| 29 Nov 2023
Can the singer- actor survive in Bollywood?

Bollywood movies are incomplete without song and dance routines.

The world might mock our crazy costumes, unrelated song sequences and location changes and wonder why almost all our movies look like musicals but our show has happily gone on.

But then in Bollywood, one hardly finds a truly successful singer- actor of the caliber of a Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Julie Andrews, Barbra Streisand, or even contemporary stars like Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Hudson, Beyonce Knowles or Will Smith. With virtually every film boasting a menagerie of song and dance, every artiste has had a chance to exercise their vocal chords. But not many have made the cut, successfully. Except of course for the recent exceptions - Farhan Akhtar in his new avatar as singer actor in the cult hit, 'Rock On'. Many felt that Bollywood has found another Kishore Kumar after a long, long time. The producer-director turned singer-actor is an all-rounder, no doubt. On the flipside, he's just one film old and it will be a while before we know how he actually fares as a singing actor in the end!

However, trade analyst Taran Adarsh is very optimistic about this trend. "Yes, we have Farhan Akhtar now. This is not such a new phenomenon though.
We had Kishore Kumar earlier, Aamir, Shah Rukh have sung earlier and if they pursue it, they would surely do well too. Singers like Himesh, Sonu Niigaam are acting. It depends on the kind of films they do. We see things changing," he says.

Bollywood produced its first big singer-actor in the form of K L Saigal in the 1940s. Saigal was known for his intense nasal twang which was actually considered quite stylish in those days. The gentleman acted in around 30 films and enthralled masses with his acclaimed flicks like 'Devdas' and 'Parwana'. After him, it was Talat Mahmood, also known as the 'Ghazal king'. The suave looking singer actor tried his luck in acting to mixed audience response. He did about 13 films with mediocre success, but continues to be remembered by music afficianodos for his unique style of rendering ghazals.

However, the only one who can be categorised as Bollywood's best singer-actor till date is Kishore Kumar, who galloped to stardom not only with his versatile vocals but also with his endearing acting. He starred in around 80 films and was appreciated by the masses for his performance in movies like 'Half Ticket', 'Chalti Ka Naam Gaadi', and 'Padosan' through the 1950s, 60s and 70s! That was a one of a kind genius!

Amongst the female breed, it was Noor Jehan, Khursheed, Shanta Apte and the like who were considered singing stars in those times. In the 1950s, Suraiyya was, one point of time became the only film-heroine in India who sang her songs in the films. Her mellow voice and flair for acting and dance gave her the distinction of being a singer, dancer and actor.

In the 1970s came Sulakshana Pandit who did fairly well as singer actor, till the death of her love, actor Sanjeev Kumar changed it all. Reports say his death disturbed her so much that she had to prematurely quit Bollywood. And then of course there was Salma Agha who sang with a nasal twang too and shone in the popular Muslim social feature film 'Nikaah' and the 'Dil ke armaan' track. But that was that. She proved to be an one film wonder!

Himesh Resshamiya's success in recent years has been a major inspiration for many. The television jingle maker went ahead with his music direction journey; with the support of Salman Khan who believed that he had it in him. Now the guy with unconventional looks and who used to sport only wigs till recently, is competition for his macho hero mentor!

One 'Aashique Banaya Apne' song changed it all and Himesh's leather jacket and cap gave him, the rock star tag. The masses later took to his albums followed by 'Aap Kaa Suroor-The Movie'. The fact that the movie he was banking on heavily- 'Karzzz' flopped has however has changed equations again. Nevertheless, with the film's songs having stayed on top of the charts for a while and producer T-Series claiming that the songs have proved to be hits, Himesh seems set for a long run as a singer actor - T-Series has announced that its next project starring Himesh, Kajraare, goes on the floors soon, without any budget cuts. The singer, who has famously declared that he will compose only for the films he stars in, now needs to prove himself bankable not in Pooja Bhatt's 'Kajraare', but also in his future projects 'Mud Mud Ke Na Dekh' and 'Aap Kaa Suroor 2'.

Many other singers have been bitten by the acting bug too. They have tried to prove to the world that they can go glam with a vengeance too. But most of them have fared really badly. Sonu NiIgaAm put on the grease paint for 'Love in Nepal', 'Kash Aap Hamaare Hote', ''Jaani Dushmaan' and Shaan in 'Daman' but they simply couldn't do well as actors. Kumar Sanu tried acting in Bengali films. That didn't work and now he has lost his previous popularity and place in Bollywood too.

Lucky Ali's unique voice must have enthralled many a fan but a part in the multi-starrer 'Kaante' and then a lead role in 2002's 'Sur', did nothing to salvage his acting dreams and his hopes of successfully following the footsteps of his revered comedian father Mehmood. Lucky hasn't been lucky with his playback singing also since then. After losing oodles of weight, Babul Supriyo acted in a Bengali film opposite Rituparna Sengupta directed by veteran director Tarun Mazumdar. Adnan Sami has rediscovered himself too and is likely to embark on an acting journey soon.

