The Golden Era of Bollywood Music

1980 to 2000.

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the age of Prannoy Roy’s wisdom, It was the age of DD’s foolishness. It was the epoch of belief that WWE wrestling was for real. It was the epoch of incredulity of Didi’s Comedy Show. It was the season of lightheaded Bollywood movies. It was the season of powerless load-shedding darkness. It was the spring of hope in Sachin Tendulkar. It was the winter of Chetan Sharma’s despair. We had everything except originality before us. We had nothing but Anu Malik before us. We were all going direct to the dogs. We were all going direct the other way to the cats. In short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its music being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

And before you get confused, the title of the post has nothing to do with the years described above.

The golden era of Bollywood music was before that.

But this post is about the era of Kumar Sanu, Bappi Lahiri, Ram Lakshman, Nadeem Shravan and Superhit Muqabla. Not quite the golden era, a spot of bronze, ever silver and Kalyani covering perhaps.

While tomes have been written about Kishore, Rafi, Burman, Lata and Co, nobody has bothered to write the definitive guide to the Bronze Era of Bollywood Music. The only problem. This one is being written by a Tam who just happened to spend 7 years in the national capital. But to be fair to him, he did watch Baba Sehgal host Superhit Muqabla without fail and listened to Rs 15 T-Series tapes play “Accha Sila Diya Tune Mere Pyaar ka”.

And since it is the general season for categories, like Bikerdude’s uberbrilliant take on Carnatic Contortionism, my list of desi blogosphere specimens and Maxdavinci’s encyclopaediac list of bhakti types, here we go

The guide to Bollywood music, circa 1980-2000

The Formula

It starts with a crescendo of violins. The heroine runs across a grassy knoll into the arms of a sweater clad hero. The violins then give way to a saxophone playing a pseudo-erotic, tremolo filled intro, while the heroine exercises her facial muscles to indicate unstoppable lust for the sweater clad hunk. The camera usually hovers above the couple, giving us a 360 degrees of The Hug.

Then starts the chorus. Rising far above the mediocre and trivial quality of church choruses, gregorian chants and acapella plainsong from the renaissance period, is the Bollywood Chorus. Harmony of any sort is not allowed. The general idea is to take 50 women and make them go “Tooooo ru roooooo…Tu ru rooooooooo” while violins play unrelated fillers in the background. This goes on till The Hug is over. That’s when the beat starts.

Now you are thinking, yeah, then the bass starts. Hold your horses and other beasts of burden. Bass guitars were buried in the tomb of Pharoah Burman, because he liked them a lot. As a fitting tribute to him, Bollywood decided to dispense with all forms of bass lines till A R Rahman re-introduced them in Roja. After a few seconds of the beat, everything stops. Hero and heroine look at each other and attempt to squeeze in every known human emotion – joy, sadness and indigestion in this high tension moment of silence. Then the vocals start.

In the 90s, vocals was synonymous with a brand of high frequency vocal chord nasal tremolo generator called Kumar Sanu. He would usually begin with a “Heeeeeei. heei he heeii…ahaaaa”. SPB did try his hand a little bit, but Bollywood gave up after “Baguth Pyaar Kurrrrr the hai, thum ko sanam”.

Note very carefully that when the vocals are on, the instrumentalists get a cigarette break. No violins and guitars allowed when the lead singer is on. They can squeeze in a few notes here and there, and get a short interlude in between verses, but that’s about it. If its a matter song, the saxophone comes on again during those moments when the hero is trying very hard not to kiss the heroine.

The end of the song is usually a “lala laaa lala laaa” type chorus, where the male and female vocalist sing, exactly the same note, same pitch and no harmony. Fade out as hero and heroine join hands and walk into the horizon.

ps: Do note that heroes have been known to watch tapes of Jimi Hendrix play Star Spangled Banner to practice their occasional axe (guitar for the rockmusically non-inclined) wielding scenes. But two important rules. First. The electric guitar must be unplugged. No wires, cables and amplifiers of any sort are allowed on grassy knolls on mountain tops. Second. The left hand must not move in any way resembling a real guitar player. Random movements resembling a plumber lubricating a rusted pipe are allowed though.

