Blast from the past

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By Old classics with a fresh new twist are taking the film music charts by storm, says Yashodeep Sengupta
  • Published 17.07.11

It’s retro season in Bollywood. Audiences are sitting down to watch movies set in the 1980s, music videos with retro settings and, most importantly, to listen to rehashes of foot- tapping old Hindi songs in the latest films that are hitting the screen.

So, in the recent hit Delhi Belly, singer Chetan Shashital emulates the voice of maestro KL Saigal in the song Saigal Blues. But there’s a 21st-century twist to the tune — blues music plays on in the background. And, in Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap, composers Vishal-Shekhar have remixed four 1980s chartbusters and created the lively number Go Meera Go. Similarly, the opening lines of the 1980s smash hit Laila Laila have also been reused in Chalo Dilli.

The reworked tunes are everywhere. In the last few months there’ve been at least 10 reworked numbers that have strummed their way back into our consciousness. “The melodies of old Hindi hits are very strong. If used correctly, reworks of old melodies can spell magic,” says Shekhar Ravjiani, who has rehashed hits like Bachna Ae Haseeno with Vishal Dadlani.

The opening lines of the 1980s smash hit, Laila O Laila, were revived for an item song in Chalo Dilli

Indeed a majority of the new tunes has become instant hits. Laila Laila’s been on the Radio Mirchi Top 20 chart for 10 weeks now. Similarly, Oye Oye (originally from Tridev, redone for Double Dhamaal) is being replayed on all music channels. Then, there’s the iconic Dum Maaro Dum, which has been reused for the 2011 film by the same name. These songs are scoring high on television and radio and even as mobile ringtones.

“The popularity of a song is based on its familiarity and likeability. Songs that use a touch of older hits are automatically familiar and thus become popular faster,” says Srijit Halder, programming head, Dhoom Music.

In most cases the composers aren’t doing straight lifts from old songs. They are juggling the beats and words. So, the beat is faster in the song Yamla Pagla Deewana in the movie by the same name. And Saara Zamaana — one of the songs remixed to create Go Meera Go — is peppered with English lyrics.

Khaike Paan Banaraswala from the original Amitabh Bachchan-starrer, Don, was re-used in Farhan Akhtar’s remake of the film and has been featured again in Go Meera Go from Bbuddah Hoga Tera Baap

In some cases only a line or two are borrowed from old numbers. So you have a few bars from vintage hits like Oye Oye, Laila Laila and Pyar Do Pyar Lo in their new avatars. In others like Hawa Hawaii, in Shaitan, the entire number is used but the beat and tempo have been played around with.

However, there are others that have been reused entirely. For instance, Raat Akeli Hai, originally from Jewel Thief and sung by Asha Bhosle, has been retained in Ragini MMS. And evergreen numbers like Khaike Paan Banaraswala from Don (1978) has been reused twice so far — once in Farhan Akhtar’s Don (2006) and more recently as a part of Go Meera Go.

So why do Bollywood music directors decide to reach into the past? They say it’s crucial that a composition must be in tune with the movie’s theme. Says music director Ram Sampath, who composed Saigal Blues for Delhi Belly, “The film turned out to be the perfect vehicle for the song, as blues music was a huge influence on the soundtrack.” And the makers of Bbuddah Hoga Terra Baap figured that the old hits of Amitabh Bachchan would be just right for a movie starring the actor.

Music director Ram Sampath composed Saigal Blues for Delhi Belly since it went with the theme of the soundtrack; (below) composer Shekhar Ravjiani believes that if used correctly, re-works of old melodies can create magic

Most Bollywood composers agree that old songs shouldn’t be used indiscriminately. Music director Pritam, who has used versions of old numbers like Pyar Do Pyar Lo and Laung Gawacha in Thank You and Ready respectively, says: “Only if the theme of the film demands it should an excerpt of an old song be included.”

And will the trend continue? If the new versions become chart-toppers, there’ll be more on the way. “In Bollywood, a trend stays if it enjoys popularity. So, using bits of old songs to make new music is here to stay for now,” says Pritam. Singer June Banerjee, who shot to fame after her rendition of Laila Laila, says she is “willing to sing more such songs”.

Some music directors, however, are sceptical. Ravjiani points out that an overuse of old songs in contemporary films would certainly turn off listeners. Sampath strongly rejects an over- dependence on old compositions: “To rely wholly on the works of past masters is a sure-fire sign of creative lethargy.”

Whether or not this trend is a sign of a paucity of new ideas is open to debate but for now composers are happy to be singing old songs all the way to the bank.