Tag Archives: Indian film industry

Thoughts On Amit Trivedi’s “Bombay Velvet”

This is not a review of Amit Trivedi’s Bombay Velvet. I loved the album to bits and wanted to share a few things that stood out for me as I was listening to it:

  1. It struck me as a rare album in that it is so thematically consistent. We hear Neeti Mohan’s voice in six of the fourteen songs and other than two songs, the album is based on jazz music with a few modern embellishments in places. We have had this kind of consistency in Hindi film albums before, of course, but such albums have been few and far between. Also, this is the first time a Hindi film album has dedicated itself to jazz-based genres. We must commend Anurag Kashyap for his vision and guts to stick to his vision and Amit Trivedi for delivering to the vision in style. Guts? Yes, guts because when was the last time you heard an album that did not mix up an assortment of pop, Sufi, a variety of folk and light classical sounds with a base of “filmi” music? Heck, if a music director doesn’t deliver all those sounds in an album, he/she runs the risk of being seen as using “templatized” music. Bombay Velvet runs the same risk. Also, guts because jazz-based music is far from mainstream and may not be an average Indian listener’s cup of tea.
  1. I think it’s time to officially declare Neeti Mohan a diva. What a voice! Smoking hot texture, incredible range and although it ought to be a given for singers at this level – boy can she hold a tune! I am surprised that people continue to look at her as an up-and-coming singer. For example, when we reported that she was the most prolific female singer of 2014 with 42 songs, a common reaction was “Really?!”. It’s high time we acknowledge her as a premier singer in the Hindi film industry. I’ve heard parallels drawn between Mohit Chauhan/Rockstar and Bombay Velvet/Neeti Mohan but in my opinion, that comparison is unfair to Neeti. Neeti makes Bombay Velvet her own in a way that Mohit Chauhan could not with Rockstar, which was an A.R. Rahman album all the way. (Highly subjective opinion. I would understand and accept vehement disagreement.)
  1. There have been rumblings of the sameness of Amit Trivedi’s music in the past few albums. I countered those criticisms here. His out-of-tune singing has also been criticized. This is a fair criticism, although his signing, at least on recorded songs, has not annoyed me as much as it has others. Perhaps he’s heard criticism of his singing and other than a couple of harmonies (I think it’s him), he’s not sung in the album! With this tour de force of an album, my guess is that complaints about the sameness of his music will ease. For some time.

2014 Bollywood Music Review

2014

2014 was not a great year for Hindi film music. The Indian Express carried a bleak piece discussing the death of Hindi film music in 2014. We have observed the rise of multi-composer albums and albums riding on one or two item songs for a few years now. This trend continued in 2014. The other thing that happened in 2014 was that there were fewer solid, single-composer albums to offset the mediocre ones. For example, while 2014 had only Queen, Haider and Highway as the hit-the-ball-out-of-the-park albums, 2013 had Lootera, Kai Po Che, Raanjhana, Aashiqui 2, Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani, Bhaag Milka Bhaag and D-Day.

Moving on, to digging deeper into the year. 2014 saw the release of 142 films with 982 songs between them.

The year saw the passing away of Chandrashekhar Gadgil, Juthika Roy, Raghunath Seth and Sitara Devi. It also saw influx of new talent. Some of the notable debuts of 2014 were:

The most prolific composers in 2014 were:

  1. A.R. Rahman – 7 films, 68 songs
  2. Himesh Reshammiya – 4 films, 46 songs
  3. Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy – 4 films, 24 songs
  4. Vishal – Shekhar – 3 films, 24 songs

Since Rahman’s list includes 2 Hollywood films (“Million Dollar Arm” and “The Hundred-Foot Journey”) and 3 Tamil films dubbed in Hindi (“Kochadaiiyaan”, “Lingaa” and “I”), we have included 4 composers in this list instead of the usual 3.

The most prolific lyricists in 2014 were:

  1. Kumaar – 22 films, 60 songs
  2. Irshad Kamil – 9 films, 55 songs
  3. Amitabh Bhattacharya – 8 films, 39 songs

Kumaar tops the lyricist list again. As we had mentioned last year, the disconnect between how much he gets talked about and the volume of his work output is stark. Other than Irshad Kamil and Amitabh Bhattacharya switching spots, this list is the same as last year’s. The stability of this list gives us an indication of how much value Bollywood places on these three lyricists.

