This post is prompted by a conversation I had yesterday on Twitter regarding a lovely new song that had just come out – the Amit Trivedi composed, K. Mohan sung Kinare (Queen, 2014).
@kaurvaki No man. Same singer, same composer, similar mood, similar genres but very different songs.
— Param Arunachalam (@taparam) January 29, 2014
There were other such comparisons of Queen’s soundtrack with Amit Trivedi’s prior work including Dev.D, Lootera (comment above), Udaan, Isahqzaade and Kai Po Che. Within these comparisons is a critique (not always explicit) of Amit Trivedi’s work – that he is not experimenting enough or that he’s using “song templates” that are making his work predictable. In this post, I intend to present an alternate view.
But before that, here is an observation that most will agree with – that Amit Trivedi has a sweet spot in terms of genres – Pop/Rock, and Pop/Rock fused with semi-classical or folk music. So then the question becomes if his sweet spot takes away from his music. My opinion is that it does not. Trivedi’s sweet spot is not a spot, it’s really a large, multi-dimensional kaleidoscopic canvas. Considering that history has produced great artists who’ve spent their entire careers on a single genre of music, even if Amit Trivedi restricts his music to a combination of only Pop/Rock/Semi-classical/Folk – he will still be able to produce a rich, solid body of work, provided he keeps producing the kind of stellar tracks that he has till date. My personal belief is that he will do that and more.
Now my take on the “song template” criticisms.
A lot of the time, when people talk about “templates” or “hangover” in the context of music, I believe they’re referring to the artist’s signature or style – a pattern for structuring and arranging songs. Pancham’s was one such, easily identifiable signature. For me, the signature is not necessarily a bad thing. It is possible for the signature to be used in several different songs and still stay fresh. The appeal of Pancham’s signature thrived across not just many Pancham songs, but also songs composed by other composers, eg: Ulfut Mein Zamane Ki (composed by Sapan – Jagmohan) and Vaada Karo Jaanam (composed by Basu – Manohari).
In the instance of Kinare (Queen), Shikayatein (Lootera) and Naav Hai Teri (Udaan), in addition to Amit Trivedi’s signature, there are additional elements of similarity – the singer – K. Mohan – and the general theme/mood of these songs. It appears to me that for some people, a combination of these similarities is distracting enough to appreciate what are really very different songs. I draw consolation from the fact that even A.R. Rahman, has not escaped the “song template” criticism – a song as lovely as “Aise Na Dekho” (“Raanjhana”) had people disapprovingly talking about how similar it sounded to “Tu Bole Main Boloon” (“Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na”).
Progress in Hindi film music has been incremental for the most part. There are very few music directors who have been innovative enough to change the course of music in Hindi films. There are two who come to my mind in terms of the biggest impact – R.D. Burman for his experiments with instruments and arrangement and A.R. Rahman for experiments with the song structure. However, depending on your taste in music, you may like the work of other composers more than R.D. Burman’s or A.R. Rahman’s – and that’s all right. In other words, our taste in music isn’t determined by how innovative the artist is – it is quite simply what sounds good to our ears. Innovation in music is great as an aspiration but doesn’t always make for songs we like. In fact, experiments may not always have the desired effect – I felt that Raanjhana’s music was cluttered and Milliblog’s verdict on Highway -“occasionally accessible”. Conversely, there are several composers through history who may not be known for their experimentation but are considered great nevertheless. Therefore, I believe it is as meaningless to exhort musicians, who make good music otherwise, to experiment more as it is to pull good composers down if their experiments don’t work. They all play a role in the music ecosystem and I believe we should encourage and support them.
And to seal the argument, here is a video that proves that all hit pop songs are really the same. (Kidding!)
PS: Plagiarists and truly unimaginative music directors (you know who they are) are out of the scope of this discussion.