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#WYNTK: Bollywood film music

Songwriting icon Amit Trivedi’s snapshot of the Bollywood music landscape


Published: 8 Nov 2019

Time taken : >15mins

#WYNTK: Bollywood music’s changing sounds

Composer Amit Trivedi on his influences, collaborators and the trends to watch

Having emerged in the 1930s in Bombay (present-day Mumbai), Bollywood has become a cornerstone of both Asian and international cinema. A significant part of its appeal and success can be attributed to its soundtracks, which make up a large part of India’s musical landscape, accounting for nearly 50% of the country’s music consumption between 2018-20191.

As Bollywood’s popularity continues to grow, its music continuously evolves as well. Ahead of his debut performance in Singapore at Kalaa Utsavam – Indian Festival of Arts 2019, Amit Trivedi provides us with an insider’s perspective to the music of this quintessential cinematic form. Having exploded onto the scene with his critically acclaimed soundtrack for the 2009 film, Dev.D, the maverick composer has more than a decade’s worth of industry experience, and who better to give us the lowdown on Bollywood music?

A colourful myriad

We churn out everything under the sun.

Amit Trivedi on what makes Bollywood music unique.

Bollywood music is known to be incredibly diverse, drawing inspiration from various genres to create its own unique sound. It has run the gamut, from the jazz-inspired sound of the ’50s to upbeat disco music in the ’70s. Rather than following global trends, however, Trivedi feels that the most important aspect of scoring is to stay true to the world of the film. In his words, “Everything comes from the film, and the world the film belongs to… I enter that world, whatever the film asks, I’ll do it. I will follow the script, whatever genre it is. If I don’t know it, I’ll learn it, study it, and work on it.”

Songwriting giants

When it comes to key players that have changed the game of Bollywood music, two names that will always be cited are R. D. Burman and A.R. Rahman. The former, nicknamed ‘Pancham’, was known for the wide range of influences in his music, namely for his Latin and jazz-inspired melodies. He has also been recognised as one of the first composers to bring rock into the fold of Bollywood music, as exemplified by the cult hit song Dum Maro Dum from Hare Rama Hare Krishna (1971).

A.R. Rahman was also recognised for a similar reason, fusing classical Indian melodies with contemporary sounds from the West and beyond. He has become arguably one of the most recognisable composers beyond Bollywood, especially after the success of Slumdog Millionaire (2009). However, his success precedes the film, with chart-topping tracks from films such as Dil Se (1998), Lagaan (2001) and Guru (2007).

The two composers are also Trivedi’s favourites. “These two men have changed my life. Growing up, there was a lot of music around me, but their music resonated the most with me. It made me think, what is this music that is pulling me and making me so excited?” He goes on to joke how they have “ruined his taste” for other music by setting such high standards. However, among newer composers, Trivedi cites musicians such as Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy among composers whose music he also enjoys.

The trio have had their fair share of hit songs, such as title tracks from the films Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) and Dil Chahta Hai (2001).

Hand in hand

The process of creating music in Bollywood is inherently collaborative. Composing music requires not only a music director, but also a team of lyricists, arrangers, musicians, and singers. In describing the process of composition, Trivedi answers simply that it is a group effort, where everyone comes together in jamming sessions to make good music.

Working with directors and scriptwriters is also incredibly important, with many long-running partnerships between directors and composers. One of Trivedi’s collaborators is producer, scriptwriter and director R. Balki, whom he worked with for the films Pad Man (2018) and Mission Mangal (2019). He describes Balki as “one of the most wonderful human beings”, emphasising on how much he enjoyed working with him. Still, it was not the relationship with Balki alone that led him to compose for the culturally-sensitive Pad Man, based on the life of the social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham, who fought gender-based stigma and criticism to create a low-cost and eco-friendly sanitary pad for women in India.

I really liked the script, what message it was giving out, especially in a country like ours where there are many situations like those in the movie… the story seemed beautiful to me.

Old is new

The advent of the internet and increasing access to it has led to a saturation of music, which only increases year on year as Bollywood continues to grow as an industry. According to Trivedi, one trend he has observed in the last three to four years is ‘remix culture’, where new takes on recognisable older Bollywood songs rule the airwaves. “It’s a way to make a statement, to stand out in a crowded market, to make your presence felt.” This trend has not gone unnoticed, with various media outlets such as Khaleej Times and The Indian Express publishing articles in the last few years addressing this issue. While the trend has its fair share of critics who lament the lack of originality in contemporary Bollywood music, others have said that the trend is not necessarily bad as it brings a new generation of fans to older music and composers.

One example is Dilbar Dilbar from the 1999 hit film Sirf Tum. It was remixed for the film Satyameva Jayate in 2018, and quickly rose to the top of the charts, garnering more than 1 billion views across YouTube.

Original versus Remixed

Constant flux

Bollywood and its music industry have changed so much over the years, with its rich diversity and inherent syncretism. There is no saying whether remix culture will go away anytime soon, or what will take its place if it does. Nobody can truly predict what comes next in Bollywood music and perhaps that is part of its appeal. As Trivedi puts it:

Change by itself is a way of life. Every good thing or bad thing changes, nothing remains constant.


Amit Trivedi

One of the most in-demand music composers in Bollywood, Amit Trivedi has composed for top films such as Dev DLooteraKai Po Che, and Secret Superstar, to name a few. His free-flowing use of Indian folk instruments, sometimes paired with a distinctly Western base of rock and electronica, has continuously broken new grounds in Indian cinema.

Touted as the torchbearer of the new generation of Indian music, Amit has won accolades including the National Award, Film fare, GIMA, Mirchi Music Award and Screen Awards. He was featured in Coke Studio @ Mtv Season 2, 3 and 4, and made waves on the MTV Unplugged in 2017 where he presented twists of his own songs.

What's On

Amit Trivedi Live In Concert

Get ready for a night of Bollywood fever with the acclaimed composer and singer in his Singapore debut!

23 Nov 2019

Esplanade Theatre
$55, $75, $105, $135, $165
Take me there
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