The Copy

If a song did not fit into The Formula type described above, it was usually, as Anu Malik often calls it, an inspiration. It must be noted that Bollywood also had a phenomenal sense of sarcasm and irony. The movie Akele Hum Akele Tum was not only inspired by Kramer vs Kramer, almost every song in the movie was a lift. Anu Malik lifted left, right, center, top, bottom, charm, east, west, north, south, hyperspace from Deep Purple, George Michael and the Godfather theme to create the soundtrack for a movie whose story dealt with, you guessed it, a young musician’s struggle with a corrupt music director stealing his music.

Highlight: The Child in Time copy “Aisa Zakhm diya hai” where Ian Gillian’s soaring vocals is replaced with the Bollywood Chorus – “tooooo rooo rooooo”.

If you haven’t already seen itwofs, do so now. While Bollywood was little more outrageous, you will learn that Tamil music directors weren’t exactly saints of originality either.

The Shaadi

Once in a while, movies feature a shaadi scene, and the hero and heroine have to sing a song and shake a leg. Note that the wedding is not theirs, but some other minor characters’. Outlandishly lavish costumes meet exceedingly insipid formulaic music to save the movie director 6 minutes of story telling time.

The Item

Heroine as scantily dressed vamp, dancing item number in villain’s lair. The song structure is similar to the Formula but features raunchier female vocals and edgier beats. The hero and his mates are usually disguised as dancers in her troupe and proceed to kick some villain posterior at the end of the song. The villain is usually drinking and attempting to make physical contact with the heroine. Some sidekicks of his are also making a general nuisance of themselves around the her, and she bravely suffers through this Agni Pareeksha before her man, the hero, either kills the the bad guy (if flashback scenes involving father/sister/mother ruin/rape/suicide are included) or kanoonkehaathmeinhawalakarfies him and his sidekicks.

That’s all folks. Your additions please.

Update: Here we go again. The wisdom of the crowds. Do note that I tried to keep the focus on types of songs, from a musical perspective, although I think my diversion into the actual cinematic effects surrounding the song clouded this.

Anantha points out that The Rainsong is missing. So,

The Rainsong

The heroine’s contours generally sway in sync with the beat, which is usually slightly slower in tempo than the normal Formula number. The high-tension interlude of the Formula is filled with thunder sounds, and is usually the moment when the hero inadvertently disrobes the lady’s saree partially, and the lady’s faux-shock filled reaction fills this moment of temporary musical silence. The climax of the song, usually the “laa la laaa” fade-out bit, happens along with a blurring camera capturing hero and heroine attempting to do full matter but a with white bedsheet inserted in between by the censor board.

And Mahendra points out The Mandakini Waterfall subtype,

Flutes and Sitars are very important here. Nothing quite expresses falling water better than a folksy flute and sitar combo. This is usually a voyeurism thingie, because the hero rarely makes contact (both eye and body) with the lady. He generally hides in a bush of some sort and gazes in admiration at the heroine’s ability to bathe with most of her clothes on.

Rekha reminds us of The Impromptu Recital

Hero suddenly discovers that he is a grade 8 pianist at a party where heroine is putting kadalai on the other guy, usually, an obnoxious suit-wearing rich dude. He proceeds to start the song with a Rachmaninoffesque riff. His fingers, on the other hand,tend to pound the piano like Koundamani’s hands pound a typewriter. The song is generally doleful (fulltoo minor scale) with all manner of references to bewafaness and dard and such.

Bikerdude, in his inimitable style, describes Hurricane Rita,

Hurricane Rita + haystack + wet nylon saree with immaculate big-hair. eg: dhak dhak karne laga

and oh, Farkandfunk gets real detailed in his description of the 80s Rock-a-Thong and The Barbershop Retro Classic