Let’s have a little journey into the crazy world of Indian cinema music and the different styles and influences that made it so interesting.
Indian cinema was born at the same time that Hollywood, the early silent movies had mostly religious themes (Mahâbhârata, Indian mythology…). But then, in 1931 with Alam Ara, the first speaking picture of the history of Indian cinema, Bollywood really starts, with its first “star” Zubeida, a princess that discovers her passion for cinema with her mother, the begum Fatima, first woman director. It was such a success that theaters needed special police protection. The different songs of the movie became popular traditional tune that launched the musical industry in India. The main problem of Indian market is its cultural diversity, more than 20 official languages and hundreds of dialects, each one with its special tone and music traditions. How such a country can be united on the same passion?
Indian cinema wasn’t born in one place, but in several. All other the country in every Indian states, Tollywood in Hyderabad for Telugu cinema, Kollywood in Chennaï for Tamul cinema, Bollywood in Mumbay for Hindi cinema or Sandalwood in Karnatka for Kannada cinema, there are many more, each with its own cinema and music industry. The treasure and greatness of Indian cinema is its diversity.
Always ahead of Indian society, the music production always pushes different style during its modern history, following western culture, but always with its own spices. Like in the Europe and America of the 50’s, India felt for crooners, superstar singers that multiplied songs in different movie like Kishore Kumar or Mohamed Raffi, their voice became more famous than most actors and was indivisible from cinema. A new style tried to find its marks on Indian music market, without a big success but notable anyway. Rock’n’Roll was impulsed by the legendary singer Bhoot Bungla, the Indian Elvis.
Influenced by Indian traditional spritual music and the masters of Sitar like Ravi Shankar, the “psychedelic pop” of the late 60’s was born in India. The hippie wave that stroke India at this time was found of this new sounds and deeply changed the pop rock culture of the 70’s, specialy after the trip of the Beatles in an ashram of Rishikesh, where they composed their famous White Album. The most symbolic song of this period in India is Dum Maro Dum, from the movie Hare Rama Hare Krishna, sang by the most famous singer of this time Asha Bhosle. It’s still very popular, often re-sing, and even sample by some rapper like Method Man.
After this “golden age”, it was the Disco time, from the 80’s to the middle of the 90’s. The music became more and more western, showing a modern India on the screen, but keeping its rankness that charms us. The dance took its independence from tradition, to become what we call Bollywood dance, a mixed of modern dance and traditional gestures. The music of the movie industry made the success of the first nightclubs in Delhi and Mumbai. This period strongly influenced the mainstream image of Bollywood all around the world, kitschy and very ebullient, for the best or the worst (I advise you to watch “Disco Dancer” for a good laugh!).
Nowadays, the Bollywood world is crazy about Electro, introduced by A.R. Rahman and his worldwide hit Jai Ho. Autotunes and synthesizers are the new fashionable instruments. Hip hop also made its path in Bollywood, with the growing success of Penjabi rap, the crazy nights of Goa influenced a new Bollywood, losing a bit its famous candor. Indian cinema industry is the biggest in the world with 3,3 billion entries every year, the budgets are getting closer to the Hollywood ones, 3D and modern x effects changing the face of Bollywood, and, of course, musical industry is following the trend.