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The new age of assembly line melodies

Hindi film albums today are more about recreating old songs, getting multiple composers to work on one film album, and curating than just composing. Is this a passing fad or here to stay?

December 03, 2016 11:48 pm | Updated December 04, 2016 04:58 pm IST

The recently released Dear Zindagi ’s soundtrack typifies what’s happening with Hindi film music scores today. Music watchers discovered that two tracks from the album went missing from the film. There’s nothing new in this move; it has become an established tool of sorts to grab the audience’s attention before a film’s release. The songs in question happened to be two cover versions of Illayaraja’s ‘ Ae Zindagi Gale Laga Le ’ from the film Sadma (1983). And again, Dear Zindagi is not in this alone. Recreating songs is what a lot of film albums are about these days. Songs that are buried in the backyard of your memory, or are still a part of your life, are coming back as a tribute to their lasting appeal or in an attempt to give them a new lease of life, but mostly to cash in on their nostalgic value for a film’s promotion.

Where are the songs?

These recreated songs are usually from the ’90s or from the Punjabi pop music industry and are sledgehammered till they get etched into the listeners’ subconscious. Are these genuine hits or manufactured by marketing — who cares? No surprise then that the shelf life of such music isn’t long either. “[The] worst part about a promotional song is that it is just a promotional song; it works only till the release,” says music composer Amaal Mallik, who himself is a frontrunner in the recreation game. According to him, such a song would have lived longer had it been part of the narrative and been able to find an emotional connect with the audience. “But it is used as an end-credits song in the film when people start walking out,” he says, unhappily. “It’s no fun making a song for a loo break.”

The recreation of songs has become a talking point even when it comes to under-production films. One such film, which shares its title with the Pritam song ‘ Raabta’ , is in the news as the composer is recreating the hit song from Agent Vinod (2012) . The recreation bug seems to have bitten maestro A.R. Rahman too. Rumours have it that he is being asked to recreate his ‘ Humma Humma ’ (from Bombay , 1995) for Dharma Productions’ OK Jaanu .

“It is a lack of faith,” says lyricist Kumaar, on being asked what makes producers recreate songs rather than compose new ones. “We do have original and better hooks that are as workable. ‘ Baby Doll ’ and ‘ Chittiyan Kalaiyaan ’ were original and have worked. But they believe old songs that once connected with the audience will work again,” says Kumaar.

Recycling trend

Looking at what the grapevine has to say about how one of the hit albums this year, Baar Baar Dekho, was put together, it seems that Hindi film music production is becoming as much, if not more, about curating than composing. Two of the six songs — Badshah’s ‘ Kala Chashma ’ (which crossed 100 million views on YouTube) and Bilal Saeed’s ‘ Teri Khair Mangdi ’ — are old songs, just recycled. One Jasleen Royal song (‘ Kho Gaye Hum Kahan ’) was composed for a different film altogether. That film got stuck, the song got lucky. One composer, who got a solo album out only this year, was roped in at the last moment when another National Award-winning composer walked out as he didn’t want to share the music credit with others.

Lyricist and writer Varun Grover doesn’t see recreation of songs as a big trend, but agrees that having multiple composers for one album shows the lack of faith music companies or directors have in composers. “They believe that the newer crop won’t be able to deliver more than two good songs per album,” he says. It affects his work as a lyricist, for the worse. “Working on an album with a solo composer not only gives me more chance of exploring the wordscape, but when the chemistry with the composer is nicely marinated it also gives a sense of ownership for the album,” he says.

Multiple composers

Curating for an album and the production of recreated songs can be attributed more to the relationship between the producer and the music label than between the director and the composer. It does look like a new trend now, but it can actually be dated back to the early ’90s when T-series started hoarding songs from composers in their “music bank”. Directors and producers would shop for suitable songs for various situations from this bank. It may have meant that these “shopped” film albums lacked a larger musical harmony and vision, but on the flip side, they helped some individual artistes, who otherwise had to wait for long, get a break in films.

Similarly, using multiple composers is also nothing new. In fact, the first Hindi film with playback singing, Dhoop Chhaon (1935), had two independent composers: R. C. Boral and Pankaj Mullick. Hulchul (1951) had Sajjad Hussain and Mohhamed Shafi; Mangu (1954) had O.P. Nayyar and Mohammed Shafi; Pathan (1962) had seven songs from four independent composers and, from the last decade, Rakht (2004) had eight original songs from five composers and one recreated version of Blue’s ‘One Love’ by Shaan.

New professions

Multiple-composer albums haven’t just helped new music directors get a leg in, they are also bringing the music supervisor into limelight. Already a big thing in the West, a music supervisor is someone who not only has an ear for music, but can also source music talents for a project and can negotiate rights with the music companies. Azeem Dayani, an ex-marketing executive, is the music supervisor at Dharma Productions. “I fill the void between the director and the composer. I make sure that the song looks like a part of the story and not forced in,” he says. He then goes on to list his achievements. “We launched Jasleen Royal as a music composer. Amaal Mallik worked outside T-series for the first time with us. Abhiruchi Chand (‘ Buddhu Sa Mann ’ from Kapoor & Sons ) and Aditya Sharma (‘ Nach Dene Saare ’ from Baar Baar Dekho ) are first-time lyricists whose name you wouldn’t recognise instantly. Curating brings many such young, fresh voices together,” says Dayani.

But all this comes at the cost of achieving a unique soundscape for the film. “If one composer is working on the entire album, s/he knows the sur of the film,” says Kumaar. “We are now assembling songs instead of making the music.”

Ultimately, it has got a lot to do with the director’s approach. It works when songs are not a part of the narrative but are used in a complementary way, like how Bejoy Nambiar did with the recreation of ‘ Khoya Khoya Chand ’ in Shaitan (2011) or how Dibakar Bannerjee worked with the curated songs in Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015).

Are there any ground rules when it comes to curating and recreating songs? “If I can’t better a song or don’t find anything new to add into it, I don’t do it. Like in Hardy Sandhu’s Soch , I added a new mukhda . But I won’t recreate Sukhbir’s ‘ Taare Gin Gin ’ because that’s the best version of the song,” says Mallik.

Music is the most significant by-product of the Indian films. It started a recording industry of its own. In many cases, a film may have been forgotten but its songs have lived on. But can the same be said now in this culture of recreated, promotional songs? Lyricist and poet Rajshekhar has the last word. “As soon as a song is released, they start counting the ‘likes’ and ‘views’ on YouTube. I am not saying that a song would make anyone attain eternity, but no one is even trying. Recently, I tried correcting a lyricist friend on his wrong usage of a word, the reply I got was: ‘Let it be, it’s any way a matter of two weeks’.” Assemble on!

Anup Pandey is a Mumbai-based freelancer

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Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas ’ from Blackmail (1973), ‘ Aise Na Mujhe Tum Dekho ’ from Darling Darling (1977), ‘ Maahi Ve ’ from Kaante (2002) for Wajah Tum Ho (2016) by Abhijit Vaghani and Meet Bros

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