Where Are They Now?


The other night, surfing channels, I chanced upon two faces, very familiar from far away and long ago, with voices to match — Kumar Sanu and Alka Yagnik. The duo, along with another singer of time past, Hariharan, were judges in the Bengali edition of the hugely popular Reality Show, Sa Re Ga Ma Pa.

Often during the show the charming, handsome and enthusiastic anchor requested the duo — singing sensations of the eighties and nineties — to lend their voices, which they sportingly did, thrilling both the participants and the live studio audiences, alike. Listening to Sanu and Yagnik perform, with the same style, melody and flamboyance that had made them such hot property in their heydays, crooning up a storm across several big banners and the hottest stars of the day, I couldn’t help but wonder what had gone so drastically wrong to eject them totally from today’s booming Bollywood music scene?

It’s not as if their vocal chords had taken voluntary retirement or they had vanished without leaving a forwarding address. So what happened? Extending this line of thinking, this same query applies to all those talented and popular singers of that time — Sonu Nigam, Abhijit, Shaan, Sunidhi Pradhan, Kavita Krishnamurthy — who hotted up the charts with their super-hits, winning fans among the general public and film industry, big time. Ki hoya?

Interestingly, even in 2014 — long after the legendary Mohd. Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore and Hemant Kumar left to continue their gig upstairs — their musical memories are hugely alive and kicking. By comparison, Kumar Sanu, Alka and gang seem to have been summarily dismissed by Generation Y, visible only in the odd Reality Shows as Guests or road shows at home or abroad, catering to the freeze-frame, nostalgia-driven Diaspora. Point is: Why are these once-popular singers so totally ignored, rejected and overlooked by Bollywood music directors, producers and fans, alike?

Delhi-based, Bollywood music specialist Rajeev Nayar argues: “To begin with, the comparison is a little unfair. Rafi, Kishore, Mukesh, Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhonsle & Geeta are not Bollywood crooners, but legends whose music remains deathless and ageless! The new lot — Kumar Sanu and gang — are fine singers too, but are they supported by the kind of amazing lyricists and music directors of yesteryears, or the kind of films and stars that propelled their songs to a different level? In today’s nano-second world where today’s headlines are tomorrow’s toilet-paper, to stay on top for any period of time, is a Herculean task. All the singers you alluded to remain fine talents, but in an impatient, novelty-seeking space where fads and trends dominate and youngistan rules, new is now! Logic doesn’t work. Market forces do.”

Bollywood insiders believe that Reality Shows are responsible for this trend. “As young, fresh and exciting Bollywood stars enter the industry, the demand for matching voices and music soars. Deepika Padukone or Katrina Kaif, Ranbir or Varun Dhawan, Alia or Shraddha Kapoor can hardly be seen lip-syncing to Kumar Sanu, Udit Narayan or Abhijit, Asha, Alka or Kavita Krishnamurthy, no matter how wonderful their voices remain. So new voices are the need of the day — and that’s where the likes of new sensation, Arijit Singh, Neeti Mohan, Aditi Singh Sharma, Monali Thakur, Shalmali Kholgade, Pakistani Mustafa Zahid, among others come in to rock the charts. Say what you will, but Arijit’s Aashiqui 2, Murder 2 and Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani numbers blew everyone’s mind as did his soulful number in Barfi (Phir le aaya dil). Ditto, Neeti’s stuff in Jab Tak Hain Jaan, Student of the Year & Gunday. What about Aditi Sharma’s rocking numbers in Dhoom 3, Holiday and No One Killed Jessica, Shalmali’s hits in Ishaqzade, Yeh Jawani Hai Diwani and Race 2, Mustafa’s heart-rending songs in Heropanti and Aaashiqui 2 or Mona Lisa’s sizzling stuff in Race and romantic ditty in Lootera? Then there is Saba Azad whose zingers in Nautanki Sala had her fans drooling and Mili Nayar whose breezy number in Kai Po Che charmed.

Then of course there are the hotties from across the border from Pakistan. Their presence really started in the eighties with the utterly delectable Nazia Hussain’s chartbuster Aap Jaise Koi in Feroz Khan’s blockbuster Qurbani. Later, she teamed up with her handsome brother to unleash the best-selling Disco Deewane. However, the real action began a decade ago in 2004 with Rahat Fateh Ali Khan lending his voice in the Bhatt’s Paap. Atif Aslam followed, with Shafqat Amanat Ali, Ali Zafar, Mustafa Zahid, Ali Azmat, Adeel Chaudhary and Shezad Roy powering a mind-blowing follow-through. Powerful voices with amazing range and melody, this lot continue to enjoy a huge fan following, both in the Bollywood film industry and among music lovers. In this scheme of things, do poor Kumar Sanu and gang have a hope in hell?

Respected film scholar Rauf Ahmed echoes Vidya Balan’s priceless words about her concept of movies in The Dirty Picture, “Today its all about entertainment-entertainment-entertainment! The singers that you refer to are not required any more simply because — with exceptions — songs are created for discos, pubs, parties. No great voices are needed. Beat, rhythm and chaalu lyrics that titillate is the name of the game, and they must be easy to hum, remember and dance-able.

Hasn’t Salman Khan sung in his latest film? What about Shraddha, Alia? One can’t forget Rafi, Lata, Kishore and Asha simply because they are templates and are too deeply entrenched in public imagination, but Kumar Sanu and gang — to today’s Gen Y, who are high on Mika, Yo Yo Honey Singh, Arijit and gang — are (sadly) eminently dispensable. Today’s music is dedicatedly and unapologetically meant for today celebrating mauj masti and time pass, with transcience written all over; it is not created for posterity …”

Ahmed has a point. In this consumerist age, when products are conceptualized, created, promoted and sold on looks to grab instant attention and seduce the impulsive, impatient, and novelty seeking consumer to make it his/her preferred brand, all other (once revered abd cherished) parameters can go to hell … and stay there! Dil Mange More and Oh! Yes! Abhi!

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