Let all the voices sing!

The recently released Race 2 would have us believe that the character played by Saif Ali Khan can transform his singing voice at will, perhaps depending on the situation and the leading lady prancing alongside. Saif sings in Atif Aslam’s voice as he woos Deepika Padukone with ‘Be Intehaan’; he has KK filling in for him in the dance number ‘Party on my mind’; and when he parties with Jacqueline Fernandez, a third playback singer, Benny Jacob, croons the upbeat ‘Lat lag gayi’.

In Race 2, three playback singers — Atif Aslam, KK and Benny Jacob — have lent their voice for Saif Ali Khan

The film’s music director Pritam explains, “If I feel a voice suits a song, I utilise it. Whether the singer is old or new doesn’t matter. The voice should suit the requirements of the song.” It is almost as if every time a contemporary hero clears his throat to launch into song, the audience can expect a different playback singer’s voice to waft into the airwaves. Take the case of 2012’s biggest crowd pleaser — Ek Tha Tiger. Composers Sohail Sen and Sajid Wajid have four different singers exercise their larynxes for leading man Salman Khan in four songs (Wajid in ‘Mashallah’, KK in ‘Laapata’, Sukhwinder Singh in ‘Banjaara’ and Mohit Chauhan in ‘Saiyyara’). Not to be outdone, there are three different playback singers lending their voice to Katrina Kaif (Shreya Ghoshal for ‘Mashallah’, Palak Muchhal in ‘Laapata’ and Tarannum Malik in ‘Saiyyara’).

As Alice would have mulled in wonder: it’s much of a muchness! 
Gone are the days when actors and singers formed long-term associations; and many a playback singer came to be identified as the actor’s ghost voice. Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle were the exclusive voices of several generations of heroines! The heightened emotionalism of Mukesh’s voice found expression in Raj Kapoor’s films for over 25 years, while the versatile Mohammed Rafi gave voice to Dilip Kumar’s melancholy miasmas and he also sang most of Shammi Kapoor’s boisterous hits. Also, the gifted Kishore Kumar famously lent his vocal verve to Rajesh Khanna’s romanticism.  Today, it’s a rarity when singer Mohit Chauhan is employed as the sole voice of Ranbir Kapoor in AR Rahman’s score for Rockstar. Avante garde director Bejoy Nambiar who believes in fostering new talent (his David has three music directors) points out: “It made a lot of sense for Mohit Chauhan to be the voice of Ranbir Kapoor for the whole Rockstar album because Kapoor played a singer. But, in a different situation there’s no need to repeat the same singer.”

Visual marketing medium now? 
Time was when people would flock to theatres to see their favourite singers singing for their favourite actors, but now that measure of fan-following for singers is hardly in evidence.  Bhushan Kumar, managing director, T-Series, makes a pertinent point when he says, “Earlier, radio was the only medium for the masses, so the audience could only hear their favorite singers. But now with TV and the Internet they can watch the songs.” With music having become a visual medium, the actor-singer jodi is no longer of prime consideration at the song’s conception stage. Kumar reveals: “The choice of singer depends on the composition of the songs. Roping in an unknown or a relatively lesser-known singer is not a losing proposition for us. Through radio and mobile application, their songs are definitely heard by the audiences.”

A still from Vicky Donor

Tanu Weds Manu’s music director Krsna feels that film music has entered the singles era. “It is not about an album anymore; each song is like a different film. I would personally refrain from treating a film song like a single but marketing agencies look at songs from the marketing perspective and treat them as stndalones,” he says. Clearly the requirements from singers have therefore changed. Javed Ali, who shared the Rowdy Rathore soundtrack with four other singers, all singing for Akshay Kumar, says: “What matters today is whether the singer’s tonal quality matches the song, and not whether it suits the actor.”  Musical modus operandi is no longer dictated by the actor-singer chemistry. Ali discloses, “Nowadays, different singers are asked to sing the same song, so they get a different texture. And the singer who sounds the best is finally chosen for the song.”

A plethora of choices
Almost all musicians welcome one aspect of this change — it affords new singers an avenue for their talent. Ayushmann Khurrana, who sang ‘Paani da’ in Vicky Donor (and even bagged a Best Singer Award for it), has also given lip sync to numbers crooned by other singers. “I still miss SB Balasubramaniam’s voice on Salman Khan; that was legendary in the ’90s,” he says, but says his thinking is more in step with current trends. He says, “The present scenario is the best because it endorses talent. Times have changed. Earlier it was very difficult to get opportunities. But today, auditions happen everyday. If you are good you will get work. It is a welcome change.”  Alka Yagnik, whose career has been affected by the arrival of new singers, also sounds happy at the change. “It is good to have so many singers around instead of just one or two. Singers also come into the industry through the reality shows. The supply is more than the demand.”

Have singers become replaceable? 

However, this influx of singers has also led to their apparent dispensability. Javed Ali for instance has a point when he says, “People don’t know who the singer is unless the song does really well. Though we are technically very advanced, there are so many movies and songs that the lifespan of a song is reduced.” However, as Krsna argues: “But then films themselves stay in theatres for months. Earlier, the album would rule the charts for six months.”
Papon, who shot to fame with his rendition of ‘Kyun’ from Barfi (a soundtrack he shares with multiple male singers) concedes; “A lot of singers are available hence, the popularity is divided. “ But he is confident that, “no one else can take what is meant for you. ‘Kyun’ was made for me.”  Irrespective of their personal take on this trend, most musicians in Bollywood have reconciled to this trend of multiple playback singers. Wisely heeding the winds of change, Yagnik pronounces, “Change is the law of nature. I may not like it but I accept it gracefully.”            

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