The most prolific male singers of 2014 were:

  1. Arijit Singh – 62 songs
  2. Mika Singh – 37 songs
  3. Himesh Reshammiya – 22 songs

If 2013, with Aashiqui 2, was Arijit Singh’s breakout year, 2014 was the year he established his dominance. With 62 songs, he ruled the charts and the airwaves. Despite murmurs of “over-exposure”, Arijit has managed to appeal to both the masses and the critics. Mika Singh’s presence on this list shows Bollywood’s continued and, for us, inexplicable, fascination for his voice and/or the genre he represents. Singer Himesh Reshammiya can thank music director Himesh Reshammiya for all the songs he got to sing in 2014.

The most prolific female singers of 2014 were:

  1. Neeti Mohan – 42 songs
  2. Shreya Ghoshal – 32 songs
  3. Shalmali Kholgade – 21 songs

The careers of Neeti Mohan and Shalmali Kholgade continue to be on the rise and deservedly so. Shreya Ghoshal is still placed comfortably although she seems to have lost a bit of her sheen. It is very clear that Sunidhi Chauhan is getting fewer offers, although, as you’ll see below, the songs she does sing are well-liked.

Finally, based on a combination of ratings and number of well-rated songs in 2014, the most popular artists of 2014 were:

  1. Most popular composers: A.R. Rahman, Shankar – Ehsaan – Loy, Vishal – Shekhar, Pritam
  2. Most popular lyricists: Amitabh Bhattacharya, Gulzar, Irshad Kamil
  3. Most popular male singers: Arijit Singh, Vishal Dadlani, Papon
  4. Most popular female singers: Shreya Ghoshal, Neeti Mohan, Sunidhi Chauhan

Bollywood Musicians Bare Claws

Is there something off in the Bollywood music industry? Consider this:

  • Shaan on Twitter about Rahat getting off easy – Rahatbhai found rahat pretty easily with DRI and FERA. A Fine and he’s fine to carry on. Wonder if we were in Another Country in similar situation, would it be as easy ??!!
    My take: Shaan’s public outburst is a little disappointing. Even if there is some truth in what he is implying, he comes across as a bitter, fading star. I think he’s better than that.
  • Abhijit alleges a music industry racket involving producers (Mahesh Bhat), music labels (Tips) and Pakistani musicians (like Rahat). He doesn’t exactly spell it out but with the Rahat arrest incident in the backdrop, is he insinuating money laundering?
    My take: Sour grapes. Abhijit is a long time Pakistan baiter who feels that his career went south because of Pakistani singers. He is wrong. His career went south because of singers better than him – Pakistani and Indian.
  • Sonu Nigam roasts Shankar Mahadevan, A.R. Rahman, Himesh Reshammiya and Adnan Sami at GIMA awards. Sample this song sung to Maa’s tune –
  • Main kabhi batlata nahin, Kharaj (low note, sa) se mooh phirta hoon maa,
    Gaane do mujhe uche suron me, Neeche ke sur se darta hoon main maa

    My take: Good fun! And by the looks of their laughter, it looked like Shankar, ARR and Adnan Sami were having fun too. Or was it a case of “Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho…”?

The Importance Of Cover Songs

In an interview with Rajeev Masand, Asha Bhonsle rips apart Sunidhi Chauhan’s rendition of ‘Duniya Mein’ in a song called ‘Parda’ in ‘Once Upon A Time in Mumbai’. And she does it with a beatific smile lighting up her face. She’s a spirited old lady alright and I admire her verve and energy.

However (you saw it coming didn’t you?), I disagree with her insinuation – the lady conveys a lot without saying much – that originals should be left alone. As long as the following two conditions are met, I think cover songs are great:

  1. Credit – The original should be given credit and given credit prominently, not hidden in plain sight like disclaimers.
  2. Creative interpretation – It’s no good if the cover version tries to be just like the original.

