Wednesday, December 2, 2009

GlobalPost Rebuttal: Overdorf is going down.

Once again, Jason Overdorf has decided to insert his bias against Bollywood into an article about Indian culture. (I won't even get into the cultural machinations involved in a white woman feuding with a white man over whether Bollywood is worthwhile or not.)

So, not content with making up facts about how
Kaminey is not only the biggest hit of the year, it is also the new face of Bollywood and Chandi Chowk to China was a by-the-books masala piece, Mr. Overdorf has expanded into mocking the Indian music industry because it is not shaped like the Western music industry.

See, kids, in Mr. Overdorf's world, the American way is the "right" way and everything else is weird and wrong.

Today's piece is called
India's New License to Rock and on the face of it doesn't seem that bad, right? Mr. Overdorf interviews Vijay Nair, who just opened an indie record label in India. Mr. Nair wants to promote his bands and his label, which is great! I like rock music and I like going to rock shows. What I don't like is Mr. Overdorf writing the whole piece with a tone that yells, "Finally India has real music."

The Hindi popular music industry has always been very closely tied to the film industry. I'm not sure how it is in other parts of the country but the reading that I've done on Bollywood music tells of two industries that grew up hand-in-hand. I explain this to non-Bollywood fans by asking them to imagine if each film that came out was also a brand new album by their favorite artist. (This actually does happen once in a while in Hollywood. New Moon, for example, has a best selling album on new songs and don't forget the Pulp Fiction soundtrack.) The interconnectedness of film and music isn't a bad thing; it's just different from what we are used to in the West.

Says Mr. Overdorf:

India's music industry has always been dominated by the soundtracks churned out by Bollywood. Penned and recorded by side musicians and so-called “playback singers,” this bouncy, upbeat pop music is then lip-synced by the film industry's mega stars and receives nearly limitless promotion through TV trailers and the country's dozen-odd music video channels. But even though famous playback singers and singer-composers like Slumdog Millionaire's A.R. Rahman occasionally perform at socialite weddings and awards ceremonies, the combination of Bollywood's heavily produced studio sound and the dominant role of side musicians rather than bands has until recently prevented the evolution of any real live music scene.

First of all, film songs are as varied as our "private recording" dominated popular music industries in Western countries. You can find trashy pop and sentimental ballads; dance music and devotional songs; sad songs, happy songs, love songs, heart-break songs, friendship songs, and many, many other kinds of songs. Scan the pop charts and see for yourself.

Here are the Billboard Top 10 Songs for the USA right now:

#1 "Empire State of Mind" Jay-Z and Alicia Keys
#2 "Bad Romance" Lady Gaga
#3 "Fireflies" Owl City
#4 "Whatcha Say" Jason Derulo
#5 "TiK ToK" Ke$ha
#6 "Replay" Lyaz
#7 "Sexy Chick" David Guetta
#8 "Papparazzi" Lady Gaga
#9 "3" Britney Spears
#10 "Down" by Jay Sean

And the Hindi Song Charts:

#1 "Jaaneman" (
Radio)
#2 "Tera Hone Laga Hoon" (
Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani)
#3 "Tum Mile" (
Tum Mile)
#4 "Shukran Allah" (
Kurbaan)
#5 "Aal Iz Well" (
3 Idiots)
#6 "Sab Rishte Naate" (
De Dana Dan)
#7 "Aj Din Chadheya" (
Love Aaj Kal)
#8 "Iktara" (
Wake Up Sid)
#9 "Man Ko Ati Bhave" (
London Dreams)
#10 "Aaj Din Gustakh Hai" (
Blue)

For those of you familiar with both industries, do you see much of a difference in the variety of songs?

I certainly don't.

Actually, I would say that of the two charts, the American one has more - to use Mr. Overdorf's phrase - "bouncy, upbeat pop music [that] is then lip-synced by the [music] industry's mega stars and receives nearly limitless promotion through TV trailers and the country's dozen-odd music video channels."

Don't get me wrong, I'm not hating on the Billboard Top 10 (six of which are on my iPod right now - love the Gaga), just pointing out that people like what they like and tastes are not as different across the globe as people seem to think. In fact, discounting the fact that film songs are closely tied to narrative, the biggest difference between the Hindi and Western music industries is that the Hindi music industry doesn't hide behind a facade of "bands" and "authenticity." Speaking from personal experience, as a veteran of the Boston indie rock scene and a proud graduate of the audio engineering program at Berklee College of Music, let me tell you that unless one of Mr. Overdorf's beloved bands sets up their instruments around a microphone to record something - like Bon Iver did with "For Emma: Forever Ago" - you are listening to a product created by professional songwriters, professional lyricists, and professional studio musicians and filtered through every studio magic trick in the book. But Bollywood film songs fans are under no illusions that Sonu Nigam and Sunidhi Chauhan are writing all their own material - we just enjoy the product.

