Watching The Remix, a new music reality show on Amazon Prime, I thought of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa and Indian Idol. Comparing them might be a good way to see how our mainstream music—which is essentially Hindi film music—has changed. Alaaps and antaras have been taken over by rap verses about kudis on Instagram. And Swedish House Mafia and The Chainsmokers is the new cool, not R.D. Burman.
This is a show entirely about remixes, not the most highly respected form of music, at least in the Indian context, but it is something that can be creative and fun. Like the groovy retro tracks from the last years of Indipop in the late 90s-early 2000s–Instant Karma, Bombay Vikings. Or the works of Kiwi music producer Mikey McCleary, who has the knack for making the most unlikely songs sound sexy–"Khoya Khoya Chaand", "So Gaya Yeh Jahaan".
"Re-imagining", is a better word perhaps, and that is the approach the Amazon show should've taken, try to push the envelope in terms of what a remix can be. Instead, it tries to cash in on Bollywood's current obsession with assembly line remixes like a clickbait website latching on to a buzzword.
Why else would one remix a Honey Singh song — isn't any Honey Singh song a some sort of a remix already? Or "Aashiq Banaya Aapne" — which already has a remix by the way. Unless, of course, one does something very different from the original, turn it on its head. These are some of the songs in the first three episodes: "Lovely", "Sheila Ki Jawaani", "Devil- Yaar Na Mile Toh Mar Jawaan", "Main Hoon Hero Tera" — sung by Salman Khan on autotune, "Main Tera Hero". The only positive thing that can come out of selecting these songs is that the audience won't be able to complain that The Remix has ruined their childhood favourites.
The judges, singer Sunidhi Chauhan, composer Amit Trivedi and electronic music producer Nucleya, thankfully, encourage the contestants to push idea of a remix in a braver direction. There is constructive criticism and fair assessment—no public voting business here. Prakriti Kakar and DJ Kiran Kamath, who put a nice spin to "Tum Hi Ho", rightfully top episode 2 — which is about title tracks. And in episode 3, in which each duo collaborates with a live instrumentalist, an ambitious idea, it is Yash Narvekar and DJ Kryll, who pull of the tricky job of remixing "Dhan Te Nan".
One of the redeeming things about The Remix is that it puts music production on an equal footing to singing. Each judge marks out of 10 points—5 for singing and 5 for production. You have Nucleya explaining how a good build-up is essential to a good "drop". Trivedi, a superb producer himself, makes valid points about song selection and "reimagining" songs.
Chauhan is more about the singing department, and I like how she finds a way to speak her mind without being harsh; for instance, if she begins with complimenting a contestant's dress, she's done badly. Many of the participants like Sreerama Chandra, Manasi Scott have playback credits, and they are are seasoned stage performers. But I missed the distinct personality of a bonafide singing talent. For all the ridiculous results and manufactured drama, there was something about an unpolished newcomer in the singing reality shows, back in the day, filling up the arena with sheer individual artistry.