Here is why I think cover songs are important:

  1. It helps listeners discover new artists and genres and it helps artists span across generations. I bought my first Bob Dylan album because I wanted to find out what the original ‘Knockin’ on Heanven’s Door’ sounded like (I heard the GnR version first). Every time a new artist covers a Dylan song, a new generation discovers Dylan.
  2. Cover songs unearth hidden gems. My guess is that Asha tai’s reaction would have been more favorable if one of her lesser known songs had been covered. It took the cover version in ‘Dil Vil Pyar Var’ for me to discover the beautiful original version of ‘Kya Janoon Sanam’ sung by Lata. (In fact, all songs in ‘Dil Vil Pyar Var’ are wonderful covers of RD Burman songs.)
  3. Sometimes, just sometimes, the cover can improve on the original. If I say, ‘Black Magic Woman, ‘All Along the Watchtower’ and ‘The Man Who Sold the World’, do you think Santana, Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana; or Fleetwood Mac, Bob Dylan and David Bowie? Can you think of a world without these cover songs? I rest my case.
  4. Cover songs help new artists stand their ground while they establish themselves. Not my personal favorite, but ever heard of a band called Boyzone?

We don’t have enough cover songs in India. I am not talking about plagiarized music (copying without permission and/or credit), renditions with no creativity (artists trying to sound like the original) or remixes that add gobbledygook (or jhankar beats or whatever) to the original. We have plenty of those. I am talking about musicians taking an original with permission, imparting it their voice and style and making it their own.

Why India Survives

Two incidents in my apartment complex resulted in a lot of debate related to religion and language in India:

1.     Religion – It was discovered that two maidservants who identified themselves with Hindu names were actually Muslims. The residents’ association banned these individuals from the complex since their integrity was now in question. Debate:

  • Did the maidservants choose to identify themselves as Hindus because they were finding it difficult to find jobs otherwise? If this was the reason, were they justified in passing themselves off as Hindus?
  • Did their religion have anything to them being banned?

2.     Language – Some residents expressed frustration that some of the apartment staff (security, reception, etc.) spoke only the local language, “Kannad”. Someone suggested that all staff should know Hindi, the national language of India. There were a couple of quick responses – a) it is Kannada, not “Kannad” and, b) Hindi is the official language of India, not the national language. Debate:

  • Shouldn’t Hindi speaking people living in non-Hindi speaking places try to learn the local language?
  • How do we solve the communication issues across India? There were three options that came up during this incident – English, Hindi and Sign Language!

I am sure debates like these happen all across India every day. I think our community was lucky that this debate was civil (keeping my fingers crossed). I realize not every community is this lucky. I am only reassured by the text in one of my favorite books on India, “India After Gandhi” by Ramachandra Guha. To anyone who has ever wondered why India stays united, I suggest they read at least the prologue and epilogue of this book. The prologue is titled “The Unnatural Nation” and frames the paradox and challenges that define India. The epilogue is titled “Why India Survives”. For the most part, Guha steers clear of a definitive answer to this question. But in the last line of the book, he offers this:

So long as the constitution is not amended beyond recognition, so long as elections are held regularly and fairly and the ethos of secularism broadly prevails, so long as citizens speak and write in the language of their choosing, so long as there is an integrated market and a moderately efficient civil service and army, and – lest I forget – so long as Hindi films are watched and their songs sung, India will survive.

Go out there, catch the latest Bollywood movie, sing the hits and help India survive.

5 suggestions to recognize film music’s “extras”

Ever wondered who played the violin in Yeh Ab Aap Sochiye (Mere Sanam); the sitar in Deewana Hua Baadal (Kashmir Ki Kali); the harmonica in Ye Dosti (Sholay); the accordion in Har Dil Jo Pyar Karega (Sangam); the guitar in Ilaya Nila (Payanangal Mudivadhillai); or even who whistled in Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (Nau Do Gyarah)? I researched and haven’t found any record yet. It appears that we have failed to recognize and give credit to hundreds of instrumentalists and other artistes who have contributed to film music over decades.

However, recent releases (not sure when the trend started), seem to be doing a very good job of giving credit to people involved in the creation of the music. Inserts are getting meatier and provide a lot of information, including the lyrics and credits for the musicians and the recording crew. Sharing credit is a no-brainer because all parties win. Contributors get recognized; creators (labels, producers, music directors) appear nice because everyone likes people who share credit publicly and visibly; consumers get information. Can anyone, who has seen “Om Shanti Om”, forget the credits for the movie? My esteem for Farah Khan went up several notches for giving the credits a human touch. In general, movie folks seem to do a better job at sharing credit than their music industry counterparts.

