#SingIndiaSing: Two hours, 28 songs. All original. Whattamusical!

By Narendra Kusnur

The contest is hotting up. Four musicians have been shortlisted for the talent competition #SingIndiaSing. There’s Pune-based rocker Vishnu (Siddharth Basrur), Dharavi belly dancer Kitty (Kamakshi Rai), Carnatic rapper Jayashankar Iyer aka Jazzy (Tavish Bhattacharrya) and veiled mysterious girl Shweta (Sarosh Nanavaty).

They all are ambitious and want to win. So before they tell their audience their own stories, they sing ‘Vote For Me’, with the lines, “I sing coz my voice is my face, I sing of my beauty there’s no trace, Don’t look, be blind to my disgrace, The beauty I can’t replace, I sing coz my voice is my face.”

India’s first reality show musical, #SingIndiaSing premiered at the Jamshed Bhabha Theatre on Friday evening. Clearly, it is a shining example of innovation, perfection, grandeur and entertainment.

In a musical, various elements have to come together. The songs are the heart and soul, the script and lyrics form the backbone, and various performances fill the play’s body like limbs. The flow, the drama, the sets, lighting, relevance to topical issues, humour and audience interaction add to the complete caviar, crab and champagne cocktail.

Having said that, I would like to focus on the music here, besides related subjects like the lyrics, choreography and how the performances blended. But before that a few credits are due. Primarily, director Nadir Khan, story and lyrics writers Rahul DaCunha and Bugs Bhargava Krishna, and music composer Clinton Cerejo. Voice coach Marianne D’Cruz and choreographers Bertwin D’Souza and Shampa Gopikrishna deserve special mention. And besides the cast mentioned above, there are fantastic performaces by Uday Benegal as the head of the channel airing the show (his name is Channel too) and his colleagues Dolly (Suchitra Pillai) and Rocky Singh (Brian Tellis).

There are 28 songs, all original and sung live against orchestral backtracks. The sound is a mix of indie-rock, metal, hip-hop, soul and Bollywood with a Hinglish flavour. A fair mix but one point to make is that unlike the pre-publicity claim of being a musical all in song, there are spoken dialogues too when rankings and updates are being announced, when Miss Malini (played by herself on a screen) provides interview inputs or after the final round. So it’s not 100 per cent the film ‘Les Miserables’ but almost there. And those dialogues and interludes go with the plot.

Secondly, multiple genres are all fine on paper. But what’s important is that every song has to go with the script, the particular situation and audience mood. This is something followed in Hollywood musicals, West End, Broadway and a large section of musically-enriching Hindi cinema.

#SingIndiaSing is perfect on that front. Ah in the days of MeToo, there’s this song which obviously must have been written much earlier, Nanavaty sings, “Sisters say no, don’t give up, don’t give in, sisters say no, don’t be used, don’t be abused, sisters say no, come on stand your ground, sisters say no, no, no.” The back-up vocals add to the effect. Gooseflesh moments.

There are many other beauties. Different moods that go with the storyboard. Songs called ‘What Does She Have?’, ‘How Do I Win The Race?, ‘Smear The Rocker’, ‘Kitty Ki Kahani’ and ‘Shelf Life’. All these may seem like meaningless titles on paper. But they blend so perfectly with the live experience. Add to that the choreographed group dancing. Some brilliant work.

On a final note, there have been many English musicals staged in Mumbai. But most are adaptations of western hits – ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ being just one example.. In 1983, there was the Indian rock opera ‘Operama’. Amazing work but it was based on the Ramayana. This time, #SingIndiaSing has taken live and original theatrical music to a new scale. So let’s sing, India, sing to that.

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Narendra Kusnur is one of India’s best known music journalists. Born with a musical spoon (okay, doesn’t fit, but you get the drift), Naren, NK, Kusnur, Narender, Kaansen, Jahanpanna… however else many call him, is a late bloomer in music criticism. He was (is!) an aficionado first, and then strayed into writing on music. But in the last two decades, he has made up for most of what he didn’t do earlier. If ever there is an Ustad given for music writing, NK, would be among the first to receive one. Narendra Kusnur writes weekly on Xyngr. Don’t ask us when.