Thursday August 15, 2013

The curious case of a singer-as-a-hero in Indian films

Posted by Karthik

Last week, as I was lazing in Coimbatore on a short holiday, I watched an old Ilayaraja song on Jaya Max, one of those channels that nobody seems to be watching.

It was ‘Sangeetha megham‘ from Udhaya Geetham, starring ‘Mike’ Mohan as a singer, like he has been, for most of his films. Mind-bogglingly beautiful song, by the way.

Now, we have seen ‘singers’ as heroes in Tamil and Hindi films (and I’m sure many other languages too, like Telugu, Malayalam, Kannada etc.). Rishi Kapoor was one, in Deewana and so was Amitabh in Yaarana, Rishi Kapoor in Karz, Rajesh Khanna in Anurodh or even Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan in Abhimaan… to name a few. I can’t list them all, but I’m sure you get the drift – almost every hero (and many heroines too!) in any language worth his name has played a ‘singer’ on screen.


So, here is the question – can you name one non-film singer who was mobbed for autograph and who had a full house for songs that he sings for the first time on stage?

I mean, where did the inspiration for this singing career come from? We had standalone (that is, non-film) singers in non-light music categories – ghazals, classical music etc. but the kind shown on screen was akin to film songs – light music that did not fit into classical or ghazal or even folk music scenario. Add to it, most of this ‘singer-as-hero’ films were in a period when mass media reach was rather limited – there was no TV (which arrived in 80s), radio was more powerful and was playing film songs and classical music, primarily, besides folk, leaving no space for light music. I’m not entirely sure about stage shows where non-film light music was sung/performed – from what I could recall, stage shows were more about recreating film songs with an orchestra.

Back then, films was THE media to reach people with either music or dance. The independent (that is, independent of movies) music/dance scene arrived much later in the 80s when we started aping the West from their pop/rock scene.

But still, you saw some of these on-screen singers’ music take the form of a record and being available in stores, which the film’s heroine eyes excitedly!

There were very few films that actually showed the actor playing the singer to be a playback singer (in films) – like Rahman’s role in K.Balachandar’s Pudhu Pudhu Arthangal, where he is seen singing for music directors, in a studio and hence is popular as a playback singer. This is a most feasible possibility in India – film playback singers in India are revered more than music composers, much to my personal annoyance.

Would it be wrong to assume (and claim) that India never had a non-film singing career/option till the late 80s pop scene happened? This too happened as an offshoot of the pop music career from the West (and outside India) is another assumption.

Am I missing something here? Have you heard a non-film, non-classical light music singer clocking full house in an auditorium in India? And people enjoying/appreciating his/her new songs when they hear it for the first time while he is singing on stage?



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