Move over, Bollywood actors and filmmakers who tirelessly use their social media profiles to flatter each other with congratulatory retweets and glowing praise. Bollywood music composers and playback singers are ringing alarm bells about workplace ethics, voicing sharp and sometimes divisive political opinions, and shaking the bedrock on which the singer’s foundation is set – that of a docile professional who is apolitical and leaves the opinion-mongering to movie stars.
Singers have long been associated with sharp social commentary, but the songs usually reflect the views of the lyricists rather than the singers. Not any more. Along with melody, public statements, complaints, rants and hasty judgements are pouring out of throats. The weapon of choice: social media.
Most recently, singer and composer Kailash Kher expressed his dissatisfaction over reports that actress Sonakshi Sinha would be performing at pop star Justin Bieber’s upcoming concert in Mumbai. “I read somewhere that a Canadian singer Justin Bieber is coming to India, and actress Sonakshi will perform at the gig,” Kher said. “The news was cute, but quite a lie. It doesn’t give a good message internationally.”
Kher raised two relevant issues: should actors sing in their untrained voices and replace professional singers? His second concern was the trend of hiring Bollywood actors to promote musical events.
Singer Armaan Malik tweeted his support for Kher. Sinha was quick to respond. She tweeted that she was not going to perform at the musical event anyway, but claimed that Armaan Malik had been chasing her to sing for him. Malik politely corrected her that she was confusing him with his elder brother, Amaal Mallik, who composed the soundtrack for the Sinha-starrer Noor.
This is when the controversy took a fraternising turn. Singer Sona Mohapatra decided to enter the picture, supporting Malik and slamming Sinha with her blunt tweets. If Armaan’s tone was mild, Mohapatra’s was certainly retaliatory.
Social media has clearly empowered performers in ways that are not always pleasant. Abhijeet uses Twitter frequently to run down filmmakers and offer his unsolicited advice on national politics. Singer-composer Vishal Dadlani is often trolled for his political views.
Musicians are also using social media to protest their work being tampered with, whether by producers or other artists. Singing star Arijit Singh directly addressed actor Salman Khan and the composer duo Vishal-Shekhar through Facebook when his version of the song Bulleya was dropped from Sultan (2016). Singh also did not spare composer Abhijit Vaghani, who tweaked his voice beyond recognition in a cover version of the classic tune Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas (Blackmail, 1973) in the crime thriller Wajah Tum Ho (2016).
Sonu Nigam’s recent provocative tweets, labelling the Muslim call of prayer announced over loudspeakers from mosques as “gundagardi” (hoodlum), escalated quickly. A cleric issued a fatwa, offering a Rs 10-lakh reward for anyone who would shave Nigam’s head. The singer got his head tonsured by a Muslim barber and asked the cleric to pay up.
Nigam later claimed that his concern over loud decibel levels applied to all places of religious worship, including temples and gurudwaras.
The older generation either stays away from social media or misunderstands its reach. Sisters Asha Bhosle and Lata Mangeshkar, both well into their eighties, use their social media accounts mostly to interact with their fans. Bhosle courted controversy when she deleted abusive followers on her Twitter profile. She followed her action with stinging words.
Mangeshkar was the subject of a spoof Snapchat video made by stand-up comedian Tanmay Bhat that went viral. Mangeshkar chose not to fan the flames when there was a national outbreak condemning Bhat for his jokes. The younger lot is unlikely to mute their views, ensuring that their voices resound beyond the soundproofed studio.