Neither does the precedence of actors over singers in the Hindi film industry make eminent artistic sense nor is the nuisance value of some of these hams in the national interest; insulting artistes is not good commerce either

The news of actor Salman Khan replacing a song of Arijit Singh by one of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan comes as no surprise from the lopsided world of the Hindi film industry. It has, for decades, valued actors at the expense of other artistes who contribute no less to the value of a film. The issue is hardly about a much-publicised tiff between the actor and the singer some years ago over the choice of outfits by the latter at an otherwise forgettable event. One may recall that Singh had apologised profusely for his ‘shabby’ get-up on Facebook, following the incident, and pleaded with Khan to reconsider his voice for the film Sultan that was yet to release in 2016. One might have noticed the servility betrayed by the behaviour of composers and singers alike at a reality show on any entertainment channel on television when a ‘star’ turns up on the occasion. Of course, there is market economics at play here; actors have traditionally set the cash registers ringing, but then, it’s not an absolute rule. Mohammed Rafi, Mukesh, Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle have been heard for decades when most of the actors who lip-synced with their numbers have disappeared in oblivion. That, under the copyright regime amended some years ago, means these legends continue to generate money. The less-than-a-century old Hindi cinema industry has also got, in its history, instances where titans have fallen when the voice the audience related to vanished from the actors’ throats. The most famous example is the fall of Amitabh Bachchan from his iconic status after Kishore Kumar stopped singing for him. Reportedly, differences had cropped up between them over the sharing of a stage, as each thought the other would steal the show. And then, the singer succumbed to cardiac arrest in October 1987. After the demise of the baritone from Khandwa, no Shabbir Kumar, Mohammed Aziz or Sudesh Bhonsle could make movie-goers relive moments like “Aaye tum yaad mujhe”, “Rimjhim gire saawan”, “O saathi re” or “Log kahte hain main sharaabi hoon” emanating from a brooding Big B.

The other aspect of this humiliating ouster of Singh — the most sensational discovery in playback singing in the recent times — is the Khans’ fascination for Pakistani singers. They almost make it appear India has a dearth of talents. For more than a decade now, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’s cousin has been making a killing working out of Mumbai. Beyond nationalism, the music directors’ choice also puts to question their sense of the genres of music. Rahat’s voice is imposed on situations that do not befit a singer suited for Sufi numbers and qawwalis. Furthermore, for all the impeccability of training of this generation’s artistes, they have a peculiar fixation with the high pitch. This has stripped Hindi film music of variety while turning the ditties tailor-made for the Pakistanis who, going by their monotone it seems, are comfortable only with the hooty falsetto register. Finally, with the range from Raj Kapoor to Yash Chopra gone and Subhash Gai forgotten, curtains have fallen on the dominance of studios. The defiance of the international norm in the industry has made some of the actors in India so much larger than life that they have, for the past few years, started dabbling in political commentary, enhancing their nuisance value. It is in the national interest that the film industry cuts the former and present courtiers at the durbar of gangster-terrorist Dawood Ibrahim to size.