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Swan Song

With an eye on commerce, filmmakers are leveraging music purely as a commercial tool. As a result, Hindi film music has lost its soul. 

Music has always been a pivot of Hindi cinema. Whether love ballads or heavily choreographed masala numbers or item songs, music not only embellishes our films but is integral to the movie-viewing experience. The colourful song-and-dance sequences that pepper Hindi movies have left an indelible mark overseas, as foreign cultures identify Bollywood with these often over-the-top song sequences.

But, in the last few years, the industry appears to have lost its musical ear. While songs are being generated at a rapid rate, the tunes being composed are no longer striking a chord or tugging at the heart strings as they once did.

In the year of 2018 itself, while many of our films have done exceedingly well at the box office, earning `100-200 crore, the music has not been up to the standards that our industry is used to. In these last eight months, only a handful of films have made a mark with their tunes. Even songs that are pleasant to listen to during the film, do not have any repeat value. And the few numbers that do have some repeat value are usually recreations of old Bollywood songs or hit Punjabi singles.

From Bom diggy and Dil chori sada in Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety to Tareefan in Veere Di Wedding and Dilbar dilbar in Satyameva Jayate, we have only one blockbuster that is an original composition. All the others have been tried and tested before. And now, remixed versions of certain songs are also failing to live up to the mark. This week, we raised the question – why is the Hindi film industry seeing a dearth of original songs? Are even recreations failing to work? We spoke to a few film directors, music composers and lyricists and asked them to help figure it out.

Shashank Khaitan, Writer-Director

As filmmakers, we are all trying to see what is good for our movies, whether situational songs or promotional songs. Some original songs have done well. Some recreations have done well. The industry, right now, is figuring out how to take songs forward. As we speak, I am writing my next script and figuring out what to do. I am trying to see how I can integrate musical numbers in the story so that they can authentically take the storytelling forward. I am also attempting to make sure they are good, melodious songs.

As the format of storytelling is changing and newer media are coming out, we are figuring out how our songs can be used differently in our movies. Due to YouTube and other digital apps, singles have started doing well again. So many independent songs are now becoming chartbusters and so many independent artistes are doing well.

Now we need to figure out whether a song that has already released can be used if it is apt for the film or do we need to create original music for every film? Hollywood has been doing it for years where released soundtracks are used as parts of movies. In fact, there have been cases where one song is a part of multiple movies because the situations demanded it. If the song is in line with the situation, may be it is better to use an already existing song over creating a new one.

Having said that, we are all working to create original songs; they are a part of Hindi cinema. I hope and pray that such songs continue to be a part of Hindi cinema. We are trying to understand and strike a balance between originality and commerce. Hopefully, we can arrive at a balance between original songs and recreations. I don’t think the trend of using music that already exists is harmful. Sometimes, the situation calls for this. I used Saturday Saturday and Samjhawan in Humpty Sharma Ki Dulhania, which already existed. But they fit so perfectly in my movie that I thought I should use them.

Milap Milan Zaveri, Writer-Director

There has to be a good mix of both, original songs and recreations. In Satyameva Jayate, we had both Dilbar and Paniyon sa – one a recreation and the other an original song. Dilbar notched up record-breaking numbers. Tareefan from Veere Di Wedding and Paniyon sa from my film have done well. The songs of Dhadak, although remakes of their Marathi versions, were pretty new for the Hindi audience.

It is not that original music is not doing well. What has happened is that some recreations like Dilbar have become successful because they are new songs for this generation. They are not aware of the original numbers as they released a long time ago. For this generation, recreations are new songs. As long as the music is good and people enjoy it, it is good for the industry. Our cinema needs music. Our cinema is identified by its music.

Whenever a great original song comes along, it does well. It is not that original songs do not do well. Why do people resort to recreations? Maybe because a new song will not work well in a situation or enhance the product as much as a recreated song will.  So when we do not get a great original dance number, then we think of recreating something that has worked in the past. It could be new for today’s audiences.

The same goes for a love song. Paniyon sa was an original love song which Rochak (Kohli) composed. It worked beautifully. I really liked another song by Rochak from the film, Batti Gul Meter Chalu called Dekhte dekhte. It is an original song. It is doing wonderfully well. Amaal Mallik has composed some beautiful songs such as Kaun tujhe from M.S. Dhoni: The Untold Story. Galliyan from Ek Villain was great. We do have original songs, but we are also able to get a good song by recreating old songs, which is a new song for today’s generation. I do not think that it is a bad practice.

