Friday, July 30, 2010

July 30

Sonu Nigam is the answer to a long-standing question of mine: where do the songs in Bollywood films come from? Nigam is what's known in Bollywood circles as a playback artist, the singer of a movie's song that the actor lip-syncs for the film. Contrary to the experience in Western entertainment, it's expected and respected. Here's an example from one of my favorite Bollywood films:

The scene is from "Om Shanti Om", one of my favorite Bollywood films. And though I had figured out it wasn't movie star Shah Rukh Khan singing (else, I'd have read about his magnificent music career, instead of just his magnificent movie career) I didn't know who in the credits sang the songs. Now I know: it can be a different singer for each song.
Sonu Nigam is a second-generation singer, whose star rose after he began appearing on a popular music talent show in his 20's. He's worked extremely hard to reach his level of popularity in India; he's released albums in over a dozen languages (because India's that big, and I'm still wrapping my head around this.)
Here's the real Sonu Nigam, in a music video for one of his songs:

He's trying to launch his own film career (no idea if he sings all the songs in his films) but he's more recognized for his musical talent.

I'm used to Hollywood standards, taking for granted that the actors singing onscreen are generating their own musical voices (Glee, Moulin Rouge, Across the Universe) even if I know they're not generating the songs on-set. The first Western equivalent that comes to mind is Turturro's "Romance and Cigarettes," and the effect was jarring, too obvious (one of many problems with that film.) I've also seen it work (John Waters' "Crybaby" comes to mind.) It's one more string to the illusion, and it can still achieve the desired effect; one character unleashing the song in their heart for the world to hear...)

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