'Indian Idol' winner Abhijeet Sawant is acting in a movie called 'Lottery', a low profile flick directed by newcomer Hemant Prabhu with newcomers Rucha Gujrati and Mainsha Kelkar. Young Aditya Narayan, Udit Narayan's son has already proved his mettle as a TV anchor and a child artiste in films like 'Jab Pyar Kisise Hota Hai' and 'Pardes', years ago. Now he's making his debut as a lead hero in Vikram Bhatt's next.

Bollywood analyst Abhijit Mhamunkar explains, "While Himesh at least tasted some success with his acting debut, Sonu still has to make a mark as an actor. One should understand that they are basically singers and not actors from whom we should expect great acting skills. Also the main reason behind their films not doing well apart from their lack of good acting skills is that their films were badly made. 'Kaash Aap Mere Hote', 'Jaani Dushman', 'Love In Nepal' and 'Karzzzz' aren't the kind of films, an average filmgoer will shell money to watch in theaters. It's futile comparing them with their western counterparts because singing stars like Will Smith, Jennifer Lopez, Beyonce and Jennifer Hudson, besides being internationally famous as actors, are also marketed well, because that's a totally different world."

So what are the economics of having a singer- actor in a movie? Trade analyst Komal Nahata analyses the economics of the situation.

He says, "Having a music director cum singer cum actor might be a little economic as he would give the best music to you. Himesh is the only name that comes to my mind. He must be talking around a crore or so for the singing and maybe 75 lakhs for the music. So that would be about spending around 2 crores in a movie. As for taking a singer- actor, there's no economizing. It would be like signing on any other actor, if not a star."

He adds, "As for the returns part, it actually depends on the fate of the film. Reliance lost close to 15 crores for 'Karzzz'. But the scenario was different after 'Aap ka Suroor' released. So u really can't say something concrete about a situation like that." But if one looks at the overall success rate, it's quite low.

According to Nahata, one can't equate a Will Smith with a Sonu NiIgaAm or a Beyonce here because the industry in India functions totally differently. We don't have true blue musicals like 'Dream Girls' made here. He explains, "It's so because in the west, there are musicals where singers have performed and shone. There are no other valid reasons for the same. But here audiences want actors to do it all and deliver- sing, act, dance, emote. Just because the hero is a singer, he won't be expected to do less or only sing and perform. I'm not talking about Himesh or Sonu in particular. If their new movies do well, things might change again. But I don't really see things changing in Bollywood and true blue singing actors emerging in the industry."

Mhamunkar analyses it further, "Reportedly, Himesh invested his own money in the production of his acting debut film, Aap Ka Suroor. The film made good money also for the fact that it was a moderately budgeted movie sold at a low price to distributors. Kishore Kumar was a genius. Not only was he a great singer but he also had exceptional comic timing which helped him become popular. Himesh and Sonu still have a long way to go to reach his heights. As for Farhan, he's still young and more presentable than Himesh and Sonu and knows the pulse of the youth."

He adds, "Sonu hardly gets to sing all the songs for a film anymore and he is reportedly charging Rs 2,00,000 per song. For a film, as an actor he won't be getting anything more than Rs 2,50,000. Himesh has managed to struck gold with the good opening he got with Aap Ka Suroor. Post its success he entered into a three film deal with T-Series. He has been demanding way far more money than Sonu would command also because he is coming in as a complete package - singer, musician and actor. He was demanding anywhere between Rs 10 to 30 million before Karzzzz, but its dismal show has brought him down to Rs six to eight million.

He says that the recession has hit the singers as well but they have only lowered their prices by a few thousands and not beyond that.

Vital statistics

Lucky Ali - Acting - Rs 1.5 to 2 million.

Singing - Rs 50,000 to Rs 1,00,000 per song

Babul Supriyo - Acting - Rs 1 to Rs 1.5 million

Singing - Rs 20,000 to 30,000 per song

Adnan Sami - Singing - Rs 50,000 – 1,00,000 per song (till recently, when he's borne the brunt of domestic political parties requiring a ban on Pakistani artistes).

Abhijeet Sawant - Acting - Rs 2 million

Singing - Rs 10,000-30,000 per song

Aditya Narayan - hasn't sung for films as after having grown up yet as he has reserved that for his acting debut film 'Shaapith' with Vikram Bhatt. He has reportedly been offered Rs 3 million as a package for acting and singing in his debut film.

Farhan Akhtar doesn't fall in the category of singer-actors. But post the success of 'Rock On' and with the promos of 'Luck By Chance' looking very promising, Farhan is being offered anywhere between Rs 10 to 20 million for acting and singing as a package.