How Kannada filmdom is killing Kannada music

KRISHNA PRASAD writes: It’s fashionable for a certain kind of Kannadiga to snigger at popular Kannada films. As if to snook a cock—pardon the turn of phrase—as if to snook a cock at their lot, let me say this: there was something in Prem‘s hit film Jogi which left me waiting in anticipation for the audio of Preeti Yeke Bhoomi-mele Ide (PYBI).

Jogi, of course, was a mammoth musical hit. Guru Kiran‘s janapada-meets-jingalaka tunes were on most lips and shook a whole lot of hips this side of the Vindhyas. So, on Ugadi, when PYBI‘s audio was to be released, yours truly too went from shop to shop asking if the tapes had landed to see what Prem had served up.

They weren’t on the New Year day, even as Mr Rakshitha was sitting in a TV studio explaining the slight delay.

But when they did, a couple of days later, I was plain horrified. For one, there was R.P. Patnaik, who, if you follow his Telugu fare, broadly conforms to the theory that if you have heard one, you have heard them all.

However, the real reason I was pissed off was the star-studded cast of playback singers for the album, all waiting to murder Kannada in our cars and cassette decks.

Song 3: Neenene. Singer: Roop Kumar Rathod, Chitra

Song 4: Baaraiah, baaraiah. Singer: Shankar Mahadevan

Song 5: Chandamama kaige sigade. Singer: Shreya Ghoshal

Song 6: Eeejana eemana. Singer: R.P. Patnaik

Song 7: Chandamama baa. Singer: Shreya Ghoshal

Song 9: O huduga. Singer: Kunal Ganjavala, Chitra

Song 10: Sullu sullu. Singer: Shankar Mahadevan, Kailash Kher.

Prem himself sings two numbers, one of them with C. Ashwath and Kalpana, and there are a couple of local sounding names like Supriya Acharya, Nityashri and Rajesh Krishna dotting the inlay card.

Thank god for small mercies, there is no Udit Narayan. But as the eye runs down the list, the question you are left asking is: where the f-asterisk*-asterisk*-asterisk* are Kannadiga singers?

This is no exercise in frivolous parochialism or linguistic chauvinism, but a legitimate issue of language. And whether our sahithis and buddhijeevis like it or not, it’s not through Kuvempu, Bendre or Karanth that the Siddappa on the street encounters it most but through Guru Kiran, Hamsalekha and Kokila Sadhu.

Sad, yes, but true.

In this vast land of five crore people, did the producers of PYBI (P. Krishnaprasad) and the music composer they employed, find it impossible to find seven Kannadigas to sing seven songs in a movie made by the son of the Mandya soil?

Of course, it is the producer’s prerogative: When audio rights comprise a large portion of the intake, it is safe to load an album with “star names” because it might fetch more than some Ningavva or Narasimharaju.

And of course, it’s an old tradition in Kannada cinema.

For decades, S.P. Balasubramanyam, a Telugu, and S. Janaki, a Malayalee, have hogged our chitrageetegalu. But that was then, when the stars and studios were located in Madras and having them sing was both easy and efficient.

But, now, in this day and age, when music has burst forth all around us? When the studios are located in our midst? When there are concerts, talent contests, antyaksharis dime-a-dozen and the stigma of singing cinema songs is gone if not vanishing?

You might say that if we take this narrow route of Kannada-singers-for-Kannada-songs, we could be asking why we should have Punjabi heroines and so on. But, there is a simple but crucial difference here: playback singers play around with our language; actresses don’t. Songs are played over and over and over again; actresses are, in a manner of speaking, one-shot affairs.

At least because they sung dozens of ditties in movie after Kannada movie, SPB and Janaki attained some level of mastery over nuances of pronunciation. But Kunal Ganjavala, excuse me?

Of course, Prem isn’t the first director to stuff his film with foreign playbacks, so we shouldn’t pile on the poor lad. Even Jogi had a fair few star “outsider” singers. But what does it say of our filmdom—and, boy, do they miss any opportunity to talk of their love for Kannada—that they should treat their language, our language, so casually, with such disdain?

In Jayant Kaikini‘s Ramya Chaitra Kala, Udit Narayan sings ‘Saiyya re saiyya re, sai…’

Why?

“Because the producers wanted it this way.” As simple as that.

