Bollywood Whirls To Sufi Music
Lately, either Bollywood (India's equivalent of Hollywood) increasingly seems to be entranced by sufi music or I've been noticing it a lot more due my growing interest in the sufi music genre. When a friend recently asked me to come up with a list of sufi songs featured in Bollywood movies, I figured it was a perfect idea for a blog post. Of course, sufi music has been far too prevalent in Bollywood for me to attempt a comprehensive listing. What follows then is a representative list that also calls out some of my favorite songs, singers, and composers. But before we begin let's briefly describe what defines the sufi genre of music. Sufism is a mystical tradition within Islam wherein there is a heavy emphasis on having the practitioner sing and dance (whirl) with extreme soul and passion in order to express love for Allah or God. It is no wonder that sufi songs evoke such a positive response from the audience. Note that whereas the qawwali (group) form of sufi music has been present in Bollywood films since time immemorial, this blog post is in reference to the comparatively more recent influx of the solo strain of sufi performances. And, yes, Bollywood has indeed taken some artistic liberties with sufi music in that although the central facet -- insanely passionate love -- is present, it is often in the form of a traditional love song, i.e. directed not at Allah or God but at a human love interest. Here then is a roll call of what I might include on a box set meant to showcase the growth and present state of sufi music in Bollywood (complete with liner notes). Note that some of the songs listed below are non-sufi songs by sufi singers and vice-versa.
- The credit for introducing sufi music to Bollywood and, later, to the entire world most likely goes to the most gloried practitioner Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. We got our first taste via the exquisite Sanware from Bandit Queen (1994), Shekhar Kapur's masterly biographical about Phoolan Devi. Almost concurrently, Nusrat broke into Hollywood with contributions to Natural Born Killers (1994) and Dead Man Walking (1995).
- One could argue that Rahat Ali Khan, Nusrat's nephew and handpicked successor, was born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Nevertheless, once he takes that silver spoon out of his mouth and starts singing he produces gems like Mann Ki Lagan from Paap (2003) and Jiya Dhadhak Dhadhak from Kalyug (2005). Granted that Rahat rode Nusrat's coat tails onto the Bollywood train, nevertheless he has more than earned his spot in the limelight. In comparison with Nusrat, if Rahat lacks anything in terms of sheer vocal power he more than makes up for it with melody. Oddly, however, Rahat has not been very active on the Hollywood scene.
- The talented Kailash Kher broke onto the scene in great style with Allah Ke Bande from the movie Waisa Bhi Hota Hai II (2003) and has had a very busy recording schedule ever since.
- Composer extraordinaire A.R. Rahman has delivered amazing sufi creations. Some have been in his own voice, as in Tere Bina from Guru (2007), in collaboration with Chinmayee. He has also launched the career of many including, most notably, Sukhwinder Singh via Chaiyaa Chaiyaa from Dil Se (1998), which is a fresh take on Bulleh Shah's classic Tere Mein Ishq Nachayaa Kar Thaiyaa Thaiyaa.
- The composition team of Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani, and Loy Mendonsa had sufi exponent Shafqat Amanat Ali sing Mitwa in the movie Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006). Shafqat also sang the exquisite Yeh Hosla for the film Dor (2006). SEL were also responsible for composing Krishna Beura's first Bollywood song, Ishq Khudai from Rudraksh (2004).
- Rabbi Shergill's fresh take on Tere Bin was featured in Delhii Heights (2007).
- Roop Kumar Rathod gives a heartfelt performance on Maula Mere Maula in the film Anwar (2007).
- Another sufi song that scorched the music charts was Ya Ali from Gangster (2006), composed by Pritam Chakraborty and sung by Zubeen Garg.
- The composer-singer, husband-wife team of Vishal and Rekha Bhardwaj has been very active in Bollywood and has produced a number of brilliant sufi numbers including the honey-coated Haal-e-Dil from the movie Haal-e-Dil (2008), one version sung by Rahat Ali Khan and Shreya Ghoshal and the other -- even sweeter -- by Rekha Bhardwaj. Look for many more sugary sufi gifts from this preeminent Bollywood couple.
- Others including Abida Parveen have performed yoeman service in the cause of popularizing sufi music across the world but have somehow escaped Bollywood movie soundtracks thus far -- but not for long, I predict.
- Anu Malik's sufi experimentation with Mehboob Mere in Fiza (2000) has been termed groundbreaking by some, but -- to be fair -- it was a collaboration with Rahman, who along with Nusrat had already established sufi music in tinseltowns at either ends of the Pacific. Malik has continued to experiment, for example with Rabbi from Zindaggi Rocks (2006) with performances by Sunidhi Chauhan, Zubeen Garg, and Krishna.
- Last but not least, brothers Salim Merchant and Sulaiman Merchant have made gorgeous sufi contributions such as Allah Hoo from Dor (2006) and Krishna's Maula Mere from Chak De! India (2007).