February 22, 2020
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Song Sung True

Now that we can get our songs from the TV, we can remove them from our films. The boy can still meet the girl, and there will be time left to commit the murder, solving the case, narrating a story - much cheaply too.

Song Sung True

Bollywood has made about ten thousand movies since I started patronizing it, and the release of Bhoot marks only the third instance of one without songs. 3 out of 10,000 isn’t something you want to boast about. Heck! Even politicians score better. At least some of them do.

At the same time, songs like Kaliyon ka chaman, kaanta laga, and Chadhti Jawani have enjoyed a success that boggles the mind. There are deep questions here like why is Sushma Swaraj bothered when the parents of the girls who act in these videos are not? And, is there a connection between the success of the song-less film Bhoot and the film-less song Kaliyon ka chaman?

To understand, we need a rapid recap of the Hindi Film Song.

Once, songs were supposed to "take the story forward". That was the theory, anyway. But somewhere, somehow, someone figured out that whenever you wanted to show the hero and heroine having sex, but couldn’t, you could put a song instead. Substituting sex with love could fool the morons in the censor board, the audience would know how to decode it and the heroine’s mother would be happy. Thus came the seven-song formula. If you don’t believe me, look at America. There they allowed sex on the screen and the musicals vanished.

What with the national libido being severely repressed under the license-permit raj and the emergence of many genuinely brilliant composers and singers at the same time, one thing led to another and finally, with the music companies jumping into the picture, the charade of songs "taking the story forward" was finally shelved; even the great fig leaf of "a dream sequence" was boldly discarded and films started getting made to connect the songs.

Soon we had a situation where we had a choice between romantic musical, the family drama musical, the social musical, the dacoit musical, the patriotic musical, the horror musical and the murder-mystery musical. Basically, they were all the same. With the boy-girl angle taking up two and a half hours to accommodate the songs, there was hardly any time to commit the murder, leave alone solving the case. Goodbye story, goodbye narrative! For some strange reason films began to fail. Actually the reason was not all that strange because all of us, except the filmmakers, could fathom it.

They blamed everything, from the monsoons to General Musharraf, but they defended the Song. Songs, if you were listening to their arguments, have a unique place in our culture and "we express our emotions through songs". Which was true, but pointless as an argument.

Songs have a unique place in every culture, including that of the USA (though some people may argue that it hasn’t got any culture). Walk through the streets of Lisbon, Sao Paulo or even London, and you’ll find people singing on the roads with a crowd around them. They too sing at their weddings; they, too, have songs about broken hears and unrequited love. In fact, not only do they sing, they sing far more than us, if you go by the number of albums released, and, what’s more, those people buy far, far, far more music in other countries than in India.

The difference is that in most other countries, the movie industry and the music industry have been separated.

Cut to the present.

The same is happening in India as well. Non-film songs have grown in popularity through TV’s music video format and have reached a stage today where some of them sell more than film songs. In fact, the share of the film albums in total music sales has fallen drastically. Not having the energy to call up various organizations and do a detailed research on this, I settled down to watching the music channels and listening to the radio. I stand by my argument.

So, now to the success of Kanta laga, Kaliyon ka chaman, et al.

You may argue about the copyright issue and lack of creativity, but what the re-mixes are very clearly demonstrating is that a song doesn’t have to be a part of the movie to succeed. In any case, they were never truly part of the movie. And visually, they are much closer to what the filmmakers had originally intended but couldn’t show because of the censors and the heroine’s mother. No wonder they are bigger hits today than what they were earlier. What the songs needed were TV channels, teenagers with money and young women whose mothers didn’t mind what they were doing to earn a living. The combination is fast falling into place.

Now that we can get our songs from the TV, we can remove them from our films. This can have many positive effects. For one, directors will have no option but to tell a story. This may be bad news for the current filmmakers, but it’s definitely good news for you and me. It’s also good news for many aspiring filmmakers. Like you and me.

This argument alone should be clinching enough, but let’s take a more holistic view. Songs take much longer to shoot and therefore are the costliest components of a film. Take away the songs and you make the film much cheaper to make.

Take away the songs and you can also take away the sons of all ex-film stars. And, now, you can make the films much, much cheaper to make. This may be bad news for the star kids, but this is good news for the poor distributors. They are the ones who not only lose all the money when a film fails, they don’t even know which room the casting couch is kept in.

This is good news for the producers as well. As every producer and quantum physicist knows, it’s not the certainty, but the probability of success that is important. And the probability of success, defined in terms of money generated minus money spent in making the film, goes up exponentially as the costs go down. After all, Kanoon, Ittefaq and Bhoot haven’t done badly at the box-office. In fact, for a small budget movie to lose money, it has to be almost idiotic in its conception.

So, in the years to come, when you get to see truly gripping song-less movies, don’t forget to thank the bottom-patting girls in the re-mixes you see today. You owe it to them.

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