The American music industry is way more illusion-filled than Bollywood actors lip-syncing. Do you really think Bon Jovi wrote "It's My Life" (credit goes to Max Martin, who also wrote Britney Spears' "If You Seek Amy")? At least we all know Salman is just mouthing the words. Personally, as a former behind-the-scenes person myself - I think the prominence of the songwriters, lyricists, and playback singers is a good thing.

Let's return to Mr. Overdorf:

Already, indie bands like Pentagram, the Raghu Dixit Project and Indian Ocean are breaking through into the mainstream music market. And as Bollywood seeks to reinvent its evergreen genre flicks, the fringes of the film business are beginning to look to the indies for source music instead of purpose-built studio tracks. Director Anurag Kashyap, for instance, tapped Indian Ocean for the soundtrack to his 2004 film "Black Friday," about the investigations following the 1993 serial Bombay bomb blasts. Though Anurag Basu selected Bollywood veterans Pritam Chakraborty and Sayeed Quadri for the soundtrack to his 2007 "Life in a Metro," for the first time instead of lip-syncers Pritam himself appeared in music video-style interludes within the film as the front man to a real-life rock band. And then last year Bollywood insider Farhan Akhtar created a real, though fictional, band for the surprise hit "Rock On!"

Okay, hold your horses there, Brosef Stalin. "Purpose-built studio tracks"? Really? Get this through your head: singer/songwriter "band-driven" music is not the only kind of music in the world. Do you need me to repeat that:
Not everyone needs to pretend that music is hitting their ears directly from a single artist's brain unscathed by such gauche accouterments as "professional lyricists" or "professional musicians." Go and listen to the Smithsonian Folkways Label if you want to stay pure - otherwise, live in the real world and deal with the fact that popular music is a collaborative process, resulting in "purpose-built studio tracks" that quite meaningful and beautiful and wonderful. The close melding of narrative and music in Bollywood film calls for such "purpose-built" tracks - that's the whole point - the narrative drives the songs.

Now, Brozeltof Cocktail, (I've decided that Mr. Overdorf is a total Bro who probably loves DMB), please tell me why you feel that Pritam appearing in
Life in a Metro was such a big deal. Because, dude, Bollywood existed before you set foot in India in 2002 (yes, I looked up his bio) and musicians have been appearing in Bollywood films for a very, very long time. But unlike the fantasy land of Hollywood, Bollywood audiences understand that not every actor is a good singer and not every musician is a good actor. If there is going to be a cabaret scene, we would prefer to see a good dancer, like Helen, mime the words to a good song, written by R.D. Burman, and sung by Asha Bhosle, a good singer. When we want to see Asha sing, we can attend one of her... get this... LIVE MUSIC CONCERTS.

Just because the American music industry exists in a fairy land where "bands" somehow transmit their songs directly to the audience without "studio magic" or "professional songwriters" doesn't mean that the rest of the world is under that illusion.

But the heart of the story is about the emergence of a rock scene in India and the growing number of rock music venues. But as in his
Newsweek piece, Mr. Overdorf seems to confuse "what I'm used to" with "good." And his main complaint seems to be that there is no live music scene in India - but read "rock music" for "live music" because that is Mr. Overdorf's implication. He and Mr. Nair are celebrating the growth of little rock venues like the kind I used to play in Boston and, you know what, that's awesome! I love rock music and live rock music but it's extremely lazy to just assume that a lack of rock venues means a lack of live music in general.

I am a rock music fan. Really! I play the bass guitar and everything. I'm not hating on rock music or dismissing what Mr. Nair is doing. I think the spread of all different types of music is a wonderful thing. What I take issue with in Mr. Overdorf's article is that he doesn't frame Mr. Nair's record label as the growth of a new type of music among the many types already available but as if the emergence of one record label that produces "bands" as Mr. Overdorf knows them is the beginning of "authentic" popular music.

Did anyone else catch that? According to Brozeltof here, Bollywood is the candy-floss pumped out by the major companies and not "real music" while bands playing Western music with expensive Western instruments in a Western style are "authentic".

Right.

Again, I'm not hating on the bands themselves. I like rock and I like desi rock but Mr. Overdorf's cultural superiority really disgusts me.

Bring it, Broverdorf! I got a google alert set and I'll be fact-checking your cultural articles from here on out.

16 comments:

leeqa said...

Quick correction: Pritam appeared in Life in Metro, and the Indian Ocean's music appeared in Black Friday.

but good job! kick some ass!

Filmi Girl said...

All fixed! Thanks! :D

Rum said...

AHHHH I read that article and i was ire-induced to wanting to throw something at this Overdorf character! Who does he think he is>?!! His writing is totally unjournalistic as he doesnt research anything properly and his tone is toooooo snarky and ignorant! How can u write Inidan music off just coz its not purposeful with lyrics! UGHHH good on you filmi girl, my sentiments exactly! I hate it when ppl write articles like this!

Jonathan said...

My wife (who follows you on Twitter and sent me this) is a huge fan of Bollywood and all things Indian. I am a huge fan of indie music (caught Alec Ounsworth/Flashy Python at DC9 last night). Do you know of any Indian bands coming to DC so my wife and I can pursue both our favorite interests together?

Filmi Girl said...

