Bollywood tunes itching to go global

Nov 19, 2006 Priyanka Khanna

New Delhi, Nov 19 (IANS) With an increasing number of Indian filmmakers seeking international applause, the country's music industry is also adapting fast for global listeners.

And if Hindi film music composer-cum-singer Himesh Reshammiya's performance to a sell-out crowd at the famous Wembley Arena in London, legendary singer Asha Bhosle's series of duets with Western singers as well as recently with Australian cricketer Brett Lee, and renowned composer A.R. Rahman's "Bombay Dreams" world tour are an indicator, the world seems to be eagerly waiting for the Indian tune.

Much like Indian cinema, India's music industry was able to withstand the onslaught of Western music in spite of the economic liberalisation. While homogenised mass consumption is on an upswing there are plenty of Indian performers who are trying to build a bridge between tradition and modernity.

From classical strains in the heyday of the talkies, India's music industry now encompasses all song genres, feels senior journalist Chandan Mitra. Since the 1990s, popular music has gradually shifted out of the sole orbit of cinema and now revolves in several trajectories such as remixes, bhangra-pop, Indipop and also ghazals, though the high noon of the last genre has now waned.

An array of talented composers like Rahman, Reshammiya, Nadeem-Shravan, Anu Malik, Anand-Milind, Anand Raaj Anand, Ismail Darbar and Shantanu Moitra have emerged to enthral all with their creativity.

"Rahman and his compatriots have demonstrated that India is now ready to break the set moulds of popular music. They have also given us confidence in India's innate talent to produce cross-country melody: music from the south is today as popular in the north as bhangra is in the discos of Bangalore. Popular music has welded India together even more than cinema or TV soaps," says Chandan.

Nasreen Munni Kabir, a London-based filmmaker and author, says that Bollywood is one up against Hollywood as "we know something the West doesn't. Song 'n dance can hold up a film."

Music and dance became part of Indian cinema at the same time as Hollywood musicals were at their prime worldwide. Nasreen says: "On the US stage, however, song and dance routines - with the exception of opera - were confined to 'the musical'. On screen, a musical was synonymous with pure entertainment - as though song and dance by definition lightened the tone.

"This is still the case today: a film critics' Top Ten poll in 2002 by the UK's Sight and Sound magazine had only one musical, 'Singin' in the Rain' (1952), at No. 10. This could explain why the West has, until recently, been dismissive of Indian movies, unable to think of them as anything other than lightweight romantic musicals."

But in India, the use of film music has never been seen merely as popular and escapist, perhaps because its origins lie in classical, folk or urban theatre traditions. These are rightly understood as established art forms, with virtually no distinction between narrative, music and song.

So, unlike a majority of their Western counterparts, Indian audiences can sit as comfortably through song-and-dance routines in films with a heavy political tone ("Bombay") as they can in comedies ("Munnabhai MBBS"), she adds.

But the global success of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Bombay Dreams (music by A.R. Rahman and choreography by Anthony Van Laast and Farah Khan) has shown that for a global audience musicals are a resilient genre that they can fall in love with all over again. And this is a big opportunity for India's music industry.


The winds of change sweeping across Bollywood have not left the music industry untouched. While on the one hand new talent is being encouraged, on the other the old set ways of doing business are giving way to corporatisation.

Filmmaker Yash Chopra led the way by parting ways with HMV-Saregama group and setting up his own music label called Yash Raj Music. Chopra is not the only film producer to have ventured into the music industry. Subhash Ghai's Mukta Arts too has launched a music label. Sahara One Pictures, a joint venture between advertising company Percept and Sahara Motion Pictures, is also poised to launch a music business soon.

So the music industry, which has more than its fair share of problems (audio piracy, no licensing fees from radio stations), is emulating what has been happening in the West where successful artistes worldwide have established their own music labels.

For all the music industry's scepticism, Yash Raj Films, Mukta Arts and probably Sahara exude confidence that they'll flourish. More power to their elbow, we say. Click the Movie button below for more info:


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