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Bollywood serves nostalgia with remixes, but for how long?

The trend of rebooting songs is reaching a plateau, signalling either a lack of creativity or a marketing ploy


As many other South Asian children from the diaspora, I had a love/hate relationship with Bollywood whilst growing up. On one hand, I was desperately trying to fit in with my white American friends and on the other hand, I would go to the movies with my parents every Sunday to catch the latest Hindi film. I loved the grandiosity of the stories, the glamorous costumes, and the fact that it reminded me a little bit of home. Most of all, I remember devouring every song to look out for the different scenery, choreography, and costume change. 

So when Bollywood, in the mid 2000s, started remixing songs, I thought that I could finally show my friends some loved tunes that were possibly more palatable for them to digest. The erratic thuds, inclusion of rap verses, and consistent beats seemed to emulate the music that my classmates chose to consume. From Yeh mera Dil (2006) to Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008) and even Dhanno (2010), I thought that I could finally share my love for Bollywood with my non South Asian friends. The remixes also allowed me to reminisce with my parents who loved the original songs and now had an excuse to play them loudly in our house as a way to rehash their youth. But then, remixing became a trend, more so to showcase contemporary lead actors in high budget music videos.

Cut to mid to late 2010s and it started to seem like remixed music found a place in every new film album. The Humma Song from 'Ok Jaanu' (2017) was an instance where the song helped promote the film. A.R. Rahman even remarked in an interview that it was the only remixed song he was happy to support. There were 30 remixed songs of old classics in  2017 alone.  In 2018, we saw Karan Johar make a cameo in Aankh Marey for 'Simmba', which he co-produced, and proclaimed “Oh god, one more remix!” before leaving the screen for Ranveer Singh and Sara Ali Khan to dance to repackaged nostalgic tunes with contemporary costume and set design. 

In fact, Karan Johar’s 'Student of the Year' (2012) presented The Disco Song. The remix was placed in every marketing clip for the launchpad film of three newcomers. It was perhaps an early example of a well-packaged and well-marketed video utilizing the hookline of a beloved song from yesteryears with new singers, verses, and style. Watching three young actors dance away to an iconic line such as Disco Deewane in a film about high school students would appeal not only to the millennials but their parents as well to relive their high school years.

 

It seems like re-tooling versions of older songs may be a way to pull the nostalgic chords of audience members from earlier generations while also catering to newer audiences who are more appreciative of techno beats. The newer techno beats are accompanied with a visual component in the form of music videos with large budgets to hire the top contemporary actors to dance to the backdrop of beautiful sets. So, does it also hint at a drain of creativity in music? Masakali from Delhi-6 (2009) received a revival called Masakali 2.0 in the form of a music video featuring Sidharth Malhotra and Tara Sutaria in 2020. The song was intended to be part of a film soundtrack but was released as an independent song instead. The accompanying music video, dance sequence, and glittery display of the main leads received over 15 million views within 24 hours of being released on YouTube release.

Would re-creating Masakali only a mere 11 years after the original count as drawing on nostalgia? Or would it suggest a surefire way of acquiring the views and audience engagement on digital media? While the music was heavily criticized, it still inspired countless number of memes and tweets. The advent of digital media, such as Twitter, and Instagram, have made it much easier for audience members to voice their support, or concern in this case, but at the end of it all -- the remixed music still was able to garner the engagement it desired. This suggests that quality may not be prioritized but rather the ability to gain a reaction from audiences. Just like publicity, reaction, good or bad, is a good reaction.        

After Masakali 2.0 was released, A.R. Rahman shared a tweet that said:

Sidharth Malhotra also stated how he understood the flak that the song, and music video, was receiving stating that “I don't think the audience has the patience now or they are not excited by that we are not really creating new melodies. So as an audience, as a listener, I completely agree. Actors also get far more excited with a brand new song.” The actor, who has done remixes like Kaala Chashma and Kar Gayi Chull, is still reaping the benefits from over 15 million views on YouTube.

Social media is a breeding ground. It is a platform where audiences can share their frustrations and air their concerns, and potentially push content providers to be more responsible about the work they share. I can no longer rely on the proclamation I made that the remixed songs allow me to bond with my parents, or grandparents, while also giving me an opportunity to share a bit of my desi background when songs from the mid to late 2000s are currently being remixed.

Masakali was released when I was 13-years-old. Now in my mid-20s, I do not see reason to relive those awkward early teenage years. Repackaging music and adding a visual aid does not constitute originality in the age where Instagram and Tik Tok have the power to showcase new talent. It is a quick gimmick to make money while not so subtly trying to ride on the coattails of nostalgia. It is clear that audiences are not falling for the trap. And yet, their engagement, good and bad, may be the reason why the trend will continue. 

About the author

Born and raised in a Punjabi family, Nimarta is from Bangkok, Thailand. She graduated from Tufts University and the University of Oxford in 2017 with a degree in Psychology and has worked as an immigration paralegal, film intern/assistant, writer for the Bangkok Post, early interventionist for children with ASD, and script reader. She can’t really ride a bike (her father taught her twin sister and thought that the transitive property would work).

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