I recently wrote something about Bollywood composers and singers, using the break from usual film work, releasing songs independently during the lockdown. Some of those songs are easier to like when one is not watching the videos (ill-conceived/of questionable taste/both). Arijit Singh’s “Rihaa”, a new single he has both sung and composed, is somewhat the opposite: It’s easier to like it when you are watching the video. I made the mistake of listening to it first.
The song is nice and harmless enough to not make you want to change it. It’s got a safe hook and is mellow and likeable. But one would expect the singer, who must be tired of the catastrophically bad state of affairs in contemporary Hindi film music, to do something less conventional in his debut as a singer-songwriter. I would expect that song—titled “Rihaa” no less—to be a release in the true sense. There are some interesting things, like a verse of Bangla rap (written by Arijit himself), or the unexpected use of flute in a largely electronic arrangement. That apart, “Rihaa” is not different enough from the type of Arijit Singh sound we have heard in Bollywood.
But I suspect “Rihaa” is conceived, and meant to be consumed, as an audio-visual whole. The song works best when seen. It has a tactile stop motion animation style, that, like all art made during lockdown, mirrors its making: a boy sitting in front of his computer and then floating out of his home into an out-of-body experience (an effect the creator is, both, experiencing himself, and hoping to induce in us). Arijit has not only sung and composed the song, he has also co-conceptualised the video with his wife, Koyel Singh (who is also credited for the story, script and direction), apart from being the DoP and even one of the animators.
It’s only when you see it that you get the DIY spirit of the enterprise, as though a bedroom producer with visual ideas collaborated with people remotely and did something for pleasure in his lock(downtime). You sense a larger aesthetic philosophy behind it: there is art and craft and creativity on display—wonderful, if a bit raw and jagged-edged. The credits include things like Face sculpting and moulding, Jungle and Animation Base making, Rig Making, wooden house and Prop making.
It’s less Arijit Singh’s prowess as a composer and more a showcase of the in-house talent of his film production house Oriyon Edutainment, that describes itself as “as an expression of love for cinema. Its goal is to collaborate and form a film caravan”. (For those uninitiated about the singer’s filmmaking ambitions, he has made a feature film—rumoured to have two parts—that he hasn’t released, and now seems unlikely to).
But true as it is to the zeitgeist of the moment, made with the blessings of the digital revolution, and a creature of the YouTube era, a song must also work on its own. In that regard “Rihaa” is not terribly impressive. Will I listen to the song again? I doubt. I’d much rather see it.