Saturday, November 03, 2012

The aflatoon return of Himesh Reshammiya

Jai Matadi Let's Rock! My super talented gujju brother Himesh Reshammiya put out five phaadu albums this year and made a dhuwadaar comeback in Bollywood. It couldn't have come at a better time.

Let's do a blistering fast review of Himesh's career - fasten your seatbelts!

Himesh started his Bollywood career as a Friend of Salman (seriously, this is an actual title given to people in Bollywood). Enjoying his friend's patronage, Himesh steadily built a reputation as a second tier, talented music composer. He did solid work on Yeh Hai Jalwa and Humraaz, He gave notice of his diversity with the soulful music of Tere Naam. In 2004, a movie called Aitraaz became a smash and launched the career of Priyanka Chopra. Himesh's music - inclusive of a song called I Wanna Make Love to You that raised the hackles of conservatives everywhere - achieved super-hit status and went mainstream. A trailblazing career was born.

Around this time a number of people stumbled on the secret to making money in the movie business. It wasn't about how much cash you pulled in at the box office (or how many starlets were draped around you), it was about how much money you made at the box office less how much you spent making the movie. The focus shifted to making cheaper films with smaller stars and target demographics i.e. the burgeoning youth market in India. The B movie factory was born. New stars who could work fast and cheap were in demand. All kinds of scripts got the green light. Comely dancers shimmied in item numbers and raked in cash. Composers who could crank out songs got a lot of work.

This turned out to be the ramp that Himesh launched his boat on. He was nothing if not prolific. Between the years of 2004 and 2007, Himesh composed songs for 45 films! That is an average of over 11 movies a year...almost ONE MOVIE A MONTH! During this time Himesh rode a wave that catered to the changing tastes of filmi audiences - the movies were theme driven, shorter and with better production values but still retained traditional trappings like music and dance.

In 2005, Himesh did something that drove significant changes in his career arc. He sang the title song of the movie Aashiq Banaya Aapne. Still regarded by many as Himesh's definitive song, it took everyone by surprise. It was sufi, it was whiney and it sounded great over dance beats and a harmonium alike. A lot of movie promos were still based on music videos and with not a lot of stars around, Himesh managed to appear in the video promo. The image of a baseball cap clad Himesh singing with a raised microphone became iconic. Buoyed by the encouragement, Himesh increased his vocal workload, often snagging the best tunes in his song list.

After peaking in 2006 with this tactic, there was a backlash. People starting deriding Himesh's voice and by implication, his music (two separate and distinct entities if you ask me). Some of this was because Himesh's voice was everywhere and it was very distinctive. Some of it was because of Himesh's personality - driven, ambitious, passionate and quick to take slight. A lot of this was on display in music competition shows on TV like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Music Ka Maha Muqabla in which Himesh entertained us all with a ton of tacky jhagdas but shone a less than flattering light on his personality.

Everyone wondered why Himesh hadn't taken his cap off in public for years prompting hilarious rumors of a receding hairline. Himesh added fuel to fire when he discarded his baseball cap - only to replace it with a monkey cap. He entertained us by making 'secret" appearances in hijabs and showed up in the papers with his mug peering from under a burkha. People took pleasure in pointing out that Himesh was loved by rickshawallas - a classist put down.

Himesh responded to the hubbub by closing ranks. He announced his plans to become a Bollywood actor. This caused more derision but to his credit our man stuck to his plan and soon released his first movie - Aap Kaa Surroor. Nothing wrong with that (other than that ridiculous "Japanese" wig perched on his head). Pointedly to cock a snook at his critics, Himesh put in a tribute to rickshawallas in his movie - delicious! But he made a mistake here that would prove fatal to his rise as a composer - he sang all of the songs of the movie! Unfortunately (and this is purely my opinion), Himesh's debut movie was a hit. Soon, Himesh was only providing music in films he acted in. And when he did that, guess who his favorite singer was? Yep, HIMSELF!

This messed up Himesh considerably. Because the beauty of a lot of his compositions was lost within the limitations of his voice. His musical output  slowed down because he acted in very few movies. In 2008 when Karzzz had people snoring in theaters, the reality of all of this seemed to have hit home. He acted in a few more flops - in which he did all the male vocals for the songs. Hardly anyone heard them. His career was almost at a screeching halt.

Somewhere, being the canny businessman that he is, Himesh must have self-corrected this disastrous path. He opened the door and allowed other singers to sing some of his songs. A few at first, but then more. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes, but admitting them and correcting them is noteworthy. I am happy to say that the new Himesh strategy has paid off! My man released blockbuster albums this year and at least one of them was among his best work.

