Lost in the crowd

Musical take

Then there was K L Saigal, Talat Mahmood, Hemant Kumar, Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Alka Yagnik, Sadhana Sargam, Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Shaan, Sunidhi Chauhan, Shreya Ghosal and others. Now there is…? I don’t recall any name except maybe that of Arijit Singh! There seems to be a sudden blankness in recalling the names of present-day playback singers of Bollywood.

Popular music director Ismail Darbar, who is famous for melodious songs in films like Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Devdas, says, “Kuch kami hogi aaj ke singers mein jo naam nahi kar pa rahe hai! (There must be something lacking in today’s singers that we can’t recall any popular names)! It also depends on luck and ‘Allah ki meherbani’.’’

The same old formula

Bollywood masala films haven’t changed, song and dance sequences haven’t vanished. But the singing legends are missing. Conservatives might say the old melody itself is missing. But then they had said similar things even when Kishore Kumar had entered the industry.

“Making music then was magic,” says 90-year-old Khayyam. “A team of more than 50 musicians and instrumentalists practised for days and the song was recorded at one go with all the singers present together. Today, if it’s a duet, singers don’t know who their partner is because each part of the song is recorded separately. Even after the song is released, they don’t know the name of the other singer. So, how will the audience know the names of the singer?’’ scornfully asks the veteran composer who composed music for films such as Umrao Jaan, Kabhi Kabhie, Noorie and Trishul.   

Music composer Rajesh Roshan, who has been in the industry for more than four decades, says, “First and foremost, today, the legendary team is missing i.e, producer, director, choreographer, lyricist and music director. There is no proper guidance whatsoever from any source, so the singers are misled into adopting a pattern which isn’t sustainable to give them the status of a legend. Moreover, the singers today are more keen on quantity than quality. If this practice continues, no singer’s name will be left for us to refer to after a few years.”

In fact, till the turn of the century, every production house had its favourite music composer and every singer was the voice of a particular actor. For example, if it was a Raj Kapoor production, the composers were Shankar-Jaikishan (Awara, Sangam, Mera Naam Joker); music director S D Burman scored for Dev Anand’s Navketan Films (Guide, Taxi Driver, Tere Ghar Ke Samne); Subhash Ghai preferred Laxmikant-Pyarelal (Karz, Karma, Ram Lakhan). In the current scenario, A R Rahman is the favourite of Mani Ratnam (Roja, Bombay, Rangeela, Dil Se), Ashutosh Gowariker (Lagaan, Swadesh, Jodha Akbar, Mohenjo Daro) and Imtiaz Ali (Rockstar, Highway, Tamasha).

Specific singers became identifying voices of actors. For example, Mukesh was the voice of Raj Kapoor, Manoj Kumar; Mohammed Rafi that of Shammi Kapoor; Kishore Kumar of Dev Anand, Rajesh Khanna, Amitabh Bachchan; Asha Bhosle the voice of Asha Parekh, Helen; Udit Narayan and Abhijeet of Shah Rukh Khan. In fact, Shammi Kapoor had once said in an interview, “Rafi saheb somehow knew how I would act a particular mukhada and would mould his voice according to my expressions. As a result, on the screen, his voice became mine!”

The individuality of voice didn’t stop only with the face of the actor. Even every emotion had a different singer. If it was a melancholic romantic song, then it had to be Rafi for male actors, and Lata Mangeshkar for female actors. Later on, this mantle was passed on to Udit Narayan, Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik and Shreya Ghoshal. If the song was classical-based or a bhajan, it was Manna Dey for men and Asha Bhosale and Anuradha Paudwal for women; desh bhakti songs were delegated to Mahendra Kapoor and Asha Bhosle; and Kishore Kumar was pulled in to render fun and foot-tapping numbers.

Momentary fame

Then came the era of innumerable TV channels and music reality shows! Music lost its identity and singers became nameless. Especially in the last five years, the new breed of playback singers has no individuality at all. Present-day singers come for a song or a film, and the moment a new song becomes a chartbuster, the singers are forgotten. In fact, the music industry says that after Shaan, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal, there may not be any memorable singers!

Anandji, of the music composer duo Kalyanji-Anandji, asks, “Where do films last today? They only have a runtime of two to three weeks. They make 100-plus crore and are then forgotten. So, how do you expect singers to become legends? I don’t even know the names of present-day composers, so how will I remember the names of singers?”

Along with his late brother Kalyanji, he has worked with Lata and Asha, and had Kishore Kumar in nearly 1,000 songs. The duo had discovered singers like Sunidhi Chauhan, Sadhana Sargam, Alka Yagnik, Kumar Sanu and others. Even today, at the age of 84, he not only remembers each one of them, but also recalls their songs, and how they had recorded them.

Maybe things will change if the current scenario changes. Roshan says, “There is a great deal of pressure with regard to the composition and singing of songs by the music companies. Composing is no more the discretion of a music director.”

But singer Sunidhi Chauhan, who has been singing for nearly two decades, says, “I don’t know about name or fame. All I know is that this is the best time for singers. There is a lot of work for every one of us. And if one has real talent and works hard, one will succeed!”

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Lost in the crowd

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