For the industry, of the industry and by the industry: this is my humble but honest attempt to give pointers to boost the health of the film industry with this column. This week, we talk about that under-rated force called music in the context of Hindi films.

From the benefits of a couple of temporarily ‘hit’ numbers (as in Roy) to a complete or near-complete score (as in now Badlapur or Dum Lage Ke Haisha), music has always been the hidden superstar of Hindi cinema—a potent driving-force that completes the box-office potential of a good film, or salvages a lot from a below-par movie.

And that’s been the case ever since films turned ‘talkie’tive! Remember, that after 85 years of talkie (which works out to over 10,000 A-grade films!), only about 10 films made without songs have had major success at the box-office!

Roy and Badlapur movie poster
Roy and Badlapur movie poster

The origin of songs in our films regardless of genre (unlike in cinema outside India) itself lay in the fact that the ‘30s audiences hated the verbosity of the talkie movies vis-à-vis the fast-paced physical activity they had enjoyed in silent movies. To lure audiences, therefore, as many as 20 or more songs were incorporated!

Eight decades down, the deep-seated need for songs continues, because music is ingrained as a habit in the Indian psyche— for all occasions in one’s life across cities and villages, and across geographic or cultural divides.

This alone explains why a music score became the biggest star of so many movies that never had stars or lacked in face value (from Rattan in 1943 to Aashiqui 2 seven decades later!). As for the other extreme—the big, star-heavy films, great songs helped take them to the skies, check Madhumati or Bobby down to Dabangg and Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani.

Remember also the confused state of affairs in the mid-‘80s when the first straying of film music to sub-standard levels generated an entire and lasting parallel industry of devotional and ghazal albums and artistes? Pyar Jhukta Nahin (1985) reversed that unhealthy trend, followed by Ram Teri Ganga Maili and more films.

Or the even more misguided 2008-2010 era when songs were minimized, kept in small chunks in the background minus lip-sync, or were dispensed with altogether? This time, Dabangg came to the rescue!

Sriram Raghavan’s Badlapur emerges as the latest classic case of how great music—even if not of the masala kind—can give offbeat but well-made films their due place in the commercial sun. Because he had made two flops earlier, Raj Kapoor had been once compelled by his distributors to put songs into Jis Desh Mein Ganga Behti Hai —and he did so with ingenuity and distinction. Hrishikesh Mukherjee too considered songs a necessary “evil” (though he was himself trained in music!) in his realistic movies, but used them skillfully.

And this time, Sriram Raghavan, for whom also classic mainstream cinema is anathema, also exploited this powerful but hidden superstar to help even his different but strong content bring in the crowds!

Admitting that the music helped his film rather than vice-versa, Sriram raves about composers Sachin-Jigar and lyricist Priya Panchal for getting his script’s vibe perfectly, despite not using the music conventionally. “Badlapur is my first hit as a director, and the songs played a big part in its success apart from the stars and the content,“ he says. “I now realize that music will have to be harnessed as a force for my future films. It leads to greater acceptance of different cinema that is not normally accepted by the audience.”

Different cinema not accepted, Sriram? Nothing could be further from the truth. But then, that’s another story.

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Rajiv Vijayakar tweets @rajivvijayakar

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