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When it’s Bollywood, songs can never go out of fashion

Bollywood is pretty much a mishmash of world music; we have every genre from classical to ‘qawwali’ to Sufi to rock to dance, in one basket


Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint
Illustration: Jayachandran/Mint

Music has evolved dramatically in the past few years, both in terms of production and usage. The most important change has been that the use of lip-sync in songs has reduced tremendously, making music used in the background way more intrinsic to the format of storytelling that film-makers now embrace. It has to do with the mindset where songs are preferred interwoven with the narrative, an exciting process that has also changed the entire soundscape—there are new sounds, new kinds of voices, and people have access to world music thanks to the Internet.

But then that’s progressive India for you. There is still, on the other hand, about 80% of our population that is only conditioned to considering songs lip-synced by a “hero and heroine” as actual songs. The rest is background music, reflected in the fact that for my work in some films which used this format of storytelling, I’ve won awards for background score and not the actual songs. For a while I wondered why, and then realized it was because the songs were used in the background and not lip-synced by actors.

The biggest hits this year, for example, the Ae Dil Hai Mushkil numbers, are all lip-synced songs. Whereas many fantastic songs used in the background fail to get that kind of attention. Only an extraordinary romantic number can work in the background.

In the next 10 years too, I don’t think the lip-synced song will become passé. The trend has been around for almost 100 years and I don’t see it changing in the near future. In the independent music arena, people are experimenting and taking innovation to another level whereas mediocre film songs still run on the basis of star power.

Like this global awareness that has penetrated our storytelling, I believe Indian music will, over some years, adopt genres that are already mainstream abroad. For example, we started using rock in film music a few years ago, though it has been around much longer in the West. In the next 10 years, I think we will see a lot of electronic music production—house, deep house, dubstep, trance, EDM (electronic dance music), hip hop, R&B (rhythm and blues), experimental, alternative, all these will become very big in India and play a role especially in Hindi film music. They are being incorporated even now but I think they will evolve and grow bigger in perhaps 10-20 years.

At the same time, I feel Indian classical music will be back again—or at least I hope it will be, because the current generation needs to connect with our roots. Classical music, be it Carnatic or Hindustani, or folk is the music of our soil and should coexist with influences from the West. Today, every youngster is either interested in learning to play the guitar, keyboard or drums or in becoming the next Arijit Singh. But they must realize how hard Singh himself has trained.

The fact that they do not know of Bhimsen Joshi or think learning classical music is boring and uncool are not great signs. I don’t see anyone particularly interested in learning to play Indian classical instruments, which are dying a slow death. I hope that changes, as does the desire to simply ape an established singer. For the longest time, the industry was looking for a voice that sounded like Lata Mangeshkar or Asha Bhosle or Kishore Kumar or Mohammed Rafi. Since they’re already there, the need is to find your own unique identity.

The other point is that Bollywood is pretty much a mishmash of world music; we have every genre from classical to qawwali to Sufi to rock to dance, in one basket. If an individual abroad gets into one particular genre, he will stick to it for life. Here, we do every other genre without having cultivated a uniqueness of our own.

For the West, Bollywood music is about song-and-dance, essentially item numbers. I hope that in the next 10 years we’re able to find that cool, distinctive and strong flavour and character that defines us better. And I hope that it comes from original compositions. At the moment, we’re busy rehashing old classics in almost every film—it will be done till it gets exhausted, and then something new will emerge. But I hope to see the return of music of the quality of the golden era, the music we had in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s—pure, unadulterated by the distractions of mobile phones, social media and information overload. I hope to experience that in my lifetime.

For now, though, globalization has spelt doom and the attention span of listeners is limited. Whatever the case, however, I’m sure Hindi films can never work without songs.

As told to Lata Jha.

Amit Trivedi is a national award-winning film music composer, best known for his work in movies like ‘Dev.D’, ‘Wake Up Sid’, ‘Queen’ and ‘Udta Punjab’.

This is part of a series of articles in Mint’s 10th anniversary special issue that look at India 10 years from now. The entire list of articles can be found here

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