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Coup in bollywood

In the power corridors of movie land, little-known young singers are the first choice for singing today’s biggest hits, writes Malvika Nanda.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2009 23:54 IST
Malvika Nanda

The mikes are ready. The headset hangs loosely by a stand that has a paper with lyrics clipped on it. The heavy door of the soundproof recording room opens and one of Bollywood’s most prominent new singers walks in to sing another chartbuster.

Twenty-five years-old Shilpa Rao looks like an out-of-college kid. She came in her black shirt and jeans and carrying a black satchel, as if just out of the statistics class she used to go to until some years ago.

This is Bollywood’s great coup: a new wave of young, little-known singers are upstaging the biggest names in the world’s busiest movie industry with brand new talent and refreshing dedication and professionalism. Listeners don’t jump up and recognise their voices (yet), they aren’t mobbed on the streets by autograph hunters (yet), but they are singing the biggest songs of Bollywood that are raking in the money and giving a push to movies.

Like Rao, who sang Khuda Jaane in Bachna Ae Haseeno, Ek Lau in Aamir and Tose naina laage in Anwar. Or Benny Dayal, who sang Kaise Mujhe in Ghajini and Tu Meri Dost Hai from Yuvvraaj. Or Aditi Singh Sharma, whose lilting voice you heard in Yahi Meri Zindagi Hai in Dev.D, along with ‘Pardesi’ from the same movie sung by Tochi Raina. Or Akriti Kakar, who sang Khudaya Khair in Billu. And UK based RDB (Rhythm Dhol Bass) & Nindy Kaur who gave us hits like Aloo Chat title song and Om Mangalam from Kambakkht Ishq.

While you still may get to hear a KK, Shaan or Sunidhi Chauhan, voices of Sonu Niigam, Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik are becoming rare on a CD.

For Vishal Dadlani of the Vishal-Shekhar duo, this is only the beginning. “The listeners as well as the movie makers constantly want change, something new and fresh,” says Dadlani, himself an accomplished singer. “Bollywood music will be entirely different a few years from now … There are many different genres today and the younger lot is already pushing so many boundaries.”

The veterans strike back.

Singer Abhijit says today’s composers as well as singers don’t have a style of their own.

“They deliver hits but no one would even know their names. But one can tell when Udit Narayan sings,” he says. “Composers want sasta (cheap) music, be it Shankar, Vishal or Himesh, they are all singing themselves. And they are complexed (sic)… they don’t want singers to dominate, they feel how can the singers earn so much.”

Composers like Shankar Mahadevan, Vishal Dadlani and Vishal Bhardwaj sing some of their compositions and each other’s as well.

A leading Bollywood composer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the older guard have a “whining, rigid nature”. He added: “Established singers are not getting work because they are established. The idea is to move away from what’s been typically known as filmi music. Plus they come with their own baggage and dealing with it is painful.” Not helping their cause, of course, is the great churning factory of talent — television.

“Reality shows have opened a Pandora’s Box and people love fresh voices today,” says Anu Malik, the one-time don of movie music. “The scenario has changed, now you don’t have a few singers ruling the roost,” Malik said. “Although I love their voices, I had to move on to newer singers.”

Singer Sonu Niigam, who reigned over Bollywood’s playback world for some years, says this change is both for better and worse.

“For the better because we have many different voices; and for the worse, as there will be fewer Kal Ho Na Hos because some composer will either sing it himself, or make an inappropriate singer sing it so he’d do shows for him in gratitude, in the future, for virtually nothing,” says Niigam, who is currently touring the United States.

Niigam and others of his generation can draw hope from composers like Shamir Tandon, who just recorded with Niigam’s childhood icon — the evergreen Lata Mangeshkar — for Jail. Tandon calls this a cyclical change and feels regular voices will be back: “New singers aren’t repeated a lot as their voices then lose the freshness that they were hired for.” Top playback singer KK shrugs off the change.

“One has to be careful about the work, don’t grab everything that comes your way.” He feels that a rush of fresh blood is important for Bollywood like any other field.

“I personally never feel insecure, come on, that’s life. We’re lucky to have survived for so long at the top in a country like India, which is bustling with talent,” he says.

Back at the recording studio, Shilpa Rao echoes KK’s thoughts. “If someone as senior as Bappi Lahiri can sing in the same album as me, we definitely have space for everyone,” she says. “The new lot just needs time to establish and prove itself.”