Mudassar Aziz, Director

As recently as five years ago, the exposure of the listener to various kinds of music, courtesy the internet and social media, was much less. Now we live in times of information overload. We have music coming at us from everywhere… stuff we may want to listen to, not want to listen to. There is so much information that registering it has become difficult, especially where cinema is concerned, because it is an exclusive medium.

Now, the phenomenon encompasses the entire film profession and music too has also become a victim of this. For example, 5-7 years ago, if you came out with a love ballad sung by, say, Arijit (Singh), a ballad with beautiful words and a great melody, there was a 99 per cent chance it would hit home. But, now, Arijit is available on Coke Studio, YouTube and on other social media platforms where he has uploaded videos himself.

So, one of the major factors that is killing not only music but other exclusive forms of media is information overload – easy access to things which also contributes to shortening your memory for original songs. Earlier, when a song used to release, you have enough time to savour the song. Music is something that grows on you. Now, everything is about the first 24 hours, getting ‘views’ and ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’.

Another factor is that more and more filmmakers are coming up with scripts that maintain the exclusivity of the film’s songs. That is, their songs entirely relate to the script. With a film like Sui Dhaaga – Made In India, the makers don’t have the liberty to just pick a song because it has the potential to run; they have to pick one that is close to the script and flows with the narrative. This discourages varied forms of music in movies that used to exist before.

There are production houses that used to bank on their music, They have suffered most in the last 5-6 years. The need for a song to be specific to the film’s story has become a tricky thing. There is no lack of quality in songs today. A gem of a song can come from anywhere. Also, now people can pick and choose original songs from various languages which are beautiful compositions. The attention is divided. But if we come together and say, dip more into folk music to create something original, I think that may work in the upcoming years.

Amit Trivedi, Composer-Singer (All Songs - Manmarziyaan)

Original compositions are not grabbing the limelight or becoming successful these days because recreated songs are being heavily promoted. There is also a surge in the number of songs being released… an overdose. People are exposed to songs from new releases, almost every day.

There are so many songs… kilo ke bhaav mein gaane nikal rahe hain. When something is available in abundance, it diminishes in value. That’s exactly what’s happening with songs today. It seems that supply is far outstripping demand. It feels as if the audience is being burdened with too much and that is not really necessary.

Vishal Mishra, Composer – Singer (Selfish – Race 3)

We have so many options today and so many platforms to listen to music that our attention span and memory have shrunk. Back in the day, since options were limited, only good work was presented to us. 

Today, we are living in the best times to make music. We have never before had such a big talent pool, so many great writers, music directors, music producers and music equipment. The labels are so strong and so many platforms have cropped up exclusively for music.

But attention spans have shrunk considerably as has memory. People say that songs that released 20 years ago yaad rehte the aur aaj ke kyun nahi rehte. But I think this is just a phase. It is an unfair comparison and music is as good as it used to be. As far as recreations are concerned, some of them work and I think it’s a beautiful process. I don’t do a lot of recreations. I’ve just done one, the Rafta Rafta Medley, so I can speak only for myself. I wanted to make the songs as they used to be. I did not want to add my own composition or my own lines, so I thought I’d design it in a way that caters to someone who is 50 years old as well as someone who wants to dance and is 16 years old. I think people have loved what I have done with Rafta rafta.

Shalmali Kholgade, Singer-Composer (Manva Likes To Fly – Tumhari Sulu)

I think at the root of all the speculation on the longevity and workability of music today is the shortening attention span of the audience and the effort to cut through the clutter on the part of creators. At a time when there’s so much information out there to consume, it’s a risk for most artistes to try something new and different.

Most creators would consider it wiser to present an existing piece of music in a relevant context (remix/reprise) and thus get the audience’s attention, before treading on new terrain. It’s just a business model, I guess. Some people are stubborn and believe firmly in their sound and negate the demand. They stand a chance to either make a mark or go unnoticed. This is probably why we have fewer original songs that have made a mark.

Why aren’t recreations working? We see a recreation in every other film and the novelty factor is lost. There is very little room to be surprised. Familiarity works for recreations but over-familiarity can work in the other direction.

Manoj Muntashir, Lyricist (Sanu Ek Pal Chain – Raid)

The basic reason songs have become perishable today is the disparity in demand-and-supply. There was a time when supply was much less than demand. Nowadays, every week, you have five to six film songs on a platter. Besides that, there are other kinds of songs like singles. There is so much supply of music that, as a commodity, it has lost its charm.

Now, we do not wait for music because it is already there. You are not going out and buying cassettes. You are not paying for music. Everything has become free. Anything that becomes free loses its value. When you are exposed to 50-odd new songs every month, you will have a difficult time picking a favourite. Songs do not have enough time and space to become chartbusters or immortal.

