Bollywood Rehashing Music: Bankruptcy of Ideas or Clever Commerce?
Jacqueline Fernandez will be seen dancing on the rehashed version of Madhuri Dixit’s <i>Ek Do Teen</i> in <i>Baaghi 2</i>.&nbsp;
Jacqueline Fernandez will be seen dancing on the rehashed version of Madhuri Dixit’s Ek Do Teen in Baaghi 2(Photo: Arnica Kala/The Quint)

Bollywood Rehashing Music: Bankruptcy of Ideas or Clever Commerce?

It seems like the trend of rehashing old classics is here to stay in Bollywood with Jacqueline Fernandez being the latest entrant in the club. Crooning to dancing diva Madhuri Dixit’s very popular Ek Do Teen, Jacqueline is set to capture public imagination (or not).

The makers of Baaghi 2 released the track on Monday with the new rendition opening to mixed reactions. While some people showered praises on Jacqueline for setting the stage on fire with her sultry dance moves and perfectly chiseled body, others were left totally unimpressed.

This isn’t the first time an old classic has been revamped to cater to contemporary audiences and, going by the looks of it, certainly not the last one. But the trend sure merits a deeper engagement. With the viewers divided, the impending question then is whether the rehashing and remixing of old songs points towards an absolute bankruptcy of creativity or is it just smart commerce?

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Turning Classics to Chartbusters: A Mega Marketing Tool

In the time and age of 100-crore films, makers are under immense pressure to make a product that appeals to the masses. Music, in this case, becomes a vehicle to tap into the audiences’ consciousness and create a buzz around the movie much before its release. And what better than exploiting nostalgia? For instance, being a Madhuri fan, the teaser of Jacqueline’s Ek Do Teen piqued my curiosity so much so that I was waiting to see what the makers have in store.

And it’s not just the small-budget films with lesser known actors that is taking refuge in this viral trend. If you have a Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety rehashing the very popular Tote Tote Ho Gaya, you also have superstar Shah Rukh Khan starrer Raees featuring Sunny Leone in a repurposed version of Laila O Laila.

Refurbished songs, like instant noodles, may not be healthy but still remain hugely popular.

Besides, they offer guaranteed success as opposed to a new composition which may or may not appeal to the masses. Legally too, it is a fairly convenient and profitable prospect.

The Rise of The Promotional Track

The rehashes of old melodies have become apt promotional tools for the makers in the recent years. They bank on these songs to generate publicity for their film. The aim is to get these songs at the top of the chart beat. And as long as they fulfill this utility, the makers are not complaining. Welcome to the new world of strategic filmmaking.

A careful look at the packaging of these songs on mediums such as YouTube would tell you how the market forces define the music industry. The makers are chasing the validation high with the number of views plastered on the song’s thumbnail.

More often than not, these songs do little to take the narrative forward. Sometimes they don’t even find a place in the film but only come to life once the end credits roll. Even if they do find a place, they are little more than misplaced props. Their only purpose is to draw crowds to the theaters. This is in sharp contrast to the music scene in the 1980s and 90s where the songs aided the narrative. A good example of this would be Madhuri Dixit’s Ek Do Teen – Mohini is a dancer who is forced into the profession by an alcoholic father in Tezaab. The setting, the mood and the vibe of the song, at once, feel intertwined with the larger narrative of the movie.

Novelty Be Damned!

What makes a refurbished song?

Take an old song, a fairly popular number if possible, play with the beats to make it racy, sprinkle some Punjabi lyrics, introduce a rap, tweak a few lyrics to make it palatable to the masses. The cherry on top would be a sexy siren clad in skimpy clothes dancing on it.

Such is the case with 90 percent of remixed songs that we are continuously being served by music producers of late. The absolute bankruptcy of ideas in even refurbishing a song cannot be overlooked. A monotony has set its wings in our music industry with makers going the tried and tested way. Pick any song from Humma Humma to Tu Cheez Badi Hai Mast and you’ll know what I am talking about.

What is even more disheartening is to see some very novel music being clouded under the shadows of these refurbished and rehashed songs. In fact, we have seen some exceptional music being created in the recent years with albums such as Lootera, Haider, Bajirao Mastani, Rangoon, Udta Punjab and Fitoor coming to mind almost instantaneously. The music of Dangal, for instance, appealed to the viewer because of the high situational value of all its tracks. Would it have worked if some rehashed song was inserted randomly in the narrative? 

Purism vs Populism

The jury stands divided on the trend of rehashing old melodies. On one side of the spectrum is the new age audience which enjoys rehashed version of old melodies. What works for them perhaps is the packaging of the remixes – the music is addictive and foot-tapping in most cases, the lyrics are catchy and relatable and star power is at its peak. Some of the people who enjoy this barrage of remixes have never been exposed to the old songs. For them, the rehashed song becomes a means to connect to the music of bygone era.

Speaking to The Quint, Sneha* defended Jacqueline’s Ek Do Teen in Baaghi 2, saying,

For me, it is a perfect party number – peppy tune, catchy lyrics, high on energy and some incredible dance moves. Why do we even need to compare it to the original? As long as we are having fun, what’s the harm?

But comparisons are inevitable especially when you have someone like a Madhuri Dixit in the original track. Her playfulness, grace and inimitable expressions are impossible to recreate. In fact, the signature look of the song – side ponytail, colourful skirt – remains etched in our memories till date. The song and the film catapulted her to highest echelons of fame. The song itself, over the years, got escalated to a cult status. We remember the song for its magnetism and not the oomph factor as is the case with the rehashed Ek Do Teen.

The picturisation of the song screams objectification and despite retaining the signature step, the choreography falls miles short of recreating the original magic. What is it if it’s not contaminating the essence of the original?

Actresses who step into the shoes of their yesteryear counterparts, from Vidya Balan in the Hawa Hawai remake to Jacqueline in Ek Do Teen, have time and again called these remixes a tribute to the original. But the treatment sometimes makes me wonder if classics are best left untouched.

Some music directors share the same sentiment. A report published by The Indian Express, quotes music director Amit Trivedi calling the trend “sad and that he doesn’t enjoy revisiting someone else’s vision”. He was quick to add that the pressure to do remixes comes from the producers in most cases,

It’s the producers and the labels’ pressure that we are catering to. Because we are part of that (the system), we have to do that job. This question, you should all ask them – why are they doing it, trust me.

One really can’t blame the music directors as they are catering to the demand of the producers who in turn are guided by the demands of a capitalist market. Not succumbing to the demands of the makers means missing out on opportunities. Who would want that in a market that is brimming with talent?

Whichever side of the spectrum you occupy, one thing is clear – that nostalgia economy has reached its zenith in the Hindi film industry. Going forward it would be heartening to see the makers take a break from this rehash culture and warm up to the idea of experimentation, innovation and fusion in creating music.

New digital platforms are emerging and audiences are more welcoming than ever before. Wouldn’t it be interesting to create a new syntax of music production instead of wrapping old songs in a new package?

(*name changed on request)

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