@Rum I know!!! We'll have to satisfy ourselves with some animated gifs or something... :)

@Jonathan Bands do occasionally come through town! I try to promote if I get enough advance notice. Do you like Goldspot? They were just here... not exactly desi-rock but a bit of Indian influence. Also... JoSH were just in town - Pakistani/Canadian band... umm... let me get back to you on this one. :)

Sujal said...

Did you send this to him? You should.

Also... Janeman (Radio) is #1 on the list? Really? What's happening to people?

Sujal said...

Nothing against Janeman with my last post. Love the song. But I wouldn't have it at #1...

rhilex said...

See, kids, in Mr. Overdorf's world, the American way is the "right" way and everything else is weird and wrong. -- This is EXACTLY what bothers me. This attitude! RIGHT there! People can like what they like and dislike what they dislike, but to call your likes "right" and your dislikes "wrong"... now, that's just ignorance by choice, and hence makes you seem like an idiot to sensible people.

The American music industry is way more illusion-filled than Bollywood actors lip-syncing. Do you really think Bon Jovi wrote "It's My Life"? ... Personally, as a former behind-the-scenes person myself - I think the prominence of the songwriters, lyricists, and playback singers is a good thing. -- Oooooh, excellent observation, here! I totally agree.

Kiran said...

BAM! Filmigirl, you are awesome!! But you probably already know that :D

bollywoodfoodclub said...

Why? Why? Why do I read this before trying to go to sleep, so agitating hai! Overdorf should simply be ignored because he really makes it clear he doesn't know enough to be writing articles on Bollywood. Thanks for taking the time to write this post. You've done a marvelous job here. The quotes you've included here are as off putting as the ones in your previous post on this kaminey. And I agree, what's the big deal about him seeing Pritam picturized (I Overdorf doesn't know that word!) on Pritam. Besides, doesn't he know Pritam's reputation of being a plagiarist of sorts? But still I love "Yeh Ishq Hai" and "Teri ore" even if he is accused of plagiarism. Anyway, I digress, just wanted to say I appreciate your thoughtful comments about the misguided article.

All the best!
Sita-ji

veracious said...

I think it's great desirock is gaining popularity. But again the writer insists on being a douche about it.

Also, can I just say, I positively hated Pritam's street-wandering angsty rockband in Life in a Metro? I wanted to shoot my screen every time I saw them. Bad music, awful disrupting performance - give me lip-synced or in the background songs over that crap any day. Indian Ocean in Black Friday was brilliant, though, really good music.

ghazalintokyo said...

i actually really dislike the whole rock song in a film situation overdorf is so excited about in his post, think they should be kept separate... filmi music is its own genre of awesome and we like it that way! silly bolly-ignorant people.
great post, filmigirl!

Filmi Girl said...

@sujal LOL! I don't understand the Himesh either, but who am I to judge... ;P

@rhilex I know, right? Just because you don't understand something doesn't make it "bad." That attitude was one I ran into all the time at music school from 'purists.' Fortunately, my department was full of people who just loved MUSIC and didn't care about image.

@Kiran Thanks! *pats self on back*

@sita-ji I hadn't even thought of the irony of Pritam's plagiarism!! LOL! Very good point - although I'm sure Overdorf doesn't know anything about Pritam's reputation, considering he's "too good" for Bollywood music.

@veracious That was exactly my reaction. Why couldn't he just write an article of the rise of rock in India WITHOUT putting in unnecessary (and incorrect) "facts" about Bollywood music?

@ghazalintokyo The use of rock itself doesn't bother me - did you catch the hilariously fun 'rock' song in All the Best?! - but he is being a total douche by trashing Bollywood, which he clearly doesn't understand, in situations where it's totally uncalled for.

aham said...

I would be lying if i said I didnt see this coming, even b4 i read that article I knew there would a filmi girl fist in the face of overdork/overdone err whats that guy's name? anyways I think Bollywood should appoint you as its spokesperson lol I am not sure if anybody in India would have felt so offended with that article or the one before that, you know why? this is the not first and surely not the last of such stupid articles which state bollywood isnt good cause it has song/dance or it is cheesy/over the top etc etc from an ignorant dumb guy, so its like we are used to such things as Indians, we have stopped caring about such stupid articles.I think you should also ignore him, he wont have a clue even if he lives in India for a zillion years and watches Bollywood films till then, the problem with him is his attitude towards something different and that can only change with a lightning strikes him,till then better go on ignore/dont-care mode.

claire said...

great post filmigirl!!

to add to the pritam/plagiarism irony, he also mentions pentagram whose frontman is none other than vishal, from vishal-shekar! just proves how well he did his research before he wrote that article.

and about pritam, i haven't seen life in a metro but i'm pretty sure i'm NOT INTERESTED in seeing pritam popping up on screen all the time...

ay said...

Another point with the pritam picturization thing. Isn't it that being the music composer doesn't necessarily equal being the actual artist that performs the song ?(phew! long sentence). Now, I have not looked this up so I may be wrong but there is a likelihood that pritam himself is lipsynching, hai na?

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl