Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for the ‘Hindi film music – new’ Category

Are too many music directors spoiling the broth?

OF late, one has been witnessing the release of many Hindi films with multiple music directors. And we’re not talking of movies with two or three composers but even, hold your breath, six or eight. In many cases, the musicians are unknown.

Check out some such examples.

‘Detective Byomkesh Bakshi’ has Madboy/ Mink, Sneha Khanwalkar, Blek, Peter Cat Recording Co, Joint Family, IJA and Mode AKA.

‘Khamoshiyan’ has Jeet Ganguli, Ankit Tiwari, Naved Jafar and Bobby-Imran.

‘Ek Paheli Leela’ has Dr Zeus, Amaal Malik, Tony Kakkar and Meet Bros Anjjan.

‘Dharam Sankat Mein’ has Meet Bros Anjjan, Shamir Tandon, Sachin Gupta and Jatinder Shah.

‘Hawaizaada’ has Mangesh Dhakde, Rochak Kohli, Ayushman Khuranna and Vishal Bharadwaj.

‘Roy’ has Ankit Tiwari, Amaal Malik and Meet Bros Anjaan.

To top it all, ‘Dilliwalli Zaalim Girlfriend’ has eight composers for eight songs – Yo Yo Honey Singh, Dr Zeus, Tiger Style, Indeep Bakshi, Jatinder Shah, Meet Bros Anjjan, Milind Gaba and Jassi Katyal.

Noticed something? Barring Vishal Bharadwaj, these films do not boast of any really established names. The list either contains those who have tasted success in the past couple of years only, or those who have been around for a while without making much inroads, or completely unknown names. And from the look of it, one may think Meet Bros Anjjan are the busiest musicians in the world today.

The question, of course, is whether one needs so many music directors for a single movie. One can understand cases where, in the past, films had two or three music directors (‘Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’, ‘Chalte Chalte, ‘Fiza’ and ‘Aashiqui 2’), but is there any point having more? The only reason one would think of having eight men for eight songs may have nothing to do with the quality of the music, but probably be related to having an eye on the record book.

The trend has its pluses and minuses. One thing in its favour is that by having multiple composers, one can always give a chance to promote newer talent, instead of relying on the same few names. The other advantage is that having multiple music directors would lead to more variety.

Here, one can have people who specialise in diverse forms like heavy metal, techno, ambient, Sufiana and Indian folk, to name a few genres. Besides having their own style of composing, each composer will have his own set of favourite singers and musicians, as a result of which the overall soundtrack will have many contrasting sets of sounds.
From the business point of view, producers may opt for this fad because instead of paying a heft amount to one established name, they can negotiate with lesser known composers. In every film, they can get a couple of songs for a pittance, as the music director may be too new to demand a large sum.

The more traditional mind will, of course, prefer the older style of having a single composer, who fulfils the need of catering to various styles. Though the great composers of the past had their favourite styles or specific inclinations, they created music of different hues, based on the situations in the film.

Even today, audiences usually look for the work of single music directors in a film. People like AR Rahman, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Vishal-Shekhar, Pritam and Vishal Bhardwaj, to name a few, come with their own set of expectations from the listening public. Whenever they work on a film, they maintain a certain coherence in the sound, and yet produce songs in different genres. Their names add value and weight to a film.

Yes, there have been exceptions like ‘Aashiqui 2’, where three music directors managed to have a consistent sound. But by and large, multiple music directors tend to go off on different tangents. In many instances, the result is a tasteless bhel puri.

If one looks at what’s really happening, the fact is that most such films haven’t produced any extraordinary music. There have been a couple of decent songs here and there, but what’s missing is consistency. The music directors work in completely different patterns, and at best, create songs that go with a particular situation, without having an impact outside the cinema hall.

Add to that the presence of plenty of wannabes, and the net result is nothing but large-scale mediocrity. Unless the music directors rise above the ordinary and create music that stands out, this fad may last only a few days before slowly fizzling out.


Hindi film music round-up 2014: More misses than hits


A still from the ‘Ek Villain’ song ‘Galliyan’

SINCE it’s an appropriate time to write a year-end special, I was wondering which genre to choose. And considering that the only blog I wrote on new Hindi film music this year was a review of the ‘Haider’ soundtrack, I decided to use that as a theme for the year-ender.

Actually, there were hardly any positive trends to write about. Overall, 2014 was such a dismal year for new Hindi film music, and barring ‘Haider’ and ‘Finding Fanny’, most movies didn’t have a set of consistent songs.

Yes, some of them, like ‘Ek Villain’, ‘Citylights’, ‘Queen’, ‘PK’, ‘Happy Ending’ and ‘2 States’, had one or may be two outstanding songs, but that was it. Others, like ‘Gunday’, ‘Happy New Year’, ‘Kick’ and ‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’, had a couple of commercial hits, and nothing more. ‘Khamoshiyan’, released at the fag end of the year with four music directors (Jeet Ganguli, Ankit Tiwari, Bobby-Imran and Naved Jafar), seems to have the right punch on initial listening. But one can gauge its commercial impact only next month.

How much of the new music was really memorable? How many movies had songs that we could still hum in the coming year? Hardly anything. In 2013, we heard some outstanding work in ‘Aashiqui 2’, ‘Lootera’, ‘Kai Po Che’ and ‘Raanjhana’, with ‘Aashiqui 2’ attracting both the masses and the classes, bagging six Global Indian Music Academy (GIMA) awards. In 2014, ‘Haider’ and ‘Finding Fanny’ had some neat numbers, but these again catered to a limited audience.

Even from the performers’ point of view, A R Rahman had only a couple of films like ‘Highway’, ‘Lekar Hum Deewana Dil’ and the Hindi version of ‘Kochadaiyaan’, though none of them matched his past work. Rising star Amit Trivedi only came up with ‘Queen’, and the music directors who were somewhat prolific included Jeet Gangulii and Mithoon, with Vishal Bhardwaj, Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal-Shekhar producing some good fare.

