Has venturing into Bollywood become a necessity for Pakistani musicians?
The Indian film industry has gained incredible strength in the last few years. Film stars like Shah Rukh, Aamir and Salman Khan and now Akshay Kumar are signing deals worth anywhere between 10-20 crores, either by producing their own films or striking deals with production houses that now function like Hollywood studios.
The film industry that was once struggling under the shadow of murky deals between film producers/actors and the underworld has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts.
But not the same can be said for the music business in India. The term music industry just doesn't exist in India.
All the sounds are dictated by Bollywood music. Back in the nineties, names like Bally Sagoo, Mehnaz, Baba Sehgal, Lucky Ali, Alisha Chinoi among countless others formed the Indian pop industry. Now most of them have either disappeared from the scene altogether or have become playback singers for Indian films.
With Pakistani music, it is a different case.
Fuzon recently played to packed crowds in India. Atif Aslam is a huge icon. And artists like Strings, Azal, Jal, Roxen and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan - all enjoy a steady following.
But riding the Bollywood bandwagon has slowly but surely become a necessity for Pakistani artists.
Our artists learned with time that with Bollywood dictating the sound in India, in order to make it in India, which remains a much bigger market for our artists, Bollywood was a step necessary... for many.
This year one saw Jal team up with Indian actress Amrita Rao for their video, 'Chalte Chalte'. In turn she released their album with them in India and promised to visit Pakistan for a series of shows.
Azal also launched their record in India and recorded and performed within one night the title track of Akshay Kumar-Katrina Kaif starrer Sinngh is King with Salman Khan in the audience.
Atif Aslam, who jumped the Bollywood bandwagon much earlier, teamed up with Indian music director Pritam twice this year for 'Pehli Nazar' off Race and 'Ba Khuda' off Kismat Konnection. Both were high profile films that made Atif a lot more visible in India.
Others like Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan are working on Indian films as playback singers. While Shafqat has Kabhie Alvida Naa Kehna and Dor on his musical catalogue, Rahat has the biggest film tunes to his credit ranging from Shah Rukh Khan's Om Shanti Om to Madhuri Dixit comeback vehicle Aaja Nachle.
For most musicians now, it has become a matter or survival in India now more than ever.
In a recent conversation with this scribe, Atif Aslam explained why opting for Bollywood has become necessary.
"Indian music channels, most of them, have stopped airing Pakistani music videos and I'm talking about most of our artists. Bollywood producers give a mightier push to Indian film music and the channels are inclined to play Indian music. So one makes a video but if it doesn't air enough, fans won't know. In such a scenario, it has become crucially important to deal with Bollywood because that gives one visibility."
Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan, who has just released his first solo album, Tabeer in India voices a similar concern.
"India doesn't have a pop music industry. Pakistani artists fill that void. But Bollywood projects do give one an entry."
Azal, Call, Roxen - some of the younger players in the music industry also maintain the same view.
Artists like Ali Haider, Jal, Ali Zafar, Faakhir and Haroon are also open to Bollywood, provided the right offer comes along.
Veteran musician Ali Azmat, who entered the Indian market first with Junoon years ago, has an interesting take on the entire situation.
"The scene in India is no different than Pakistan. It may have more money and a better infrastructure but they have no music industry. Indian radio stations don't play Pakistani music. I have walked out of two different radio interviews in India because they don't play our music. That said, it also depends on an artist. I don't work in Bollywood too often because the sensibility of commercial Bollywood doesn't always match mine. But when filmmakers, who understand my music and think that it will add more to the film approach me, I do work with them. But the fact still remains that Bollywood dominates the sound in India."
It no longer surprises one when a Pakistani artist is heard giving vocals to Indian stars in films. It remains an understandable fact but one that can be dangerous also.
Some projects tamper with the image of Pakistani musicians or worse, their music. Roxen's 'Tou Phir Aao' made Emraan Hashmi the protagonist in the video while Annie's catchy 'Mahiya' sounded awful on the soundtrack of Awarapan.
Atif Aslam's 'Pehli Nazar' turned out to be a rip-off of a Korean song. Call's 'Laaree Chootee' may have worked but the film just didn't cut it. With Bollywood regurgitating similar lyrics and music that can only be defined as 'flavour of the month' at best with no long-lasting value (except for AR Rahman), Pakistani musicians do have an edge. While acts like Strings, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan and Shafqat Amanat Ali Khan are all making the right moves, others need to be more careful of projects that land them on the Bollywood musical map.
link: The News International - No. 1 English Newspaper from Pakistan - Saturday, December 30, 1899