The Golden Era of Bollywood Music

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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

26 responses to “The Golden Era of Bollywood Music”

  1. Rekha Raghavan Avatar

    Haha.. I made it at the top of the list today! Great post KA. I barely made it without my laughing being heard by my boss one room away.. Will put in my 2c soon.

  2. rambodoc Avatar

    Your innocent mind glosses over a major reason for the success of certain numbers with a higher ambient temperature in the lyrics, beat and tones.
    I refer to the female belly button. Without it (and the quivering folds of delicious flesh surrounding it), many of the songs of Bappi Lahiri and Asha Bhosle would not have become historic entities. They would have been geographic nonentities. Bleah, I know, this pun sucks. But then this is a post on Bollywood music and movies, right?
    BTW, this post shows how right I was to tag you for the writing meme. Try karo!

  3. anantha Avatar

    RAIN SONG????

    Tip tip barsa paani??

    Kaate nahin kat-te yeh din yeh raat???

  4. Marc Avatar

    It was WWF back then. And it was awesome entertainment.

    ‘Matter’ song, ha ha!

  5. krishashok Avatar

    Yeah. I left a few types out, just so my august commenters can join the party πŸ™‚ Go for it.

  6. Rekha Raghavan Avatar

    What about the ones around the camp fire. Where you have these totally not-required dancers singing and playing some musical instrument and the hero and heroine eye each other as if one were on a diet and the other were a hot fudge sundae with extra whipping cream and chocolate sauce.. hehe..

  7. Rekha Raghavan Avatar

    Oh.. forgot the ones where the hero plays the piano (like koundamani typing on the computer) and the heroine walking all around the room.. Unfortunately can’t remember any examples.. 😦

  8. Rekha Raghavan Avatar

    please correct whipping cream in my first post to whipped cream.. 😐

  9. maxdavinci Avatar

    ah! another of the nomenclature blog posts…

    Firstly thank a lot KA for linking, feels really good when someone mentions your name….

    Secondly the content encompasses a very broad spectrum and many gems will be lost in such a wide timespan. I would therefore break it into 80’s and 90’s as they are quite contrasting in my view.

    I’ll post my comments later on how I plan to dissect them. Thank you once again KA for getting my creative juices flowing….

  10. CW Avatar

    Bollywood ‘musicals’? HAHK standing out as the one that ran the longest(? that’s the only musical I can remember.)

  11. Pri Avatar

    as soon as i read your post i had to go look for ‘bahut pyaar karte hain tumko sanam’ on you tube and voila it starts with the tururutururuu followed by salman khan [with candle] playing the piano and madhuri walking all around the room in her frilly pink frock with matching bow and hairpoof thing.
    so i watch the entire song and when its done it wants me to watch another one from the same movie ‘mera dil bhi kitna paagal hain’ by mr kumar sanu. a minute into the song and i realise this is the song with that famous tent skirt and it is the most perfect example of what you have described in your post, almost word for word.
    then just when i thought i was done laughing i see this comment right under the video by a mr. musafiruk and i quote “This song reflect the quality of south Asian true love & feelings which is also covered by natural beauties….It is simply gr8…and the lyrics, music and the approach of the actor & actress is awesome….I love it…But unfortunately now a days this type of love and emotion is a funny object for this generation although I m one of them….I wish I could have a this type of experience in my life”

    now im done laughing.

  12. Praphul O. Avatar

    Whatever people say I like Nadeem Shravan’s music. I know few of them are copied or inspired. But I simply like their kind of orchestration and melody.

    With LOVE,
    Praphul O.

  13. Bikerdude Avatar

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

  14. farkandfunk Avatar

    Here are a couple more:

    The 80s Rocka-thong:
    *A slightly mutated form of what you had described earlier, it consisted of:

    1. The hero – with florescent headbands and wristbands galore, was the epitome of lust hood.
    He’d often gyrate and dry hump the cordless electric guitar and squeal away. While the actual
    music will have full power chords, our man will be seen moving along the frets with just his thumb.

    2. The accompaniments: A hideous looking drummer who’d almost always have afro hair.

    3. Bassist : eh What? The song will generally have a great bass line (think illayaraja songs ), but those are magically
    produced. I’m thinking its actually the lower tone of the hero who’s oozing machismo.

    4. Those trademark Strange sound effect “tounnnnnnddd toooounnnnnddddd” which reminds one of signals we’d send out to try to communicate with the extra-terrestrial.

    5. An array of 20-25 skimpily clad cabaret dancers (and hence the thong) whose dance movements almost ALWAYS required them to stand in a line, and doing the Russian babushka dance. At least 2 of them will have blonde hair for good measure . Many scenes would involve the hero rolling from one side to the other OVER their bodies . Grotesque.