Among the singers, the year cemented Arijit Singh’s position as a leading male voice, whereas Armaan Malik showed promise as a newcomer, with ‘Auliya’ in ‘Ungli’. Of the female singers, Shreya Ghoshal continued to rock, and Kanika Khanna had a couple of uptempo hits like ‘Baby doll’ (‘Ragini MMS 2’) and ‘Lovely’ (‘Happy New Year’).

Lyricist Gulzar was reasonably prolific with ‘Haider’, ‘Dedh Ishqiya’ and ‘Kill Dil’, but Javed Akhtar was nowhere to be heard and Swanand Kirkire was selective. Irshad Kamil and Amitabh Bhattacharya produced some decent stuff, and newcomer Rashmi Singh shone in the few tracks she wrote.

Yet, the average quality of music was nothing to talk about. In fact, one hopes the Bhatt production ‘Khamoshiyan’ sets the mood for some melodic music in the coming year, in which one is also looking forward to Amit Trivedi’s music in Anurag Kashyap’s ‘Bombay Velvet’.

In such a scenario, it was obviously difficult to prepare a list of top 10 movie soundtracks. Hence, I have stuck to 10 most appealing songs, which again, is this blogger’s personal opinion, and not based on any public surveys or amount of commercial success.

For a more balanced view, I have stuck to one song per film. Some hits like ‘Tune maari entriyaan’ (‘Gunday’), ‘Baby doll’ (‘Ragini MMS 2’) and ‘Saturday Saturday’ (‘Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania’) don’t feature in this list, though popular with the masses, because they were temporary fads at best.

1 Galliyan – Ek Villain: This song was another boost for composer and singer Ankit Tiwari, who hit the headlines last year with ‘Sun raha hai na tu’ in ‘Aashiqui 2’. An unplugged version was sung by him and Shraddha Kapoor. Both versions were penned by Manoj Muntashir.

2 Muskurane – Citylights: Composed by Jeet Ganguli and sung by Arijit Singh, this keyboard-driven song was somewhat underrated, but extremely melodious. Lyrics were by the promising Rashmi Singh.

3 Bismil – Haider: Vishal Bhardwaj’s music in ‘Haider’ had many good songs, including Gulzar’s ‘Aao na’, ‘Jhelum’ and ‘Khul kabhi’ and the Faiz Ahmed Faiz-penned ‘Gulon mein rang bhare’ and ‘Aaj ke naam’. But it was Gulzar’s ‘Bismil’, sung by Sukhwinder, which stood out, with its distinct Kashmiri folk aura and peppy beat.

4 Manwa laage – Happy New Year: Shreya Ghoshal and Arijit shine on this Vishal-Shekhar tune, written by Irshad Kamil in the Shah Rukh starrer. A folksy touch and some neat arrangements give this number a boost.

5 Fanny re – Finding Fanny: This one sung by Mukhtiyar Ali and composed by Matthias Duplessey had a catchy tune and neat arrangements, even though the singer went ‘off’ somewhere in the middle.

6 Harjaaiyan – Queen: Singer Nandini Srikar, who once sang ‘Bhare naina’ in ‘Ra.One’ has a clear winner in this song, composed by Amit Trivedi and written by Anvita Dutt in the film ‘Queen’. The voice sparkles here.

7 Chaar kadam – PK: Singer Shaan teams up with Shreya in this catchy ditty. Composed by Shantanu Moitra and written by Swanand Kirkire, it has a nice sing-along feel.

8 Auliya – Ungli: A simple pop song with a Sufiana influence, composed by Salim-Sulaiman, written by Amitabh Bhattacharya and sung by Armaan Malik. A good boost for Armaan.

9 Khamoshiyan – Khamoshiyan: This Jeet Ganguli song written by Rashmi Singh and sung by Arijit just made it to the list, as it was released in second half of December. It’s the kind of song that will grow after a few listens, and will hopefully be a success in 2015.

10 Patakha guddi – Highway: To pep up the tempo a bit, we conclude with this Rahman tune, sung by Sultana and Jyoti Nooran and written by Irshad Kamil has a neat Sufiana influence and soulful singing.

PS: Apologies to fans of Yo Yo Honey Singh, who may complain that this list was prepared under the influence of ‘Chaar botal vodka’.

Where are the glorious, innocent children’s songs?


Evergreen favourite: ‘Lakdi ki kaathi’ from ‘Masoom’

EVERY November 14, when India celebrates Children’s Day on the birth anniversary of former prime minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, radio stations and home music systems play evergreen children’s songs. Others simply remember their all-time favourites, or type out lists on Facebook or e-mail.

What’s noteworthy is that whenever one talks of children’s songs in Hindi films, one invariably thinks of tunes that are at least 30 years old. The only post-1985 songs that come to mind are a few from ‘Taare Zameen Par’ (‘Bum bum bole’, ‘Maa’ and ‘Mera jahaan’), and the one-off songs from ‘Makdee’ (‘Panga na le’), ‘Stanley Ka Dabba’ (‘Nanhi hi jaan’), ‘Akele Hum Akele Tum’ (‘I love you daddy’) and ‘Anjali’ (the title song). And if films like ‘Kuch Kuch Hota Hai’, ‘Hum Hain Raahi Pyaar Ke’ and ‘Raju Chacha’ had children in prominent roles, they strangely didn’t have any memorable kids’ songs, because the filmmakers were more keen on picturising the songs on the stars. Other films with children flopped so badly the songs were barely heard.

Ask anyone to compile a list of children’s songs, and some obvious tunes come to mind. Barring ‘Taare Zameen Par’, most of them are the old hits, which the parents or grandparents of today’s children grew up on.

The 1980s would be represented by the 1983 hit ‘Lakdi ki kaathi’ from ‘Masoom’. From the 1970s, there were ‘Re mamma re’ and ‘Hain na bolo bolo’ (‘Andaz’), ‘Bada natkhat hai’ (‘Amar Prem’), ‘Teetar ke do aage teetar’ (‘Mera Naam Joker’), ‘Lalla lalla lori’ (‘Mukti’), ‘Saare ke saare’ (‘Parichay’), ‘Mere paas aao’ (‘Mr Natwarlal’), ‘Rona kabhi nahin rona’ (‘Apna Desh’) and ‘Luk chip luk chip jaao na’ (‘Do Anjaane’), to name a few.

