Indian music beyond Bollywood

Sona Mohapatra writes about giving underrated artists and styles of music a chance in the mainstream music scene.

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Indian music Bollywood music
Sona Mohapatra

Indian music is a vast ocean, yet all our attention seems to be focused on one small pond that is Bollywood Music. It is time that changed.

I’ve always been amazed by the popularity of non-film songs by Punjabi artists that are a part of all festivities. Songs like “Taarey gin” are great examples of non-film songs that became a rage across India and have lasted the test of time. These were later appropriated by Bollywood, which shows you that it doesn’t take Bollywood’s marketing clout to make a super hit song.

For the last two decades, Bollywood has been devaluing the Hindi film song, abusing its creators and pandering to short term returns. This has led to its logical end: Bollywood is now merely regurgitating music from its past.

It has lost all creative steam and cultural credibility. It is not the incubator for the next Gulzar, Majrooh, Amitabh Bhattacharya, Vishal Bharadwaj or Shankar Mahadevan. Instead, it is a demoralising shredder of talent.

So where will the next AR Rahman, Amit Trivedi, Ram Sampath, Shaan or even Divine emerge from? The answer is the same place that Lucky Ali, KK or even I, Sona Mohapatra, emerged from – the indie scene.

As a culture, we need to turn our gaze back to the source of creativity. The hollow images fed to us by rabidly toxic celebrity culture must be ignored.

We have to encourage artists and creators to collaborate and create timeless melodies and lyrics that inspire us for generations to come.

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Every generation has its own unique voice and perspective. We must create space for those diverse voices to be heard. Music streaming can make that happen provided they are willing to fight the reductive bully that is the Bollywood music mafia.

A large onus of this lies with the audience who cannot be accepting of nursery rhymes or remixes as standard fare. Audiences need to question and reject artistes who lip-sync too on the live stage.

Every artist has an ally in technology, the internet and social media to put out their own music, and build an audience base. One cannot just wait with bated breath for Bollywood to shine a light on you. India is vast and capable enough to spawn and have a music superstar in each mohalla. We have to stop looking towards Bollywood for all validation of talent.

New and upcoming artists deserve our attention. In my short tenure as a judge on a national TV reality show, I met a Dharavi rap group, ‘M Town Breakers‘. I decided to connect them with a talent agency and help them release an anthem with Ram Sampath and Virat Kohli. I did the same with several other contestants whom I believed deserved attention.

We cannot wash our hands of nurturing future talent and giving back to where we have received so much from.

Most importantly we have to remember that the music of India is truly a treasure house of great depth and width. We have so many genres of music that deserve attention apart from Bollywood music. The film music scene is actually the stinky swamp in the garden of music which includes bhajans, ghazals, classical, folk, pop, sufi, qawwali, desi hip-hop and so many other genres.

Why is it that the audience and the entire eco-system including radio and media treat non-film music like it is inferior music? There seems to be some discrimination at play which is sad.

Moreover, good music and talented artists should be encouraged and celebrated, no matter where they come from.

As a society, we stand to benefit aesthetically and even grow the size of the music industry turnover by many folds if we looked beyond Bollywood.

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