Sonakshi Sinha may not perform with Justin Bieber, but Bollywood's limelight-hogging is an issue
It is our obsession for this celebrity/VIP culture that has brought us to this stage. Where a name or a brand is expected to command an audience, not talent. Where the promoters of talent still believe that it needs Bollywood to bail out all other events.
“A secure artist would always encourage another artist to grow their skills and follow their dreams. Art in any form should not be suppressed.”
Sonakshi Sinha, actor-singer and Bollywood’s latest offering to the world of music, recently schooled young singer Armaan Malik on Twitter on how artistes must encourage each other instead of being a case of sour grapes, as Bollywood actors go about getting plum singing assignments.
Obviously, any counterpoint stems from insecurity, be it from Kailash Kher or even a rookie like Armaan Malik. Sonakshi was not opening for major Indian draws like Arijit Singh, Honey Singh, Mika or Shaan. She was getting a platform to perform ahead of Justin Bieber on 10 May, only one of the world’s best-selling music artists, who has sold an estimated 100 million records.
In the time since, Sonakshi has said that she is not, in fact, opening for Bieber. "I am an actor who also loves music, loves to perform and sing. And if anyone has a problem with that, in the wise words of Bieber himself, they can go 'love' themselves," she added, on Twitter.
On her part, Sona has sung a slew of soulful songs from her films, many of them duets with audio processing software. The latest number is from the newly-released Noor that opened four days ago. Secure in the knowledge that auto-tune and Bollywood’s overzealous PR machinery can make any actor a stadium-worthy singer, Sona is talking equal opportunities in a world where Bollywood actors are showstoppers at fashion weeks, where cricketers both Indian and international have to shake a leg to Bollywood tunes lest they be caught before, and where a Farhan Akhtar — Bollywood actor and director of repute for his craft — makes it to the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for the richness of his raspy vocals.
Honestly, these musicians must really stop complaining so much about how Bollywood is hogging their turf. Ask the supermodels whose runways are hijacked often by vertically-challenged svelte actresses in a profession where one’s height is a basic criterion. Ask the cricketers who have to endure the humiliation of draping a mundu and doing the lungi dance.
For Bollywood, every platform that is widely watched is an opportunity. TV shows with massive visibility like Taarak Mehta Ka Ooltah Chashmah or Koffee with Karan, have been the breeding ground for pre-release appearances of actors. In this light, to cry foul over Bollywood’s omnipresence seems like such a futile effort.
Even Ganpati and Durga idols have to jostle for space with Bollywood devotees who make sure to inform the media well in advance of the pandals they’ll be visiting. It is Bollywood songs that play during Ganpati processions most often than devotional music with pumped up bass. 'Munni Badnaam Hui, hey bhagwan, tere liye'. So if God isn’t complaining, who are these mere mortal singers to raise a ruckus?
John Lennon: The Beatles are more popular than Jesus.
Bollywood: Hold my drink.
Bollywood is to entertainment, lifestyle, arts and culture, and basically life in India, what Sachin Tendulkar has been to the world outside of cricket: An iconoclastic Parliamentarian who championed for major reforms within Indian sports, a winner of the highest civilian honour ahead of a host of luminaries who were pathbreaking in the truest sense, brand endorser par excellence still known for memorable lines like “Aila, plane”, and a willing taxpayer for gifted Ferraris.
Sure, the crossover between professions is what makes things so dynamic. Bollywood has had its fair share of model influx, with some of the most exciting item songs being given to pretty faces with no acting or dancing chops. Nobody remembers the movie, everyone remembers Yana Gupta riding a bull while telling a Babuji to go slow. Pageant winners joining Bollywood after espousing world peace is a necessary rite of passage. Cricketers too have dabbled with acting, none with the success rate of say a Salil Ankola, on television though. A lot of it originates from being popular in one field, almost nepotistically giving them free access to an alternate field of their choice. Sorry Bollywood, and those who fought like Sonakshi Sinha through failed auditions and rampant rejection, to make a name for herself. Nepotism is a real thing. Ask Ananya Birla. The daughter of industrialist and philanthropist Kumarmangalam Birla, Ananya made her singing debut one week before she performed at the Global Citizen Festival, popularly called the “Coldplay concert and other unmentionables”.
Let’s, however, not overanalyse this phenomenon and dignify it by giving reasons as lofty as nepotism, or talent in another field or even mass popularity. Event organisers and marketing-PR mavens are together in this situation where actors — and not immensely talented professional singers — are given singing opportunities at major platforms. A lot of the actors who get to perform are not major award-winning actors either. They’re pretty faces with some semblance of holding a note, and who’ll look good while gyrating on stage. Who cares how they sing live? This is a country where Remo Fernandes played bass along with Queen’s Roger Taylor on drums while Led Zeppelin’s Robert Plant and Jimmy Page lip-synced in India in 1995.
It was never about the singing or the A-list popularity. It’s about who can rock a bustier or garter while holding a mic. Sure we have some immensely talented singers who can look absolutely ravishing on stage, but are they popular enough outside of BlueFrog to bring in people for their performance?
Shraddha Kapoor was one of the many weird choices for the Global Citizen Festival. She is actually quite a talented singer with a lineage that links to the Mangeshkar family. She even managed to hold her own while touring for Rock On 2 while Farhan Akhtar frayed our last auditory nerve. But why was she selected over genuine professional singers for an event that is inherently about the music? Why do the Sonas and the Shraddhas get a chance to sing at major events that usually have no problems in drawing their own audiences? Is it because Shraddha could counter the adverse impact of Farhan’s vocals depleting the ozone layer or is it because Sona apparently has star power enough to drag South Mumbai listeners to DY Patil Stadium in Nerul (where Bieber's concert is scheduled)?
It’s not like people are averse to Bollywood stars dabbling with music, dance or art. Even major stars who shoot black bucks, run over pavement-dwellers and beat up their girlfriends have a fan following that laps up their every artistic stroke and humane marketing strategies. It is when they are given a platform to perform in a field that is outside of their own, trumping the chances of more talented and befitting candidates that this rankles even more.
It is our obsession for this celebrity/VIP culture that has brought us to this stage. Where a name or a brand is expected to command an audience, not talent. Where the promoters of talent still believe that it needs Bollywood to bail out all other events. Where Katrina Kaif dancing at a sporting event gets louder whistles than Usha Uthup with a booming stadium-esque voice covering Freddie Mercury at a similar event.
You would never find these actors dabbling with theatre. Not because theatre might not give them the same level of publicity or that it is still acting after all. But as actors, should they be underwhelming on stage, audiences would be hardly forgiving of that irony. It would expose them for who they really are: Talent-bereft marketing pawns, inhabiting an inherited industry while decisively encroaching on others’ turfs. That calls for some gall.
To quote some of Sonakshi’s most prolific songs, “Aaj mood ishqholic irk-aholic hai”.
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