Bollywood music can be best described as “Zumba-ready” these days. While the last two decades saw a wave of original music, timeless melodies and rich lyrics, today’s OSTs are for quick ear munching. Music is consumed at pubs, during drives and at the gym – and Guru Randhawa is both an example of and exception to this pop culture behaviour. He’s everywhere, and it is (almost) impossible to hate him.
Some of the biggest hits of 2018 were tracks like Bom Diggy Diggy (Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety), Dilbar (Satyameva Jayate), Aankh Maare (Simmba) and Morni Banke (Badhaai Ho). In 2017, the earworms were Suit Suit (Hindi Medium), Tamma Tamma (Badrinath Ki Dulhaniya) and Laila Main Laila (Raees). While this year might have been dominated by Gully Boy till now, it is definitely an exception to the remix-BDM-bhangra tapestry of film music today.sou
Film music used to be enjoyed in private in the ‘90s and 2000s. India didn’t have a pub culture and clubs (they mostly played international music, anyway) were a phenomenon of the metros – and for the rich. The music of that generation was melodic and orchestral by nature. It was emotive, the songs astutely positioned to play a crucial role in the film’s narrative – there would be one “OMG-youare-so-pretty-I-am-in-love” track, an “I-wanna-bone-you-but-I-will-say-it-through-metaphors” song, the heartbreak song, a party track, sometimes something devotional would crop up, and often there would be a big celebratory end. This was back when lip-syncing was the order of the day.
The live orchestra nature of film music – dominated by the likes of Jatin-Lalit, Anu Malik, Nadeem-Shravan and Aadesh Srivastava – was quite homogenous across films (the heavy use of wind instruments – especially sax and trumpets – was a salient feature), with AR Rahman and ShankarEhsaan-Loy being notable exceptions. Other exceptions were Ismail Durbar, who started delivering durbari-style operatic music to support Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s grand productions, and MM Kreem’s minimalism for the Bhatts (which became their signature sound, later taken ahead by Himmesh Reshammiya, Mithoon and Arka). With Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Bollywood started experimenting with global styles and formats, which led to the successes of Pritam and Amit Trivedi. With Rahman’s evolution to narrative and mood compositions, Pritam’s melodic ballads and Trivedi’s fresh soundscape, Bollywood enjoyed a certain maturity in film music that had been absent for a while. Pritam’s Phir Le Aaya Dil (Barfi!) might just be the last ghazal this country will ever produce.
If you look at Hindi film music in the last three years, dance music has been the dominant genre, creating a homogenous sound quite similar to what happened in the 90s.
But then, a few things swiftly changed. Barring a few film-makers, lip-syncing was shown the door. Pubs mushroomed around the country, blurring the lines between restaurants and clubs. People wanted everything to happen in one place – you eat, drink, and when you are drunk enough, dance. And everyone wanted to dance to Hindi film music. Film OSTs started putting in “club mixes” in their albums. Every song had to be “foot-tapping” and had to “bring the house down”. “Sad” songs would have remixed disco versions. As streaming became a thing, making music even more accessible, music seemed to have only three functions – pump up the vibe at the gym, be on pub/club/house party playlists and sing-along during the daily commute. Hence, music could only be fun, boisterous and action-packed. To support this need, music composers started aligning Hindi film music with global pop trends. EDM and techno became the blanket genre for most tracks, rap trickled in and then became a steady feature, urban hip-hop married beautifully with bhangra, creating a trustworthy template for sure-shot hits and remixes came back with a bang. Welcome to the age of BDM – Bollywood Dance Music.
If you look at Hindi film music in the last three years, dance music has been the dominant genre, creating a homogenous sound quite similar to what happened in the ‘90s. It is becoming increasingly difficult to figure out which song belongs to which film. Remixes have taken over film OSTs – with hits like Unchi Hai Building, Tamma Tamma and Dilbar making it very clear that audiences are lapping it up – to the extent that Simmba’s biggest hits were its remixes (Aankh Maarey was an event by itself). Do lyrics matter any more? Mostly not, but that’s a conversation for another day. The likes of Amit Trivedi (he knocked it out of the park last year with Manmarziyan) and Pritam are still producing original music which is, thankfully, still very popular (although Pritam’s last OST hit was Ae Dil Hai Mushkil in 2016, he is still a favourite of Dharma Productions, with both Kalank and Brahmastra in his kitty). But given the fact that the audience is lapping up the BDM formula, very few producers feel the need to invest in original sound any more, and the original music that is created aligns itself to party-playlist requirements.
The audience is clearly king, and today’s music directors and singers are giving them exactly what they want. Being young and restless themselves, they are the consumers of the music they make, giving them the correct insight to what people want. Guru Randhawa is one of them. Along with a few others, Randhawa is one of the artists responsible for Bollywood’s current obsession with urban-bhangra-pop music. He’s known for catchy numbers like Patola, High Rated Gabru, Suit Suit, Ban Ja Tu Meri Rani and Lahore, which was the first Punjabi song to cross 700 million views on YouTube (it is also T-Series’ most viewed video on YouTube). But, quite interestingly, Randhawa has avoided remixes till now in his discography, creating original compositions only. The 27-year old lent his expertise to numerous hit films last year, notably Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety, Nawabzaade, Badhaai Ho and Blackmail. His last single, Downtown, has been a major success in clubs, and the man has no plans of slowing down. If you have a favourite track you like to grind to at the club after gallons of alcohol, it’s most probably by Randhawa.