Recreations are the latest trend in the industry. Every 4-5 years, a new trend pops up in the music scenario. Like other trends, this one too will come and go by. Baba Sehgal’s rap too was a trend and everyone was singing rap. Likewise, recreations are also a trend that will pass. Not that I am dead against recreations because it has also produced something good. They have brought back some really good songs. My son is seven and a half years old and he is a Mere rashke qamar fan. If there were no recreations, would he have known Mere rashke qamar? No.

This year, when I won the IIFA for Mere rashke qamar, there was a different kind of joy that I felt as I stood on that stage. The award for Best Lyrics went to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Manoj Muntashir. Because of this, a legend like the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is winning awards. Shiv Kumar Batalvi, a legendary Punjabi poet who died very young, one of his songs Ikk kudi was recreated in Udta Punjab. Decades after his death, he was nominated at the Filmfare awards! Recreations definitely have a silver lining.

Raj Shekhar, Lyricist (Khatam Kahani – Qarib Qarib Singlle)

I don’t usually look at the charts so I don’t know which songs are ranked on top. But if you ask me why there is shortage of hit numbers or songs that have repeat value, I would say that everyone is in a hurry… the audience, composers and lyricists, people who decide… everyone. Earlier, people worked with ample time in hand which translated into quality but now we sometimes get only a day to pen a song and deliver it. When you rush something, quality is bound going to suffer.

I am sorry to say that many lyricists and even music composers are not concerned about quality. Their attitude is one of carelessness. When you are not serious and you don’t respect your own work, the other person too will not respect it. Never mind remembering a song for a year or more; nowadays we worry whether it can sustain for a week! It is all about responses on social media.

About recreations not working, I feel that there is no soul. We are not making songs from our heart. Forget item numbers, qawwali tak me yahi hota hai, add something from here and there and a song is ready. I do not really listen to recreated songs so I don’t have much of an idea as to what is happening with them, but some people in the music business feel they know everything… what to write, what words to use, what tune should be made, from music instruments to marketing they think they know everything. So, how do you make a hit song? All you need to do is make good music and write quality songs, make songs from our hearts. Marketing and the rest of it should come later.

When Tanu Weds Manu released in 2011, there wasn’t much interference, but nowadays there is a lot of interference. Nowadays, directors create songs from four different individuals so that they can get a good opening for the film on the first day. And the results are obvious. Yahi haal raha to kuch dinon mein recreation ka recreation hoga.

Rachita Arora, Composer (All songs - Mukkabaaz)

I think it is unfortunate that we have so many remakes but there are also some amazing musicians coming up with original stuff, experimenting and exploring. I feel we do have some numbers that are hitting the charts. So I don’t fully agree with the question. One bright side is that a lot of new composers are getting the chance to showcase their work and are getting the chance to do it their way.

Prasad Sashte, Composer (Khudara - Mulk)

I believe music is guided by a divine force and focusing purely on the commercial aspect of it is killing the melody and soul in our songs. The love for music is missing, and so people cannot adequately relate to it. Things would be very different if composers were given free rein. On another note, there are many who believe that music production is key and that sound will elevate a song. This is true to some extent. But I believe if a composition is without soul, then no production can save the song.

Also, multiple composers are a big issue these days and this trend does not allow any of them to gain recognition for their work. The greed for ‘hit songs’ has adversely forced music as well as music composers to suffer.

Mannan Shaah, Composer (Namaste England)

The reason songs are so forgettable today is the lack of strong melody and lyrics. We need to create melodies which have a shelf life. Melodies from the ’60s and ’70s are popular on the radio even today! We need to return to our roots and explore Indian music in depth and understand film music deeply. I believe that filmmakers too need to create situations that inspire music composers and lyricists to create interesting stuff. One needs to focus on being creative rather than being commerce-oriented. There has to be conviction in what we create.

Puneet Sharma, Lyricist (Main Badhiya Tu Bhi Badhiya – Sanju)

Our film music is what it is because the people at the centre of power in the industry don’t have the guts to experiment with music or lyrics. They don’t even go beyond three or four basic emotions. They produce typical love ballads, sad songs or party numbers. More than 50 per cent of audience in our country listens to Hindi music. Do they really experience only these feelings? Where are the songs about unemployment, depression, urban loneliness, corporate labour, inner journeys and caste and gender politics? If we don’t create these songs, independent music will take over and, in fact, that is already happening.

Look at the Western music scenario. They are bringing out good pop numbers but they are also producing numbers with great music and lyrics. They talk about subjects we generally shy away from. Even our love songs are basically ‘moving around the same tree’ again and again. People making music should go out and talk to people about what love, anger, loneliness really are and how complex these emotions are. We are just offering the ‘quintessential Bollywood love’, sugar-coated in poetry, with hook lines as cherries on top. Research real subjects and what the country, our society, is really going through. If you create songs while being surrounded by studio walls, they will not last long in people’s minds.

