The musical value chain

Writing  as I have been on value chains for the last two days, I suddenly stopped to think if hindi film music were a value chain - how would it work?

There is a poet or lyricist who writes the words in which s/he probably tries to convey the emotions that the situation demands. This then is taken forward by the music composer who has to set a tune to the words and then the singer who has to infuse passion into the words and the music before it goes on to the actor who emotes it on screen. However in reality it is obvioulsy not that simple or linear. The music has to do justice to the poetry, the singing to both the music and the lyrics and the actor being the lynch pin who brings it all together to get the magic to work on screen. Just imagine if Gulzar's " Mera Kuchh Saaman" had been set to music by Himesh Reshamiyya and sung by Sunidhi Chauhan and emoted by Katrina Kaif.?

Doesn't gel does it?

Good music requires all of everything to come together in just the right quantities. This is particularly challenging in a Bollywood context where, unlike in western musical albums the person singing does not write the song and compose the music. So how do different people put their little bits together so perfectly to make up a magical whole? I think it is chemistry. Chemistry that exists between people who think alike and feel alike about similar things. So we had Gulzar- R D Burman and Kishore Kumar coming together  to create that kind of a chemistry. O.P. Nayyar and Asha did that often as did Asha and R. D later on.

It also probably explains why singers and composers often get emotionally involved. The chemistry of creating magic I suppose rubs off on them  ( though I have not really come across singers falling in love with lyricists- guess they are too far away in the musical "value chain").

It is interesting to note at this point that  when the final product has to be showcased by the actor on the screen it may not really do justice to the efforts lower down in the chain. While it is easy to blame the actor it is also the situation on screen that may not do justice to the song. Imagine the song " Roz roz akhon tale" written by Gulzar with lovely music by RD, sung with feeling by Amit Kumar and Asha is finally picturized on Sanjay Dutt and Mandakini is a very mundane situation sans emotions. Compare instead with " Tum aa gaye ho noor aa gaya hai" with largely the same combination - Gulzar, RD, Kishore and picturised on Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen? So where has it all gone wrong? A change in the way music is made these days I guess. Much of it probably has to do with the fact that what passes for music these days in Hindi films are different prefabricated pieces that are joined together- they dont evolve out of each other.

I will conclude by quoting  a song from  " Prem Pujari" , " Shokhiyon mein ghola jaya thoda sa shabab/ usme phir milayi jaye thodi si sharaab/ Hoga phir nasha jo tayaaar woh pyar hai...". 

That folks explains the ingredients of good music very effectively - love and intoxication!



  1. Popular music in India, sadly, is so dominated by the film industry which treats music as an unavoidable appendage to their productions. There are indeed musically talented persons in the film industry but they are a tiny minority.

    Fortunately, several programs on television have revealed the abundant and varied musical talent (besides other talents) of India. Oddly, a large number of judges in these TV programs lack basic musical knowledge and end up making asinine comments. There is even a music director who sounds like a duck with a sore throat giving free advise to singers which they just dont need.

    Even in the TV programs, as in films, the importance is given only to the singer. In the first series of Indian Idol, there was one round when contestants were accompanied only by a pianist. There was no mention of his piano work by any of the judges. I could only catch a couple of glimpses of him from the back. He was brilliant. The point is that those musicians backing a singer are not given the importance they deserve.

    Not every western singer writes his own lyrics nor are all their music original. The important thing is that when they sing someone else's composition, they do it in their own style. When Elvis sings a Neil Diamond composition, he does it Elvis style - he does not imitate Neil Diamond.

    I find a great emphasis on lyrics in film music and a vast majority of songs are centred on a hero and heroine - sentimental and emotional - it can get downright boring. We are yet to see Indian lyrics that bring out issues - songs like "Where do the children play" or "It don't make sense if you can't make peace". Perhaps I am wrong here - I might have missed such songs.

    Now for some free advise. Listen to blues. Give it a try - I am sure you will enjoy it.

