–Guest Article by Tadatmya Vaishnav#
I recently had opportunity to read through most of the book titled “More than Bollywood: Studies in Indian Popular Music “. It is a collection of essays on popular, film and non-film, Indian music. The book is edited by musicologists Gregory D. Booth and Bradley Shope. The essays are in a scholarly style and were meant to be a formal study of Indian film music as well as certain non-film music genres, such as pop, rap and rock.
‘More than Bollywood’ includes many of the leading scholars currently working on Indian popular music and culture. The volume offers a wide perspective on contemporary and historical popular music in India, and confronts the inescapable importance of the Indian film song; but it also offers the largest collection to date of research on “non-film” popular music in India. It can be treated as one of the most comprehensive single volume on a subject that is of growing interest to scholars and students in music, ethnomusicology, film studies, popular music studies, and South Asian studies. It is intended to stand on its own as a work of scholarship, but it is also simultaneously intended as a fundamental resource for courses on popular music and music in India.
All the chapters were not, in fact, interesting, as far as I am concerned. So, I take up the three chapters that I did find interesting.
Chapter 1 – A Moment of Historical Conjuncture in Mumbai
In this chapter, Gregory Booth presents an interesting case of how the Hindi film song, as we knew it until 1990 or so, was shaped substantially in the five year period of 1948-52, immediately after Independence. He treats the 1931 – 1947 period as a period of aesthetic and professional transition. Among major changes, he identifies growing sophistication in cinematography of song sequences and a change in the sound of the female voice in film songs. During this period, the film song also got to occupy the role of the most important form of popular song. He has taken a set of three representative music directors – Naushad Ali, Shanker Jaikishan and C Ramchandra- and two arrangers – Antonio Vaz and Sebastian D’Souza and only one full-time playback singer (Lata!) as having played a major complementary role in shaping the Hindi film song. Collectively, they effected sophistication of film song orchestration, explicit engagement with classical Indian and foreign popular music and redefinition of the sound of female playback singing, among others. Destiny seemed to have chosen them as ‘right person in the right place at right time.’
The musical and professional patterns that were established during 1948 and 1952 remained almost unchanged till at least until 1970. For a further 20 years, the rise of a new generation of musicians took over major roles. The shift in the basic structural composition of the film music is seen by examining the proportion of composers who composed more than one film in a year. Only a few, generally two or three, music directors dominated the year in terms of those soundtracks that were ‘most heard’. By 1952, the percentage of music directors with multiple releases had increased to 62%. For the next ten years this figure hovered around 50%, declining back to 30% in in 1967. The corresponding figure for 1932-1947 was seen in the range of 60%. Of the 60 highest net grossing films during 1947 to 1957, 32 % were during 1948-1952. Of these, Naushad, SJ and C Ramchandra had 68% share.
The rise of an oligarchy in the world of playback singers was also equally pronounced. Among male singers it was Mohammad Rafi who ruled the roost before Kishore Kumar took over in 1969. Nevertheless, the number of important male singers was greater as compared to that of female singers. In the case of female singers, the shift was far more dramatic and extreme. 1952 was the year that virtually brought an end to the richly textured and individually timbred voices of the earlier era. Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle and Geeta Dutt collectively recorded slightly over one-third of the songs recorded in 1951. With the fading away of Geeta Dutt, by end of 1950s, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle shared between them more than one-third of all songs. Having given a quantitative background, the author has taken up the examination of more interactive musical, aesthetic and industrial practices in this chapter.
One may disagree, as I did, with some of the conclusions – that it was Naushad who “tightened” the concept of a ‘film song’, as distinct from ‘singing in the film’, by way instrumental interludes, tempo, orchestral size, recording techniques and professionalization of the singers. Or, that the style of the male voice in Hindi film songs followed mainly from Saigal’s style while the style of the female voice changed radically with Lata (I agree only with the latter part).
The statistics quoted at various places are useful and some of the points do note important conclusions. The last point about the technology that enabled separation of on-screen voice and playback voice and the emergence of the playback singer as a distinct role, is well-made and pivotal to Hindi film music.
Chapter 2 : Global Masala – Digital Identities and Aesthetic Trajectories in Post-Liberalization Indian Film Music is written by Natalie Sarrazin.