The 1960s were as prolific as the 1970s. Hit numbers were ‘Tujhe sooraj kahoon ya chanda’ and ‘O nanhe se farishtey’ (‘Ek Phool Do Mali’), ‘Chanda hai tu’ (‘Aradhana’), ‘Nanha munna raahi hoon’ (‘Son of India’), ‘Rail gaadi’ (‘Aashirwad’), ‘Daadi amma daadi amma maan jaao’ (‘Gharana’), ‘Hum bhi agar bacche hote’ (‘Door Ki Awaaz’) and ‘Naani teri morni’ (the old ‘Masoom’).

And from the 1950s, we had ‘Aao bacchon tumhe dikhayen’ ‘(‘Jagruti’), ‘Nanhe munne bacche teri mutthi mein kya hai’ (’Boot Polish’), ‘Ichak daana beechak daana’ (‘Shri 420’) and ‘Bachpen ke din bhula na dena’ (‘Deedaar’). Each of these old songs was memorable in its own way. Either they were fun songs, nostalgic songs, or even patriotic songs. And there are many more from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Get the point? Barring the odd exception, one barely hears any Hindi film songs for children these days. They have all kinds of songs – love songs, so-called comedy songs, group songs, sad songs and, of course, item songs. But where-o-where are the children’s songs?

The interesting thing is that there are many talented children who are capable of doing justice to these songs, and one has admired them in television shows like ‘Indian Idol Junior’ and ‘Sa Re Ga Ma ‘Li’l Champs’. They sing tunes rendered by Lata, Rafi, Kishore and others so charmingly, and yet, today’s filmmakers don’t see an opportunity to use them in the latest films.

And it’s not only in films that children’s songs are neglected these days. If one looks at private albums, there have been very few efforts to release children’s albums, the odd exceptions being the projects of Preeti Sagar, Ritika Sahni and Sunidhi Chauhan’s debut album ‘Aira Gaira Natthu Khaira’, which she recorded when she had just entered her teens.

Children form a large percentage of today’s film-going audiences. But what’s really sad is the kind of songs they are not only being exposed to, but also seem to know inside out. It’s quite shocking how many eight- or nine-year-olds sing ‘Sheila ki jawaani’ and ‘Fevicol’ at society functions or children’s competitions, with their parents beaming with pride at their ‘talent’.

It’s high time our filmmakers and music directors make some effort to revive the glorious innocence and magic that such songs provided in the past. No kidding here.

Is composer Amit Trivedi innocent, or is he a ‘Lootera’ too?


MUCH before the release of ‘Lootera’ last Friday, the media was flooded with snippets alleging that composer Amit Trivedi was the latest to be bitten by the plagiarism bug. His theme music from the Vikramaditya Motwane-directed film, they claimed, was a direct rip-off of Rachel Portman’s instrumental ‘We had today’ from the 2011 Hollywood film ‘One Day’.

Listen to both closely, and there’s no denying an uncanny similarity between them. The basic melodies are the same, even though the instruments are different and they go into separate directions after a while, with the ‘Lootera’ version picking up in tempo. However, what nobody seems to have got is that both of them sound very much like Nino Rota’s score ‘A Time for Us’, used in Franco Zefferelli’s 1968 film ‘Romeo and Juliet’. Rota, of course, is best known for his ‘Godfather’ music.

Whether the ‘Lootera’ theme music was original or not is a matter of debate, which I shall address below. And if it actually is an instance of deliberate copying, there should be no justification at all.

However, before getting into that discussion, a word of congratulations for the overall quality of the film’s background music. It’s simply stunning, to say the least — the portion just before the intermission is a class apart. Moreover, both Motwane and Trivedi have worked on an admirable balance between scintillating music, total silence and minor sounds like birds chirping and short dialogues. The way music has been used is a lesson to all aspiring filmmakers.

Sadly, nobody is talking about that. Everybody wants controversy, and public opinion often prefers to highlight the negative elements. So let’s get back to the subject of whether Trivedi’s version was a blatant copy or not, keeping in mind the three tunes discussed.

Quite clearly, Portman’s ‘One Day’ seems to have been inspired by Rota’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’, even if sub-consciously, and even though it’s slower in tempo. And Trivedi, while admitting his ‘Lootera’ tune and ‘One Day’ match to some extent, claims it was just a coincidence. In an interview to Shakti Shetty of Mid-Day, the Bollywood composer said: “I’m not a fool to steal music. All of a sudden I was hearing stuff like ‘Amit Trivedi has become like Pritam and Anu Malik. He has become a chor too’.”

Was it downright plagiarism, smart inspiration or sheer accidental similarity? Should one believe Trivedi’s version and be convinced this was just a coincidence? For that matter, should one absolve Portman for being inspired by the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ theme?

Considering that Trivedi is one of the rising stars in Hindi film music, and has had a very clean record ever since he shot to fame with ‘Dev D’ in 2009, one might as well give him the benefit of the doubt. At this stage in his career, he would be the last person to think of directly lifting a tune, and facing ire and flak for it.

Let’s now look at the tune in isolation. From a melodic point of view, it’s a very simple tune, using just four basic notes, which have been improvised on three more times. There’s nothing complex about it at all, and anybody with a basic knowledge of the keyboard and a compositional bent of mind would be able to create that tune, using those same four notes in four sequences. And if required to set it against a romantic or sad background, the same person would use a similar tempo and metre, and give it an orchestral effect. In other words, it’s not something really pathbreaking from the creatve viewpoint. However, by creating a wonderul atmosphere, a composer can take it places.

Keeping that in mind, it’s highly probable that Trivedi would have composed the ‘Lootera’ theme without being inspired by ‘One Day’. It’s also possible that Portman would have created her piece without being directly inspired by the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ theme.

