Singing reality shows seem to be a thing of the past. Gone are the days when we would sit in front of the TV with our parents and watch a participant from Bikaner, or Guwahati, or practically from anywhere in India, regale the judges with their talent. Phrases like ‘Suron Ke Sartaj’ would be thrown around, chirped by the enthusiastic anchor, and words like laye and taal were commonplace. Many formats, many years and many shows later, the music reality show became tired, as did we. Is the 11th season of Indian Idol worth checking out? I don’t care. It is so 2006. Honestly I didn’t think I’ll watch a music reality show again ever in my life. But then I heard about a new one, on MX Player, which is not about singers, but composers, established ones, where they present a song by another composer in their own style. And it immediately appealed to me. Not only did it sound like a fun, innovative concept, it is a great mix. Amit Trivedi, Ajay-Atul, Pyarelal (of Laxmikant-Pyarelal), Anandji (of Kalyanji-Anandji), Salim-Sulaiman, Sneha Khanwalkar, Sajid-Wajid, Rajesh Roshan, Himesh Reshammiya, Indian Ocean, Agnee. Would I like to see Ajay-Atul do a version of Kalyanji-Anandji’s “Zindagi Ka Safar” in their inimitable style? Hell, yes. Or Sneha Khanwalkar’s “Tung Tung” get the Indian Ocean treatment? Hell yes, twice.
And it’s not just the songs, it’s the stories and emotions that connect composers of two generations. After their performance, which leaves everyone in a state of tranquil, Ajay-Atul makes a personal kind of confession…
I name those two because they are my favourites of the show so far, called Times of Music, which I am yet to watch all episodes of. Ajay-Atul bring the house down with their rendition of a much loved song composed by the legends, in their signature style: with the symphony orchestra but where you can hear each and every instrument, and some clean, heartfelt singing by Vijay Prakash. (Anandji chooses “Abhi Mujh Mein Kahi”, the Ajay-Atul track from Agneepath). And it’s not just the songs, it’s the stories and emotions that connect composers of two generations. After their performance, which leaves everyone in a state of tranquil, Ajay-Atul makes a personal kind of confession: the two brothers associate the song, about the journey of life, with their father, who was a Bulbul tarang player and who passed away in 2013. And when they called in Prakash for the song, they noticed his short hair, which it turned out was because of the singer’s father passing away. If the composer-duo act like fanboys in front of the revered Anandji, they themselves come across as something like legends on the sets of the show, in which most of the seats in the audience are taken by Ajay-Atul fans.
The Khanwalkar-Indian Ocean episode is the closest “Times of Music” comes to exploiting the show’s concept. Indian Ocean reimagines the explosive, rustic Tung Tung as an Indian Ocean song, complete with folk-rock vocals and meditative guitar passages. But what Khanwalkar does is even more shocking. She turns “Bandeh” on its head, presenting it as a hypnotic electronic live set, where her team appears in glitter eyebrows and self-conscious costume, like members of a cult that has seen too many David Bowie performances, fronted by a weirded out Piyush Mishra (who has written the lyrics of “Bandeh”) opening it with angry mumblings. Khanwalkar is there somewhere, dressed up like a Goddess, controlling nobs on the turn-table and using a table fan to manipulate sound.
Not every composer is able to make the song they’ve selected sound distinctly different from the original. Even though that’s the point, you don’t want to sit around and nitpick on a show like this. (The singing in this show is largely irrelevant). It is about anecdotes, such as the one Salim-Sulaiman share in their episode with Pyarelal about the origin of the title song of Chak De! India (Aditya Chopra wanted from them something like “Chumma Chumma de de”!). And it is about nostalgia. When Mithoon (“Tum Hi Ho”) meets Viju Shah, the underrated techno king of the 90s, and presents his version of “Tip Tip Barsa Paani”, you realise how time has gone by.