Occasionally Dada would put his baton down and pickup the pen. This article on the role and indispensability of music in Indian films was one such instance. This piece was written in 1966 and appeared in the 8th September issue of the Cine Advance film journal.
“… instead of placing a song in an unwanted position it should be removed entirely…”- S.D Burman
The main factor in the film is its story. Everything else, including songs and background music, serve only as a fine embroidery to improve and enhance the impact and beauty of the story content. Hence it is a logical argument that if the film has a powerful and gripping script that holds the audience interest from beginning to end, then I agree that the other paraphernalia like songs, dances and even other allied embellishments are not a must.
While songless films are a rarity in Hindi, they are common on the Bengali screen. For the reason I enumerated above and because being regional films with limited markets which stands in the way of their affording costly production values, they give powerful story content instead, which balances the absence of songs in those films. There is also the case of Satyajit Ray who makes internationally acclaimed films, and most of his films don’t carry songs. As I said he compensates this with his camera work and engrossing direction.
But songs are very necessary in musical films. Even here care has to be taken in their use. If songs are not properly utilized and merged with the film as a whole, they create the hindrance which affects the continuity of the story. It is this aspect which causes all these complaints in Indian films. It’s not that the people don’t like and enjoy songs as such; it’s how they are presented in the film which matters to them while witnessing a film.
Many a time even best songs are wasted either by placing them in odd situations or by picturising them badly. People get disgusted with the results and they adopt the surgical course of saving themselves from this evil – they walk out of the auditorium and have a quick cup of tea or their puffs of smoke. The fault in this case doesn’t lie with the music director. The matter is out of his hands the moment a song is properly recorded. But even before that it is the director who decides the necessity of a song in a particular sequence. And what type or kind of songs it should be. It is also left to him whether he gets the required results after picturisation.
I personally believe that instead of placing a song in an unwanted position it should be removed entirely. An out-of-place song is the most horrible thing imaginable in a movie.
Finally the question of having songless films as a regular feature in India is a very risky proposition. In fact it’s the songs which are the main prop of an ordinary film with a weak story and inefficient direction. Even in the case of films having powerful themes, should direction lack deftness, the characters do not register properly , the sequences lack the easy flow of continuous motion; and at the same time- suppose by a stroke of luck or by calculations- the songs prove popular, they become the sole saving grace of the movie. It may save it from becoming a fantastic flop. This is the silver lining which will make songs a must in Indian films for years to come.