In his interview, Trivedi says he was initially shocked on hearing allegations of plagiarism, but on introspection, acknowledged that it wasn’t the fault of people who made them, as the tunes matched to some extent. He even found Portman’s e-mail and wrote to her, though he didn’t get any reply. If what he’s saying is true, it implies he hadn’t heard Portman’s version before.

So how did the tunes sound so similar? Let’s look at another theory — that of sub-conscious inspiration.

As part of their research and their passion, most composers listen to various types of music, as often as they can. For the background music, one would assume the current generation of Hindi film composers would listen to the way background music is used in other Indian films, both old and new, and in Hollywood films and world cinema. They would also be tuned in to sweeping types of orchestral music, as one finds in the western classical genre, or into more experimental stuff found in modern dance and new age music.

Thus, their audio systems would be filled with Hollywood musical geniuses like Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Nino Rota, Hans Zimmer, Vangelis, James Horner, Ludovic Bource and James Newton Howard, to name a few, and with classical composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Chopin, Tchaikovsky, Brahms and Stravinsky. This is besides electronic dance music acts like Paul Van Dyk, Sasha, Deadmau5 or Swedish House Mafia, and new age acts like Yanni, Enigma, Delirium and Kitaro. Examples abound.

In all this, one is bound to get influenced by certain compositional styles and by certain tunes. A great piece of music can stick to one’s head today, be forgotten and reappear much later while one is composing something new. At times, one may not even remember the actual source. As such, it’s natural for every musician to get inspired by whatever he or she has heard before. In both Trivedi’s and Portman’s cases, it’s very likely that the ghost of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ would be haunting their brains while they wrote their respective pieces. Both may have been sub-consciously inspired, and done what any composer would do with that same basic tune.

In the Indian context, there have been scores of unfortunate instances when tunes have been lifted directly, even by some of the greatest music directors. There have also been many times when composers have been inspired by other tunes, either sub-consciously or knowingly (as with Salil Chowdhury who openly acknowledged his ‘Chhaya’ song ‘Itna na mujhe se tu pyaar badhaa’ was influenced by the opening movement of Mozart’s 40th Symphony). There have also been numerous occasions when certain Hindi film songs have sounded similar because they have been composed in the same classical ‘raga’.

And then, there have been instances when the media has gone on and on about songs which weren’t copied at all. To take a recent example, half the Internet was filled with stories that A R Rahman’s ‘Challa’ (‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’) was a direct lift of Eagle Eye Cherry’s ‘Save Tonight’. Frankly, there was nothing similar between the songs except that they used the same guitar chord in the opening strumming portion. And when Rahman rehashed his own ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ title song to create ‘Tum Tak’ in ‘Raanjhanaa’, hardly anybody noticed. Interestingly enough, both these songs are somewhat reminiscent of (and maybe sub-consciously inspired by) the antara of the ‘Padosan’ tune ‘Main chali’.

Talking of the ‘Challa’ and Rahman controversy, one is baffled how quickly half the Internet writes about such instances when the so-called ‘originals’ haven’t been really popular in India. When the ‘Barfi’ promos were out last year, everyone wrote about how Pritam’s theme music was lifted from the soundtrack for the French movie ‘Amelie’, which actually has a limited following in India.

In the case of ‘Lootera’, everybody is writing about ‘One Day’ which was a box office disaster and whose theme music was hardly heard in India. And if they loved the ‘One Day’ music so much, it’s shocking not one of them thought it was similar to ‘Romeo and Juliet’, which is actually one of the most famous Hollywood tunes ever. It’s like one person writes something, and everyone is just ripping that off. Plagiarism exists there too!

For Trivedi, of course, this should be a lesson learnt. He’s done some remarkable work in ‘Dev D’, ‘Udaan’, ‘Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu’, ‘Ishaqzaade’, ‘Kai Po Che!’ and even in ‘Lootera’, with the songs ‘Sawaar loon’, ‘Monta re’ and ‘Manmarziyaan’ being the highlights. And as mentioned before, the overall background score of this movie is simply awesome.

One sincerely hopes this instance was just a coincidence, probably the result of some basic compositional attempt, or even inspired sub-consciously by ‘Romeo and Juliet’, than being a direct lift of ‘One Day’ as is being touted. Just when his career is flying high, allegations of plagiarism are the last thing Trivedi would want. Hopefully, he’ll come out strong and clean. At this stage, he certainly wouldn’t want to gain a reputation of being a ‘lootera’.

PS: The only reason why I didn’t put the link of all the three pieces is that had I done that, it would be natural for readers to directly see them, without reading my views on this subject. They’re all available on YouTube, so one can quickly gain access.

Should some Hindi films avoid songs altogether?


A MAJORITY of those reading the headline would instantly react: What rubbish! After all, from the beginning, songs have been an integral part of Hindi cinema. So what provokes such a ridiculous thought?

Well, this blogger recently saw Neeraj Pandey’s ‘Special 26’ and Subhash Kapoor’s ‘Jolly LLB’. Both movies are pretty enjoyable. The former is a suspense-filled heist drama, and the latter a satire on the legal system, complete with dramatic courtroom sequences. They have been well-received by both the critics and the public, and are definitely different from the run-of-the-mill movies one often endures.

However, both have two weaknesses. They have half-baked love angles which just don’t go with the main storylines. And they have a few unwanted songs, which simply mar their flow, almost like speed-breakers on a smooth highway. ‘Special 26’ even has a sizzling background score, but the songs by Himesh Reshammiya and MM Kreem fall totally flat. In ‘Jolly LLB’, music director Krsna’s songs just come and go unnoticed.

Such an observation has led to the question raised above. Must each and every film compulsorily have songs, whether or not they fit? In exceptional cases, why can’t filmmakers alter the rules if it’s for their own good?

Over the years, there have been very few movies without songs. The older lot includes J B H Wadia’s ‘Naujawan’ and B R Chopra’s ‘Kanoon’. Singeetham Srinivasan Rao’s ‘Pushpak’ (which was a silent film anyway) and Ramgopal Varma’s ‘Kaun’ didn’t have songs. Neither did Neeraj  Pandey’s successful debut ‘A Wednesday!. And the last one makes us think: if his debut film was successful without songs, why did he have to include them in his follow-up ‘Special 26’, when there was really no need?

