If there’s one time I’ll do the Indian head-nod in sync with the conservatives—cultural apocalypse! Modernization has destroyed us—it is in the matter of Hindi film music. I was the wide-eyed Lolita in a love affair that introduced me to longing, betrayal and sorrow long before I actually encountered any of these emotions. Lights out, I pressed a crackly medium-wave transistor radio to my pre-teen ear, listening to music and lyrics that were even then labelled Bhoole Bisre Geet (forgotten songs) until I fell asleep. For years I wanted to marry someone who would serenade me with 1950s melodies.

Of course I’m not so old that I can’t appreciate the positive aspects of today’s film music scene. Let’s see. Gulzar is still going strong. Music apps organize your playlist beautifully. You can download and whatsapp a song instantly to friends. You can google lyrics. Like everybody and her auntie, I like Amit Trivedi and Sneha Khanwalkar. I love it when Vishal Bhardwaj and Gulzar partner. Haider is still playing on loop, so what if they were aided in this recent soundtrack by poetry that Faiz Ahmed Faiz wrote in and for another age?

You might argue that not much has changed from Ek Duuje Ke Liye’s I want to fly to PK’s I want to waste my time (in fact I prefer the latter), but this past year especially, it’s been a bleakscape of inane rhymes and mediocre romantic melodies that only conjure up an image of Emraan Hashmi and his next pair of lips. In fact, we no longer “see" the song, for example, Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Barsaat, Meena Kumari in Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam or even Rekha in Umrao Jaan. This can only be a bad omen for the future of the Hindi film song.

We’re halfway through this decade and if you don’t count the promising start—Peepli [Live] and Ishqiya, both in 2010—I’ve barely been hooked on the soundtrack of any film other than Gangs Of Wasseypur 2 and Haider. Warning: This column will only irritate you if you said Bodyguard or Yaariyan.

Please don’t be angry if you’re among the hundreds of thousands of listeners who contributed to Yaariyan being the most downloaded album of 2014. I’ve been forcing myself to listen to all the recent hits for the last few weeks on my morning walk. Since we only listen to music on the move—when we’re exercising, commuting or dancing at a wedding—I guess it doesn’t matter that the lyrics and music of one song merge into the next.

The fact that at least half the male hits in recent times have been sung by one voice, the 27-year-old Arijit Singh, adds to the sameness of the songs. That’s probably why even the smallest difference seems dramatic. The ghostly appeal of indie artiste Jasleen Kaur Royal’s voice stands out in her Bollywood debut Preet from the film Khoobsurat.

You can’t blame this crisis in Hindi film music on the usual suspects. We’ve embraced Punjabiyat in our food, films and driving style for a while now. Everyone meekly hit the dance floor in 2003 when Karan Johar told us that’s the way, maahi ve in Kal Ho Naa Ho. Since then the endearment has been used indiscriminately. Even the title track of Finding Fanny, a film set in Goa and about Goans, rhymes O Fanny re, with maahi ve.

The quibble about maahi ve apart, I actually like the way some lyricists like Anvita Dutt Guptan use Punjabi in their songs: Tu ghanti Big Ben di, poora London thumakda (you’re the bell of Big Ben, you make London dance). Now that’s a classic New India pick-up line.

Forget Punjabi, have you noticed the random use of Urdu words, repeated ad nauseum through the song in alternating pitches? Take Pakeezah (pure), the super-hit song from Ungli. I saw this film in the theatre but I can’t tell you when this song occurred, though I can say with certainty that it was picturized on Hashmi. While the original Pakeezah (1972) doesn’t use the word even once in its soundtrack, the newer song uses it 18 times.

Often, the random Urdu word is rhymed with the skill of a pre-schooler. So Zehnaseeb is followed up with kareeb, habeeb and gareeb. And these are the best songs of the moment, if you go by online music stores like iTunes and Gaana. Imagine what lies beneath. I guess it’s inevitable that the hits of today are littered with words of our smog-filled times such as matlabi, missile and sifarish (rhymed with baarish).

I can imagine how increasing the volume when A.R. Rahman sings Tu saath hai, din raat hai, saaya saaya maahi ve (don’t bother translating) might make you think you’re on the highway, wind in your hair, and not stuck at a crawl on your office commute. For me, these have the appeal of songs that tourists play loudly at tiger reserves.

They’re headphone love songs. Singh sings that modern-day love ballad from Aashiqui 2 that you can’t get enough of—Meri aashiqui ab tum hi ho—with supreme conviction and straight into your middle ear. I have nothing against Singh, he’s also sung my song of the moment, Gulon mein rang bhare from Haider.

As for the pre-teen crowd, they are practising their moves to dependable jingoistic favourites such as India Waale (from Happy New Year), a song that wants them to believe that overweight, middle-aged non-dancers can conquer the world of dance with just their Proud Indian passports and some jugaad, our national activity.

So what does a listener like me do in the long gaps between the next Sneha Khanwalkar (Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!) or Amit Trivedi (Bombay Velvet) album release? I’m thinking of turning my attention to the top streaming songs in the UK and the US. Since I was so busy listening to Hindi songs, I have minimal Western pop baggage.

Modernization killed my first love. I’ve got a Blank Space baby. Taylor Swift, here I come.

Priya Ramani will share what’s making her feel angsty/agreeable every fortnight.

Also read: Priya’s previous Lounge column

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