In the recently released Kapoor & Sons, Arko straddles three roles as singer, songwriter, and music composer for the track “Saathi Rey”. He told Scroll.in that he sang on the insistence of the film’s producer, Karan Johar who “loved his voice”.
That’s not always the case when music directors decide to grab the microphone for their compositions. One of the few musicians who marvellously succeeded in rendering his own creations was Bhupen Hazarika (1926-2011). His distinct baritone, choice of stirring lyrics, and use of folk elements gave his oeuvre a timeless quality. Can the same be said about composers who take on more than one role in the melody making business?
First, the exceptions: Sachin Dev Burman (1906-1975), who sang in his reedy voice for the boatman, or his son, Rahul Dev Burman (1939-1994), who sang hoarsely for a musician strumming an Oud. Their pitch perfectly suited the characters for whom they sang. This is no longer the case. Composers do not follow the script and take creative liberties.
Shankar Mahadevan, of the Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy trio, is a trained classical singer. He sings the occasional rabble rousing number that suits his high-pitched voice, but it might not necessarily suit the character. Vishal Dadlani of the Vishal-Shekhar duo, who also fronts the rock band Pentagram, lends his voice to scores that require his roaring vocals. Composer Vishal Bhardwaj experiments with the solemn track on a score that he has tuned to perfect his timbre.
The line blurs when music composers prefer their own false sense of judgement and side-step the playback singer’s role in the composition. In the 1980s, Bappi Lahiri took over the fun times with his ditties. And who can forget Anu Malik’s reign in the ’90s, but also the strain with which he sang?. Music maestro Ilaiyaraaja however, put his melodious voice to wonderful use in romantic tracks for Tamil films during this period.
Composers continue to want to sing at a time when technology makes it easy for roles to overlap. Auto-tuning makes it possible for nearly every musician to giving playback singing a shot. Talent can be notched up on the synthesiser board when the flaws crack up the sound system.
Serial offenders who insist on singing when they can barely hold a note include Himesh Reshammiya, who continues to assault the tympanum with his warbling despite criticism. But he isn’t the only one. Here are five composers who need to stay away from the microphone.
AR Rahman can hold a note alright but he cannot always enunciate. In “Tere Bina” (Guru, 2007), he sings the lyrics “Tere bina beswadi beswadi ratiyan, o sajna, rookhi re rookhi re, kaatu re kate, kate na ” (The nights are flavourless without you o beloved, dry and dry, I try to spend the nights alone, I cannot). His Hindi diction is from somewhere deep down South. It’s strange that lyricist Gulzar did not correct the composer with whom he first collaborated on Dil Se (1998), for which Rahman had sung the title track with remarkable clarity in pronunciation.
Rahman repeats his folly, taking on the Punjabi dialect in “Patakha Guddi” (Highway, 2014). Can he even pronounce the word “paan?” This is a classic case of biting off more than one can chew. Then Rahman takes on the impossible task of rendering the ghazal “Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo” in a flat tone with zero inflection. He is better off singing in Tamil, with a strict no-no in Hindi, Punjabi and Urdu.
“Tain Tain To To” passed off as a song in the film Gangs of Wasseypur (2012), sung by its music composer, Sneha Khanwalkar. The song has nonsense words that rhyme. The upside is that anybody could have sung the track. Khanwalkar also sang “Moora,” and “Kaala Rey”, which added little to her vocal range.
The otherwise talented Amit Trivedi has sung for most of his movie soundtracks. The songs that were used in the background for Kai Po Che! (2013) work in tandem with the film’s theme, but the same isn’t true for his latest movie Fitoor (2016). The familiarity of his singing style is low on originality.
Salim-Sulaiman, emboldened by their success as composers, have begun dishing out music video singles every few months. Salim Merchant best exemplifies the duo’s aspirations in this studio version of the song “Kunwara” from Jodi Breakers (2012). He sings the hook line with a strong nasal intonation that could have been easily avoided if the musical team had hired a professional singer for the job. Merchant has sung in countless other films which the duo have composed. Again, a better singer needed to have been recruited.
Wajid of Sajid-Wajid fame has sung over 50 songs, and not one of them is memorable. The composers’ stock rose after their music in the David Dhawan film Partner (2007), and they became a staple of Salman Khan starrers. In "Mashallah" (Ek Tha Tiger, 2012), Wajid sounds every bit like Salman Khan singing in a jazzy voice, just as Sudesh Bhonsle tricked us into believing that Amitabh Bachchan could sing.