MUMBAI — The debate on nepotism that has been sparked off by a recent actor’s death has led to Sonu Nigam taking digs at a targeted top actor as well, but he has also hit out at the music mafia, as he calls it. His terse summing up of the situation is: “I am done! I have had no wish to sing in films for the last 15 years (!!!). I have been in films since 1991 and in the music industry since 1989. But please do not torture the young ones. They need you, your kindness, your grace.”

The singer is now based in Dubai and has blasted an actor without naming him, alleging power play and after alleging that the music industry is run like the mafia, has now come down on T-Series chief Bhushan Kumar. He has stated that he now needs to be addressed as “Tu” (rather than the more respectful “Aap”) because he deserves to be referred to in that way.

Two videos, the first a 7-minute-long Vlog (video blog) on Nigam’s YouTube, sees him hit out at these people, and the first, posted on Jun. 19, where he is seen talking about roadblocks in the career of the newcomers created by big music labels and in turn urged them to be kind. Both have gone viral.

In this, he has said, “I came into the industry years ago and at a younger age so I didn’t fall in the trap, but this new generation is going through a lot.” He further added, “I am out of it and I am very happy in my own world, but I have seen the frustration in the eyes, in the voice and in the words of the new singers, new composers and new lyrics writers.”

He mentions the variety that was there in film music in the past, with diverse styles by different talents and even the same composers Shankar-Jaikishan scoring so differently for  Raj Kapoor and the classical music-heavy “Basant Bahar.” He states that today, even producers and directors are unhappy as they are made to toe the line of a music company’s recommendations, by including songs that they do not wish to incorporate in their films.

Lyricists are paid a pittance, composers are told that they will get work ONLY if they become that company’s artistes, and one song is dubbed by 8 singers or more. “What happens to a new singer who records 10 songs that are dubbed by others and he gets only the 11th one?” he asks.

Alleging that he has a long list of songs that have been dubbed by others, Nigam says that it is better to prevent drastic steps like suicide and show kindness, before it is too late, to young talents.

He also states, “Dua-baddua (blessings and curses) are also important and should be kept in mind. How can power be used like this when a person decides who sings and who does not? How can a star say, ‘Don’t make him sing!’?”

In a damage-control counter-exercise, six protégés of T-Series took on the singer and stated that what he was talking was all blah.

They took the nepotism debate head-on and the Times of India prominently featured them in a press release kind of story. Amaal Malik, Sachet Tandon, Jubin Nautiyal, Rochak Kohli, Manoj Muntashir and Rashmi Virag challenged Nigam’s views and said that while nepotism might be prevalent in the film industry, the music industry is purely based on talent, merit and luck.

Music director Rochak Kohli said, "When I approach a singer for a song, I always tell them that I want to try you for this song (!!!). And we will try our best to keep your voice in the song because things change. It’s not just for new singers. I also tell the same to people like Arijit (Singh), or Jubin (Nautiyal) and Sachet (Tandon). Everyone understands. Singers come up to me and tell me they want to sing maximum scratches. The singer also gets his preparedness and his voice also reaches out to a lot of people. It’s indeed a very progressive process.”

Sachet Tandon added, “I haven’t faced it yet. I sang for another composer and it has turned out that way only. At some point in time, it happens. Rochak is right. You tend to check a singer’s voice to see if it goes with the song. Being a composer, you want to do justice to your composition and it’s all for the film. So, it is okay.”

Jubin Nautiyal asserted, “We all have to understand one thing, there was a time when there was no Internet. But today, it’s more content-driven. Nobody knows but now, even a small song from anywhere can turn out to be a huge hit. Whatever sounds best to the ear, to the whole team of people who are producing the song, is what works eventually. You can have favorites, but sometimes, when a singer or a composer comes up with a great song, you acknowledge it. You can’t deny that, right? Nepotism can be one of the factors that affected the industry in the past, but today, what matters is good content, talented artists and good sound. That’s what every music label, director or producer is looking for.”

Amaal Mallik shared how difficult it was for an industry kid like him to get due recognition. “Being Daboo Malik’s son has got me no extra favors from anyone within the industry. First of all, with due respect to my dad, he wasn’t an ace composer. He never got the success that my uncle (Anu Malik) did. So it wasn’t a phone call that went and someone said, ‘Please listen to my son, he is a composer.’ He’s obviously done his share of songs and he found his little bit of success. When Armaan sang his first song for Vishal Dadlani, he didn’t know that they were making Daboo Malik’s son sing. He went inside the studio when he was 10 or 11, sang a scratch and it went on to be a part of “Bhoothnath.” He did not get the opportunity because he was my father’s kid.”

He went on, “A lot of people have that notion that it must have been easier for me because I had the Malik tag. But I don’t feel it’s right. With due respect to someone like Ankit Tiwari who leaves everything at home to come and make it big here without any backing, I agree I have an advantage. I know how things work. I have seen the failures of my family members so I know how it would work and that’s the only difference. I have been doing it since the age of 19 but I got my first film at 24. Even for that film, my younger brother and my mom went on a film set to meet Salman Khan. We waited for seven hours until he could hear a CD of our work. We wanted someone to launch our music and maybe just say something if he liked it. Because the music was good, he gave us an opportunity. I miserably failed in that film and for one year, I had no work…it’s not happened overnight for me and my brother as well. Maybe, it’s even a bit tougher for people who have a name.”

Lyricist Manoj Muntashir says, “The music industry is not just about Hindi films, it’s beyond that. So nepotism exists and we have had several debates about that. But in the music industry, there’s nothing like that. If nepotism was prevalent, then only the kids of the popular singers from that generation would have ruled, lie the kids of Kumar Sanu or Udit Narayan. Then how did we have Rochak, Jubin, Sachet or even Tanishk Bagchi? They are all outsiders. In fact, we are doing a huge disservice to people and new talents by propagating fear because now, they will feel our industry is filled with tyrants and they will destroy you. Let’s get it clear: there’s no dictatorship, no tyranny, no anarchy, no fascism in the music industry. There’s no democracy either. Democratic values don’t count for great business after all.”

Rashmi Virag said that apart from talent and hard work, what works is the luck factor. “There’s a lot of confusion regarding lyrics writer and writer in the industry. Let me clarify: any good writer/lyrics writer is making as much money as a singer is making today. Gone are those days when there were situations like these. It’s a very close-knit team altogether. We are all good friends, we all work together and it’s a fairly transparent set-up. Either of us does any setting. We serve the cause of a great song. The ultimate goal happens to be how good the song will be.”

Calling these artistes “maha-geniuses” sarcastically, Nigam exposes a 18-month-old tweet by Amaal’s younger brother and singer Armaan Malik, stating that every creative talent in the music industry was unhappy as he was not allowed to be himself. Armaan wishes that there was unity among the artistes.

Nigam counters that among these worthies are two men who claim to be his friends, but they have clearly been instructed to talk against him. He also asks why a reputed newspaper like the Times has to pass a verdict and say that his claims are null and void after stating both the sides—his and the opposite—in any case.

All this has led to a more aggressive video by Nigam in which he addresses Bhushan Kumar stating that he does not have any respect for him. He tells Kumar that he has taken “panga” (an issue) with the wrong man (Nigam) as he has access to material with regards to a video alleging sexual molestation against Kumar in a #MeToo case in 2018. He also reminds him of how he had implored Nigam for various favors in the past.

Meanwhile, also on Twitter, lyricist-writer Mayur Puri has openly named T-Series (and Yash Raj Music) as two music companies that do not play fair. This is in reply to a top counsel’s 10-part tweet as the advocate for the IPRS (Indian Performing Rights Society). 

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