New Bollywood singers: Here today, gone today!

Rafi, Mukesh, Hemant, Manna, Kishore, Lata, Asha, Geeta... Why don’t the new singers enjoy their longevity?

New Bollywood singers: Here today, gone today!
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Monojit Lahiri

Once upon a time, life was uncomplicated, simple and easy to connect with. To musically-inclined Bollywood junkies, Mukesh was Raj Kapoor’s voice, Kishore Dev’s and Rafi Dilip’s.

Cut to the present. Udit Narayan started out as the voice of young Aamir Khan, Kumar Shanu for SRK and Balasubrahmanyam for Salman Khan. Over time, there was a khichdi with others too joining the party and soon, these three faded out from the big screen. Today – along with the likes of Shaan, Alka and gang – they are more active in TV programmes, shows, etc. at home and abroad than films. Presently, [Arijit] Singh is king and he rules the roost in style! The question is: Why this change in the voicing scene? Have the earlier lot suddenly lost their talent or popularity overnight? Are the stars, directors or music-makers to blame...or the new-age audiences, forever looking for instant gratification and fresh blood? Or is it the fantastic bench strength with lots of amazing talent, hungry and ready to grab any chance coming their way?

Actor Ranvir Shorey fires the first salvo. He believes technology and new, diverse platforms available are the key reasons. “Earlier there were hardly any avenues. Besides, it was a quieter time when the people were content with what they got. Films, stars, music – there was a clear understanding, acceptance and appreciation of how the music scene panned out and any change would come as a rude shock! I mean Hemant Kumar or Mahendra Kapoor or any newcomer couldn’t dream of singing for Raj Kapoor, for example. It had to be Mukesh. Today, however, with speed as the cardinal mantra and novelty as the new aphrodisiac, the earlier sense of brand loyalty has vanished. Anyone can – and does – sing for anyone. There is nothing sacrosanct. As long as the song is nice and the voice cool, it’s fine. Proliferating music companies too welcome this trend and new singers are born every minute...”

Adman Rajeev Ghosh believes that it has to primarily do with the times we live in. “Earlier songs had an agenda. They took forward the story and were written, composed and rendered in a way that made it a powerful, memorable and intrinsic part of the narrative. It stayed with you and the songs of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, 80s, even early 90s, were frequently better than the films they graced. Today, the place, role and importance of the song have been severely trivialised. Emotion, feelings and sentiments have been sacrificed at the altar of catchy, chart-busting and dance-friendly numbers. Item songs. They have been reduced to consumer perishables. The plethora of these catchy songs in every second film make both memorability and melody a great premise for a memory test!”

Veteran film critic Saibal Chatterjee offers perhaps the most insightful reasons. “The earlier singers – like the stars they sang for, Raj, Dilip, Dev, Madhubala, Nutan, Nargis – had a distinct voice-character and personality that was unique, exclusive and not interchangeable. Then, there was the team factor. Hasrat-Shailendra-Mukesh-Lata-Raj. Sahir–S.D.–Rafi/Kishore-Dev, Naushad-Shakeel-Rafi-Dilip, etc. Today, all that has gone for a six with multiple music-directors hired for a single film! Add to that the unbelievable technological advancement which can make besura singers sound like the best and you have the entire photo!”

No wonder here today – gone today is today’s most popular number and when the crunch comes – like in popular music programmes on TV – it’s ironically always songs from those golden times, sung by those golden voices that are forever sung by today’s young singers. Chalo ek baar phir se ajnabi ban jaye hum dono ...

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