It’s not as if this comes cheap. A local voice records it in Bangalore for a piddling thousand rupees (which may or may not come), and the star-singer in Bombay then lends his voice for Rs 50,000 or more after the producer camps outside his house with buckets full of dough for a week.

In the recent hit Mungaru Maley, Mano Murthy (California) has a horde of singers from Bombay singing. The accent is OK, as the film critic S. Shiva Kumar noted in an article in the “Friday Review” supplement of The Hindu on March 30, but is there a paucity of singers here?

Mano Murthy’s response:

“First of all there’s nothing wrong with local singers. I’ve used them. It just depends on the requirements from the production side. Also, look at it this way. It adds variety. Unfortunately, there are only a handful of good, local singers. It gets monotonous. People want to listen to different voices. It also helps in creating awareness about Kannada albums elsewhere.

“When I went to Bombay recently I found that people had heard this album and were curious about the film. Some had watched the film too. I think cross-pollination is good in any field. We import actors and directors so what’s wrong with singers? Bombay does it too. Aishwarya Rai‘s from here, and Shankar Mahadevan is from Tamil Nadu. Mungaru Maley wasn’t designed to have so many singers from Bombay. It just happened.”

(To nit-pick a bit, Aishwarya is from Mangalore, and Shankar Mahadevan was born and brought up in Bombay. So there.)

Of course, a new voice is good, variety is good. But how many, how much?

Does Mano Murthy seriously believe there are only a handful of local singers who are good? If you do not give the chance, will new singers emerge? So, who are we kidding about cross-pollination which is actually a fancy name for inviting the overexposed marauders to murder your language at the altar of commerce?

If cross-pollination is so good why hasn’t Bombay imported B. Jayashree? M.D. Pallavi? Hemanth? Ashwath?

Thanks to Jogi, Guru Kiran is in some demand in Telugu cinema. He recently got to do the Balakrishna starrer, Maharathi. If cross-pollination is so good, guess how many Kannada singers the Kannada composer use in the Telugu film? Keep guessing.

In some ways, this is a post-A.R. Rehman phenomenon, who mercifully broke the SPB-Janaki duopoly with Hariharan in Roja. But, what we are now seeing in South Indian cinema in general and Kannada cinema in particular, is viral variety for variety’s sake, language be damned.

In an interview with idlebrain a couple of years ago, R.P. Patnaik who has scored the music for Prem’s PYBI, was asked for his thoughts on some of these questions.

Are you preferring Telugu singers to other ‘other-language’ singers?

My opinion is that all the singers in my [Telugu] films must be of Telugu origin. But there is obligation from the director and producers to put ‘non-Telugu singers’ as they command good price in the audio rights sale. Producers feel that ‘non-Telugu film singers’ increase the range of audio sales. But I feel that if the songs were good, everybody would like them.

Did you use only Telugu singers for ‘Nuvve-Nenu‘?

Except for KK, all other singers are Telugu people. Actually I tried singing the song Neekosame…. Everybody liked my voice for that song. But I was not convinced. That song needs a voice that has lot of tragedy-oriented emotion. And KK has it in abundance. My voice is soft and soothing. But there is no panic in my voice. I sing the first track for all the songs in my films. After singing, according to the mood of the song, I decide upon the singer. If I am convinced that I have done 100% justice to any songs, I would retain that particular song, as getting other singers to sing the same means spending more money.

Why not Udit Narayan?

I think Udit Narayan’s voice is over exposed. I do make sure that all my songs are 100% Telugu. I exhibit a lot of patience to get what I want from the singers… Busy ‘non-Telugu’ singers’ like Udit Narayan don’t have so much time to concentrate on Telugu pronunciation… I tried Shaan for a song in Manasantha Nuvve. There is one word ‘Vellaavani‘ (gone) for which he repeatedly sung ‘Vellavani‘ (not going). I tried many times to correct the mistake. But he could not see any difference between these two words. I have replaced him with another singer.

Lyrics are an important aspect in any song’s success. Lots of music directors feel that if the music is good, the songs would become hit. When a music lover hums a song, he would be humming the lyrics, not the music. Hence pronouncing the lyrics correctly help in popularizing the song.

If Patnaik could have these views for Telugu cinema and Telugu songs, why doesn’t he have them for Kannada cinema and Kannada songs?

Or do Kannada movie makers lack the self-esteem, the pride for their language, to demand the same sauce? In an inverted sort of way, was the bard right when he said that the fault lies not in us but in our stars—and star-directors and star-producers?