Recreations are very much working. You get instant ‘views’ from recreations, that’s for sure, but these songs have a short shelf life. Mostly, viewers are buying the music video, not the song. They are ‘watching’ the song. So the audio part of the audio-visual product has much less value. Video is primary, music is secondary and lyrics have even less value in these kinds of songs. So there is no audience, there are only viewers. You have to be a creative genius to resurrect an old hit. In Hollywood, Quentin Tarantino used old songs like Nancy Sinatra’s Bang bang for the Kill Bill movie so beautifully that you can never forget it.

Qaran Mehta, Composer (Tareefan – Veere Di Wedding)

The marketing of mainstream Indian cinema still heavily relies on the music that a film is promoted with. Recreations of old songs are often perceived as a relatively safe investment by labels and film producers due to their pre-existing fan base and nostalgic appeal. By extension, recreated songs more often play the role of the ‘promotional’ song in a film and tend to receive the bulk of an album’s marketing budget. As a direct result, original content is under-promoted, further reducing the incentive for artistes to create fresh music.

Formulaic patterns in music are not a new concept in the music industry. They are often the grassroots in the inception of new genres. However, over a period of time, they inevitably reach saturation point and begin to feel monotonous. I strongly believe that the best music comes from a place of experimentation and creative freedom. This is something that seems to be lacking with the growing commoditisation of music.

AM Turaz, Lyricist (Ghoomar – Padmaavat)

It’s very simple, filmmakers are non-musical. They don’t have any sense of music, so they don’t hire good composers. It’s not like there are no good composers or good lyricists or good singers. Main kitna bhi achha kaam karoon agar jo film banaane wala hai usko nahi achha lagega toh sab ussi ke hisaab se hoga.

Recreations are hits because people are already acquainted with those songs and can relate to them. But the way filmmakers are using recreations of old songs in new films is disgraceful. It is almost as if the filmmakers are not able to find original songs. They might as well release the old films after colour correcting them with new techniques!  Why even make new films? 

Rochak Kohli, Composer (Tera Yaar Hoon Main – Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety)

I think we are blindly following trends. If a recreation is liked by people, then more recreations are made. It is also a testing ground for music companies, composers, actors, producers and directors because nobody wants anything that is not popular. If a recreation has worked, that means the audience has liked it. If people want to listen to a recreation again and again, then it makes it to the top of the charts. If original music is good, then it will climb the charts. It’s not about original ho raha hai ya recreation. I don’t know why we are separating them. The audience doesn’t separate them. They want to listen to music that is good to the ear and is a good entertainment.

Recreation of music is as difficult as composing a new song is.  We need to do it very carefully. If a total of ten recreations are made, then only two become hits. We cannot say that there is a dearth of original music; it’s about demand.  We are in a commercial industry and not in an art industry. Bollywood is a commercial space. The music thus has to be commercial. We are not a Coke Studio or we are not privileged to consider music as an art form in Bollywood. Music is an art but in other genres related to music, if you are doing Bollywood then it is 100 per cent commercial and you have to go according to the demand.

My Dil diyan gallan was number one, my originals like Lae dooba, Tera yaar hoon main were on the charts, and now Paaniyon sa, an original, is on the charts. The point is that, besides so many recreations, originals still enter the charts. If Dilbar is a hit today, then it is a superior song and has been done very nicely. There are many dance numbers that are recreated but Dilbar is a hit because it is a wonderful recreation. 

Recently, my song Dekhte dekhte was number one because it has been recreated in a manner which doesn’t offend anybody. We worked for three months on that song and itna hum original music par bhi nahin kaam karte. Basically, it’s all about demand and we need to accept that and move on.

Nakash Aziz, Singer-Composer (Gold Tamba – Batti Gul Meter Chalu)

I think the songs are not doing well because the briefs that are going to composers are very generic, secondly as per my observation the experienced composers like Pritam, Vishal-Shekhar, Amit Trivedi, Shankar Ehsaan Loy, AR Rahman have absolutely no problem in delivering hit chartbusters. I guess the new composers are still figuring it out and I believe that the music industry is going through a transition phase and all the newcomers are trying to figure it out and getting accustomed to the musical taste of the Indian music consumer. But I am very hopeful that this is going to change soon because I have heard very promising music come out from composers like Amaal Malik, Tanishq Bagchi, Shashwat, Jasleen Royal among others and I am very hopeful as a part of the Indian music community.

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