One of the most popular features of venerable AVS (Asian Variety Show) during the weekly New Jersey-based global Bollywood entertainment news program’s 30-year run has been it’s regular Top 10 Music countdown, traditionally made up mostly of Bollywood movie songs.
“If I don’t have it up one week, I get so many hate emails!” says AVS founder/producer Raju Sethi of the Top 10 segment, which shows short bits of 10 mostly Bollywood soundtrack videos along with title, movie and artist identification.
“My Top 10 serves like a little marketplace as these songs need to be listened to and downloaded,” adds Sethi. “Everyone’s busy, so how do you know what to listen to anymore? You look at our Top 10, and if you like a snippet, you can download and listen to the full song.”
But Sethi also notes that “the charts have kind of fizzled out” at AVS, at least in terms of Bollywood soundtrack songs. Indeed, regular viewers of the program have observed an increasing number of non-movie songs infiltrating the Top 10 Music countdown.
“We were left no choice,” explains Sethi. “We sat here racking our brains and said, ‘Man, nothing good [songwise] is coming out now!' People are dishing out remakes, or taking songs by indie artists and popping them in movies. So why waste time doing Top 10 soundtrack songs? We might as well showcase artists whose music will be in movies later.”
More important, Sethi continues, “We go out and speak to people, and they’re not talking about film soundtracks anymore but indie artists: There are a lot of indie things that are really good on YouTube with millions of views but don’t actually make it to Bollywood and get the boost they deserve--and we focus on Bollywood and that scene. So we’ve started doing the reverse now in getting new artists and putting whatever we like into the Top 10--whatever we see racking up views on YouTube and Apple Music and Spotify.”
According to Sethi, "the industry isn’t paying attention to charts anymore.”
“I hate to say it, but they’re more interested in YouTube views because that’s how they determine which artists to support and how much money to invest in promoting--and it’s where they make their money.”
The AVS Top Ten Music chart, though, has always offered a somewhat subjective means of suggesting music choices.
“It’s like saying, ‘This is what you should be listening to,’” says Sethi. “We determine the positions based partly on traction--looking at all the the various media play a track gets. Then we use our own creative input: Sometimes there might be a famous artist who has a huge following with a track that’s not that good with millions of views--but that doesn’t mean they like the song. So we go with what the audience likes and what they’re used to, but if something new is so radical that we think should be heard, I’ll put that up as well. So we don’t just go only by traction.”
Hence AVS’s move toward greater exposure of indie artist videos as opposed to solely Bollywood movie music clips from established Bolly playback singers.
“One of the reasons for this is that Bollywood has started using a lot of songs made popular by indie artists in the movies,” says Sethi, singling out Punjabi singer-songwriter Guru Randhawa, who made his Bollywood singing debut in last year’s Irrfan Khan starrer Hindi Medium.
“His songs are so popular that they’re putting them in films and making new videos. They’re being used pretty much as background--but they’re selling the movies: LIke ‘Suit Suit’ in Hindi Medium, which came out almost a year prior to that and was a huge hit. So they used it in the movie and took it to a whole new level and he became a staple at the major label T-Series--which signed him--and he’s doing one big hit after another, including another chartbuster, ‘Ban ja rani,’ from Tumhari Sulu , and another great song, ‘High Rated Gabru,’ that’s now coming out with special appearances by Bollywood actors in Nawabzaade.”
“So all these indie artists are getting tracks in Bollywood movies, and Bollywood movie soundtracks otherwise are mostly either songs that have already been recorded, or songs that are remakes,” continues Sethi, citing the upcoming romantic drama Dhadak, set to launch the acting career of late Bollywood legend Sridevi’s daughter Janhvi Kapoor: “The whole movie is a remake of a popular Marathi language film [Sairat] and uses remakes of popular songs, too.”
Sethi also makes note of the forthcoming film Lavatri, which incorporates a famous Gujarati folk song into the film that is being used as its selling point.
He sees that not only is there “not a lot of good original Bollywood music coming out,” but that the rare good music that does “stays in the Top 10 forever.”
“Turnover time is so slow now that if you end up finding five really good songs from Bollywood films in the Top 10, you need to keep them in longer because no good ones are coming out--and you don’t want to plop in a song just because it’s new but because it’s deserving. So we decided not to restrict the countdown to Bollywood but include independent music.”
But Sethi feels that the two genres mix well together, even within AVS’s Bollywood context. In fact, “regional music, indie music, and hip-hop are becoming Bollywood,” he concludes. “So Bollywood music is no longer its own genre, but a good blend of ‘just music.’”