There were also films which had only one representational song, or one tune with the end credits. In 1964, Sunil Dutt’s ‘Yaadein’ had Vasant Desai’s ‘Dekha hai sapna koi’. Earlier, films like ‘Ek Doctor Ki Maut’ and ‘Ek Ruka Hua Faisla’ avoided songs.

Examples of the past decade include Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Black’ (Monty Sharma’s ‘Haan maine chookar dekha hai’) and Nishikanth Kamath’s ‘Mumbai Meri Jaan’ (which didn’t have any new song but used the old ‘CID’ classic ‘Yeh hai Bambai meri jaan’ at the end), Ramgopal Varma’s ‘Bhoot’ had a nine-track audio CD, but in the film, only Sunidhi Chauhan’s ‘Ghor andhere’ was used during the end credits.

What’s obvious is that all these films had narratives that didn’t necessarily require any song and dance. But then, such examples are few and far between. By and large, the idea of producing a Hindi film without songs or with only one song just doesn’t exist.

Even if one suggests that so-and-so film shouldn’t have songs, it’s unlikely that filmmakers will really obey. To begin with, there is a mindset that Hindi films must have songs. But in today’s scenario, there are other reasons why producers and directors will not do away with them.

A film’s music is always a source of revenue for the producer. By selling audio rights to the music label, he makes up for some of the money spent in creating the film, including costs incurred on producing songs.

Secondly, music is also used as a marketing tool. The audio CD is normally released a few months before the film, often at a party where the stars get media publicity. Snippets of the film’s songs are used as promos in various television channels. It’s a good way of creating awareness about the film without revealing too many details.

Thirdly, a few good songs can always keep a bad film alive. Even if the film flops, there might be additional people wanting to watch it just for the songs, or as is more likely these days, see their favourite stars dance to those songs.

The musician fraternity will naturally oppose the idea of having films without songs. And the stars need songs even after the film’s release, so that they can perform them at awards ceremonies or live shows. Keeping all this in mind, why would anybody in his right mind want to release films without songs?

Obviously, a whopping majority will not even think of doing such a thing. And one is not even suggesting that such a trend occur.

What we’re trying to say is that if the film’s subject is strong enough and any intrusion will affect the flow, songs may be unnecessary. This may be more applicable to films with loads of suspense, ones with a superfast pace or to a section of horror movies.

Even if one insists on using songs for any of the reasons mentioned above, one should use them intelligently, so that they blend with the script, instead of affecting the smoothness of the plot. It might even help using them in the background smartly. Or if one wants to release many songs, follow the ‘Bhoot’ example — record them and put them on a CD, but don’t include them in the film.

The truth, of course, is that many filmmakers feel songless films aren’t a safe option. Whether that is because of creative or commercial reasons, one doesn’t know. As such, only a handful of them have actually gone ahead and released such films.

That brings us back to ‘Special 26’ and ‘Jolly LLB’. However wonderful and enjoyable the films are overall, they’d probably have been better without the songs. We’re sure there are quite a few films in the pipeline, with offbeat subjects, and which don’t really need songs. That’s something that needs a bit of thought.

How to write a superhit Bollywood item song


MEET Lekh Tezkalam, an enthusiastic 24-year-old who walks up to a film production house with heaps of self-written songs and a bagful of dreams. Though he’s been helping in his father’s business after finishing college, his ambition is to become a lyricist in Hindi cinema.

Lekh is escorted to a swanky room and introduced to Shotcall Singh, an upcoming film director, and Dhun Churanewala, a music composer who also goes by the name of Gadget Guru.  Pakodas and tea are ordered, and soon, the three-way conversation goes like this:

Director: Yes, young man, you want to become a lyricist. Can we have a brief background about you?

Lyricist: Sure sir. I am Lekh Tezkalam. I have been following good poetry and lyrics since I was a kid, and I write songs too. I’ve always wanted to become a well-known lyricist. My biggest influences are Ghalib, Bahadur Shah Zafar and Faiz Ahmed Faiz in Urdu poetry, and Shailendra, Sahir Ludhianvi, Shakeel Badayuni and Anand Bakshi in films.

Director: Good for you. I haven’t heard the names you mention, except Bakshi.

Composer: My grandfather used to mention some of them after two pegs of whisky. Anyway, how will you be able to help us?

Lyricist: As I said, I write songs. So far, it was a hobby, but I want to make it a profession. I want to write meaningful and memorable songs, whether on romance, sadness, happiness, tragedy, any subject. I have with me 27 songs with the word ‘Chaand’ as the theme, 34 on ‘Tanhaai’, 22 on ‘Zindagi’, 18 on ‘Bewafaai’, 26 on…

Director: These words are very old-fashioned. Give us something new. I am making an action film with loads of comedy and romance and drama. I need some masala songs. Peppy tunes.

Lyricist: My personal favourites are “Main aaina dekhta hoon toh teri hi soorat nazar aati hai” and “Teri zulfon ke saaye mein mera…”

Composer: Dude, we are in the year 2013. All these thoughts of yours were used 50 or 60 years ago. And if we want such songs, we have two legendary lyricists who have been writing since the 70s. Gulzar-saab and Javed-bhai. We can ask them. Why have you on board? If we want a song on ‘Tanhaai’ or ‘Chaand’, we can approach Prasoon Joshi, Swanand Kirkire or Irshad Kamil.

Lyricist: Dhun-bhai, I have some Sufi and Punjabi songs too. They are the current craze.

Director: We already have such songs for our film. We have taken a Japanese song and added the words ‘Maula’ and ‘Khwaja’. Everybody will think it is a Sufi song. Similarly, we have a Tamil song to which we have added ‘shaava shaava’, ‘maahiya’ and ‘raanjhna’. People will be convinced it is Punjabi.

Composer: Actually, why are we wasting our time? What we are looking for is two songs which you can write for us. The first will be one of the biggest hits Bollywood has ever heard, the kind of song that will instantly make you a superstar.

