

Pritam, whose breakthrough film Dhoom became a sensation, traversed the dazzling route of earlier market-leaders Shankar-Jaikishan, Laxmikant-Pyarelal and Anu Malik: he took on multiple films, of varied hues, showing exemplary range in them: besides Dhoom and its franchise movies, there were Gangster, Jab We Met, Race and Race 2, Tum Mile, Barfi!, Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Dilwale, to mention only the crème-de-la-crème.

S-E-L (beginning with the path-breaking Dil Chahta Hai), V-S (Om Shanti Om) and Sajid-Wajid showed less consistency, though Sajid-Wajid’s Dabangg (2010) rest­ored the classic film score template of situational songs rendered by professional playback singers rather than crooners. The man who challenged all convention was Himesh Reshammiya, who shot to fame with a steady input of hits. “I follow N-S and L-P,” he said once. “Like with them, my music is the biggest star of my films.” Turning singer with Aashiq Banaya Aapne and Aksar, he became a craze, even acting as a hero and doing sellout concerts. However, Reshammiya could not adapt to a fast-changing milieu.

Barfi! (2012) is among the films in which Pritam showed exemplary range after his sensational breakthrough Dhoom.

In 2004-2005, with Paap and Zeher, the Bhatt brothers Mahesh and Mukesh brought in Pakistani singers and composers. Of them, Atif Aslam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan still count. Adnan Sami, now an Indian citizen, was an earlier import as composer-singer. This only added to the variety, though controversy still dogs their film forays, especially today. And while Jeet Gannguli, Meet Bros, Ankit Tiwari, Arko, Tanishk Bagchi and finally Amaal Mallik (now trying his best to go solo) collaborated mainly on T-Series projects with multiple song-makers, Amit Trivedi (who was initially hyped as the new-age ARR) and the substantial Sachin-Jigar made solo waves, the latter exhibiting a dexterous range in films like ABCD, Go Goa Gone, Badlapur and A Gentleman . In a curious rewind to the golden past, Sachin and Jigar assisted Rajesh Roshan and Pritam for years!

Among a plethora of male voices, Arijit Singh stood out with some consistency after his Aashiqui 2. The millennium’s biggest irony, however, was that massively talented lyricists Amitabh Bhattacharya, Irshad Kamil, Prasoon Joshi and Manoj Muntashir may never get their due thanks to their market environment!

Underlying all this was the main change that had come in: the downfall, of physical music sales, thanks to downloads as much as poorer content. Music now has to be designed to first bring in revenues, and then, if possible, match a film’s needs. With revenues coming from digital (caller-tunes, ringtones) domain and downloads, a hit ‘hook’ becomes more important than a good song! And so, Punjabi folk, Sufi-ana music and Rock have crossed super-saturation, while overdependence on these tried-and-tested genres and formulae (like recycling older songs) has thus become the norm.

The flashback ends.

What next?

So we are all eager to see where film music is headed. Will its past glory ever be back in a relevant contemporary form? Well, hope lives on.


1992-2017: 25 Music Makers Who Made A Difference

In the fast-changing and evolving music scene of the last 25 years, here are 25 entities, individuals, duos or trios who redefined Bollywood melodies in a distinctive way. (No A.R. Rahman here, despite him breaking the mould and making far-reaching changes in Hindi film music. For, technically he is not from the Hindi film industry.)

  • Abhijeet (Among the market leaders of the ’90s, he is the modern-day Mukesh, who sang very less but packed a wallop each time
  • Alka Yagnik (Most prolific singer from the 1990s and a classic heroine’s voice)
  • Amitabh Bhattacharya (The most versatile songwriter today, with an incredible range)
  • Anand Bakshi (He remained at the top with his lyrics from the early ’60s until his death in 2002)
  • Anu Malik (This most versatile of the post-legend composers ruled film music from 1993 to 2005)
  • Arijit Singh (The voice that has the greatest following today)
  • Gulzar (Whose individualistic style of lyrics always stood out for their novelty and ‘current coin’ nature)
  • Himesh Reshammiya (Composer-singer who earned huge revenues for music industry, thanks to hits even in flop films)
  • Irshad Kamil (The lyricist of substance who also can write great fluff)
  • Jatin-Lalit (The monarchs of rich melody through the ’90s until they split in 2006)
  • Javed Akhtar (One who followed the best traditions of legendary lyricists with simple, in-depth verse)
  • Kavita Krishnamurthi (The versatile first choice for challenging songs across a spectrum of composers)
  • KK (Simply the most consistent but most underrated singing talent for over a decade)
  • Kumar Sanu (The man who shaped and dominated film music for almost a decade with his fluid renditions)
  • Mahesh & Mukesh Bhatt (The brothers for whom good music, lyrics and mentoring music talents remains a passion)
  • Nadeem-Shravan (Films sold on their names, as they created history with a track record as music directors)
  • Pritam (The prolific composer—the perfect bridge between classic and contemporary, and is unmatched for a decade)
  • Sameer (The magical word-spinner with an incredibly large repertoire that is now a Guinness Book entry)
  • Sanjay Leela Bhansali (He first extracted superb music from his composers, then excelled as a composer)
  • Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (Hindi cinema’s first music trio made a mark with their own trademark melodies and rhythms)
  • Shreya Ghoshal (A sensation in 2002 when she appeared, she is the worthiest successor to the Mangeshkar mantle)
  • Sonu Nigam (He outgrew the clone of Mohammed Rafi label to emerge as a force with a wide range)
  • Sunidhi Chauhan (Versatile and with an enviable vocal throw, she is the natural female Kishore Kumar today)
  • Udit Narayan (The most consistent singer we have had since the legends)
  • Vishal-Shekhar (Have immense staying power with their clever mix of experimentation with convention)

(The writer is a well-known music critic and author.)

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