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Bollywood Composers: Unsung Virtuosos Behind the Spotlight

Although people go to the cinema primarily to ‘watch’ a movie, poor musical scoring can certainly undermine an otherwise epic movie and vice versa. Case in point: Mirzya was praised for exceptional performances especially from its two lead stars, but in terms of the film’s musical score, India West went as far as to say that it was “missing both connectivity and substance.”

There’s no doubt that music has a strong impact on viewers and among a filmmaker’s artistic formulas, music is one of the most potent. When executed correctly, the emotional impact it can have upon the audience may be astounding.

Look no further than classic movies which have equally iconic soundtracks, as it’s how media makers around the world get the response they want from viewers. For instance, the game show ‘Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?’ which was influential in the multi-award winning film Slumdog Millionaire, has music and sounds that evoke suspense to build up intensity for the audience. A.R. Rahman, the film’s musical director applied unpredictable but continuously flowing tunes which have noticeable parallels to the game show’s music. His outstanding scoring for Slumdog Millionaire earned him numerous awards including a Grammy for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album.

A year later, he replicated the method, this time turning to The Terminator franchise as a reference for his musical score on Enthiran, which is widely considered as the Bollywood version of the iconic robot action movie. In fact, even The Terminator himself liked the Bollywood representation and he went to India to collaborate with Enthiran’s lead star for a possible sequel.

That being said, Rahman looked to The Terminator’s music for inspiration which includes high-energy techno and trance tracks to set the mood for its high-octane action as well as futuristic ambience. Melodies from The Terminator created distinct aural characteristics, and the classic sound of these songs have even reached other artistic interpretations of the franchise. For instance, Hope of the Future shared remixes with The Terminator theme as the base, while the entertainment platform Slingo utilised similar background music on the Terminator 2 slots game based on the second installment of the franchise – Terminator 2: Judgement Day, the film where the iconic official theme was heavily popularised. Rahman didn’t venture far from the trend, given that his music for Enthiran is mostly techno and trance in order to effectively pull audiences into the action sequences.

Due in part to the immersive experience, Enthiran became a critical and commercial success, now holding the designation as the third highest grossing South Indian film of all time. This ultimately shows that apart from the visual aspects, filmmakers, TV show creators and game developers rely heavily on the auditory elements created by these virtuosos.

Today, the spotlight is focused on these artists, more particularly on our talented Bollywood composers. Though legends like Naushad Ali, father and son Sachin Dev “S.D.” and Rahul Dev “R.D.” Burman, and Madan Mohan are now playing music in the next life; there are still lots of talented Bollywood composers all around us such as Anu Malik and the aforementiond A.R. Rahman.

In addition, Times of India celebrated with Usha Khanna on her 75th birthday and dubbed her the “most prolific and successful woman music director in the history of Hindi cinema.” During her early years as a composer, the industry was dominated by male musical composers, and the songs for her debut film Dil Deke Dekho were even thought of as the work of someone else.

But then the songs “Maine rakha hai mohabbat” and “Teri nigahon pe mar mar gaye hum” were created with the help of Khanna’s father. Since then, Khanna went on to score for more than 140 films and is still active today.

Another artist is Amit Trivedi who was included as a headliner in the Bollywood Music Project. But when Trivedi’s father passed away a few days before the event, the artist had to back out prompting the duo Vishal–Shekhar to fill the spot upon Trivedi’s request, as explained by Business of Cinema. Here you can see that in a world highly driven by competition such as Bollywood, even two big names can help each other out.

Amit Trivedi and Vishal–Shekhar are all prominent composers, with the former known for his work on films including Wake Up Sid, Udaan and critically acclaimed Dev.D. Similarly, the duo Vishal–Shekhar achieved fame from the movies Bluffmaster, Dus, and Jhankaar Beats.

Two nephews of Anu Malik are also generating buzz as Bollywood artists. Amaal Malik has successfully released his first solo album containing seven songs that were used for M.S. Dhoni – The Untold Story. Malik expressed his dismay on the industry through a social media post, though, stating that he felt as if music directors are taken for granted. Meanwhile, Armaan Malik, the younger brother of Amaal, is on a different path being more of a singer-songwriter. That’s not to say though that he won’t be scoring films sometime in the future like his older relatives.

Everyone listed above represents only a small fraction of Bollywood’s musical talents. During the many sing-dance sequences and emotional moments frequently done in the industry, there’s always a person or a group of people behind the spotlight who created the right auditory atmosphere so that you and other viewers would feel as if you’re part of every scene.

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