What’s your story?
My story is very simple. I come from a small village called Gurdaspur in Punjab, where I had a normal schooling just like any other kid. My parents are simple people from the village and always let me do what I love. It was a lot of hard work and struggle with my music, but if you keep working hard and respect your parents, things fall into place. From making independent singles, to having them be placed in movies, topping billboard charts and finally being on television as a judge, I feel that life has come full circle. My journey has been great, and I’m thankful to all the people who have been a part of it – without them, it wouldn’t be possible.
What was your first introduction to music?
My first introduction to music was when I was a little kid. Coming from this small village, the satellite used to catch regional channels along with DD National and others. I used to listen to old folk and pop music that used to come on TV back then. I used to keep singing those songs, that’s how it all began. The first songs I remember loving were from Baazigar.
From making independent singles, to having them be placed in movies, topping billboard charts and finally being on television as a judge, I feel that life has come full circle
How did you develop an interest in music?
I think music plays an important role in everybody’s life, and specially in an artist’s life. Like I said, it all began with listening to songs on TV and singing them at an early age. Since I used to stay close to the India-Pakistan border, I used to listen to artists like Gurdas Mann and Babbu Mann from Punjab and legends from Pakistan like Sajjad Ali and Abrar-ul-Haq. I started writing songs from the time I was in school, around the age of 10. The songs you hear now were actually written long back. I started writing my own songs and eventually composing them too.
Tell us about your first song.
My first song was called Same Girl. I was actually in London shooting another song, but there I met the singer Arjun, and in one day we made this song. I came back to India and we planned to shoot the video of the song. Very few people know about that song, but it will always be the most beautiful song for me.
You are a part of a new brigade of Bollywood musicians that makes music that is club-ready and peppy. What do you think has brought about this change?
I don’t think all songs are peppy or club mix. Every musician has his own style of composing, and there are all genres of music available. Not necessarily all famous songs are club songs, but many times slow or different songs are made into a club mix. The change is because that’s what the audience enjoys the most, but having said that, there are different kinds of songs too.
There is a trend in modern films to have dance numbers where the lyrics are a mix of Punjabi, Hindi and English. What do you think is the reason behind it?
Usually, what the audience likes or appreciates, the artist tries to make that kind of music, or if a musician is inspired by any form of music, they try to work in that space. So, trends depend a lot on what the audience likes. And Punjabi, Hindi and English are used because it increases your reach – the effort is always to make a song that resonates with the maximum number of people.
Remixes are back – we first saw them in the early 2000s and now in the last two years. What’s your take on them?
I personally don’t like remixes. But yeah, hats off to people who are doing it, as it requires a different set of skills to recreate a super hit song, and good luck to people who are trying it. I feel being new age musicians, we should put our energies into making original songs too, so that there is some nostalgia left for old songs.
There is a feeling that we are seeing less original compositions. What’s the reason? Is it from a purely business perspective?
My compositions are original, and I honestly feel we should make more original music with fresh tunes and lyrics. We should give our audience something new each time. But some are doing remixes too, and that is also okay. One should do the kind of music one likes, and not think about other perspectives.
Whose work do you admire?
Bruno Mars’ music is evergreen, and the way his songs are written and produced is great too. Justin Beiber has set himself on the global map in a very short time, which is a great thing for any artist to do. I would love to collaborate with him on a song. AR Rahman’s music takes life in front of you when you hear it, so who wouldn’t want to work with such a musician?
What’s one song from 2018 you wished you had composed and performed?
My wish was always to compose my own songs, and fortunately that wish has been fulfilled. Like I said, I wouldn’t touch somebody else’s composition.
I personally don’t like remixes. But yeah, hats off to people who are doing it, as it requires a different set of skills to recreate a super hit song, and good luck to people who are trying it.
Who’s your favourite music composer?
My all-time favourite is Hans Zimmer
What’s one hit from 2018 that doesn’t deserve it?
I feel if a song doesn’t deserve to be a hit, it will not be a hit. If it’s a hit song, it is deserving. There is some reason why people are listening to it. So yeah, a hit is a hit.
If you had a time machine, who are three singers you would want to compose for?
Kishore Kumar, Mohammad Rafi and Michael Jackson, for sure.
Three songs that will be on your playlist?
Hans Zimmer soundtracks, the Gurbani album that I listen to every day and Bruno Mars songs.
We see actors moving into singing – will you move into acting?
I don’t think I will be getting into acting as of now, because I think acting is a different field and study, a different market altogether. Singing is what I love the most and what people like the most about me. So, I think I will only get into acting if I know the craft well.
One Bollywood actor you would love to date?
Kareena Kapoor Khan
Photographed by Rahul Dutta | Creative Direction by Shweta Mehta Sen | Styled by Neelangana Vasudeva | Assisted by Aabha Malhotra | Make up by Astha Agarwal | Wardrobe Courtesy: ZOD! | Location Courtesy: The Hong Kong Club, Andaz Delhi
Story By Arnesh Ghose
Interview by Mayukh Majumdar