It is a very well-written account of how globalization, as well as new technologies, has influenced the creation of popular music, mainly film music, in India since the 1990s.
The author goes into a very detailed, second-by-second, analysis of the prelude music of the title song of Roja, in order to show how digital recording techniques can marry the audio to the video much more effectively than in the past.
Another good section is the one titled “Aesthetic Decisions”. It shows how the role of the music director has changed and how the sound engineer may be the most influential person behind the final finished song. This change may be revolutionary, but like many revolutions, the outcome may not be anything to be proud of. The author seems to take this major change in her stride, perhaps because she is a Westerner and does not have emotional ties to old music.
In her concluding remarks, the author notes that ‘Hindi film must project carefully crafted identities and desires onto the world stage, embodying Indian values in musical idioms palatable to an international music market and appealing to interesting non-Diaspora audiences. India’s active embrace of and enactment upon the promise of globalization require new Indian sonic agents, ones that portray India’s current energy, as well as image as a suitable global economic partner. Such music, to be successful, must create space for dreams and desires of Resident Indians and NRIs, while offering up musical fantasy escapism to the rest of the world.’
In Chapter 10: Latin American Music in Moving Pictures and Jazzy Cabarets in Mumbai, 1930-1950 Bradley Shope explores the period between mid-1930s and early 1950s when Latin American music in Hollywood films influenced jazzy cabarets that some of the Indian communities like Goans, Anglo – Indians and Parsis. The first half of the chapter traces the popularity of a native Brazilian dance, the Carioca – introduced to the world in the 1933 release Flying Down the Rio[i] in Mumbai and explores the relationship between this film and development of Hindi film songs containing Latin American sounds and images. The second half of the article uncovers the relationship between live cabarets in Mumbai and the development of Hindi films songs containing Latin American sounds and images.
The film Flying Down to Rio (1933) was successfully screened in urban India in 1934. The carioca dance shown in this films attracted vast audiences in Mumbai in nightclubs, restaurants, hotel ballrooms, social clubs and cabarets. Audiences learned the dance by watching the film or through lessons at local dance schools. By the 1940s, many jazz orchestras understood that learning Latin American repertoire could help secure jobs in a larger scope of avenues. It was no coincidence that when C Ramchandra composed Gore Gore O Banke Chhore (Lata Mangeshkar, Amirbai Karnataki, Samadhi, 1949),
he heavily borrowed from Chico Chico from Puerto Rico (Doll Face, 1945).
Latin characteristics were heard as early as in Naushad’s score for 1943 film Kanoon in the song Ek Tu Ho, Ek Main Hoon (Suraiya). The staged cabaret sequence Deewana Yeh Parwana from 1951 film Albela showcased great fusion of the chief arranger of ‘His Music Makers’, Chic Chocolate, and C Ramchandra. Chic Chocolate and his orchestra are dressed in stylized Latin American costumes in this song.
Carmen Miranda’s song sequence of ‘Week-End in Havana’ from 1941 film of the same name bears noticeable similarities to this song. And that includes not only the music, sounds or dance, but even Geeta Bali’s costumes as well.
One can find a similar beat of three+two clave (Dil Dhadake Nazar Sharamaye) or a music sound of rolling piano (Mere Dil Ki Ghadi Kare Tick Tick) in some other song sequences of ‘Albela’. Since the audiences of Hindi films were not typically exposed to these Latin American films or songs. That helped in creating that tantalizing element of fantasy in the Hindi film songs which brought up the entire effect far above real-life limitations of mundane restriction in the Indian society.
To be sure, other thematic, such as Hawaiian, Island, Spanish, Arab, French and the like, also suitably found way into Hindi films songs. Barring a few cases, the credit should also be given to director or music director that these adaptations were seen as highly innovative depictions that completely fused into the Indian cultural environment.
To illustrate each chapter author’s points, and to make available music not easily accessible in North America, the book is ably and vividly supported by Oxford web music companion website of audio and video tracks.
Print publication date: 2013 ǁ 380 pages ǁ Print ISBN-13: 9780199928835
Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2014
Paperback edition: Published: 12 December 2013 | 384 Pages | ISBN: 9780199928859
Behind the curtain: making music in Mumbai’s film studios – Gregory Booth
American Popular Music in Britain’s Raj – Bradley G Shope
# Tadatmya Vaishnav can be contacted @ email@example.com