What does Himesh 3.0 sound like? The gorgeous compositions are still there - Himesh's songs have always been beautiful. But because vocals are handled by a variety of talented artistes, the beauty of his compositions are fully realized. Himesh still has great range - he goes from EDM to Hindustani with facility. Sometimes he'll insert a musical joke or tribute in his songs. Most engagingly he tends to offer occasional surprises in his composition - a quality that I find very appealing in his music. I think Himesh is still relevant as a leading composer.

What are some of the issues that still linger in Himesh's music? For one, his flagship songs tend to follow a structure that is a bit old fashioned. There will be some vocals, then a leading melody in alto notes on a single instrument. Then more vocals. And Himesh will time slice vocals with this melody, thus making the whole thing feel linear and fuddy duddy. Himesh also hasn't changed his EDM style in years. His go-to style is House, which I'll admit is pretty broad, but its always structured as a Rave. It wouldn't hurt to explore something cool like Kwaito or dubstep (see this excellent song from Vishal-Shekhar for example) just to mix it up. Often Himesh will build on his song progressively - a few words, then repeated, then more words - he also does this with his music programming. Its part of his signature style and I really like it, but it would be great if he was sparing with it.

Anyway, enough Himesh! Let's talk about Himesh's awesome work in 2012! And because my brother Himeshbhai's work can only be GREAT, VERY GREAT or MINED-BLOING, I will rate his CDs accordingly.

Khiladi 786
This is Akshay Kumar's attempt to remake every Rajnikanth movie and call it his franchise. The songs of Khiladi are playful - in an awesone song called Lonely which features a confounding rap by someone called Yo Yo Honey Singh, Himesh sings in an Extreme Himesh Nasal Voice. Akshay pays tribute by holding down one nostril and singing into an upturned mic.

Bol Bachchan
Rohit Shetty's blockbuster comedy (we are all still scratching our heads over that one) has Himesh sharing the songs with Ajay-Atul and finds him at his catchy best. There is high voltage jhatka entertainment (the title song), tacky comedy (Chalao Na Naino Se) and sweet romance (Jab Se Dekhi Hai).

Oh My God!
Himesh composes a classic lezim potboiler - Go Go Govinda - establishing a flourishing partnership with Mika Singh. Then he skillfully weaves in a tribute to Dum Maaro Dum and sings in his fake phoren accent on the hook heavy Don't Worry (Hey Ram)

Son of Sardar
Controversially brought in to compose the songs of the Ajay Devgn Diwali tentpole at the expense of Sajid Wajid, Himesh makes the most of the opportunity. Using traditional instruments and that time sliced song structure we talked about earlier, Himesh cranks out the following standouts: Rani Tu Mein Raja, Po Po and Tu Kamaal Di Kudi.

Dangerous Ishq
Easily among Himesh's best and one of the best CDs of the year, Dangerous Ishq is full of terrific compositions that shine despite sometimes limited programming. (Too bad that movie was such a stinker!) Himesh sings the drop dead gorgeous Naina Re with Shreya Ghoshal. On Umeed Hai, he mismatches vocal and musical melodies over a driving dance beat and qawaali breakouts to create something different and super interesting.


Mind Rush said...

Mind Rush reading your blog and appreciating and saying: "Jai mata di, kya mined-bloing blog post hai, Drift saab!

And I nominate Himesh for Rickshawalla Choice Awards for Best Self-loving Singer for 2012! Jai mata di!!

Ritu said...

So you like Himesh! And you don't. Awesome!

Radhika said...

Aspi 3.0 takes off when Himess3.0 jumps ahead! coincidence? I think not. Rab ne bana di jodi hamari entartainmant ke liye:)welcome back Aspi..and great captions as usual

_wink_ said...

this is a really good profile of himesh reshammiya plus good look at music style etc. i wish that he will become no. 1 again and give us great music.

Bappida said...

Himesh ka low notes bahoot super hey. Lekin uski bhikhari type awaaj woh ekdum gundaa hey. Maine disco invent kiya uska phaida uthake mera music copy kar ke woh popular ho gayi hey.

Sidekick said...

When Himesh is prolific can Aspi be far behind? ;)

Thanks Apsi for the review. Haven't followed Himesh in a good long while, so I have to catch up based on your reccos. Apart from restricting access by scoring music only for his films, surely Himesh's image is hit hard by disappearing from SRGMP and public view?

I've been watching some of the epis this season and SRGMP seems to have a very definite shift in style from the last time I watched. Sorry to hijack your post Drift saab, but still waiting on a SRGMP review :D