in my youthful romantic ways, heavily into all sorts of music and completely into movies, i always carried the concept of a 'background score in everyday life'. i'd be thinking of the right kind of musical score for the situation i am in. for example, while i am breaking up with my first girl-friend, who succumbed to parental pressures, somewhere between the tears my system was humming 'heartbreak hotel' or when i came to mumbai city for the first time, the song was 'ek akela is sheher mein' or whenever i am sitting underneath a full-moon sky, its always the 'moonlight' sonata (btw, the walkmans and the i-pods of today fulfill the same need). one day, i shall develop a book on this concept. for now, i shall limit myself to the subject of background music in the movies.
Storytelling in mainstream Bollywood is still very much like the traditional Indian art of storytelling (ancients art forms like Ramleelas and Tamashas). The characters are black & whites and stereotypes; the dialogues, melodramatic; the make-ups, garish and the music, ever-loud and jarring (probably, the lack of technologies like a mike also played a role) and the audiences just love it.
Personally speaking, I find all of it quiet revolting to my system, but that’s the succesful template. So, when somebody like A R Rehman comes along and gives a new dimension to the meaning of background scores, its a delight to the ears. Unlike most Bollywood musicians, who use templated music for different sequences (female choruses for poignant sequences or sitar strings for happiness), this man gets under the skin of the script (and he also chooses his scripts well) and writes a score just like a Javed Akhter must've written that script. The end result is what you hear in 'Swades', 'Rang De Basanti' or Water. Of course, he has been tutored by another master craftsman of background score 'Illayaraja', but the pupil has taken it to newer heights.
In the B&W days of movies, we had masters like SD Burman, Shankar Jaikishenand the maverick Salil Chowdhury who treated background score as a separate entity and gave quality time to its construction. For the soundtrack of 'Madhumati' (set on the hills of north India), Salil Chowdhury spent months in the hills of Darjeeling hunting for the right sound.
Before I end, I can’t resist mentioning the ordeal which my poor ears went through while watching an otherwise decent movie. This is 'Sarkar' by Ram Gopal Verma. What was puzzling was the fact that in certain sequences the music was way louder than the dialogues!!! Why??? I want to ask that question to Mr Verma.
in my coming postings, i shall be examining the subject of background score in the movies of other worlds (Mars and Uranus). for now, i shall leave you with a recommendation - pick up the score of 'Water' by Rehman and you wont regret it!