Composers are truly desi-pop gods
If one were to simply knock off just a few musicians' names from history, there'll be no Bollywood left to talk about.
The world has music bands. India has always had musical duos — composers, like many great things, showing up in twos! Some of them such cute siblings — such as Sajid-Wajid (the latter sadly no more); or Salim-Sulaiman. Others, friends: Sachin-Jigar, Laxmikant-Pyarelal. And a few still who aren't pairs at all — Raamlaxman (who scored for Hum Aapke Hain Koun), or Ismail Darbar (composers of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas) are one and the same person!
Where do I ever see music composers celebrated regularly — more often than not posthumously — by name? On sada-bahaar retro-nights held in Mumbai's music halls like Shanmukhananda etc, where amateur/professional singers get together to pay "tribute to a legend" (living or otherwise). You see their pocket ads every day in the newspaper. Why do I never go to one of these nights, instead of listening to the same songs, on my drunken, must-listen, Bollywood retro YouTube/Spotify playlist? Because what's the point? The sense I get is performers on these shows indulge in imitation/mimicry of a composer's works — instrument by instrument, note for note.
Rather than interpretations, or cover-versions — being the highest form of flattery/fandom.
That fact alone, to my mind, makes Times of Music on MX Player (created by KG Ramnarayan, Vaibhav Modi ) the greatest TV/reality show on Hindi music ever, where Bollywood's top composers do versions of each other's most loved tracks.
What did I learn from Times of Music? Besides that the musical duo/jodi Sachin-Jigar — doing a superb mash-up/version of Euphoria's 'Maeri' and 'Dhoom Pichak Dhoom' (notches above the original) — are the sweetest new kids on the block. Was glad to finally put faces to the song Saibo, their crackling composition from Shor in the City.
Forget that. If it wasn't for this show, would've never recognised brothers Anand-Milind — sons of the great Chitragupt from Bihar — off the street. Had no clue what they looked like. They've scored about 20 Govinda soundtracks. Most of them have been tapori hits of their times. Yet all of them are called Govinda songs, who neither sang nor composed them (he didn't pick them up either).
But that's what Bollywood music videos, '90s onwards, did to musicians in the public imagination. Wholly cement songs on the superstars they were shot on. It was only at the turn of the millennium that composers who were judges on music reality shows on TV became household faces as a result. Vishal Dadlani of the Bollywood duo Vishal-Shekhar and rock band Pentagram, and what an absolute dude, graciously hosts Times of Music.
After an episode of which I caught Dadlani again on regular/mainstream TV, hosting a Raj Kapoor (RK) special-episode on Indian Idol, with actor Randhir Kapoor as chief guest. I get that RK Films' music had a unique/distinctive flavour. Yet, such a full-on, long tribute to the music alone. And not a word on the composer(s) — even if as a super/scroll on screen, just mentioning the name(s)? So what if they worked on a specific brief? Sad. But expected.
Can tell you this, RK or not, simply knock off some composers' works from Bollywood, and there will be no history left to talk about. Music is how memories of movies in India are neatly stored and preserved. This is also perhaps the world's only culture that's told its finest stories through songs (and continues to)! And yet the toughest question, after an audio clip, in a hardcore music quiz is, "Identify the composer?"
For one, if you're a die-hard RD Burman bhakt (millions like me), there is his omnipresence to assume that any dope Bollywood track post-70s, and pre-'95 (when AR Rahman entered the scene and changed it) is automatically RD!
Some of my favourite 'RD songs' — 'Jawaani Janeman', is by Bappi Lahiri; 'Koi Roko Na Deewane Ko', by Laxmikant-Pyarelal; and 'Bhool Gaya Sab Kuch', by Rajesh Roshan! Even Amit Trivedi who covers 'Allah Tero Naam', forever thought that his favourite song from Hum Dono (1961) was in fact by RD's baap (literally), SD Burman! As against, the underrated, relatively unknown Jaidev.
Of course, all art grows out of other art. Covers/tributes are just a more honest acknowledgement of that, and a break from the burden of being the 'creator'! Know what you're thinking of. While a lot is made of Bollywood composers plagiarising in the past, I'm only surprised there were only such few cases.
Kalyanji-Anandji composed 600 albums! That's an entire discography/output of all top musicians combined in the West. Bappi Da recorded over 180 songs for 35 albums in 1988 alone — that's about twice the size of the full, annual Billboard chart! Loved Vishal-Shekhar's version of Bappi Da's 'Yaad Aa Raha Hai' on Times of Music, by the way.
My favourite versions? Not from music duos! But the rare, female Bollywood composer Sneha Khanwalkar's goth/electronica number on the band Indian Ocean's 'Bandeh'. And Mohan Kannan's total 'Agnee-fication' of the classic 'Roop Tera Mastana'. Phenomenal! That I miss getting a drink with these two geniuses is just a gentle disclaimer. Cheers!
Mayank Shekhar attempts to make sense of mass culture. He tweets @mayankw14 Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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