The unheard circumstances of Pakistani play-back singers



LAHORE: Ardent fans of South Asian cinema would know best; a movie is incomplete without good music. However, for those who truly appreciate music, not just any song that fits the bill, the soundtrack has to be creatively composed, must have meaningful lyrics and above all, should be worth humming to. These are elements that our playback singers have consistently delivered over the years but unfortunately, their voices have been silenced, at least on the silver screen forefront since the industry entered its phase of what they call a revival.

There was a time when the likes of Anwar Rafi, Shabnam Majeed, Humaira Arshad, Humaira Channa, Naseebo Lal, Saima Jahan, Saira Naseem and Waris Baig were in massive demand. Their voices formed the soul of popular Lollywood movies and records would fly off the racks the moment a new album was released; it is indeed a tragedy that many among the younger generation today are not even familiar with these names. Ever since the new breed of directors, producers and actors has entered the industry, these singers have been neglected and, as a result, are now struggling to make ends meet.

I doubt that anyone will remember any of the songs that became part of films that have been released recently,” said singer Shabnam Majeed speaking about the substandard quality and absurd lyrics of songs being made today. “People still remember songs that they heard in Pakistani movies three decades ago. There are hardly any tracks worth listening to now; musicians from our own country are working in India but the fact of the matter is that they have made no contribution to our industry whatsoever.”

The senior artiste said she is being ignored despite having lent her voice to some of the most commercially-successful Lollywood projects of recent times.

Rafi, who sang the popular Meri Wafa Mere Waday, pointed out that Bollywood is working on refining the quality of its music, whereas the Pakistani film industry is replacing real talent. “Unlike Lollywood, Bollywood is focusing on improving its playback singing,” he said. “There was a time when we were recording dozens of songs for movies but those days are long gone. Because of this change in trend, our films now lack quality songs, and consequently the playback singers are suffering.”

The aforementioned once-popular singers have not been offered any work in the films that have been released in the last five years. Save for private events and musical functions, these talented individuals remain out of work, and sidelined from the industry that they once excelled in.

Despite all this, singer Humaira Arshad remains optimistic and continues to search for a silver lining. “If we want to survive in the industry, it is imperative that we improve our playback singing. Although it is true that some famous singers of the past are out of work today, we must not lose hope.”

The work of a lyricist determines the success of a song. Veteran film lyricists feel discouraged now that the industry has started producing promotional, meaningless and vulgar songs. Writer Altaf Bajwa expressed his disappointment over the fact that film producers have stopped hiring poets. “There was a time when Lollywood was churning out over a 100 movies a year, and all of them had great, memorable songs,” he reminisced. “Film-makers focused on [good] quality music, compositions, and lyrics but now situation is different. Priorities have changed and now no one is willing to invest in good, meaningful lyrics. The way things are right now, playback singing will soon end in Pakistan; that is its inevitable fate.”