The lilting and haunting bassline hits the dance floor, you know is going to be the melody playing in your heart for the rest of the week. You can see the crowd starting to slowly warm up to the music and about 45 minutes later, the dance floor gets groovy. It is an alternative night and music lovers outside of the mainstream (read Bollywood) are there to explore new and fresh music. Just as the musician is getting into the thick of his set, you see a couple walk up to him and whisper something in his ear and as a direct result of their words, you see him frowning. You guessed it right; he got requested for a Bollywood number.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant a musician you are, Bollywood still remains the mark of ultimate success. AR Rahman wouldn’t be known for his brilliance the way he is today but for Bollywood. We all grew up in households that rang with great tunes from the films our parents watched on weekends in cinema halls. Their memories of great romances are tied to these movies and the music that drove it. So their love for it is justified. Bollywood is also one of the most popular things globally.
So what happens when you hear a brilliantly gifted musician writing and singing his own music or producing a dance number that is independent of the movie industry? For one, the reach is not as wide, he probably has to work part-time to be able to survive in a Bollywood driven music industry. If he happens to try to get a break in the industry, his style will probably not remain the same. This is a story that keeps getting repeated over and over again.
Bollywood is a giant multi-million dollar industry and music that is made for movies beats all kinds of alternative music just purely based on the amount of money a person can make; along with that comes fame that it invariably shifts your focus from hustling in bars and nightclubs to playing big arenas just with one hit song that everyone in India can pretty much sing along.
Without taking anything away from some of the most talented Bollywood music makers, there is an equal number of alternative, independent musicians who are producing cutting-edge, global music but with a future that may not be too bright in India. Only because Bollywood is considered the cornerstone of success if you want to make music as a livelihood.
So will Bollywood always be the final destination for an individual who is positively inclined towards making music his or her life? Maybe there is a slight shift in the trend. Nucleya being one of the most lauded musicians from recent times from a non-Bollywood background is a shining example.
Music festivals that are pegged around artists who stand tall in genres that are far from Bollywood is another example and also a good sign. But, given all of this, the numbers still won’t match up. While the respect and acceptance for music that need not pertain to film music are constantly widening, the reach, the money and the conventional definition of what ‘success’ means still somehow you have to break into Bollywood.
While this may be true, no one can deny artists that outshined in what they love doing- such as L. Subramaniam, Karsh Kale, Shankar Tucker, Shakti (fusion band), the Midival Punditz, just to name a few. While they may not be names our parents necessarily know, they have successfully built a career in what they are meant to do minus Bollywood. So here’s more talent that doesn’t have to depend on Bollywood to be respected or called successful.