Lyrical dementia a legitimate concern

Came across this interesting Times of India piece, and I like how it starts out:

From aesthetic lyrics to the inane, Bollywood songs sure have come a long way in recent times. Sample this: ‘One Two Three, One Two Three’, ‘Race saason ki, Race dhadkan ki’, ‘Zara zara touch me’ or even a ‘Dil main mere hai dard- e-disco’. Sounds musical? Even if they don’t, chances are they will be chartbusting stuff anyway. Songs are no longer important to take a story forward, but act as an item quotient to add glamour or a filler.

In the words of the great poet and lyricist Javed Akhtar:

The finer points like grammar, metaphor and style are completely ignored. The average man’s vocabulary has also gone down.

A big, big concern, more at the level of academia than that of the film-watching communities. Yet, Shankar Mahadevan (of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy) hits the nail on the head:

...sometimes lyrics add to the tongue-in-cheek situation of music, so there should be no problems with a ‘dard-e- disco’ because it is completely in sync with the music. If we do a song like ‘Ma’ for Taare Zameen Par then we also do a ‘Doob jaa mere pyar mein’ for Johnny Gaddar. That madness element is a trend. If you like fine dining, you also enjoy bhelpuri.

Couldn't agree more. See, with the often heavy (and unnecessary) integration of English lyrics in songs, and the pure promotional nature of songs, I would argue that the soundtracks today are just as much a reflection of society as they are a product of a redundant desire to be 'cool' in much the same way as the last such successful soundtrack was.

Not very effective collectively in my opinion, and eventually giving rise to what some of us consider decent-quality soundtracks that end up as chart busters. A couple of good examples of this mentioned in the article are the soundtracks to Om Shanti Om and Race. Some of the songs sounded rather immature, yet they were both heralded as the most popular soundtracks around their releases. Still, if that is what is popular, why complain about them, right? Especially since we take pride in democracy. Let the people's choice rule, then!

Two contributing factors to this, in my humble opinion:

1. Supply-Demand: Much like anything else in this transactional world (be it transactions of money, music, or ideas), this is a supply-demand issue. Several film-makers who are somewhat risk-averse will want to stay away from the conventional formulaic songs, to a point where the inverse is true and where the old conventional is the new unconventional. Go figure.

2. Supply Chain: The supply chain of our movies is such that the soundtrack serves as an important vehicle to get the prospective audience to watch the films. These songs are also the primary sources for the promos. So when a Dard-e-Disco or Race Saanson Ki generates the buzz that it did, one can be assured people are going to be curious to watch the film and head to the theater for it. For better or for worse, at some point, we must take accountability for what our film industry generates, for they believe they can sell it to us.

Now, I don't think there's anything wrong with any of this. I for one am very secure about it. I think the key is to strike a balance. Yes, I absolutely loved recent films like Taare Zameen Par and Jodhaa Akbar. Yet, I watched and appreciated (not loved, mind you) films like Race, Johnny Gaddar and Naqaab -- their soundtracks provide a welcome diversification. And the truth is that were it not for this deviation from the norm, we might well find things boring. And how else would the really good films with really good soundtracks differentiate themselves?

The concern, obviously, is that soundtracks such as those to the Taare Zameen Pars and Jodhaa Akbars of the world are increasingly becoming very very scarce, to a point where we would be very lucky to get one meaningful soundtrack per month. If you think about it, that shouldn't be very difficult given the number of annual releases.

Here's a thought I'll end with: Wasn't this exactly the concern and the consensus in the 1990s? Perhaps even in every decade before that?

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