Bollywood Explained: The Purpose of Music in Bollywood Films

Music and films go hand in hand. You may not notice it, but pretty much every top Hollywood film has a background score accompanying the actual film.

Not sure what I mean? Well, think elevator music, quick murmurs of sound, or how about that time when that creepy, thrilling music comes on during a scene. Imagine a stressed out Tom Cruise–anxious to dismantle a bomb threatening a bus full of people in the 90’s film Speed–there was something else there, something that made your back hair stand-p and give you the chills. It was music. Music plays a huge role in films and helps set a mood and build tension.

If you’ve seen an Indian musical film, or a Tollywood/Bollywood film then you probably realized something was out of place, something was different. Unusual, unexpected, and perhaps quirky? Let’s just say you were probably confused about the music.

Have you ever found yourself confused when:

  •  Suddenly in the middle of a film Shahrukh Khan pops out and starts dancing as a top-less contractor, surrounded with hot babes. Were you thinking: “When did this happen? He was just standing there, all OK-COOL, and now he’s dancing?!!?” 
  • Two characters are enemies at the beginning of a song, but then get all smiley, and happy towards the end. Somehow, while you weren’t paying attention and wondering what the lyrics meant, they got hitched!
  • The characters are dancing and singing in an imaginary space, or an impossible place. Like on top of a skyscraper!
  • People are just dancing and singing–why?!

  •  First he’s crippled for life and can’t move a muscle, NOW HE’S DANCING?! When did this happen?

 If you’ve ever wondered or questioned these things, well then maybe I can clear up your confusion.

They aren’t just dancing for the ‘sake’ of it. 

Sometimes you might think that film makers just slap in a bit of song and dance to fill up a 30 minutes to fill in for a gap in a long film. But, in most cases, that’s not really why there are musical scenes in Indian films.

Music and dance segments in Indian films are a form of expression.

Music and dance scenes can help progress the plot, express a feeling between characters, or take a couple from not being in-love to being in-love in a flash. It’s a different way of thinking, but it really works to help get abstract ideas across to the viewers in a smooth way.

Dream Sequences, are an imaginary situation that doesn’t really happen in the story, but are a real situation or hope for the character dreaming. In order to play out these dreams, actors dance it out, and express the feelings through music. Ultimately leaving viewers with a brief understanding and a sense of confusion–not unlike a fleeting dream.

In the case of Koi Mil Gaya, it was much easier for the kids to dance with the alien to show that he was friendly, rather than contemplate about it without music.

In Conclusion:

 Music scenes in Bollywood films help move along the plot, and communicate different things in other ways than just talking.

More about the music–as well as other commonly questioned facts.


The actors aren’t really singing: well, most of the time. 

Bollywood films make out on cd’s and music, as the films influence Indian music and the Indian music influences Indian pop-culture. For example: back in 2010, Dabaang and Tees Maar Khan were big blockbuster films, but what made them watchable, actually, what made movie goer’s really want to see these films was the music videos released before the film. Dabaang had a song called Munni Badnam, while Tees Maar Khan had Sheila Ki Jawani. Both music videos were hot little numbers. Munni Badnam enlisted an ‘Item Girl’–which is a celebrity hired just as a dancer for a song–rather than a actor dancing and singing in a song as well as performing as a character in the film. In Tees Maar Khan, the female  protagonist dances and expresses the emotions and character of her role.

Yes, they are lip singing. 

But sometimes they aren’t. 

Sometimes there will be a moment in a film where a person is singing in the shower, or for example, in Faana, Kajol’s character sings a song with her husband and the two reveal their relationship to each other–they were really singing for the film.

Most of the musical scores are sung by top artist and singers, but sometimes actors will sing for films, especially if they are singers and actors: take Siddharth, or Ali Zafar for example, they don’t sing for all their films–but they do for some of them.

images credit : Youtube-darde-e-disco , 2-koi-mil-gaya, stills from guzaarish, youtube-action replayy

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