That most commercial music in India stems from Bollywood is a fact. Most estimates place the money earned from Hindi film music at 80% of the entire country’s music revenue! Revenue aside, Bollywood music has so often been the music that has caught the nation’s imagination, making people laugh and cry along with their favourite superstars. It’s completely secondary that many of the said superstars sing with the same voice, and in the early days of Bollywood, people may not even know what the actual singer would look like.
In Bollywood movies, songs are integral to the plot, pushing the story forward in some way, and of course a well-placed item song can do wonders for box office collections. Most film songs use the language as its spoken - colloquial Hindi sometimes with elements of Urdu, Punjabi, English and other languages.
We’ve heard many Indie musicians refer to it as ‘Big Bad Bollywood’, the thing that is suppressing new and fresh music from coming out, but the truth is, Bollywood is not just a genre in and of itself but is encompasses all other genres too. When a trend or style of music becomes popular, it finds its way into Bollywood. From bhangra to rap, to classical, to devotional, to ballads to Rabindra sangeet, to blues to rock, Bollywood has had it all in different times and spaces. Bollywood trends change and new patterns emerge, but the industry has remained strong for a very long time and isn’t going anywhere in the near future.
Being a Bollywood singer isn’t an easy thing. You need to be able to sing songs across ranges and genres and learn them very quickly. You need to be able to take a music director’s idea and make it your own, while still representing the actor who will be portraying the song on the screen.
For those to aspire to be Bollywood singers, there is no surefire way to enter the industry (though reality shows may claim to be the way - just look at how many contestants are churned out every year and see how many are able to make careers in the industry). It is, however, very helpful, if you want to have a sustained career in Bollywood (or elsewhere) to have a strong foundation in some style of music. Many of the top Bollywood singers have a background in Indian classical music and insist that regular practice and skill building is critical.
Bindu & Ambi Subramaniam