Bollywood dances to 'new' India tune
Think Bollywood, and what usually comes to mind are kitschy, megawatt musicals with lavish song-and-dance sequences largely disconnected from the plot.
In a three-hour film -- it could even be a grisly thriller -- there may be as many as 10 songs with leading men and women strutting their stuff in settings as diverse as idyllic mountain meadows and grimy city streets.
And every time the music starts, the storyline comes to a halt as the hero and heroine dance in gaudy attires that change with dizzying frequency.
The sophisticated decry them and Western audiences hardly know them, but for the vast crowds who pack the cinemas in India's teeming towns and cities, and the travelling screens that take the country's dream factory to its villages, the songs are the chief attraction.
But change is in the air for the country which leads the world in movie production, with a growing band of filmmakers replacing "interruptive music" with a soundtrack that blends with the plot rather than dominates it.
"New directors are now making shorter films where heroes and heroines don't lip-sync songs," said Shankar Mahadevan of the popular Bollywood music director trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy.
"Music happens in these films as background tracks."
Most current releases are trimming the song-and-dance sequences as directors agree movie-goers are starting to accept more restrained films, and even some with no songs at all.
"Why do we always have to break into song? It doesn't make sense to a Western audience. Films aren't just something to package around the songs," says Ram Gopal Verma, a maverick Bollywood director known for his unconventional films.
In several recent hits, including "Murder, Bluff Master, Taxi No. 9211 and Rang De Basanti" -- the story of the coming-of-age of four self-absorbed youths that has become one of Bollywood's largest-grossing films abroad this year -- the music plays a supporting role.
In the past, songs which could take up half the running length of a film were used as a way to get around strict Indian censorship laws on sexuality and romance on screen.
But trade analysts say the audiences, especially in fast-modernising towns with a rising middle class, have become increasingly used to displays of sexuality, and show less patience with long-winded films.
"The whole scenario has changed now. Today people don't have time for lengthy films. Give them a 1-1/2-hour film that they can connect to," said Taran Adarsh, a leading Bollywood analyst.
"In this, songs and dances aren't important. There are so many films today that don't have any songs at all."
Some music directors say film-makers are trying to package their art in the "Hollywood mould".
"We mostly don't have long films nowadays. Ninety percent of our directors today are aping Hollywood where there are no songs and dances," said popular music director Ismail Durbar.
Film critics say the industry has also been forced to have a rethink as it seeks an audience around the world who have largely been ignored until now.
"More and more film-makers are now looking at markets in the UK, southern Europe and the US because the returns are high.
"But for that to happen they are having to come up with films that are to the taste of non-resident Indians," said one film critic. "Films with unneeded songs are out."
Bollywood is starting to make movies to tell a story and not for songs and dances.
"Song sequences do take away from the flow of the story. And nowadays, people don't have the patience to sit through an elaborate song," said Shaan, a leading Bollywood playback singer who uses only one name.