Funny, that I was alerted to this by a rather disparaging post
about the person in question, but I think we may be finally witnessing the emergence of a genuine home-grown Indian "popstar" in the Western sense of the term. To make sense of the point I'm trying to make here, we'll have to step back a bit and assess the history of Indian popular music over the last 4 decades or so. Indian popular cinema has always given pride of place to music
, barring only a few exceptions. In days when dubbing technology was still not very well-developed, Hindi films used a workable compromise to cast actors in movies, those who had charisma, screen presence and acting skills, who also had moderately good voices that would pass muster in popular music. Sometimes someone was a better singer than an actor, a la KL Saigal
, but mostly singing beauties like Kanan Devi
made it a fairly happy compromise.
As sound technology developed in the late 1940s and with it the possibility for playback singing, the connection between on screeen presence and singing ability became increasingly uncoupled. So now, it became possible to have an actor/actress who was good looking and could act well on screen and have their songs dubbed by those whose sole talent was a superb singing voice. And thus, even though divas like Lata Mangeshkar
(and I do mean diva in every sense) started their film careers as singer-actresses, she quickly moved on to become exclusively a playback/dubbing singer, heard universally, rarely seen. This arrangement continued for decades, and as a result in Indian public consciousness, there was a neat demarcation between visual appeal and charisma and a mellifluous voice providing aural pleasure.
Sure there were the Usha Uthups
, dashing live performers with fab voices, but Usha was always at the margins, and never had much mainstream appeal (except in Bengal I guess). And then there was Kishore Kumar
, brilliant singer and immensely entertaining as a live performer, but certainly no one expected him to have charisma (it was a bonus), and the fact that he had such a wonderful singing voice was enough. So of course, when pop music as a genre separate from film scores started in the early 1980s (Nazia Hassan's
Disco Deewane was a pioneer), it was initially fairly hard for the Indian record-buying public to reconcile the dichotomy. One of my uncles loved Nazia and had her LPs (it helped that she was stunningly beautiful), but for a lot of members of my family, Nazia was just not talented enough. "Can she sing like Lata Mangeshkar?" was the constant refrain. Never mind that not everyone needs to be a singer in the Lata mould, technical virtuoso with the charisma of a wet blanket. Nazia was beautiful and could sing passably well. The young adored her, but the older generation still frowned. But Nazia was a flash in the pan and for years Indian pop singers had to struggle with a valuation system that was hypercritical of their singing abilities without taking into account their sex appeal, stage presence, situation in a certain musical idiom etc. Let me tell ya, Bob Dylan could have never, ever made it if he was born Indian.
That perception has been changing in recent years, and if we needed proof that this is the case, it is here
. This is a new reality show meets Pop/American Idol on Indian TV called Fame Gurukul, where a bunch of contestants are made to undergo a random set of training sessions under the tutelage of singer Ila Arun
, and then presented to a live audience to do their thing. They are rated on their performance by a panel of judges as well votes by audience members calling in. The winner of the show gets a recording contract with Sony Music, and of course the publicity and national recognition is good too. The show has been going on for a while now, and I haven't really watched any of the episodes, though I've seen a few video recaps online on the show's website. The curious phenomenon in the show is the case of Qazi Touqeer
, a 19-year old boy from Srinagar, Kashmir with a flamboyant personality and effortless charm. The judges seem to think he's a mediocre singer, and put him in the bottom heap in every single show. But voila! what do you know, the voting audience keeps bringing him back on. This has apparently happened 5 times already, and as I write, I don't know if he's survived on the show or finally voted out.
Obviously the viewers of the show have a very different view of his potential as a "pop star" than the judges. None of the other contestants seem to have the audience appeal that this boy has, and he seems to revel in the spotlight like no other. His clothes, gestures and dancing are all brash and Bollywood, but in conversation he comes across as a genuinely likeable homeboy. Music companies would be foolish to not offer him a record contract, talent or no talent, because rarely have I seen a subcontinental performer strut on stage like he owns the place (I can think of Ali Azmat from Junoon
, and Ali's voice and this boy's voice are at about the same point on a talent scale, don't get me wrong, I love Junoon). Sure he's cheesy, totally enamoured of Bollywood heros and his style is derivative of them, but he is a pop eye candy package in the way someone like Shubha Mudgal
isn't (and I absolutely adore Shubha Mudgal, and would rather listen to her than Qazi anyday). Point is we need a desi Justin Timberlake, an Indian Britney Spears, heck even a subcontinental JLo. We just need to stir things up a bit. And Qazi may just be the answer we are looking for.
Qazi brings a very fresh approach to pop music in India, one where we don't obsess over the technical perfections of the voice, but enjoy the performance as a whole. And he is definitely very easy on the eye, and I can see his appeal with teenage girls. You go boy!