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Gender inequality behind microphone widening in male-dominated Bollywood  

By Natalia Ningthoujam

New Delhi, March 30 (IANS) Singers like Shibani Kashyap and Mahalakshmi Iyer feel that although more women-oriented films are now being made in Bollywood, there has been a drop in the number of female solo songs. This, at a time when there is no dearth of women vocalists in the industry.

National Award-winning singer Sonu Nigam had told IANS last December that he misses a good female solo number in films. Earlier this month, journalist Gurman Bhatia analysed more than 24,000 Bollywood songs from the 50 highest-grossing movies of every year since 1950 and discovered that the share of songs being sung by women is constantly declining.

Harshdeep Kaur, who sang the 2012 hit song “Heer” for Shah Rukh Khan-starrer “Jab Tak Hai Jaan”, says Bollywood is very male-dominated. “That is one of the main reasons why there are more male songs. Female songs would definitely increase if the number of movies with female actors as leads increase,” Harshdeep told IANS.

Singer Akriti Kakar laments that even a women-centric film like “Queen” didn’t have any songs sung only by women.

“So, the number of songs that come out entirely in the female voice — and not just the item songs — is mostly dependent on the ones who take the call on scripts and roles of the female characters,” adds the singer, known for songs like “Saturday Saturday”, the title track of “Johnny Gaddaar”, and “Iski uski”.

Mahalakshmi, who has sung for actresses like Kajol, Rani Mukerji and Preity Zinta, agrees that she and her female counterparts are not getting as many songs as they used to. But she says at least more women-led movies are being made now.

“Fortunately, there are many female-oriented films now. But we see a lot less of female-oriented songs, especially solos. They are mostly duets. There are just a few lines (for women to sing).

“I hope female singers don’t just become gimmicks. You know… just add two or three lines for women,” adds the “Chalka chalka re” hitmaker.

Shibani says even though “Tumhari Sulu” was a women-centric movie, starring Vidya Balan, it was “Ban ja rani” by Guru Randhawa that became the “flavour” of the season.

“I think the director doesn’t envision music in a female’s voice. Maybe Lataji (Mangeshkar) and Ashaji (Bhosle)… their voices and presence were so strong that people couldn’t think of a film without their solo songs,” she says.

“I don’t know why there is such a huge dependence on the male vocal factor now. However, I feel that, in this scenario, whatever songs I have done — like ‘Zinda hoon main’ from ‘Zinda’ — even though it was hero-oriented film, it was in my voice. So, I have enjoyed that kind of spotlight as a female singer,” Shibani adds.

However, her Bollywood songs like “Sajna aa bhi ja” or songs for the film “Woodstock Villa” were composed by her. So, is it necessary to be a composer to have a solo song in a film?

“I made an entry into the industry as a singer-composer, but I have no qualms in admitting that I did not get any work from other composers. I wonder why? It’s not like my songs have failed.

“We all know that Vishal Dadlani is a very good composer and a singer too. He gets called to sing so many songs, but that is because he has proved himself as a hit singer and composer. He is such a powerful singer… and a male singer. There aren’t much opportunities left for female singers,” says Shibani.

“Allah ke bande” hitmaker Kailash Kher, however, feels that one should not go by the number of songs sung by women.

“Sometimes, even if women are singing just one song, it can beat 10 songs sung by men. It all depends on the quality, how soulful it is and the lyrics, apart from the voice. For instance, Shreya Ghoshal is a super singer,” he says.

“The number doesn’t matter as music is not a mass product. It should leave an impact on people,” he adds.

Composer Amaal Mallik believes equality needs to be the “cornerstone of change”.

“The simplest thing would be to work with more female musicians, guitarists, bassists and vocalists. In so many years, we have never made a song for women to sing — that’s why I took the initiative to make ‘Kaun tujhe’ and ‘Sau aasmaan’ songs from a woman’s perspective,” says the young composer.

He also reveals that there are male singers who refuse to sing duets or versions of a female song.

“If the original song is in the voice of a female, a male singer hardly says yes to sing that version. But sadly, when there is a male original, we usually end up forcing the female singers to sing the song, a version that is hardly promoted unless it is sung by a known name,” he contends.

But musicians only adhere to a script given to them along with a director’s brief.

So, according to him, if this trend has to change, it has to change from the roots of a film… which is the script. “And that’s no one’s playground — except the director’s and writer’s,” he adds.

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