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Tale of the Actor-Singers

While Western stars have been flirting with the stage as real-life music makers for some time now, some Bollywood stars don't want to be left behind either

Published: Jul 31, 2014 06:25:34 AM IST
Updated: Jul 28, 2014 04:54:02 PM IST
Tale of the Actor-Singers
Image: Corbis
The Bacon Brothers

One of my early memories of an actor playing a musician on stage is of Rishi Kapoor wielding a guitar in the movie Karz. The image is distinct: The cherubic hero making a valiant effort to sync his fingers with the guitar melody ringing through the playback track. Soon enough, of course, he ditches the axe to warble his way through the reincarnation song in full filmi mode.  While phillum stars in India have long simulated musicians on screen, their Western counterparts have been flirting with the stage as real-life music makers for some time now. One of the longest-running off-screen acts has to be the Bacon Brothers, composed of Kevin Bacon and his sibling Michael. The brothers’ middle-of-the-road indie/Americana sound is well crafted and ably performed and has been active on the touring circuit for years.

Tale of the Actor-Singers
Russell Crowe’s been at it for a while too, first with his band 30 Odd Foot of Grunts, which lasted till 2005, when he retained the acronym as well as a few bandmates and formed The Ordinary Fear of God. TOFOG in both versions have released EPs and full-length albums. A search on iTunes elicited My Hand, My Heart, featuring a collection of largely unremarkable songs. But Crowe’s distinctive baritone isn’t unpleasant to hear. However, absent of Crowe’s celebrity, it’s doubtful this band would last beyond an album and handful of club revues.

Keanu Reeves’ indie/alt band Dogstar had some staying power, lasting nearly a decade. Unlike Bacon and Crowe, Reeves remained behind the front line, as bass guitarist and backing singer. Dogstar’s run had some noteworthy moments, opening for Bon Jovi in Australia in 1995 (the very year my band Indus Creed opened for them in Bombay) and playing Glastonbury in 1999.

Far less serious in content than his peers is Jack Black, of School of Rock fame. The funnyman’s mock-rock band Tenacious D has three albums to its name, each featuring Foo Fighters’ Dave Grohl playing drums. Completed by guitarist and singer Kyle Gass, the duo do rock operatic spins on their virility, their friendship and cannabis use. Think Meat Loaf meets Spinal Tap channelling Cheech and Chong.

Today’s darling Ryan Gosling is one of the newest to act on the urge to croon off-screen. Gosling goes thematic, though, pairing his professed obsession with ghosts with that of his bandmate Zach Shields. The one-album-old Dead Man’s Bones features the band singing about spirits and zombies and werewolves.

Tale of the Actor-Singers
Images: Clockwise from top left: Noel Vasquez / Getty Images; Mohammed Jaffer / Reuters; Getty Images; Fotocorp
(Clockwise from top left) Ryan Gosling in Dead Man’s Bones, Priyanka Chopra, Farhan Akhtar, Ayushmann Khurrana

Lest India’s shimmering ones be left behind, Bollywood has its own share of rock and pop wannabes. Commendably following in the shoes of Hollywood actors, Farhan Akhtar eschewed the B-wood practice of lip-synching to playback, opting to sing all the songs in the movie Rock On!! But Akhtar’s ambitions run bigger. Under the moniker Farhan Akhtar Live, with a Facebook page of over 14 lakh followers and a regular touring band to boot, Javedsaab’s progeny is enjoying a prolific alternate career.

Ayushmann Khurrana (what’s with our actors’ fascination with extra letters? I don’t know whether to pause and hold the final N and then roll the Rs harder…) did a respectable job as playback singer with ‘Pani Da Rang’ from Vicky Donor. His non-film-based single, ‘O Heeriye’, is less admirable though, using pitch correction a little too liberally.

Which, of course, brings me to the most touted non-movie-based work of a movie star. Priyanka Chopra pulls out the stops when it comes to publicity, production and pitch correction. The newly accented actor-slash-singer first hit the music marquee with her song ‘In My City’, featuring slick production techniques that couldn’t make a mediocre song better. Her follow-up, ‘Exotic’, coupling her with Miami’s modern-day music Midas saw some blowback for the Indian actress as she pranced perkily in minimal garb around a dapper and well-swathed Pitbull. But no song of hers has received as much criticism as PC’s cover of the Bonnie Raitt torchsong ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’. The words ‘murder’ and ‘massacre’ have been used to describe her version… and those are the kinder ones.

Pitch correction, a sur-restoring algorithm perfected by such computer-based plug-ins as Autotune and Melodyne, has become a mainstay in modern pop production all over the world. ‘Real’ musicians balk at the thought, preferring to leave in the take with imperfect pitching as long as the feel is outstanding and impossible to replicate—and the flaw, a minor one. But Bollywood, and by extension independent music made by India’s movie stars, are loath to giving up the crutch. Chopra’s flagrant voice-fixing has heavy competition in Celina Jaitly’s odious gay-support song ‘The Welcome’.

But even when it comes to live concerts, film fans take leniency to the next level. A video of Farhan Akhtar performing with his band at the last Kala Ghoda Festival shows throngs of devotees repeatedly yelling out the name Milkha Singh, his most recent movie character at the time. Akhtar obliges them by dropping to the stage and doing a series of pushups. Pushups? That’s the new rock’n’roll? I better get into training.  

The author is the lead singer of Indus Creed


(This story appears in the July-Aug 2014 issue of ForbesLife India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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