Sound engineers have for long known the association between musicians and their ability to pick up and process ambient sounds, more than non-musicians can. Audiograms tell us that musicians are especially good at making sense of speech and music from background sounds, thanks essentially to their constant connection with the pitches and tones of their instruments. In scientific circles, this special listening ability has been called the Musician Effect. In recent years though, the term Musician Effect has assumed another meaning as well, i.e., the mesmerizing effect musicians have on their fans. This new meaning was coined by music writer Molly McGreevy in her blog entitled “Why Are Musicians More Attractive Than Normal People?” Here’s part of what she said:
“Stick some boys on stage, with instruments, and they will have the girls swooning at their feet. Even if just a few months before they could not manage to pull the most desperate of girls wearing the strongest of beer goggles. That instant increase in attractiveness is what I dub ‘The Musician Effect’, and it seems to be an odd phenomenon that has been around for some years. Oddly enough the band doesn’t have to be chart-topping, just four lads who can throw a song together seem to have this strange effect on women”.
Such an effect was on full display in Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (1977), when Rishi Kapoor (on a trumpet) and Tariq (on a guitar) took to the stage singing Chaand mera dil, with other musicians backing them up. It was also clearly on display in Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak (1988), when Amir Khan (guitar slung around his neck) and his friends showed up on a stage—with saxophones, trumpets, cymbals, drums, guitar and keyboard—to sing Papa kehte hain bada naam karega.
This effect holds well even if the musicians are not the instrument-playing kind, and just the singing sort. Definitions blur, but it is generally considered that groups refers to musicians who may or may not play instruments themselves, as against members of a band, who always play musical instruments.
Such a strong attraction explains in part why actors in our cinema are sometimes shown playing musical instruments. This is particularly true of the piano, which with its high oomph factor lends a heavy charge to its surroundings. As an example, think of Khwaab ho tum ya koi haqeeqat from Teen Deviyan (1965), in which Kalpana and Simi seem transfixed by Dev Anand singing on the piano. This was in 1965, with Dev on a roll even by himself, but the Musician Effect sure helped. The film’s third devi, Nanda, would very likely have felt the same way if she were around to watch the hero sing on the piano. Like in the situation here, our cinema has generally shown instrumentalists acting alone, as against playing in a band, which is so occidental a concept.
However, there have been ever so many film situations when an actor isn’t part of any group, but is clearly teaming up with a band just for the song. What happens to the Musician’s Effect now, when an actor performs, but to lend realism, professional bands are shown backing up his song? Which of the two sides score higher?
Many situations call for such filming. It can be a song being recorded in a studio, or it can be a performance on a stage, or even on the same level as the audience, without the elevation of a stage; in a club or fine dining restaurant for instance. These are not Indian instruments being seen played in a mujra, or in any other setting. This orchestra feel refers to western instruments, such as trumpets, clarinets, saxophones, violins, accordions, drums, guitars, and double basses, etc. Sometimes an Indian instrument is thrown into this cauldron, but the flavour remains decidedly western.
Here are many songs which featured an actor miming his lips to a song, as an ensemble of mainly western musicians backed him up:
- Neend hamaari khwaab tumhaare (Nayi Kahaani, 1943)
- Patli kamar hai (Barsaat, 1949)
- Dilli se aaya bhai tingu (Ek Thi Ladki, 1949)
- Deewaana, ye parwaana (Albela, 1951)
- Halla gulla lai la (Dholak, 1951)
- Chori chori meri gali aana hai bura (Jaal, 1952)
- Ina meena deeka (Asha, 1957)
- Jaoon main kahaan (Miss India, 1957)
- Kya ho phir jo din rangeela ho (Nau Do Gyarah, 1957)
- Are tauba are tauba (12 O’Clock, 1958)
- Beliya beliya beliya beliya (Parwarish, 1958)
- Nineteen fifty-six, nineteen fifty-seven (Anari, 1959)
- Nashe mein hum nashe mein tum (Black Cat, 1959)
- One two three four dil ka tu chor (Black Cat, 1959)
- Do ekam do, do dooni chaar (Dil Deke Dekho, 1959)
- Aa aa aa mere taal pe naach le babu (Kal Hamara Hai, 1959)
- Teen canastar peet-peet kar (Love Marriage, 1959)
- Tere teer ko humne pyaar se (Qaidi No. 911, 1959)
- Ghoom ke aaya hoon main bandhu Roos-Cheen-England (Basant, 1960)
- Chaand zard-zard hai (Jaali Note, 1960)
- O o o meri baby doll (Ek Phool Chaar Kaante, 1960)
- Ui…itni badi mehfil aur ik dil (Dil Apna Aur Preet Parai, 1960)
- Aye dil dekhe hain humne bade bade sangdil (Shreeman Satyawadi, 1960)
- Hum dum se gaye (Manzil, 1960)
- Nazar ka jhuk jaana (Passport, 1961)
- Yamma yamma yamma tu parwaana main shamma (China Town, 1962)
- Hong Kong Cheena-Meena Singapore (Singapore, 1962)
- Jabse tujhe jaan gayi (Bluff Master, 1963)
- Dil ki manzil kuchh aesi hai manzil (Tere Ghar Ke Saamne, 1963)
- Dil jo na keh saka (the Rafi version) (Bheegi Raat, 1965)
- Aao twist karen (Bhoot Bangla, 1965)
- Rut jawaan-jawaan, raat meherbaan (Aakhri Khat, 1966)
- O haseena zulfon waali (Teesri Manzil, 1966)
- Dil ki girah khol do chup na baittho (Raat Aur Din, 1967)
I think of Ms McGreevy, and wonder what she would say about situations in which musicians were shown playing instruments, while film stars sang away, generally without playing any instrument. Perhaps she would think, like most of us, that the stars effectively neutralized the Musician Effect.
The mind also goes to that first superstar from Hindi cinema, KL Saigal, who rendered Aye kaatib-e-taqdeer mujhe itna bata de (My Sister, 1944) from a stage, with dozens of musicians facing him from below in what is called the Orchestra Pit. In this song, since they could not be properly seen by the audience, the instrumentalists were no competition for the singing-actor. But knowing about Saigal’s reputation for challenges, he would have happily welcomed them on the stage to demonstrate their skills. And he would still win hands down.
Since we have only talked about western-style musicians here, you may be wondering whether the Musician Effect applies to Hindustani musicians too. It certainly seems so, though there are some differences. Musicians performing Indian generally sit down to sing and play, so they can’t offer pelvic thrusts or microphone-bending acrobatics. Nor do they wear torn jeans. A sleeveless jacket can turn them into a minor rock star, while a shawl offers them the gravitas of a full-strength one. Tuning the instruments or clearing the throat, as everyone waits, adds to the effect, as does punctuating the show with jokes. As for us fans, we can feel very excited, so what if we don’t show it in a shrieking frenzy kind of way?
(Originally published: 23rd April 2017)
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