Lyricist: Really? I can’t wait. What’s it about?

Composer: It’s inspired by the ‘Delhi Belly’ song ‘Bhaag DK Bose’. The song is called ‘Tard Bas’, and we have already written the main line, which is “Abhi bas abhi bas abhi bas tard tard tard, abhi bas tard tard tard.”

Director: It’s a great song. Dhun has even copied an unknown tune from Madagascar which nobody else in India would have heard. The main line is a guaranteed success.  You have to write the other lines, and you can use your ‘Tanhaai’ and ‘Bewafaai’ and whatever. We will give you full credit. I will tell our public relations team to instigate social organisations and politicians, who will then unfairly accuse us of using bad language and scream for a ban. The song will get free publicity. We will say it was your idea and pay you for that. We will also claim ‘Tard Bas’ is a very deep and philosophical term in Hindi which is used when a person has had enough. Are you ready?

Lyricist: Sir, let me think over it. I mean the song seems okay, but I will have to consider what other lines I can write. What’s the other song you want me to write?

Director: How can you be so naïve? Our film has to have an item song. Something that beats all the ‘Munni badnaams’ and ‘Sheila ki jawaanis’ and ‘Character dheelas’ and ‘Anarkali disco chalis’.

Lyricist: But sir, I have never written an item song. I can’t relate to them.

Composer: Listen, rock star. If you want to make it big today, you have to learn how to write item songs. They are very simple, but only geniuses can write them. Even your Ghalibs and Zafars never had the brilliance to write songs like ‘Chikni Chameli’, ‘Chammak challo’ and ‘Halkat jawani’.

Lyricist: Dhun-bhai, I don’t know about that. But how do I begin?

Director: Simple. We had a song on ‘Zandu Balm’ and one on ‘Fevicol’. You could choose another brand. Not such a big headache.

Composer:  Shotcall-ji, now that you mention headache, why not do a song based on Saridon?

Director: Excellent idea. Dhun, you are a genius. Lekh, why don’t you write an item song based on Saridon?

Lyricist: Let me try, sir. Can it be as simple as ‘Sar dard se phata jaaye, toh lijiye Saridon’?

Director: Is that an item song? Ha. You’re funny. Sounds more like an advertisement. Dhun, do you have any ideas?

Composer: We need to think of words that rhyme with Saridon. Just like ‘Fevicol’ was made to rhyme with ‘alcohol’, ‘petrol’, ‘missed call’ and ‘marriage hall’. What say, Lekh?

Lyricist: Hmmm. Saridon. Saridon. What possibly rhymes with Saridon?

Composer: Got it. Revlon. We could use two brands in the same song and thus beat everyone else.

Director: Superb. Saridon and Revlon. We could also add ‘babycorn’. ‘Switch on’, ‘Turn on’. See how fast we think.

Composer: Seriously, Shotcall-ji, you have the makings of a legendary lyricist. And if petrol was pronounced ‘pet-rawl’ to rhyme with ‘Fevicol’, we can make ‘Gulab jamon’ rhyme with ‘Saridon’. It’ll sound tastier than ‘Jalebi Bai’.

Director: Fantastic. We can have this song picturised on the hero and the item girl. I’ll finalise the item girl by tomorrow.  And we can call Champakali of Chinchpokli to sing the song. Her voice is so manly she can sing both male and female versions. We can save some money by paying only one person instead of two.

Composer: I have the tune ready. It’s a song from Papua New Guinea. Am sure nobody would know the original so I am safe. Lekh, why are you so silent? Come on, think of the actual lines. The main line should have ‘Saridon’, and the other lines should use all the rhyming words.

Lyricist: Give me two days, Dhun-bhai. I need time to think.

Director: There is no time. The film industry doesn’t work that way. We need things immediately.

Lyricist: But sir, I need some inspiration.

Director: Just imagine any item girl. Close your eyes and think of her belly button, and how she gyrates to the music. That’s adequate inspiration. The words will come naturally.

Composer: Shotcall-ji, Shotcall-ji. I was actually imagining Mallika Sherawat, and I got the first line. The female voice will sing: “Mere maathe pe honth chipkalo toh behtar hai Saridon seyyy.” To give it a rustic effect we can pronounce it Serry-dawn.

Director: Marvellous! Outstanding!

Composer: Then the hero will sing: “Mere gaalon ko laal rang daalo tum Ravalawn seyyy.”

Director: Wow! Revlon pronounced as Ravalawn. Amazing!

Composer: ”Mere life ko tum meetha bana do, gulab jamawn seyyy.” Then, “Pulao ko swaadisht bana do babycorn seyyy.” Then, we can have: “Is kamre go thanda kara lo tum fayn switch-on seyyy.”

Director: Lekh, are you listening? That’s what’s called songwriting. Not your ‘Chaand’ and ‘Sooraj’… Arrey, where’s Lekh disappeared?

Composer: Don’t know. He was here a minute ago. One second, will ask your secretary. (Goes out and returns in two minutes). Shotcall-ji, Maria informs me that she saw this Lekh fellow covering his face with a handkerchief and running out of the building like we was in a 100 metres race. Everybody outside was wondering what happened to him.

Director: Today’s kids, I tell you. No knowledge, no dedication, no effort. Just want to become famous overnight. They only want money. Anyway, let’s celebrate. Mere maathe pe honth chipkalo toh behtar hai Serry-dawn seyyy.  La la la la la la la la la la Ravalawn seyyy.

Composer: Mere life ko tum meetha bana do, gulab jamawn seyyyIs kamre go thanda kara lo tum fayn switch-on seyyy… I have one more line, with one more brand. It’ll be a hit among all the tech-savvy folks, and make our song the biggest caller tune ever. It goes – Mujhe What’sApp pe mey-ssij bhejo Vodafawn seyy…

Director: Wow! Wow! Wow! Doo roo roo roo roo doo roo roo doo roo babycorn seyyy… Ha ha ha ha! We will rock Bollywood with ‘Tard Bas’ and ‘Saridon’.

