Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Unsettling Scores

It was an evening like any other; I was on vacation, at my ancestral home, with uncles, aunts, grand-uncles, grand-aunts, and every kind if possible relation a person's family tree could offer. The evenings, thankfully, were free of power cuts this time; which meant one thing: the television was on, and it usually fluctuated between soaps, news and cricket, accompanied by the commentary of those who were watching it. 
Me, I was in another room; that is, until I heard a familiar track coming out of the TV room. I listened to it more intently; yes, I have heard it before. It took two seconds more before I realized what it was: Hans Zimmer's 'Pirates of the Caribbean' theme. Since when have my grand-uncles taken a liking to Jack Sparrow and his antics, I wondered. Curiosity got the best of me, but sadly, I was disappointed. 

On the TV screen there was, oddly enough, no Jack Sparrow. There was a woman, who I deduced was the vamp of the serial; large, murderous eyes with a litre of charcoal under her eyelids, flashy sari, and a wonky bindi which resembled a modern artist's nightmare on canvas. The camera panned to the protagonist; who was dressed austerely; by the standards of the vamp, this guy was, in fact, naked. He wore a vacant expression, which I'd reclassify as vacuumed. And on the background, was a score that had made Sparrow’s escape memorable.
Predictably, this was out of sync considering the nature of the serial; which I was later told (rather hurriedly) was about infidelity and surrogate children. I took back my comment it the score being out of sync; to describe it as a metaphor would be to say that the Leaning Tower of Pisa would look good with chocolate and cherries on it. Still, that would be funny. This, on the other hand, evoked a mixed-response of hilarity, amusement, and puzzlement.

It is a sad fact that our country’s film, music and television industries are infamous for being plagiaristic. Or as they call themselves, in a first-grader kinda way, copycats. And when these, um, copycats, try to legitimize their copying as inspirations, we have something known as ‘India’s __________’; now this could be anything. Look at all the Woods we have here: Bollywood, Kollywood, Tollywood, and even the strange SandalWood. As for actors, Amitabh Bachchan, for instance, could be called India’s Robert de Niro, Marlon Brando and Sean Connery put into one; Akshay Kumar as ‘India’s Chuck Norris’; and Ram Gopal Varma as India’s Martin Scorsese and Alfred Hitchcock, who, obviously failed at it.  
Okay, I don’t want to insult any more great names this way by drawing absurd references; but you get my point, right?

When it comes to music, though, shamelessness knows no bounds. Music in the Hindi film industry can be classified into two distinct eras; one, when people like R D Burman, Kishore Kumar and their contemporaries made music that was distinctively of their respective eras, like the jive and rock ‘n roll numbers (which sounded just too similar at times), and the classical stuff. And two, that is, a time when Globalization was at its peak, tracks and background scores were lifted shamelessly off Western movies. We, however, beat that too. Kollywood would remake an English movie, which then would be remade by Bollywood, and then finally, and rather horribly, by Tollywood; which until quite recently had just one staple actor and actress, who usually played lovers, and a villain, his side kick, and a veteran who played roles of a cop/doctor, until he got old and played the role of a cool granddad. And then there’s Mithun, who was last seen on a dance reality show. Sorry, got carried away…anyway, about music.

So, how is the situation today? Much better, really. Yes, you have new and upcoming composers like Amit trivedi, Vishal-Shekhar and veterans like Rahman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, who give Indian music their due respectability and some fantastic scores, if I may add that. Then again, we have people like Pritam, who give plagiarised scores, but ones that at least sound good (I checked if he’s the one who had put the ‘Pirates’ track in the serial; turns out, they didn’t have a music composer).
And of course, how could I forget Himesh Reshamiya. A person who is notorious for singing nasally, in seven out of eight tracks in his own album. Well, he also tends to plagiarise his own numbers…not that any one notices that. Speaking of which where is he?

And, speaking if ‘where’, ‘is’ and ‘he’ again, I wonder where Devang Patel is? If you don’t remember who this mad Gujju fellow was, allow me to refresh your memory. I consider him to be the pioneer of parody music in India. He was India’s Weird Al Yankovic, if I may use that analogy. He never, for a moment, tried to conceal the fact that his songs were plagiarised. Because, they weren’t; they were parodies, and hilarious ones, too!
‘Pichchadi pe kutta katta’ (Who Let The Dogs Out), ‘Hai Kammar’ (Whenever, Shakira), were considered to be classics! And he didn’t leave Indian pop stars of the nineties either; ‘Made In India’ which was a parody of, well, ‘Made In India’ by Alisha Chenoi.

God, where are the good parodies these days?

As I am about to end, I can hear another Hans Zimmer track playing, from ‘Crimson Tide’ in, you guessed it right, in a Bengali serial. In fact, he is one of the most plagiarised musicians on Indian TV, as I gathered through some painstaking (and thoroughly boring) research.

Hindi movies, and even serials, and I might as well add reality shows, too when I am at it, still use plagiarised tracks. And when they have their own tracks, they sound awful. Some Disney shows, though, come up with some very cool tracks; and by that I mean, the Hannah Montana and Jonas type tracks that would only thrill thirteen-year-olds.
As I kid, I grew up on some very good shows, like ‘Hip Hip Hurray’ and ‘Just Mohabbat’, which had some amazing music to it.
If there ever had to be a distinct Indian music of my generation, this would be it; and of course, so would Devang Patel.

Why? Simply because you have to love pioneer when you see one!  

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