‘Char Bottle Vodka, Kaam mera Roz ka, Na mujhe Koi roke, Na kisine Roka! Char Bottle Vodka….’ etc etc.
This song, a popular Hindi film song from the recent past, epitomises popular Bollywood music in current times. Start playing this on loop in any discotheque or night club in your city, and the gyrating, intoxicated crowd is likely to go berserk as they gyrate in their intoxication. Play other songs like ‘Baby Doll na sone di’, ‘Gandi Baat’, ‘Lungi Dance’, ‘One Two Three Four, Get on the dance floor’, ‘Dhoom Machale’, to say nothing of ‘Ayi Chikni Chameli, Ghar se Akeli, Pahua Charha ke Ayi’….and it is likely to have similar effects on the crowd.
Is this unbridled populism the reason for the countless songs that creep their way up the charts these days, songs that range from nonsensical to inane, and loud to complete gibberish? These songs are very often replete with sexual innuendoes, and in general, have very little to recommend them except for the music that is A. foot-tapping, and B. entertaining in a crass sort of way!
Popular music that is meant to charm the masses has always had its share of crassness, distinguishing it from what is considered more ‘high-end’, sophisticated music for so-called sophisticated elites. Right from the 1950s popular Bollywood cinema has churned out music that has been trashed at the time. There have been the more soulful romantic numbers, not necessarily approved of by the highly ‘cultured’ elitists of the time, but what they would criticise even more avidly would be songs that had a distinctly jaunty flavour to them, with a tinge of seduction and very often picturised on scantily clad vamp-ish women in some shady joint. In fact, one can say that the more prominently sensual numbers were used in the films to indicate a sort of moral degeneration. With time however, say from the 1980s onwards (the decade preceding the release of the notorious ‘Choli ke peeche kya hai’), such distinctions have blurred and very frequently it is the central characters in the film on whom songs such as these are picturised.
But even songs of the 1960s and 1970s, say those predecessors of present day item numbers composed by the late R.D Burman, when played today on languorous Sunday afternoons, appear less of an assault to one’s senses than popular songs today. And not all of Burman’s ‘item numbers’ assaulted the senses even then! For instance, the hauntingly beautiful ‘Aa Jaaneja…’, the seductive ‘Raat Akeli Hai’, ‘Hothon pe Aisi Baat’ and many more strikingly notable numbers have attained the status of evergreen Bollywood songs that are loved and listened to and hummed by music-lovers to this day. But would songs shot in the same context within a film on the current date bear the same visual and auditory aesthetic? Would they be treated as classics of a bygone era fifty years from now?! If the answer is no, well then…that is food for thought, methinks.
I would not like the reader to assume that I am a stereotypical traditionalist for whom, to use a cliché, ‘old is gold’! Neither is the old entirely gold to me, nor the new entirely trash. There have been breathtakingly beautiful songs in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s just as there have been very many lovely numbers in the later decades. The 1990s in fact is well-known for its melodious romantic music, the high-water mark of playback singers like Udit Narayan, Kumar Sanu, Alka Yagnik, Sonu Nigam and composers like Jatin-Lalit, the debuting years of A.R Rahman, and of course the reigning stars of Bollywood like the three Khans and their pretty heroines, who would enchant the audiences with their perfect lip-syncing.
In fact, it is not until the past two or three years that Bollywood music has suddenly met with what seems to be a tremendous low. True, there is the occasional Rahman number, not always divine, but always distracting, or a composition or two by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy that might just capture your attention for a few minutes during the course of a day. In fact consider yourself lucky if you find yourself drawn to more than one song within the space of a single film, and if there is more than two films released within twelve months that could boast of consistently good music.
It would perhaps not be wrong to say that the only two films that released in Bollywood in the recent past which probably made music lovers happy with the musical feast they served up for them were ‘Lootera’ (although the background score of ‘Lootera’ did court some controversy regarding plagiarism) followed by ‘Ram–Leela’. Both films released in 2013, while till date 2014 has seen perhaps one film, ‘Highway’ that could have a claim to laudable music. Stretch it a bit further, and maybe ‘2 States’ can join the club. For the rest, you might as well take a sleeping pill and drift off to Neverland when the lengthy song and dance sequences come up! A meagre one time listen….that’s just about it!
It is true that urban life in general is a daily mundane struggle that see-saws between appalling work-load, daunting deadlines, gossip (often about yourself!) that would make you feel like you had better never been born, family problems, and ever-increasing consumerism. Throw into this unholy mixture a handful of heartbreaks and you have a pretty accurate picture of what life today in the city is all about! In order to compete, and consume more, metaphorically, you need to have hard cash, and that will only flow in if you work harder, and longer times. You do that, and the deadlines spring up, the gossips do the rounds. Your parents/spouse/child begins to bawl (if you are a woman you become labelled a ‘whore’ for working late, and a bad mother for not running after your bawling son all day long) and blah blah blah….the vicious circle goes on!
It is then possible that when these same people require a release, a safety valve, for their bottled up emotions and frustrations, they do not wish to sit at home and appreciate beautiful, romantic, classical-based original scores. They wish to let their hair down. They wish to party.
So party it is for Bollywood too! For Hindi songs that cater to the so-called modern generation, the youth whose age-group could range from 15 to 40 years. For this globalised, ‘whatsapping’ generation of I-Phone 6 loving party-holics, Bollywood has found the right formula. It offers them meaningless music that entertains, which at the end of the day, is the only thing their fogged brains may be capable of internalising. If meaningless works, then meaningless it is! That, after all, has always been the mantra of success! For others, who do not work all day and party at night, but rather party all day, and then all night — well, their brains would probably not process anything else in the first place. So who cares?!
But what happens to popular music? For an industry that has previously given us songs that could take your breath away, do we get music/songs now that you feel like puking at? The same industry, that gave us the scintillating Lata Mangeshkar, singing Kaifi Azmi’s ‘Waqt ne kiya, kya haseen sitam! Tum rahe na tum, hum rahe na hum’, among innumerable other classics, today proudly presents Mika Singh shouting ‘Chinta ta chita chita chinta ta ta ta!’ (One might note that there is a sudden but prominent rise in the use of Punjabi lingo and remixing of Tamil-Telegu music in remakes of hit Tamil-Telegu films. Although that of course does not account for the standard and quality of the music going south!)
One can argue feebly perhaps that most art that is elevated to the status of an enduring classic at a later stage, is initially forced to face the heat for being too ‘popular’. Charlie Chaplin, for one was written off by many critics of the time for being insanely commercial. So was, as a matter of fact, Shakespeare! The poet playwright’s works drew audiences from the lowest ranks of the society, which was of course blasphemous, since, what is ‘good art’ after all if it is understood and appreciated by all? Similarly, there might come a time when ‘Aa aa re Pritam Pyaare’ might resonate through the minds of an entire generation as a classic of uncommon depth and beauty!
For the time being however, one feels like begging for mercy, screaming once and for all,
‘Aisa na kar na kar na kar na kar na kar mere yaar,
Tu hi mera hope, zaara sa dope dila de mere yaar’
Give us the dope, while the music plays, or give us better songs! One ‘badnaam munni’ is tolerable, perhaps even welcome! But every ‘Munni’ that comes along can hardly be a treat!