There Are Other Options

Pankaj Udhas2Every week I watch AVS (Asian Variety Show), as its web site describes it, “a weekly capsule that encompasses the best of Bollywood and beyond.” The New Jersey-based, English language program is available on cable and satellite TV stations as well as online, and does a great job in keeping you up-to-date on South Asian culture if you’re into it—like I am.

Last week they ran an interview with the legendary “playback” film and ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas. Ghazals, which are written and performed in many languages, are intense songs grounded in poetry, and have been hugely popular in India and elsewhere. But in his AVS interview Udhas, who was performing in New York as part of a tour, noted that while still popular—as evidenced by the response to his tour—“people aren’t as euphoric about ghazals as they used to be.”

“There was a euphoria for [ghazals] singing that may be lacking today,” Udhas said, then explained: “Music today in India is nothing but Bollywood. The only music being heard, recorded and mastered is Bollywood, Bollywood and Bollywood. It’s the only music being recorded.”

Miley CyrusThis, Udhas said, “is very unfortunate, because worldwide, every genre of music prospers.” In the U.S., he added, “So many radio stations are playing jazz, hip-hop, rock, pop, so there is space for every genre, every kind of music. Unfortunately in India, they have shut all the spaces, and what has happened is today the only music you are listening to is Bollywood, the only option you have is Bollywood.”

Presumably, Udhas didn’t see the MTV Video Music Awards.

Whatever radio may or may not be playing in America, for the last week, in what Sarah Palin likes to call the “lamestream media,” it’s been Miley Cyrus, Miley Cyrus and Miley Cyrus, the only option you have is Miley Cyrus. And if not Miley Cyrus, it would be, Lady Gaga, Taylor Swift, Kanye West, Katy Perry, One Direction, no other direction.

Bollywood-3And if it’s not the VMAs, it’s the CMAs, the Grammys, any music awards show. I realize it’s asking a lot to expect anyone to watch AVS, let alone know it exists. Same with ghazals and Pankaj Udhas.

But there are other options. Plenty of them, “if we get out of this rut,” Udhas concluded. “Maybe not only ghazals, but so many other beautiful genres of music that prosper in India,” let alone the U.S.

Jim Bessman


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