Actor-Singers: A Dilemma or Fervor?

With Priyanka Chopra’s debut album In My City featuring Will.I.Am hitting the markets, the Indian film industry seems to have come a full circle.

Till the 60’s, we had actors who would represent themselves behind the microphone as well. From Noor Jahen to Suraiyya and from K. L. Saigal (also considered as the first superstar of Bollywood) to Kishore Kumar, these actor-singers were a bagful of talent. They were known through their voice more than their face and all of them were appreciated, if not awarded, for both their skills.

The 70’s brought with itself the concept of playback singers that held its position until the 90’s. For more than the first two decades, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle dominated the music industry along with Kishore Kumar and Mohd. Rafi. They sang across genres and have been at the pinnacle of Indian music at some point. The early 90’s saw this ascendance being broken by Alka Yagnik and Sonu Nigam along with various other playback singers.

The 90s also gave rise to pop culture, and various bands were starting to form. With bands still struggling to gain recognition, most of them got acknowledged at the turn of the millennium. Bands like Euphoria, Silk Route and Indian Ocean had already come up with their albums that were now being listened to across the country. Some of them moved from composing albums of their own to composing for the movies. Very often, the lead vocalist would pitch in to the album.

For more than a decade now, Bollywood has seen some major changes. Actors (whose primary and now sole job is to act) have started turning themselves into singers all over again.

Almost every big star in the film industry has tried his hands (or rather chords!) on the job. With Mr. Perfectionist (Aamir Khan) giving his voice to the hot favourite song of its time, Aati Kya Khandala, King Khan was not far behind and came up with Apun Bola in the year 2000, two years after Aamir.

The Big B of Bollywood, Mr. Bachchan is more of a “been there, done that” kind of guy. He ventured into playback singing in The Great Gambler and Mr. Natwarlal in 1979, followed by Lawaaris, Naseeb, Silsila and Sharaabi in the 80s; Khuda Gawah, Major Saab in the 90s; Aks, Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham, and Baghban in the 2000s, and very recently, Kahaani and Bol Bachchan to name a few.

However, the question is if the Indian audience is willing to accept actor-singers. There have been a few instances in the past where an acclaimed singer has tried his luck in the field of acting and has failed miserably.

Sonu Nigam has acted in movies like Jaani Dushman: Ek Anokhi Kahani, Love in Nepal and Kash Aap Humare Hote, and all the aforementioned movies have been a disaster. The list, however, would not be complete without mentioning the oh-so-handsome Himesh Reshammiya. He has acted in Aap Kaa Surroor – The Real Luv Story, Karzzzz, Radio-Love on air, Kajraare, and Damadamm! so far, and sadly none of them is a commercial hit.

Nevertheless, there is still some hope for an actor-singer. With the 2008 movie Rock On!!, the multi-talented Farhan Akhtar made his debut in the film industry as an actor and a singer.  Prior to this, he had directed Dil Chahta Hai, Lakshya and Don. The songs of the movie spread like wild fire throughout the country before it got released and Akhtar got much approbation for the same.

Priyanka Chopra’s debut album In My City looks promising although she would have done a much better job had she stuck to the genre in which she has taken training (Indian Classical Music) and not gotten carried away by the western influence on Indian culture.

In her attempt to explore different sides of her personality by releasing a music album, former Miss World has opened Pandora’s “Box of troubles “. In the near future, we can expect a lot more such albums that might not do as well as this one.

Kunjika Rawat

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