Why Hollywood is killing Bollywood
Traditional films have fallen out of favour as audiences have grown used to watching Western-style films with grittier themes
They are a staple feature of the classic Bollywood film. At various points in the action, the screen fills with performers, singing and dancing their hearts out. The songs do not necessarily have anything to do with the narrative but directors miss them out at their peril. Sometimes, the songs prove to be bigger hits than the movie.
Not anymore, however. Traditional films have fallen out of favour as audiences have grown used to watching Western-style films with grittier themes on television, in cinemas or even on their phones. Hollywood, it seems, is killing old Bollywood.
Farah Khan, one of Bollywood's top choreographers, recently acknowledged that the five- or ten-minute song and dance routine — often several of them in one film — is on the way out.
"I think the whole song and dance thing is dwindling unless you are making a dance film. I don’t think it is there. The song culture is going away. Songs are played in the background these days or when the credits roll,” she said.
Ms Khan was responsible for the dancing that accompanied huge hits such as “Ruk ja o dil deewane” (Stop, Oh Crazy Heart), “Chaiyya chaiyya” (Jingle Jangle), “Ek pal ka jeena” (Living For This Moment), “Idhar chala” (Here I Go), “Mahi ve” (Oh Beloved) and “Sheila ki jawani” (Sheila's Youthfulness).
These days, Hindi films have fewer songs in them, or none at all. Film themes have also changed. Rather than focusing on romance and tortuous family dramas, a new generation of directors wants to tackle topics that reflect social reality in India.
In these movies — Pink, Bombay Talkies, Lipstick under my Burka, The Lunchbox, or Airlift to name but a few — it would be incongruous to have the hero and heroine jumping up suddenly to cavort around (unless, of course, the scene is one of a festival or wedding), said film director Nitin Ahuja.
"Even if the film is about a romance, the way a modern couple relate to each other and express their emotions is entirely different from an earlier era when coyness and modesty often prevented them — particularly the woman — from speaking directly about their emotions,” he said.
"In the films of the 1950s and 1960s, the songs were crucial in moving the narrative along, providing a vehicle for the expression of love, despair or jealousy. For the heroine, the song and dance was also a chance for her to express her sensuality in an acceptable format. In fact, without the songs, the director would be skipping major developments in the relationship. Since the songs marked crucial junctures in the plot, many films used to have between six to 10 songs of about five minutes each.
"After this period, gradually, the feeling took hold that, every half-hour, you had to give audiences a kind of ‘release’, a stand-alone song. It became a formula. The song had no connection with the narrative. The preceding scene might be of a poor family, the song had no link with their situation, and then it would cut back to the poor family in a village."
Now, songs can no longer be random or artificially inserted into a narrative. Audiences are more discerning and expect a song to have a function and, if the story is compelling enough, the song isn’t necessary.
For example, film producer Bhushan Kumar’s film Baby had not a single song in it, even though Kumar is also a music producer.
"It's always good to try out different things. We have done romantic films that were high on music recall. However, in this script, which had action from start to end, there was no need for songs," he said.
Vinta Nanda, producer and director, points out that young Indians who form 65 per cent of the population, have been exposed to world cinema, social media and more realistic cinema.
"The comparison with what they see elsewhere and what comes from Bollywood is stark. They have more choices now. If Bollywood wants to compete with the rest of the world, it has to change and this is one change that has happened," she said.
None of this is to say that song and dance routines are going to disappear altogether from the Indian film industry. Rather, the type of music used will change.
“We are going to see different and interesting kinds of music emerge now that the field is wide open. Independent music will emerge. This will mark a break with the past when, for decades, Bollywood films and music were totally amalgamated and there was no independent music industry,” said Ms Nanda.
Top choreographer and dancer Remo D’ Souza still has plenty of work and envisages a situation where films with songs will coexist with other genres.
"The content-driven films will obviously not use songs, but there are plenty of directors such as Sanjay Bhansali who thrive on three-hour long musical extravaganzas and will continue to make them.," he said. "How many songs you see in a film is going to depend on the nature of the film but they will always stay as they are an essential part of Indian culture."
Updated: August 15, 2018 05:37 PM