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News |  11 Jul 2016 16:10 |  By Suhas Thobbi

Will the real Abhijeets please stand up?

The case of the two Abhijeets and what it says about the music industry

MUMBAI: Last night, as the weekend binge came to a close, my mother asked me, "Hey, where did that singer Abhijeet disappear to?" I asked back, "Who? The one who has become a joker or the one who's become a joke?" She replied, "The one who used to sing." And I still was not sure which Abhijeet she was referring to.

But such has been the sad, disturbing yet inevitable fate of these two singers - Abhijeet Sawant and Abhijeet Bhattacharya - who sought other ways to stay relevant in an age when Bollywood still continues to treat music as an extension of entertainment; a secondary tool; a marketing strategy before a movie release, a mere three-minute excuse to rope in 'item numbers'.

In the last two years or so, Abhijeet Bhattarcharya has made more news due to controversies generated through sometimes-insensitive and sometimes-aggressive tweets; his timeline flooded with followers, critics and trolls discussing everything but music - the profession that he once dearly associated himself with. Film music provided Bhattacharya the platform that millions crave and struggle for throughout their youth and beyond. The playback singer chased his passion and created an identity in the 1990s. With the ‘90s hits like 'Mein Koi Aisa Geet Gaun’ and ‘Yeh Teri Aankhein Jhuki jhuki’, Bhattacharya won accolades and established himself as the composers’ singer.

In the past decade or so, the era of the internet and talent shows has opened newer vistas for the pool of talent, leading to the disappearance of a few of the consistent voices of the industry from the 90s. And, unsurprisingly, Bhattacharya became a victim of the phenomenon.

Bhattacharya's last two notable contributions to Bollywood were 'Dhoom Taana' from Om Shanti Om, released almost nine years ago, and 'Dilbara' from Dhoom, released in 2004. Of course, the singer continues to sing and there is arguably no debating the fact that he hasn't lost his voice, but has entirely lost his charm.

And the singer knows that very well. Through Twitter, Bhattacharya might not have found exciting projects, but he did find his voice. And a new set of followers. The proud "Hindu Nationalist" has often prematurely tweeted about current events and almost every time, successfully managed to attract another controversy.

The Salman hit-and-run case, followed with extreme caution by the industry folks, led an extremely vocal Twitter handle in the form of Abhijeet Bhattacharya.

Roads are meant for cars and dogs not for people sleeping on them.. @BeingSalmanKhanis not at fault at all..

abhijeet (@abhijeetsinger) May 6, 2015

The tweets, later deleted, reflected the mentality of Bhattacharya and the extreme disappointingly desperate ways of staying relevant. The bizarre mindlessness did not stop there. Bhattacharya's effort of publicity stunts extended to Aamir Khan's 'intolerant' remarks, where the singer called him 'bouna', that is, a dwarf. Bhattacharya's insulting streak was not biased. It did not even excuse some of the legendary musicians. With regards to Ghulam Ali's invitation to perform in India in October 2015, the controversial Twitter celeb posted a series of tweets criticising the Pakistani singer with the term “Dengue Artist”, also including in the sweep of his remarks the Pakistani people and the 'secular' Mahesh Bhatt.

Maybe, Bhattacharya had always been a dissatisfied, impatient, aggressive bigot with no sense of responsibility and a poor knowledge of Indian politics, but the reality is now out in the open, courtesy the social media. From accusing female journalists to continuously creating tension through his anti-Pakistan tweets, Bhattacharya's downfall as a singer reminds one of Arsenal football club's manager's famous quote, " When you give success to stupid people, it makes them more stupid sometimes and not more intelligent.” Bhattacharya has sung in fifteen languages, but broken English and bigotry seem to be his favourite ones.

While one Abhijeet found social media an effective way to stay relevant, the other Abhijeet (Sawant) relied on old-school methods to achieve the same – the idiot box. Sawant's rise to fame - possible one of the finest Indian singing talent show stories ever told - resulted in a sudden surge in interest towards the newly-arrived concept called 'Indian Idol'. Tipped to immense fame, Sawant's announcement as the "winner of the first Indian Idol" in March 2005 has been, unfortunately to-date, his most memorable night of his career.

While Sawant released two albums in the next three years, the finale of the Indian Idol's debut edition continues to remain his grandest moment. Sawant represents an example; an example of the skewed strategic desires of these talent shows. It was at the end of the last year, when Sawant's voice finally reached an audience of over ten million people. Unfortunately, he was not singing, but creating an entire mockery of his little identity with a poor display of acting and comedy at Kapil Sharma's weekend TV show.

That display, however justified for the show, reflects how helpless these talent singing show discoveries have turned out to be. There's no good or bad art, but there's unnecessary art. Sawant wants to master it, or so it seems. I am not a huge fan of Sawant, but I saw future in him. On Kapil Sharma or his few appearances in Sony’s Comedy Circus, the now-Shiv Sena’s youth leader could be seen as one of the ‘jokers’ on the other side of the mediocre poor comedy. Life hasn’t ended for Sawant, but if the ‘Junoon’ singer has found comfort in this approach, then it wouldn’t be unfair to say that his career has ended before it even began.

Sawant finds himself in the league of the winners of dozens of talent shows with similar activities - either fooling around in a series/show or performing at corporate shows because "Benny Dayal is too expensive." Of course, not everyone can stay relevant like a Sonu Nigam or evolve with time, but Sawant stands as a typical example to why channels, brands and entrepreneurs need to rethink about the long-term goals of their initiatives.

When one describes ‘Chaiyya Chaiyya’ as “that Shah Rukh song”, it has the potential to hurt a musician’s (singer, composer, and lyricist) sentiment, and unlike actors, the media does not give a hoot about the musician’s statement (unless of course he has kissed a TV actress at a birthday party).

But then, there are others like Vishal Dadlani – another highly opinionated Twitter personality – who has excessively used social media to express his opinions as a voter, but never crossed the line. Perhaps, that continues to be the reason why a BJP or Congress supporter would still attend his concert or involve in a radical argument with the musician. And more importantly, Dadlani never runs out of projects.

The singing talent shows haven’t been all gloomy either. The discovery of Arijit Singh through ‘Fame Gurukul’ has been a fruitful endeavour for Bollywood music directors, but his recent apology note to Salman Khan and the issue revolving around it simply cements the claim that mainstream singers will continue to stay in actors’ shadows.

Sonu Nigam, one of the few relevant voices from the 90s, hit the studios after a surgery and chose the approach of 'reinventing' himself to create as good an impression with the new generations possessing broader tastes in music. Shankar Mahadevan continued his legacy with the recent tie-ups allowing his academy to reach out to 500,000 villages whereas Euphoria's Palash Sen appealed to the listeners and the industry urging to keep the music alive. Bhattacharya and Sawant can continue to drift away and create headlines for non-music reasons, but historically speaking, the formula is simple - Activities related to music must always exceed the other drama.