This season sees the youngsters grooving to ‘Jai Jai Shiv Shankar’ (no, not a re-creation!) and ‘Ghunghroo’ (a re-creation that was more original than reworked) in the hit War. For composers Vishal-Shekhar, it is yet another effortless attempt to stay relevant and youthful.
It is left to a select few composers to last in the race for two decades by remaining relevant and in the reckoning, especially among the post-Laxmikant-Pyarelal generations, when only about 12 musical entities among some 50-plus entrants have made the grade. Vishal Dadlani and Shekhar Ravjiani, who came in to do separate songs in Pyar Mein Kabhi Kabhi (1999) along with other music makers, struck a bond and decided to form a duo.
And the best part of their teaming up is that they still work separately in individual fields—Vishal had been a vocalist with the electronic band Pentagram and has collaborated internationally in an individual capacity with Imogen Heap. He continues to be, today, one of the few busy names in playback singing, recording for almost all composers, big and small. Apart from that, from his first Hindi film itself, he has been a prolific lyricist.
Shekhar, a trained classical singer, was a participant in the Zee TV reality show Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, and has composed and sung the Marathi singles ‘Saazni’ and ‘Saavli’ and come out with the albums Hanuman Chalisa and Adhyashakti. He is also a singer.
For this reason, the two are sometimes billed as Vishal-Shekhar and sometimes as Vishal & Shekhar. Despite buzz to the contrary, their friendship has stood the test of time. Making cameos as themselves, acting as judges on television shows, and composing non-film songs for events and causes have been among their many activities.
The duo’s career did take time to take off but they finally emerged as front-line composers along with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, Himesh Reshammiya and Pritam and continue to be composers of preference. Let us analyze how their career has travelled down times when Hindi cinema and its audience demographic changed far beyond normal parameters associated with the passage of time and generations.
1999-2004: Most of the duo’s initial films had them composing just one or more numbers with other co-composers. After the popular ‘Musu Musu’ and ‘Woh Pehli Baar’ (which Vishal had composed with Shiraz and Samrat) in their debut film, the duo’s first popular song together was ‘Aisa Champion Kahaan’ sung by Sunidhi Chauhan in Champion (2000). The song promised a new energy from a fresh team.
Next up in the ‘hit’-list were ‘Chhod Na Chhod Na Re’ from the 2002 Kaante and the Jagjit Singh classic ‘Bahut Khubsoorat Hai’ filmed on Nana Patekar in Vadh, their first independent release. It was with the 2003 musical Jhankaar Beats that they first caught real attention. ‘Suno Na’ and ‘Tu Aashiqui Hai’ led the songs on this score. But the duo’s biggest triumph that year was ‘Allah Ke Bande’ that introduced the unique Kailash Kher, in a film named Waisa Bhi Hota Hai Part II. The song remains the frontrunner of the Sufiana trend that took off in full force in 2004.
Buoyed by the success of their very different kind of early songs, in an early interview, the duo went overboard in declaring that they were here to give something “superior” to what the Hindi film audience had been fed down the decades. But when success is in store for you, and there is talent and a will to innovate, such needless big talk soon goes out of the window, to be replaced with a cool confidence and conviction.
2004 was a rather mixed phase, with mishaps galore dotted with standout hits. Gupta got the best results in the songs they did in Plan (‘Hota Hai Hota Hai Pyar’) and Musafir (‘Rabba’ and ‘Saaqi’). In demand as part composers, they were a part of 10 films, from which the only solo movies were Stop!, Popcorn Khao! Mast Ho Jao and Shaadi Ka Laddoo.
2005-2009: 2005 saw the twinkling ‘Tinka Tinka’ (Karam), ‘Dus Bahane’ (Dus) and ‘Right Here Right Now’ from Bluffmaster!. Their big triumph that year was their first film of many with Yash Raj Films—Salaam Namaste. Among the pioneers of the seamless English-Hindi mix of words in film songs, it had the frothy ‘What’s Going On?’ leading the charts.
