Did that sound mean? That sounded kind of mean, didn’t it? Well, I don’t care, I’m seeing Arjit Singh tonight and you aren’t, nah-nah-na-nah-nah (is that how that is spelled?). And so you can be extra jealous, here is a reminder of why Arjit is so cool.
“Modern” Indian playback singers are more and more auto-tuned and pop-sounding. Especially the male singers, suddenly you have Mika Singh and Badshah and Yo Yo Honey Singh. The sweet tenor sound of the 90s is going farther and farther away.
And even more worrisome, not just with singers but with musicians in general, the firm grasp of South Asian classical music is beginning to be lost. Look at someone like Mohit Chauhan, for instance, who taught himself guitar and joined a rock band, and that’s how he ended up getting into playback singing and composing for Hindi movies that wanted a “new” sound.
But Arjit, he’s the real deal! Child of musicians (not professionals, but well-trained amatuers), who started lessons at age 3 with old-school formal teachers for tabla and “Ranindrinath Sangeet” (the specific training built around the 2,000+ songs written by Tagore).
And then he crawled his way into the Hindi industry with no connections. Came in through TV talent shows, starting at 18 (at the encouragement of his traditional teacher, who felt he had learned all he needed and that pop music was his best bet for building a career with his talent). He got noticed through those shows, and started working as an music “programmer” for various composers. Finally, in 2011 when he was only 24, he got his break when one of the composers he was working with, asked him to sing a few songs.
His first song was “Phir Mohabbat” from Murder 2, but the one I find more interesting is “Raabta” from Agent Vinod, because it does a better job of showing what makes him unique. Originally he was just supposed to be one of several singers, brought in to do the complicated classical parts. But just as a test, they had him sing the whole thing. And they realized that in one person, they had found a classical singer, and a pop-singer with that slightly deeper rougher sound that is popular now.
He got a few more jobs after that, mostly with Pritam who he had worked with closely for years and who had first suggested that he try playback singer. But his big break came in 2013 with Aashiqui 2. It was supposed to be a story about a female singer being discovered and a male singer fading away. But in “real life” it ended up being the male singer who was discovered, Arjit’s voice was just shockingly different than any of the other singers working, tender and sensitive, but still classical.
2013 didn’t just give Arjit Aashiqui 2 either. Almost as important, I think, is that he was chosen to be Ranbir’s voice for Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani. He had already worked with him on one song for Barfi, but this was a much bigger commitment. The Kapoor actors have a tradition of being very loyal to one particular playback singer, feeling like they need to find their “voice”. Arjit worked with Ranbir again in Tamasha, and in Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. It really is a perfect fit, the sensitive but damaged, modern but with a classical sense, works just right for both Arjit and Ranbir. And they are young enough that they will both be able to age together, working together for years.
Here’s their first real collaboration:
And Tamasha, see how they have both grown up a little:
And finally, their most important collaberation, where Arjit’s voice had to match Ranbir’s performance just right if the film was even going to make sense.
What makes Arjit really fun to see, right now, is that his career is still so young that he has all these random songs from smaller films. Like, he did the songs for Queen, a movie where the songs were barely noticed since the plot was the main point. But they are really fun!
Sometimes he is brought in for just one song, which can be a little disturbing. His voice is so distinctive, that to have him for just one song creates a bit of “Hey! What happened to his voice!” feeling when you have been watching the same character lipsynch to one of those other interchangeable tenors for the rest of the film. But on the other hand, it makes that one song really stand out! Like “Kashmir Main Tu Kanyakumari” from Chennai Express.
I’m lucky to be seeing him now, because 2016 was the year where his career really took off. He was the playback singer for all of the Dilwale soundtrack right at the end of 2015, and then in 2016, everything he touched turned gold. Even random songs for terrible movies, became massive hits.
Although it is too bad that he might be too big now to be in the smaller movies. Like this film, which I honestly never heard of except that this song popped up on my “Best of Arjit Singh” playlist. Also, hey! Amit Sadh! I should probably check out the whole film:
Mostly thought, I am super excited to hear Arjit sing the Aashiqui 2 songs! Because I am the lowest common denominator and I just want to fangirl out.