Narendra Kusnur's music musings …


Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik

ON May 25, one was pleasantly surprised to see Alka Yagnik and Kumar Sanu on the Colors TV show ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’. Neither of them has been in the news as a playback singer, but their appearance revived memories of songs one relished about two decades ago.

Along with Udit Narayan, Kavita Krishnamurthy and Abhijeet, Alka and Sanu dominated the Hindi film music scene of the 1990s. All of them came up with a string of hits, which are hummed even today. Overall, films from that decade had some memorable music, marvellous examples being ‘Aashiqui’, ‘Saajan’, ‘Dilwale Dulhania Le Jaayenge’, ‘Dil Hai Ke Maanta Nahin’, ‘Dil’, ‘Hum Aapke Hain Koun’, ‘1942: A Love Story’, ‘Yes Boss’, ‘Kabhi Haan Kabhi Naa’, ‘Roja’, ‘Bombay’, ‘Baazigar’, ‘Dil Se’, ‘Border’, ‘Taal’, ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’ and ‘Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’, to name only a few.

Though these singers continued singing in the early half of the 2000s, their market position and prolificacy suddenly came down about a decade ago. Today, they hardly have any songs in films, and barring Udit’s appearance along with other male singers in the ‘Student of the Year’ song ‘Radha’ two years ago, one cannot think of any major hit by them. Which is sad because all five of them were once very consistent, and were ideal representatives of a particular generation of playback singers.

What went wrong? To begin with, the beginning of the 2000s saw the entry of many new music directors who experimented with newer sounds. They were influenced more by rock, electronic music and world music, and the standard Hindi film love song got lesser importance. Item songs and ‘masti’ songs became trendy, and they required a different set of voices.

If one looks at the music directors, only A R Rahman has been around from the 1990s till today, though even here, critics may argue that he produced his best music during the first five or six years after ‘Bombay’. The other popular music directors from that period – Nadeem-Shravan, Jatin-Lalit, Anu Malik, Anand-Milind, Raam Laxman – have either cut down on their appearances, become full-time TV show judges or simply vanished from the scene.

All these music directors were very careful in the way they associated the singer’s voice with the actor on screen. Thus, in each film, Alka, Sanu or Udit would get the entire list of songs, and there was a time when Abhijeet was specially chosen to represent Shah Rukh Khan. The Udit-Alka and Sanu-Alka partnerships were very regular, and all these singers knew how to adapt to one another.

The 1990s in fact saw the revival of good music in Hindi cinema. After experiencing a terrible musical time in the 1980s – barring a few ghazal and semi-classical based scores in parallel cinema – the early 1990s saw the return of melody in a big way. In fact, Anand-Milind’s ‘Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak’, Laxmikant-Pyarelal’s ‘Tezaab’ and Raam Laxman’s ‘Maine Pyar Kiya’ kicked off the trend in the late 1980s, but it was Nadeem-Shravan’s work in the 1990 movie ‘Aashiqui’ which marked the real change in sound.

For most of the 1990s, the emphasis was thus on simple melodies, and here, the voices of Alka, Udit, Sanu, Kavita, Abhijeet and in some cases Sadhna Sargam seemed perfect. While Hariharan came up with a few hits, Shaan, KK and Sonu Nigam were concentrating more on Indipop, eventually shifting their focus to films. Many films from that decade boasted of musical consistency, and the songs had the retention factor.

With the turn of the century, the newer crop of music directors not only began experimenting with new sounds, but also started trying out new voices. One of the reasons was to get in some freshness, but the other also had to do with the fact that the younger brigade charged much less than the established singers of the 1990s.

In some cases – like Shreya Ghoshal, Sunidhi Chauhan and very recently Arijit Singh – the composers have been successful. But by and large, they did not focus on specific singers for specific actors. Many singers would sing for the same actor in the same film – one example being ‘Barfi’, where Pritam had six singers for Ranbir Kapoor. Last year’s biggest musical hit ‘Aashiqui 2’ had some wonderful tunes, but besides multiple singers, it had three music directors.

Another unfortunate development is that the era of the singing duo is practically over. Today, one can’t think on the lines of Lata-Rafi, Asha-Kishore or Udit-Alka.

On the one hand, with the passage of time, there were bound to be changes in Hindi film music. But on the other, it’s sad that some singers who were so brilliant throughout the 1990s and up to the early 2000s are barely heard today. Alka, Udit, Sanu, Abhijeet, Kavita and Sadhna are still capable of rendering the kind of hits they did 20 years ago, as long as they are given the right opportunities.

An occasional appearance on shows like ‘Comedy Nights’ may bring about some pleasant nostalgia, but it’s time music directors and filmmakers think of constructively using their voices once again.


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