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Musical gimmicks

Experiments In Cinema

They might not be trained in classical music or blessed with melodious voices, but when actors enter a recording studio and sing, it presents us with popular, if not classic, songs. Rajiv Vijayakar on star-turned-singers in Hindi cinema.

In the last one month alone, we have seen Amitabh Bachchan sing four tracks in Vishal-Shekhar’s Bbduddah Hoga Terra Baap, Farhan Akhtar, Hrithik Roshan and Abhay Deol crooning to Senorita in Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara and Vinay Pathak rendering O raahi in Bheja Fry 2.

Of course, decades back, recording studios did not exist and songs were sung by the actors and actresses themselves. But, except for less than a handful of singing stars like Suraiya, Noorjehan and Surendra in the 1940s, and Kishore Kumar and Sulakshana Pandit later (apart from Salma Agha coming in from across the border), even character artistes rendered songs for the films they were a part of. Ashok Kumar too sang in a few films like Jeevan Naiya (1936) and the popular rap song Rail gaadi in Aashirwad (1969) under Vasant Desai.

There is a certain charm to hearing your favourite actor sing. Even after the playback system was in place in the Hindi film industry, we still had a Raj Kapoor singing O duniya ke rehne wale in Dil Ki Rani in 1947, Dilip Kumar collaborating with Lata Mangeshkar in Salil Choudhury’s Laagi nahin chhoote (Musafir) and Nutan taking on six of the seven songs of her home production Chhabili, which had four duets and two solos, including the fairly-popular Ae mere humsafar.


The music was by Snehal Bhatkar. Since then, whether it was a Shatrughan Sinha singing in Kashmakash (Kalyanji-Anandji), Naram Garam (R D Burman), Dost (Laxmikant-Pyarelal or Kalka (Jagjit Singh) in the ‘70s and ‘80s or Kareena Kapoor in Dev (Aadesh Shrivastava) in 2004, stars singing solos or duets as a novelty (detractors termed it a gimmick) despite their restrictions of sur, has been a consistent, if not too common, phenomenon in Hindi cinema.

Non-singers vs established ones

Kalyanji-Anandji, pioneers in the art of making top singers and stars take to the stage, also went on to persuade many other stars besides Sinha to record songs. In the ‘60s and early ‘70s, a barrage of stars entered their recording studios, from character artistes Mehmood to lead artistes like Mala Sinha (Mere mehboob meri baat with Manhar in Lalkar) and Nutan again (Humne dekhi hai honewali bhabhi with a bevy of singers in Yadgaar). Later came Hema Malini (in the chartbuster Peene walon ko in Haath Ki Safai with Kishore Kumar) and, of course, Amitabh Bachchan (Mere angne mein in Laawaris and Paodsan teri murgi in Jaadugar).

As the late Kalyanjibhai had once said, “The scale and voice quality of a star can be gauged when he or she speaks. We usually find out the range and compose a simple, almost conversational line for them. Admittedly, making stars sing is essentially a gimmick, but it does infuse variety in both music and our work routine, because getting a raw non-singer to sing is like recording with any other new singer who has to be taught expression and technical finesse even if he is well-trained in classical music. Many trained singers lack the ability of emotional expression. But actors, by the very nature of their work, are far better at it. We just have to guide them. The result is completely up to the music director.”

Anandji, his brother and partner, concurs, “An established singer may even spoil a song by infusing too many harkats and murqis. Most songs that are hits become chartbusters because of their simplicity. Besides, when stars sing, the identification is also greater.” Anil Kapoor was an actor who had gone to learn music from Kalyanji-Anandji for a while, and they even gave him the title song of Chameli Ki Shaadi as a solo.

A key aspect was also a personal rapport with the star. For instance, Vishal-Shekhar share a great relationship with the Bachchans as well as with Sanjay Dutt. They have made Amitabh Bachchan sing in Bbuddah, Aladin and Bhoothnath, while they have made Sanjay Dutt sing in Musafir, Aladin and Home Delivery (in which Dutt did not even act).

Vishal-Shekhar are also the composers behind Abhishek Bachchan’s chartbusting song Right here right now from Bluffmaster. Not many are aware that Vishal-Shekhar and Abhishek had made eight more hip-hop tracks after Right here right now, but dropped the idea of making an album later.

Rajesh Roshan, the man who introduced Amitabh Bachchan as singer with a specially crafted tune, Mere paas aao (Mr Natwarlal), recorded again with the singer in what is one of Amitabh’s finest songs as a singer, Jeevan hai kis liye (Aetbaar/2004), which went unnoticed after the film bombed at the box office.

Bachchan, incidentally, is the star who has sung the most number of songs for his films, with numerous composers, which include, R D Burman, Anu Malik and Aadesh Shrivastava (for whom he sang three memorable songs each in Baghban and Baabul), among others. He has even done an album, Eir Bir Phatte, and rendered the super-hit track, Kabhi nahin with Adnan Sami.

Bachchan stresses on how easy it has now become for stars (and all non-singers) to ‘sing’. “By twirling a few knobs and punching a few computer keys, a besura person like me can sounds great too,” he quips. All this software-driven magic has increasingly encouraged other stars to sing, like Jackie Shroff singing in Maalik Ek, in which he portrayed Shirdi Sai Baba as well as Hrithik Roshan in Kites and Guzaarish.

Other regulars with the microphone are Aamir Khan, who started off with the cult number Aati kya Khandala (Ghulam), comic legend Mehmood (Padosan, Humjoli, Do Phool, Sabse Bada Rupaiya and many more) and Danny Denzongpa, who began his singing career by doing playback for iconic actor Johnny Walker in the hit Mera naam aao with Lata Mangeshkar in Yeh Gulistan Hamara before singing for himself in a few films.

Shatrughan Sinha (Alibaba Marjinaa/Usha Khanna) for Prem Krishen, Leena Chandavarkar (Lover Boy/Bappi Lahiri) for Meenakshi Seshadri, Juhi Chawla (Bird Idol) for an animated character and Mehmood (Do Aur Do Paanch /Rajesh Roshan) for a junior artiste, were other film stars who lent their voices for actors other than themselves.

Madhuri Dixit (Devdas), Shabana Azmi (Anjuman, Morning Raga), Rekha (Khubsoorat, Agar Tum Na Hote), Padmini Kolhapure (a trained singer in several films began her career as singer with Yaadon Ki Baraat for Aamir Khan as a child artiste), Salman Khan (Hello Brother), Shah Rukh Khan (Josh), Mithun Chakraborty (Ilaaka), Deven Verma (Doosara Aadmi, Josh), Amjad Khan (Josh) and Anupam Kher (Vijay), are some more examples of their tryst with playback singing.

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