Bollywood music has its innate charm. Even the harshest of critics must be guilty of humming some peppy, often over-the-top songs that are quintessentially filmy. These numbers too have seen a metamorphosis—in terms of their styles and eventual placements in a film’s narrative—as Hindi cinema transformed over the decades. To find out how Bollywood music as we know it now came to be—from complete dependency on elaborate musical numbers in its early days to the present stage where unadulterated melody seems to find less takers—we take you on a journey through the years…
Classical Roots And All That ‘Jazz’
Those were Hindi cinema’s formative years but the 30s to 50s still produced thematically relevant music. When the narrative demanded melancholy, the song hit the bottom trench of sorrow like K L Saigal’s Piya Bin Nahi Aawat Chain from Devdas (1935) with a slow tempo and literally no beats—a route no one would dare take today.
When in the mood for experiments, the leftover British influences came handy to musicians Shankar-Jaikishen and O P Nayyar, who belted out jazzy numbers with great panache. Balancing the mood were purists Naushad, Madan Mohan and Roshan who had their bets on raag-based songs.
Independent music composer/producer Anil CJ considers 50s-60s his favourite era, “Technology wasn’t the mainstay then. Plus the process of live recordings and the resultant harmony in compositions make the era a clear win.”
The Age Of Melodies
The 60s and 70s established the image of what we call quintessential Bollywood, complete with elaborate dance numbers. S D Burman passed on his baton to son R D Burman, who was a flag-bearer of crossover sounds while keeping the melody quotient intact.
While picky composers like Khayyam weaved exquisite mujras and velvety romantic ditties, 80s’ Bollywood didn’t shy away from admiring the global hippie movement, leaving even Michael Jackson impressed!
Having said that, fads eventually made way for tuneful numbers, but with new flag-bearers. Maverick composer Anu Malik introduced a heady mix of melody and saleability. A R Rahman opened a world of unheard sounds, leaving the entire music industry agape.
Musician Anand Bhaskar from Anand Bhaskar Collective remarks, “Rahman was indeed a breath of fresh air. He wasn’t just technically brilliant but his melodies had high recall value. The production, the arrangement—all of it had a global feel. He inspired a new generation of musicians like, say, Amit Trivedi, to think out of the box.”
Experimentation Or Losing The Plot?
The trend of original melodies sustained till late-2000s. Besides an intermittently brilliant A R Rahman, 2010s’ Bollywood also saw a newer breed of composers who didn’t develop a hallmark for themselves. We saw a surge of mediocrity, less takers for improvisations and undulations. Salman Khan’s vocal knowhow elevated from Chandi Ki Daal Par (Hello Brother) in 1999 to Main Hoon Hero Tera (Hero) in 2015, with technology doing its deed with zero regrets while several talented artists like Shreya Ghoshal and Sonu Nigam shifted loyalties to South.
Bengaluru-based independent music professional Nikhil Srivastava has a slightly different take: “For someone who tutors music enthusiasts across the city, I see the value of melodies over template-based chartbusters. I believe this is just a phase of playing safe that we will get over soon.”
Today, we hail popcorn music and, in the same breath, get offended when a filmmaker mocks Mohammed Rafi in his latest blockbuster. We dance to an EDM-tinged Sooraj Dooba Hai in clubs. It is, however, Malik’s Moh Moh Ke Dhaage and Rahman’s Agar Tum Saath Ho that top our ‘Most Played’ (and most sung) playlists.
We criticise substandard recreated numbers but secretly enjoy them—because childhood memories are for keeps. With the golden voices of Anuradha Paudwal and Udit Narayan returning in modern remixes with young actors, we are left to wonder if they hinting at another era of timeless melodies. We are all ears for a unanimous yes!
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