The music of ‘Barfi’: Jalebi or Karela?

FRIENDS for 20 years, Jalebi Bhai and Karela Boy meet over a cup of tea and pakodas, for another round of discussions on Hindi film music. They do this once a month, greeting each other with a hug, choosing a topic for debate, slowly disagreeing with each other over various things, quarrelling and cursing each other, and finally reaching a compromise.

They think differently. In terms of their personality and musical taste, they are diametrically opposite. Jalebi is an optimist, Karela is a pessimist. Jalebi is open-minded, Karela is a stickler for perfection. Jalebi likes all kinds of music, Karela is stuck in the 1960s and 1970s. Jalebi loves pop music, Karela hates paap music. Jalebi keeps dripping with oily praises, Karela is a bored gourd. In short, Jalebi can be very sweet, and Karela extremely bitter.

This time, they meet just after watching Anurag Basu’s ‘Barfi’. The first 30 minutes are very different from their usual encounters, as they don’t disagree on a single thing. Both say in chorus: “The movie is great, one of the best released after the year 2000. The direction and screenplay are brilliant, and the performances by Ranbir Kapoor, Priyanka Chopra and Ileana D’Cruz are first-rate.”

So far, so good. The problem starts when they start talking about the film’s music. Just when both have agreed about the sheer brilliance of the movie, Jalebi makes the mistake of lavishly praising the music. Look at what follows:

Jalebi: Barfi has the freshest music released in the last 10 years. Congratulations to music director Pritam.

Karela: Freshest, did you say? It is fresh-sounding, all right. But calling it the freshest would be taking things too far.

Jalebi: Come on Karela, the songs are so hummable and well-written. In today’s movies, where do you find such freshness? It’s got that ’60s and ’70s feel. Pure, simple melodies. Look at the song ‘Ala Barfi’. It’s so hummable and clean in an era where people are coming out with ‘Halkat Jawani’ and ‘Jalebi Bai’.

Karela: Obviously they were inspired to write ‘Jalebi Bai’ after meeting you, Jalebi Bhai. Regarding ‘Ala Barfi’, it seems to have a Kishore Kumar hangover. And what do the lyrics mean? ‘Gud gud gud gud’. ‘Jhun jhun jhun jhun’, ‘Phuss phuss phuss phuss’. ‘Bud bud bud bud’. ‘Bhurr bhurr bhurr bhurr’. On top of that they use the word ‘Maula’, so that people can call it a Sufi song.

Jalebi: Ha ha ha, Karela. If ‘Ina Meena Deeka’ and ‘Main hoon jhum jhum jhumroo’ could become such a rage in their time, what’s stopping this? ‘Barfi’ has other wonderful songs too, where the lyrics have depth. Must give credit to lyricists Swanand Kirkire, Sayyed Quadri, Neelesh Misra and Ashish Pandit for writing clean and meaningful songs. On top of that, ‘Main kya karoon’, ‘Aashiyan’, ‘Kyon’ and that beautiful ghazal ‘Phir le aya dil’ are all wonderfully composed. Some lines are just awesome. Like “Nazar ke sihayi se likhenge tujhe hazaar chithiyan.” Or “Pyaar ke sikko se maheene ka kharcha chalayein.” Sheer poetry.

Karela: Good songs, no doubt. Wonderful lyrics, without question. But what inconsistent singing! If there was more uniformity in singing, this would have gone to another level. That’s my biggest problem with the music.

Jalebi: Would you care to explain your brilliant theory please?

Karela: You have half a dozen male singers literally – Mohit Chauhan, Shafqat Amanat Ali, Papon, Nikhil Paul George, Arijit Singh… even lyricist Swanand Kirkire sings a version of ‘Ala Barfi’. With no disrespect meant, the character of Ranbir Kapoor cannot speak. Yet, he’s got six singing voices crooning in six different pitches. On some songs, he seems like he’s been awarded a Sangeet Visharad. On others, the vocals are flatter than punctured tyres. Some songs sound like an American trying to learn his first few words of Hindi. Others sound like Mirza Ghalib speaking in a mushaira.

Jalebi: You are stuck in pre-historic times! Don’t you know that using different singers has been the trend for the past 10 years? Even Rahman does it.

Karela: What Rahman does needn’t work for everybody. And mind you, even Rahman stuck with only one singer Mohit Chauhan for Ranbir in ‘Rockstar’.  That worked perfectly. Moreover, this trend wasn’t invented by Rahman. In the past, there have been numerous examples of two singers singing for the same actor in the same film. Manna Dey and Mukesh for Rajesh Khanna in Anand. Kishore and RD for Amitabh in Shaan. Rafi and Kishore for Rishi Kapoor in Karz. But those guys could really sing and adapt themselves. You never noted such a stark difference. But by and large those days, you had specific voices for specific actors, which worked better. Kishore for Rajesh Khanna. Mukesh for Raj Kapoor. Rafi for Shammi Kapoor. Even later, Udit Narayan and Abhijeet mainly sang for Shah Rukh Khan. Today, any singer seems to go with any actor.

Jalebi: It’s not fair to compare everybody with Kishore or Rafi or Mukesh. Or Udit or Abhijeet, for that matter. Times have changed. Most films today have rubbish music. This is a welcome change. Unlike those days when there were only four or five male, and two or three females singers, today there are so many talented playback singers…

Karela: Half of them consist of non-playback singers. Or playback non-singers, whatever you might want to call them. Actually, only half the people today can actually sing. The others sing songs like ‘Pareshan pareshan pareshan’ to make headlines. People like me get ‘pareshan’ in the process. As for music directors, where was C Ramchandra in ‘Anarkali’? And where is Sajid-Wajid in ‘Anarkali disco chali’?

Jalebi: We’re digressing from the topic of ‘Barfi’, but let me tell you, today, ‘Pareshaan’ and ‘Anarkali disco chali’ have more takers. They are in keeping with trends.

Karela: You so-called modern people do any rubbish in the name of innovation, and you call it a trend. Anyone who disagrees with your so-called fads is an old-fashioned fool.