  2. There are songs and there are songs. For eg. the songs of Hum Aapke Hain Kaun are what my father would called 'sadiyal' or 'faltu'. Whereas the songs of Jodha Akbar are really nice. You watch the movie as much for the story as for the songs. So yes - as you say, it is a musical value chain.

    While film music has highlighted love over most other emotions, I think it has not ignored the others also. Like the song 'Dharti kare pukar ke' from Do Bigha Zameen. Or the title song of 'Tare Zameen Par'.

  3. @Vasanth, yes in India popular music is film centric. But that is because music is so linked to stories in our culture ( Remember the Hari Kathas and Burra Kathas?). In Indian music too certain traditional compositions are sung differently by various singers in their own styles too. Anup Jalota sings Surdas differently from others and Lata sings Meera in her own distinctive style.

    Love centric lyrics are probably more popular than others ( I think most people other than you love love. What is your problem with this emotion and poetry around it?). There are some lovely non romantic numbers - "kar chale hum fida" is a patriotic number and the more recent "Chak de" is another prime example.
    About Indian Idol - why do you watch that program? it is all about looks not about music.

    Deepa what about songs sung by Himesh Reshamiyaa? Do they qualify as music? You know one of my dear friends ( Dipadi) was once shocked to see that guy singing. She wanted to know if he deliberately kept his buttons open or was he just unaware that they had opened out during the singing??:-)

  4. Music is certainly linked to culture, ethos, the pain and joy of life. I love love but its the much cliched song and dance that doesn't hold my interest, especially when its accompanied by a composition that has no depth.

    Imitation is what I saw among participants in some of the tv shows and the judges' remarks also emphasize that they are expected to sound like somebody. Ghazals are different and so is classical music. Vilayat Khan and Zakir Hussain played hindustani classical stuff in their own original style.

    Musical tv programs showcased so much talent in our country - and these artistes are not from the film industry. My grouse is that these programs only focus on the singers and music is not only about singers. Heard the Shillong Chamber Choir on India's got Talent and their harmonized vocals ... amazing! Sadly, I could not find a single album published by them.

    Music has a depth. To me its the chord progression, how each member of a band plays - the bass guitarist, piano player, drummer etc and how they gel together complementing each other. My own focus is not so much on lyrics but on the vocals - melody, harmonization, rhythm and other accompaniment. I enjoy Spanish songs of Carlos Santana and German songs of Pussycat. I don't understand Spanish or German.

    Give blues a try

  5. Agreed Vasanth- music is about melody but I love the lyrics too. I cannot think of one without the other. The song and dance routine is rubbish. But obviously people love them. However if picturised aesthetically they add depth to the story. I also agree that each member of an orchestra is very crucial to the entire process of making music but then why do you say that the singer dominates? In a sitar recital the sitar player dominates while in a flute recital the flutist dominates. You know in the Indian classical tradition I always pity the tanpura player - s/he sits in the background playing the main chords so that the others do not go off key. But who notices them? Probably the tabla player in Indian classical music gets the most attention next to the main vocalist or instrumentalist.

  6. All this Indian idol stuff is rubbish. Remember the very first Indian idol? A has-been called Abhijeet Sawant. The other guy who made it to the finals - called Amit Sana - was MUCH better. But the Sawant character won. Why? He's better looking than Sana. Plus he is from Mumbai and Sana from Raipur. And youth, particularly young girls from Mumbai, are more savvy with sms than their counterparts in Raipur I suppose.

  7. Nice template.
    I liked the article and the ending lines. :)

  8. @ Vasanth- today at the Colonial Cousins concert the flutist stole the show ...!! So you see it is not just singers, musicians also have their moments

  9. Those good ol days of Anand Bakshi, Majrooh Sultanpuri, Anjaan and their soulful lyrics are gone today though we have some good lyricists, I dont think we are doing justice to their talent...nice post :)


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