While the detailed inserts are welcome, I have the following suggestions to offer:

  1. Standardize the nomenclature and format for sharing credits on the inserts, so that finding information becomes easy and intuitive.
  2. Make the insert available in digital form.
  3. Provide information on a per song basis.
  4. Add an audio clip that gives credit to all contributors. When compared to inserts, audio clips would be more easily accessible, more closely associated with the music and less likely to be misplaced.
  5. Throw in a “Making of the music” audio or video. Credit for individual contribution is nice but what people really love are stories of collaboration between the musicians. A great example is the “Making of Veer Zaara” CD.

The extra offerings should not come at extra cost. Instead, they should be provided as incentive to people who buy music, by using DRM type technology or providing online access based on a key/code provided during purchase.

Is Bollywood Overdose killing Indian music?

I love Bollywood music. It forms about 35% of my music collection, only because I follow four languages, like a number of genres and most importantly – I research and buy music I like and I buy a lot of it. Most Indians find it easy to just succumb to Bollywood Overdose (BO). Although regional music markets face the same onslaught from regional movies, I single out Bollywood simply because it is the largest producer of music in India and has pan India presence.

What is BO? BO is the phenomenon of large sections of Indians being exposed to a handful of Bollywood songs and pretty much nothing else. It results in a populace with stunted musical taste or disinterest in music.

An entire system is responsible for BO – risk-averse Bollywood producers promoting the creation of music they believe will be hit, weary music directors who sell out to make a fast buck or suppress their creativity to play it safe, short-sighted music labels who abandon music lovers with discerning and/or niche taste and build businesses around a large market that is not very picky, a clueless media that refuses to acknowledge a creative world beyond Bollywood and lastly, Indian music listeners who either don’t have the time to explore and experiment or don’t care. (The Indian aversion to paying for music also figures somewhere here but that’s a topic for another day.) Ironically, Bollywood music not only overwhelms other music, it even cannibalizes itself. There are many Bollywood musical gems that do not reach many people simply because all the parties mentioned above don’t do enough to uncover them from the rubble.

An example of BO. I don’t know if you have listened to FM radio stations lately but the last I timed tuned in, I could almost anticipate the next song. What’s wrong with the RJs and radio stations? Can’t they play anything other than film music? Scratch that. Can’t they play anything other than “hit” film music? The other day a chirpy RJ ran an indipop special. She went on and on about how much she loved indipop, interviewed Dr Palash Sen to prove it and went on to play Bollywood staples! The poor doctor must have been squirming in his seat. Clarification, lady RJ – the “indi” in indipop stands not just for Indian but Independent.

Another example. What’s the point of Bollywood shows? Are our movie stars the best dancers in the country? Or is it their lip-syncing talent that brings in people in droves? I have nothing against people who attend these shows  – I have many dear friends who do. I just wish that they display the same (if not more) enthusiasm for the talent of real dancers and real musicians.

Bollywood produces some very good music. However, I refuse to believe that it represents the entire creative prowess of a country with a billion people. Indian music lovers deserve more choice – more artistes, more genres, more musical styles.

Bollywood or MumFI?

Amitabh Bachchan tweeted this last night – “T180 – FI : Film Industry, InFI : Indian Film Industry … a much recommended and apt name than the other plagiarized often used euphemism !”.

I respect Mr Bachchan and am struck by his deep love for Bollywood. This is not the first time he has stood up for Bollywood. He has been an outspoken defender of the “song and dance” routine in Indian movies. I agree with him. “Song and dance” is what sets Indian movies apart and there is no need to be apologetic about them. I would only submit that they be connected to the movie plot tastefully and seamlessly. He does not believe that the Oscars define the ultimate measure of success for Indian movies. True, but there is nothing wrong in the Indian movie industry aspiring to attract an international audience. Also, “don’t care for Oscars” should not be excuse for mediocrity.

Coming back to his recommendation – InFI sounds cool but there are a few reasons why it will not work:

a)     The *wood (Bollywood, et al) brand name is established. It will be very, very hard to displace it.

b)    India has a diverse and localized movie industry. Each region has its own, cool sounding “wood” (my favorite – Sandalwood for the Bangalore movie industry). InFI, itself isn’t bad but the regional equivalents sound downright goofy – MumFI, CheFI, HyFI (this wouldn’t be too bad), BaFI, KeFI….you get the drift.

c)     For the few million people who know Infosys as Infy, InFI would be chaotic. (Example – People on the street talk about InFI going through a bad patch and the Infy stock tanks.)

Mr Bachchan, sir – I love your work, but I’ll stick with Bollywood.