Jalebi: You can only describe yourself best. Old-fashioned fool, that’s what you are. Your words, not mine. By comparing ‘Pareshan’ with the ‘Barfi’ songs, you have just proved how foolish you are. The ‘Barfi’ music rocks. That’s it. In this film, each singer has been selected on the basis of how his texture suits the song’s mood.

Karela: What texture are you talking of, you… hmmm.. new-fashioned oaf? Look at this singer, Nikhil Paul George. In ‘Main kya karoon’, he just keeps croaking ‘Kya karoon main kya karoon main kya karoon’. Aur kya karoge? Vicks ki goli lo, khich-khich door karo.

Jalebi: There’s no need to be so rude. Even your favourite Bob Dylan has a very cracked-up voice.

Karela: You’re comparing Nikhil Paul George with Bob Dylan? You must be joking. Yes, Nikhil has half the Beatles in his name. But he can’t hold a single note like them. For instance, ‘Aashiyan’ is a nice and peppy composition, am not arguing about that. But he pronounces ‘Itni si hasee, itni si khushi’ as ‘Itti si hasee, itti si cushy’. He sings ‘Mahine’ as ‘Maahine’. In fact, in the duet version, Shreya Ghoshal saves the song. Though she too sings ‘Itti si hasee’, her voice is gorgeous. Then, there’s Arijit Singh singing ‘Saawali si raat’ and pronouncing it ‘Saawaley’, and his tone sounds like he’s singing a kindergarten nursery rhyme.

Jalebi:  Okay, agreed their diction isn’t great. But by themselves, the songs are catchy. ‘Main kya karoon’ has some nice flamenco guitars, and ‘Aashiyan’ has a nice folksy feel and great violins. Look at Papon’s singing in ‘Kyon’. He’s got a lovely rich voice that sounds so good in the film.

Karela: Agreed, but don’t you think Sunidhi’s sudden husky entry messes up the song? If Shreya had sung that song, it would have been a great contrast. After two minutes of sheer melody, this song suddenly sounds jerky.

Jalebi: You talk like you’re the most enlightened music critic in the world. But since you’ve grown up on ghazals, you couldn’t possibly have a problem with Shafqat Amanat Ali singing ‘Phir le aya dil’. Shafqat has been trained in your favourite Patiala gharana. And those singers can never go wrong. I also like the female version sung by Rekha Bhardwaj. It’s an absolutely great song.

Karela: Agreed. But why have another version by Arijit Singh? He just can’t match up to Shafqat. He does try hard, by singing a ‘sargam’ passage to show that he’s attended music lessons, but his version falls flat. Anyway, three versions of the same song is a bit much

Jalebi: The song uses some wonderfully Urdu poetry by Sayeed Quadri.

Karela: That’s what. All the songs have very simple words, which can be identified easily by the lay listener. Then, this song throws up high-flown Urdu words like ‘muyyassar’, ‘badastoor’ and ‘mussalsal’. Yes, I agree people will need a dictionary, whether they want to find out the meaning of ‘Muyassar’ or ‘Phuss phuss phuss’.

Jalebi: Lord, it’s difficult to argue with you. But you must agree that this is Pritam’s best and most original score ever.

Karela: Some of the background  music has been taken from the film ‘Amelie’. And from western classical pieces. The song ‘Saawali si raat’ seems obviously inspired by Oriya singer Akshaya Mohanty’s ‘Chandramalli hase’. I don’t suspect anything with the other songs, though one never knows with Pritam. In the past, he has lifted songs from Arabic, Indonesian and South Korean melodies. Maybe he has chosen Greenland or Equador this time, we will never get to know.

Jalebi: Is there anything about the film’s music which you can praise without putting in a thousand counter-arguments.

Karela: Yes, they used the original Bengali hit ‘Duranto ghurnir ei legecche paak’, sung by Hemanta Kumar and composed by Salil Chowdhury. Just proves that great words and a great tune have to be accompanied by a great voice. If one of them goes haywire, the song loses its charm.

Jalebi: You have a point. Probably, if Pritam had on all songs just stuck to KK or Atif Aslam, two singers who are versatile and who can adapt, he may have got more uniformity.

Karela: That’s what I’ve been saying all along. You’re so pessimistic, closed-minded and negative by nature, you just can’t agree to what I say. You just can’t appreciate art.

Jalebi: Look, this argument can go on and on. But both of us have to go home now. What’s important is that these things don’t really matter because the film is so brilliant. People like you can keep cribbing about the music, but ultimately, it’s the beauty of the film that matters.

Karela: I totally disagree when you say that between the two of us, only you think the film is brilliant. In today’s age, or whatever age for that matter, ‘Barfi’ is a masterpiece. Hats off to Anurag, Ranbir, Priyanka and Ileana.

Jalebi: And Pritam?

Karela: Definitely, but he should have been more careful in choosing his male playback singers. Good night.

 This blog has been inspired by a very lively discussion we had on Facebook, after this writer posted that much as he liked the tunes and lyrics of the songs of ‘Barfi’, the choice of playback singers wasn’t perfect, as each singer had a different texture and style. The writer’s  view was that in ‘Barfi’, there was a “mix of voices ranging from classically trained to pleasant with no frills to downright jarring and off-key.”

Those participating in the discussion were Mimmy Jain, KJ Singh, Rajiv Vijayakar, Jessica S Dcruz Menezes, Sridhar TVN, Pranay Rilja, Nilakshi Sengupta, Subhasree Basu, Shubhodeep Pal and Vicky Solanki.

Both Jalebi and Karela represent various views put forth by the participants, with many additional sentences thrown in. Some spoke in favour of multiple singers, and others felt too many variety kills the spice.

Today, there is obviously a tendency to use multiple singers in a film, even if for the same actor. Gone are the days when you identified specific voices with specific stars. But what’s also happening is that any voice is being chosen for any actor, in the name of experimentation and talent promotion. Some good songs have been marred by a wrong choice of singers.

What view do you, the reader, subscribe to? It would be great to hear your feedback.


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