    The Barber-shop retro-classic:

    1. These are reminiscent of the black and white era (going back a bit i guess)

    2. Every vocalist who had ever lent his voice sounded SO NASAL . I’m quite sure that they all mated to give birth to HR.

    3. The trademark effect was the barber comb : “krrrrrr chik chik krrrrrrrr chik chik”

    4. Each song lasted 2.5 minutes, the protagonists running around fountains and fake trees and other inanimate objects and glancing at each other. Cute and everything , but the last emotion that they ever displayed was that of lust, which makes one wonder what those folks did to contribute to the population!

    5. The male would generally have more make up than the lady – this includes shaping of eyebrows, lipstick , the complete works. Metrosexual of the early 2000s is actually a fashion trend brought back.

    6. Strings and violins emanating from the first keyboards and organs ever made.

  15. 10yearslate Avatar

    You want funny?? I’ll give you funny.

    You need to have watched the Tamil channels of Singapore TV in the late 80s/ early 90s. This is pre Sun/ Jaya/ Raj mind you.

    Not only would they put on these ‘so bad it’s good’ songs, but local Sing Tams would dress up exactly like the hero/ine and prance around.

    Hang on, I hear you say, we see that every Sat on ‘ThiruvaaLar/ Thirumati’.

    But no, The Sing Tams would also throw in complete facial expressions. Paraphrasing KA/ Biker-anna out of context…labial movements and lip pouts, soulful expressions and ‘sexy time’ expressions…all done seriously…full caamedy only.

  16. mahendrap Avatar

    //joy, sadness and indigestion in this high tension moment of silence.//

    //Random movements resembling a plumber lubricating a rusted pipe//

    If its a piano, only random groping movements, as if the hero is copping a feel, are allowed.

    Waterfalls? Where are the Mandakini-inspired waterfalls?

  17. pr3rna Avatar

    Very funny. The comments were as funny as the post.

  18. chronicworrier Avatar

    10yearslate: They still do that, and how!!

    KA: Have u seen the ‘variety entertainment show’ ad (dhool or some such) & the recent one for Courts on Vijay tv? That’ll give you a very basic idea (the very first layer of layers upon layers of makeup, melodrama, panchavarnakiliyish hair colours and whatnot) of what 10yl is talking abt..

  19. mahendrap Avatar

    I love the recently introduced ‘Update’ feature of your blog: it feels as if I’m attending a live concert!
    It’s like as part of the audience I am giving you a farmaish that you’re so gracious to accept and honor! πŸ™‚

  20. 10yearslate Avatar



    Sing TV paathu kitta thatta 15 years aavudhu. Innum indha koothu nadakkudhu-nnu neenga sonnadhum bada bejara keedhu thalai!

  21. Lalita Avatar

    Padmalaya music behaved like a different animal here. Lunging movements with focus of nasal gyration on heroine’s navel played to the tune of precariously balanced earthernware pots and pans. Tohfa-tohfa-tohfa-laya-laya-laya. Twice is not enough. Very ha-ha post.

  22. Seshadri Avatar

    gr8 cheer-faad of bolly music…just to mention, 90s also saw the “family” songs…where the entire city along with all the tourists to the city and the naukar-naukrani-and-woh did the dhik-thaana-dhik-thaana…hw can u ever forget maine pyaar kiya (par poocha nahi) hum aapke hain kaun.. (woh boli..) hum saath-8-9-hain..

    since we need to restrict to bollymusic, i can recall the dubbed (dabba-ed) versions of the tamil (telugu fits better here) songs with a background score as if the whole orchestra fell down the stage…picturised on 60sumthin heroes (and 20sumthing gals) in their green-red attire repeating the same step for 5 minutes in udhagamandalam gardens..

  23. Ashish Kumar Avatar
    Ashish Kumar

    And who can forget ..the famous Bappi Da’s…making the girl into a full course menu from Punjabi Dhaba
    “you are my chickan are my phish fry…
    you are my samosa are my masla dosa..
    kaabi na kehna kudiye ..bye bye..
    and then it goes..
    you are my chucklate …you are my cutlet..!”

    and the famous “disco dancer” one..
    koi yahan..aaha nache nache…
    koi wahan ..aaha nache nache..
    ouuuwa ouuuwa ..

  24. Kamath Avatar

    >> left, right, center, top, bottom, charm

    ‘strange’ to see ‘charm’ in there… good to see you are still as ‘quarky’ as ever…

    Ashok: Kamath! Pleasure to see you here

  25. Harish Avatar

    Thala, how could you miss frequent interspersals of “mahiya” “soniya”, mixed with constant chest thumping – the heroine during the pre-breakup papa forced marriage song and the hero during the post breakup alcohol song

  26. shaadi Avatar

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