Having introduced today’s frontline lyricist Kumaar in the 2004 Plan, Vishal-Shekhar had also struck up bonds with stars like Sanjay Dutt and Abhishek Bachchan. They had pulled them to the microphone with songs like ‘Tez Dhaar’ (Musafir in 2004) and ‘Right Here Right Now’ (Bluffmaster!). This habit was to continue with both actors, and in Abhishek’s 2011 home production BBuddha Hoga Terra Baap, he actually sang playback for his father Amitabh Bachchan in a medley. Sanjay, who was also co-producer with Gupta, even sang in the film Home Delivery in which he never acted. In the same film, Boman Irani sang the title-song!
Later, Amitabh Bachchan (Aladin), Salman Khan (in recorded promotional versions of songs from Sultan) were among the stars who went on to sing for them. They had also offered ‘Tinka Tinka’ (Karam in 2005) to Priyanka Chopra before getting Alisha Chinoy on board.
Vishal-Shekhar next brought back Bappi Lahiri as a playback singer for the song ‘Bombai Nagariya’ in Taxi 9-2-1-1—this was his first song under another composer, and set him on a profitable alternative career after his heydays as a composer were over. But otherwise, 2006 was a dull year for them, with the ‘Golmaal’ theme from Golmaal—Fun Unlimited and ‘Maula’ from Zinda being tepidly popular.
It was in 2007, eight years after their debut, that the duo finally arrived in the truest sense of the word—with a super-hit score rather than a couple of tracks—in a super-hit film, Om Shanti Om. While KK even picked up an award for the song ‘Ankhon Mein Teri’, Vishal-Shekhar did a super job in creating music that fitted across time zones in the story.
While R.D. Burman had always been their idol, this time they went, on director Farah Khan’s demand, into Laxmikant-Pyarelal territory with songs like the climax number modelled on Karz’s ‘Ek Hasina Thi’—‘Dastaan-E-Om Shanti Om’, ‘Deewangee’ (whose situation was reprised from L-P’s Naseeb’s ‘John Jani Janardhan’) and ‘Dhoom Tana’, where Pyarelal was brought in to arrange the Laxmikant-Pyarelal like song.
The duo rounded off this phase with Dostana, Bachna Ae Haseeno and Tashan, which had well-known popular songs. Standing out in the last film was lyricist Kausar Munir’s debut track ‘Falak Tak Chal Saath Mere’.
2010-2014: The pattern continued with films in the next few years. Teenybopper songs alternated with Sufi-ana and Punjabi pop songs filled the scenario. Such songs, however, did keep them in the reckoning through froth like Anjaana Anjaani, RA. One, I Hate Luv Stories, Student Of The Year (wherein ‘Radhe’ stood out), Tees Maar Khan (‘Sheila Ki Jawani’ become cult), Hasee Toh Phasee and more.
The standout song, which showed their brilliance at re-creation, was ‘Ooh La La’ from The Dirty Picture. Inspired by Bappi Lahiri’s ‘Ooee Amma’ from Mawaali, it arguably remains the most innovative rework done so far in Hindi cinema. And for the record, they introduced Arijit Singh, today’s top name, in the multi-singer ‘Dua’ from Shanghai.
As songs became part gimmicks—the retrograde transition of music in Hindi films had begun insidiously from 2013— Vishal-Shekhar, by dint of their popularity, become one of the drivers of this trend, as the songs of Chennai Express proved. Much against their wishes, Shah Rukh Khan brought in Yo Yo Honey Singh for the album’s biggest hit, ‘Lungi Dance’ and Vishal-Shekhar’s innovative song recorded with S.P. Balasubramaniam was scrapped from the film.
2015-2019: From small films like Banjo (a street-smart Mumbai musical) to the brilliant Sultan (Vishal-Shekhar’s best since Om Shanti Om), zingy Befikre or whopper singles like ‘Dil Diya Gallan’ and ‘Swag Se Swagat’ from Tiger Zinda Hai and Bharat and War this year, the Vishal-Shekhar record plays on in an era in which even CDs are passé! Young is as young does, and V-S have shown that they are up to every kind of music from the flippant to the in-depth, as ‘Jag Ghoomeya’ (arguably their finest ever creation) proves.