Hindi television serials are now going the extra mile by producing complete soundtracks with original songs. While in the past, an original Hindi serial song meant a 20-second intro, ongoing serials such as the romantic thriller Bepannah on Colors, the drama Ishqbaaz and the musical Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala on Star Plus have full songs with multiple verses, hookline, bridge, the works.

Leading the pack is Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala which boasts of a soundtrack that could rival the best songs produced in Bollywood. Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala is the remake of the Bengali serial Potol Kumar Gaanwala, written by Bangladeshi singer Sahana Bajpaie.

Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala tells the story of a young singing prodigy, Kullfi (Aakriti Sharma), from Pathankot, who travels to Mumbai to realise her ambitions. There, she accidentally ends up in the house of brooding rock star Sikandar (Mohit Malik). Unbeknownst to both, Sikandar and Kullfi are estranged father and daughter. Standing in the way of them coming together is Kullfi’s evil aunt and Sikandar’s own family.

Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala.

The serial, which has had over a 100 episodes so far, has original compositions scattered throughout. The story progresses like a musical film where situations lead to the young Kullfi breaking into a song, sometimes with dance.

In the first episode, for instance, Kullfi, eager to learn singing, follows a musical troupe and regales them with her version of Bulleh Shah’s Mast Kalandar.

Mast Kalandar, Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala.

In episode two, Kullfi is thrown out of a temple because her unclear parentage is offensive to the priest’s values. Kullfi breaks into a devotional song and wins the hearts of the onlookers. In the next episode, Kullfi teaches her siblings the English alphabet through the song ABCD.

The music production here is not dated or tacky. The songs of Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala are as contemporary as they can get.

ABCD, Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala.

The serial’s most popular song, which is also its opening sequence track, is Pet Bechara. This song does not exist to cushion the opening credits in every episode, but is a situational track that comes in episode five. Kullfi makes up the song about her grumbling stomach after she has been waiting for her mother to return.

The fact that the lyrics are tied to the story, and that there is an aesthetic consistency in how the songs sound and feel (composed by Sargam Jassu and Nakash Aziz with vocals for Kullfi by 14-year-old Rashi Salil Harmalkar), shows how serious the makers are about maintaining a specific musical sensibility for the serial.

Pet Bechara, Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala.

Sustaining a distinctive musical signature for the entire serial has become important when makers are opting for fresh subjects and are being influenced by the treatment of foreign television and web series that are now easily accessible in India.

For Discovery Jeet’s historical war drama, 21 Sarfarosh - Saragarhi 1897, based on the battle between 21 Sikh soldiers of British India and frontier tribesmen in the North West Frontier Province of British India, the makers roped in folk fusion band Maati Baani to compose the rock song Jaago for the opening credits. Grungy guitars frequently fill up the background score of the serial as well.

Jaago, 21 Sarfarosh - Saragarhi 1897.

One of the first serials to regularly feature original Hindi compositions was Star Plus’s Naamkarann. The serial, which ran for over 450 episodes from 2016 to 2018, was based on Mahesh Bhatt’s 1998 film Zakhm. The serial featured a number of Hindi songs, some of which were composed by Anu Malik and Jeet Gannguli, who have often worked on Bhatt’s feature films.

Some of the songs, such as Chal Meri Jaan, written, composed and sung by Aaryan, can easily be mistaken for a hit song from a Bhatt production. One version of the tune, which plays in the last episode, moves like a contemporary emotional ballad. Another comes with jazz drumming. While Hindi music listeners rued the disaster that was Bollywood music in 2017, the magic was happening elsewhere.

Chal Meri Jaan, Naamkarann.

Naamkarann also has Kumar Sanu and Anuradha Paudwal teaming up for the duet Dhoop Ka Ek Tukda, composed by Samidh. Its melodious mukhda, the dhol-dholak percussion, and the production are a lovely throwback to the early 1990s Bollywood sound produced by Malik, Nadeem-Shravan and Anand-Milind.

Then, there’s a fantastic soulful version of Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo, sung by Arijit Singh and recreated by Aaryan.

Aaj Jaane Ki Zid Na Karo, Naamkarann.

Besides investing in original soundtracks, serial makers are also roping in marquee Bollywood talent to contribute for the one-off song. Raftaar rapped a bit for a promotional track for the ongoing sitcom Bhabiji Ghar Par Hain! in 2017. Pritam’s music group JAM8 composed a song, O Meri Maa, for a Mother’s Day episode for Bhootu.

The best thing to come out of this trend is that new composers are finding a new launchpad, such as Aaryan through Naamkarann or Nakash Aziz-Sargam Jassu from Kullfi Kumarr Bajewala. The composer trio Superbia, comprising singer Shaan, Gourov Dasgupta and Roshan Balu, are doing decent work in Hindi television serials and web series. Their song Jiya Re from StarPlus’s Dahleez would be an instant chart-buster if it were in a Hindi film soundtrack.

Jiya Re, Dahleez.