Well, I’m having a rumpled start to the week! Karan sent out an embarrassingly sycophantic tweet this morning, there’s a final warm spell hitting Chicago which is making me not able to sleep, the elevator is broken (again) at work so I have to keep running up and down the really abnormally steep stairs, and my boss gave Dog Hazel some food she shouldn’t eat which wasn’t a big deal except that I had to tell my boss not to do that, which was an awkward upturning of our usual power structure (he’s in charge of me, but I’m in charge of Dog Hazel). Anyway, time for a soothing interesting post with a lot of great things to watch in it.
This is partly inspired by this excellent, clear, thoughtful, and well-made youtube video:
Someone in a comment posted it over a year ago I think, and it was very thought provoking and well made and generally interesting.
But it also it bothered me then, and then it came up again recently and it still bothers me. It’s a very clear and accurate analysis of what is wrong with song sequences in Hindi films today. But what is irritating is that the maker spent so long focusing on the worst of Hindi films and the best of Hollywood (best and only. Hollywood doesn’t do song sequences any more, so be default everything they do is unique, since it is the only one), and ignored the amazingly original and inventive song sequences that have come out of Hindi film in recent years, sequences so well done that you don’t necessarily notice them. And from films that weren’t necessarily big hits, people might only have seen and appreciated these numbers if they were like me, watching every single film.
First, I have to save one of the numbers he picks out as repetative. “Tu Meri” from Bang Bang is hardly unimaginative. Yes it uses quick edits and flashing lights and all the rest of that. But it edits together multiple images and multiple back up dancer groups with one lead dancer (Hrithik) pulling it all together. There is hardly a repeated dance move in the whole thing, this is not lazy choreography. Plus the quick edits are perfectly synched with the beat of the song, they aren’t just there to be lazy, they are to help build the tension.
Moving on the more clearly different songs. The first that springs to mind is “Gallan Goodiyaan” from Dil Dhadakne Do. Almost a single take, filmed using actors not back-up dancers, including lipsynching so they had to be aware of which of them was supposed to be “singing” each line, the camera moving up and down stairs and around obstacles, this is extremely technically challenging, and artistically challenging as each actor had to stay in character the entire time along with performing the steps.
And that wasn’t the only unique song in that movie. There was also “Pehli Baar”, which used just two actor/dancers moving together, and consciously lip-synching (the music was diagetic), and building up their love story over the course of a single song.
So long as we are on Ranveer Singh, let’s look at another of his recent songs, from Befikre, a movie almost no one saw which had one remarkably simple and imaginative song sequence. Lovely simple choreography, and seamless mingling of two images into one frame. Oh, and almost entirely showing the full body, one of his main criticisms, that we can’t see the full dance. Not a problem in this sequence.
And it wasn’t just that one. Along with the usual montage style songs which are pleasant but unremarkable, there is another straight forward dance number, with the camera moving and dancing with the stars. “Nashe Si Chadh Gayi”. This is one the original youtube video picks out as not showing the full body, but that is just in a few edits, the majority of this song is handled at mid-distance, we can see what is happening perfectly well.
I’ve been doing a lot of two person songs with unique camera movement. But that’s not the only kind of innovation Hindi film songs have had in recent years. There’s also, for instance, “Raabta” from the song of the same name. There aren’t many straight nightclub number style songs, this one put together Deepika at the center lipsynching the lyrics with back-up dancers leaping around her, strictly diagetic (have I defined that term? It means music/sound that happens within the plot of the movie, not the background soundtrack of the film), and simple and yet intriguing to watch.
Or how about this? A song all in one large space, with the dancers serving as stage crew, moving furniture and other obstructions back and forth as the camera and lead dancers move through it all. With multiple minor interactions between the leads and the back-up dancers taking place in a way that makes sense with the lyrics. “Bom Diggy Diggy” from Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety.
A recent song that is delightfully imaginative in production, “Dhayaanchaand” which moves from fantastical imaginings of dancers following our heroine, to diagetic reality as the hero sings to her.
A song video that is unique, because it is supposed to be bad! Aamir’s wonderful “Sexy Balliye” from Secret Superstar which simultaneously makes fun of those unimaginative sexy party songs, and the youtube song phenomenon that is trying to challenge them and not always succeeding well.
Something completely different, which consciously avoids obvious visual firewords, the title song from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. I wish I could find a better youtube video, which is perhaps part of the problem, brilliant song sequences are edited down into easily digestible bland little music videos that are the only thing you see unless you watch them in context in the original film. In the original, there is one long close up shot on Ranbir’s face to start, which very slowly moves back in a smooth uncut tracking shot to reveal an entire auditorium with musicians as the song continues. And then, only at the very end, does it start intercutting with his journey around Europe to different performance venues. So basically, watch this and then imagine it far far better.
Another one re-edited for youtube tastes with the magic removed, “Ikk Kudi” from Udta Punjab. In the original, Shahid sings it straight, acapella, in a hospital room with people banging on the door who slowly stop as he keeps singing. And then the film cuts to him riding his bike with the song still playing in his head as he goes to try to do the right thing and help Alia.
Possibly the most original use of song sequences, Mirzya in which the Greek chorus style village of blacksmiths runs and leaps and acts out the emotions of the characters.
And finally, my favorite and I think also the most impressive song sequence in recent years, “Radha” from Jab Harry Met Sejal. The choreographer Vaibhavi Merchant has them dance up and down stars, going from the high terrace to the ground and back and forth. The lyrics dance between the two, mixing a classical Radha hymn with a wild Punjabi folk song until they merge, just as the two dances merge together. And there are no special effects, no fireworks, no back-up dancers, nothing but the two of them. Oh, and it also perfectly captures their individual character journeys and the meaning of the film, all in one song. I must not be the only one who realizes how great this song is, because Sony (thank goodness) posted the entire thing unedited on their youtube. Although, no subtitles. We can’t have everything.
(Perhaps a hidden problem here, music rights and music videos are now owned by music companies in most cases, not the original film company. They are edited down to be advertisements for the music sales, rather than the original artistic vision that existed within the film. In most cases the song available in the original film versus on music channels and youtube has noticeably different visuals and is far shorter)
I know there are others I am not thinking of, let me know if there is something I missed that you think is worthy of inclusion!