Sufi….So Good — Why Bollywood loves Sufi music…


What is it about sufi music that has captured the hearts of the makers and audiences of hindi cinema like nothing else ? It has to be that sublime touch inherent in this form of music which binds hearts together and often brings a tear to the eye. “Music is the voice of God and Sufi music is dedicated to Him. When you sing for God from the heart, it turns out to be quite soul-stirring” noted bollywood singer Sukhwinder Singer once said. He couldn’t be more right. Sufism is a mystical tradition within Islam with a heavy emphasis on having the practitioner sing and dance ( twirl ) with extreme soul and passion.

While the Quawwali, another form of sufi music, has been quintessentially ‘Bollywood” for many many decades simply because it gained popularity in hindi films very rapidly, the present form — more subtle, soulful and poetic has gained currency in the last decade in a way that now almost guarantees almost one sufi inspired track in every big release. Bollywood may have taken certain liberties with traditional sufi music but the central facet — that of expressing an intensely passionate love- remains unchanged , albeit that love may not be directed towards God alone but occasionally towards a love interest in the film.

The credit for bringing this distinct style of singing to the masses surely ought to go to the late Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan who made us all sit up and take note of the bewitching “sanware” from Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen, as far back as in 1994 and other hugely popular hits like ‘Is Shaan-e-Karam’ from Kacchhe Dhage, a few years later. Almost at the same time, he took sufism to Hollywood with contributions to Natural Born Killers ( 1994 ) and Dead Man Walking ( 1995 ) His music transcended all barriers, a bit like a successful bollywood narrative itself, and was too emotional for anyone to ignore or write off entirely as a passing phase in music.

Upon his tragic and untimely death, the mantle automatically fell on Nursat’s nephew and handpicked successor, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan who went on to produce gems for hindi cinema like Mann ki Lagan ( Paap, 2003 ) and Jiya Dharak Dharak ( Kalyug, 2005 ) What he lacks in his uncle’s sheer charisma, he more than makes up for in his melodious renditions which feature in increasingly more bollywood movies now.

Kailash Kher made his mark on the bollywood sufi scene with his chartbuster Allah Ke Bande from the film Waisa Bhi Hota Hai ( 2003 ) and thereafter managed to get noticed with just two words “subhaan allah” in that award winning number from Fanaa in 2006 ( Chand Sifarish ) which otherwise belonged to Shaan. Composer extraordinaire A R Rahman has given us some unforgettable sufi tunes over the years — Chaiyya Chaiyya from Dil Se ( 1998 ) Piya Haji Ali from Fiza ( 2000 ) , Al Muddath Maula from Mangal Pandey ( 2005 ) , Tere Bina from Guru ( 2007 ) Khwaja Mere Khwaja from Jodhaa Akbar ( 2008 ) and more recently, gems from Rockstar ( Kun Fayakun )

Shankar Ehsan Loy, Pritam, Rabbi Shergill, Roop Kumar Rathod, Vishaal and Rekha Bharadwaj, Anu Malik, Abida Parveen; whichever way you turn, almost all noted musicians weaving their melodious magic in our films these days have composed and sung sufi numbers for various blockbusters and their sufi creations have actually been hugely instrumental in the musical success of these films. Famous singer Javed Ali who sang the beautiful sufi composition Aarziyaan from Kurbaan is of the opinion that listeners today “ connect to songs with high notes, that’s why they relate to sufi songs so easily” while Kailash Kher attributes its popularity to the fact that it “conveys the feeling of purity and true love, not just between a man and a woman but something far beyond that…”

In the field of entertainment which is as tough and competitive as the business of hindi cinema, trends often come and go.

And now with Rahat Fatah Ali Khan singing the wonderful Jag raho in the movie Sultan

But it would be safe to say that sufi music, or Bollywood’s interpretation of traditional sufi music looks like it is very much here to stay. And that alone is music to our ears.

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