Looking for melody in 2023? Go to OTT!

Wamiqa Gabbi enacts the Jubilee lead track, Babuji bhole bhaale. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

Recently, at the music launch (a first in years!) of the film Zara Bachke Zara Hatke, producer Dinesh Vijan spoke proudly of having original, situational songs in his film, which has a theatrical release this week. The Sachin-Jigar musical does have a mellifluous list of songs of the caliber rarely seen nowadays.

On the big screen, such melodies were heard last year only in a handful of releases: Gangubai Kathaiwadi. RRR (fundamentally a Telugu release), Brahmastra, Uunchai and Drishyam 2 (to an extent in the use of the songs), though a couple of films more did have a one or two songs of merit.

This year, it has been a very poor score (pun intended) and, surprisingly, coming to the rescue of what we classically know as “good, original, situational songs” is the OTT platform, yes, the very one notorious for its uncensored use of steamy sequences and expletives!

Three OTT web series and two films released directly on these platforms have satiated the listeners’ demands for tunes that soothe the ear even as they take a story forward and thus spiral in recall value.

The first such (then rare) case happened long ago: Bandish Bandits, which was released as a pioneering musical web series way back in August 2020. None other than Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy were chosen to handle this music-rich subject on the clash and complementary qualities of Indian classical and Western music and focus the contemporary appeals of both.

The story was based around a musical family in Rajasthan and S-E-L rose brilliantly to the occasion, just the way they had done in 2001 with the path-breaking score of Dil Chahta Hai that demonstrated how the music space and ‘melodyscape’, to coin a term, would be in the future with a mix of the old and the new.

Led by the magnificent Virah, sung by Shankar himself, followed closely by Javed Ali’s superb Lab par aaye, the soundtrack was full of gems even though there was a standout sore point—individual lyricists were not credited online!

It took a while for the next musical to come into being, as musical subjects are not exactly known on Hindi OTT. Jehenabad, released early this year on SonyLIV, was another musical with nine tracks. However, its outright focus on purely situational work made the crime series not be noticed as a “musical” though the soundtrack on JioSaavn got decent views. Songs like O piya (in three versions by Abhay Jodhpurkar and Khushboo Jain), Kahin kuch toota (Pratibha Singh Baghel) and Ghumdat aaye (Nilanjana Chandra) were perhaps a shade too dependent on situation over popular appeal. Sujeet Shetty and Sumantha Das composed the apt score for this film on Naxalite insurgency.

Recently, Amazon Prime Video was back after Bandish Bandits with Jubilee, the mammoth series on Hindi cinema of the 1940s and 1950s. Amit Trivedi showed his mettle in the musically-told drama. The 12-song album was led by the delightfully original yet retro-flavored serenade, Babuji bhole bhaale, a tribute to the cult O.P. Nayyar hit, Babuji dheere chalna (Aar Paar), sung with exemplary Geeta Dutt-esque pep and gusto by Sunidhi Chauhan.  The remaining songs were also mostly memorable and done in a perfect retro mode, whether it was Devenderpal Singh’s Saare ke saare akele, Mohammed Irfan and Vaishali Mhade’s Itraati chali or Papon-Sunidhi’s Nahin ji nahin.

Talking about a major difference between today’s theatrical releases and OTT, music director Neel Adhikari (Tooth Pari, Modern Love: Mumbai) recently told “Bombay Times, “Songs on OTT are used to further the story. It means that if you miss the song, you will miss the story. OTT is operating in that space where songs are not used because we have to put in a popular track, but it is to emotionally pull the audience in the story.”

Adhikari has been among the earliest composers to work on thematic songs and BGM for OTT shows, and reveals also that today, these series (and movies released on digital platforms directly) have music supervisors. And though the highest official downloads (791m) are still achieved only by a Raatan lambiyaan from a hit OTT film, Shershaah (2021), the point is that composers and song-selectors (the makers) can afford to do what is right for the subject and yet experiment without having creative constraints issued by production companies and music labels.

Tripti Dimri enacts Ghodey pe sawaar in Qala. Photo: Trailer Video Grab

And while other singles like Jhonka (Gullak) and Aisa kyun (Mismatched) too have become quite popular, two OTT releases that have been true-blue musicals considering their themes and runtime are Monica, O My Darling and Qala.

Monica…, a thriller in the mode of Sriram Raghavan, was a score by Achint Thakkar,  who composed a versatile album with multiple elements like retro Hindi film, vintage Western pop, jazz and classical, and more. Obviously, the catchy Yeh ek zindagi kaafi nahin hai was the outright winner among the songs, as sung by Anupama Chakraborty Shrivastava, a remarkably Asha-like singer. The dominant leitmotif in this song was of R.D. Burman, but the rest of the score also had influences of other legendary composers of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with voices resembling Kishore Kumar (Saud Khan), Hemant Kumar (Sagnik Sen)and Usha Uthup (Vivienne Pocha) and arrangements to match! Here again, the score did not get adequate acclaim, possibly again because of the limited exposure to the rest of the highly situational (and for 2022, experimental!) songs, as the film was no OTT blockbuster but just fared decently.

Qala, a late 2022 Anushka Sharma co-production, had Amit Trivedi again score a retro-flavored ace, from which Ghodey pe sawaar, written by Amitabh Bhattacharya and sung by Sireesha Bhagavatula, has been magical and gone on to make a thumping impact. Phero na nazariya, Shauq and Nirbhau nirvair are three more of the all-noteworthy songs on the album. Gentle, placid, thematic with a lot of thehrav (stability) in the notes, Phero… had a remarkable feedback from a listener online, who wrote, “No dirty lyrics.. no repeat beats.. pure music pure original lyrics!!! Such a fresh vibe in this dhikchak era of music !!!

That said it all! The writing is on the wall and it’s time those delivering music should now be on the ball and recognize the simmering voice of discontent with the mediocrity being dished out on the big screen. As a well-known industry veteran who would not like being named, says, “Film music? In 2023? What is that?”




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