You’ve been quarantining under a rock if you follow Indian pop culture and yet haven’t heard of the controversy around Masakali 2.0, a constipated remix version of A.R Rahman’s 2009 chartbuster, by DJ Tanishq Bagchi. Long story short, the original creators lashed out against the team behind the horrendous remix. Now, this whole incident put forth a very debatable question into people’s heads: Should celebrated songs of the past – or any song for that matter – get remixed at all? Maskali is one of my all-time favourites, and hearing the new version only increased my love for the original. So for the aforementioned question, my instinctive answer was: NO.
Just a day after Rahman’s angry tweet, I was tripping on Kaantha by Masala Coffee, when my brother pointed out that this was also the rehash of an older song. If I am against reworkings of old songs I should be against ALL rework whatsoever, but clearly that wasn’t the case. Now you have to note that these are really jobless times, so without further ado I began my hunt for all the Malayalam songs that have been remixed in mainstream movies. Now this where I came across another distinction: covers and remixes are not the same. A cover is a reinterpretation of an old song. A remix on the other hand, is a reproduction that samples the old song and modifies bits to make a new product. Most reworks come somewhere in between. Here’s a (mostly exhaustive) list of Malayalam songs that have been arguably “remixed”.
Chettikulangara from Chotta Mumbai (2007)
Chetti, apart from being one of the first official remixes of an old song- in fact, even before the trend caught on to Bollywood – could also be called an effective remix. It does not meddle with the lyrics; rather, Rahul Raj tweaks the tempo, modernises the instruments and makes it more juiced up and fun; an extension of what the original Prem Nazir song intended.
Pichakapoo from Husbands in Goa (2012)
A completely unwarranted remix by MG Sreekumar, this is one of those cases where even today, the older version sounds a lot more fresh. Whether it’s the acapella portions (“Neela Nabhasin”) or the arrangements, the Ousepachan original was way ahead of its time in terms of the soundscape. (Not surprising. Guess who did the keyboard programming for the original? A.R Rahman!)
Pistah from Neram (2013) & Palkkari Penne from Paipin Chuvattile Pranayam (2017)
Two instances where Jagathy’s musical comedy bits inspired songs: the former from Kinnaram and the latter from Chekkeranoru Chilla. Thankfully, both these songs are dance-worthy tributes to the actor. Pistah, created by Shabareesh Verma and Rajesh Murugesan, was the more widespread hit, crossing borders and even getting selected as the IPL anthem for 2016.
Unnam Marannu from 2 Harihar Nagar (2009)
One of the most basic marketing gags while making a sequel: re-use an iconic song from the original. Though this Alex Paul version has nothing new to offer, it manages to get you into the “Hariharnagar zone” with its slapstick visuals and quirky lyrics.
Ooty Pattanam from Kilukkam Kilukilukkam (2006)
The intrinsic fun that the Kilukkam number had, be it the lyrical chutney of Tamil and Malayalam, or the visuals feat Mohanlal-Revathy-Jagathy, is just not found here.
Kandu Randu Kannu from Annayum Rasoolum (2013)
This is one of those rare instances where a peppy original gets a mellowed down remix. The original song from Chuzhi (1970) is a Qawwali-style dance number, while the new version is a breezy situational song. Music director ‘K’ sees to it that Shahbaz Aman’s rendition retains the innocence of its predecessor from the Mahboob- Baburaj combo.
Oru Madhurakinavin from Teja Bhai & Family (2011)
The original song feat Rahman and Shobana is already popular as one of the peppiest numbers of the 80s. Here, it gets a Western twist. Deepak Dev does a neat job of keeping the soul of the song intact while peppering it with the occasional English lyric.
Bonus Fact: Did you know that Kudukku wasn’t supposed to be in Love Action Drama’s soundtrack at all? The team shot the visuals for a remixed version of Suresh Gopi’s much-celebrated “Malaramban Thazhukunna” (explains why you see that hook step thrice in the video) but they had to scrap this option out due to copyright issues.
The above cases don’t help form a solid conclusion. There are some hits and some misses.
I believe that among the listeners, there are two schools of thought in this area:
- “Don’t touch old songs!”: This is the school that bashes Harish Sivaramakrishnan when he gives a Carnatic flavour to Sreeragamo. “Dasettande paattu nee thodanda/”Ithu Dasettan padiyathu pole illa”, they say. And such a response isn’t arbitrary. Kerala has long had a ganamela culture where singers are expected to sing a song exactly the way it was recorded. A lot of people have hardwired their brains against improvisation.
- “Play around with old songs maybe, but don’t kill them!”: I think most of the millennials belong to this school. With the advent of YouTube, there are more platforms for people to come out with their art. And with more exposure, people’s open-mindedness has also improved. But at the same time, it is fair to expect that the rework of an old song does justice to it. When I bash Tanishk Bagchi for Masakali 2.0, I’m not bashing him for his art form; rather, I do not find his version to be as musically pleasing as the original.
After an hour of “Whatsapp brain-storming” with some of my musically-trained friends – shoutout to Dhanya, Anand and Vineeth – I’ve figured out a rough formula that mainstream cinema could use to play safe with the remixes:
- Give importance to what the song signifies in itself. If there are embellishments added to the song and yet the mood of the original is retained, I think it is a fair doing. For example, Pistah retained the quirkiness that was associated with Jagathy Sreekumar’s bit. And the same could be said for all the above remixes that one deems “hits”.Masakali 2.0 does not have the flow or the breeziness of the Delhi-6 track. And that could be a problem, technically.
- When you select a song to be remade, make sure there is a generational shift in the core listeners. For example, when Chettikulangara released in 1975, Gen X was young (Let’s say the target audience was youngsters). Later, when a new generation (Gen Y) was young, they brought back a rejuvenated version of the same song. But for Gen Y, this was as good as an original song because they hadn’t been exposed to the original. So not only does this help carry on the legacy of good songs, but it also helps avoid comparisons. Maskali 2.0 is facing backlash also because..it’s too recent a song to be remixed! People remember it very very well!
If you have reached the end of this piece, you may be thinking how, in the midst of a deadly global crisis, this article is the king of first-world problems. You’re right. I’m just diverting myself from negative thoughts. And anyway, the topic of this discussion doesn’t even bother 95% of the people. Remixes are still going to come, and people are going to listen to it – on YouTube, in parties, everywhere – whether they like it or not. But, but…. if there was a way to make these remixes more memorable and have a legacy of their own, wouldn’t that be great?