Alexis in Bollywood

Italy has the music of opera and the many singers this music has produced. My country, India, has the music of Bollywood films which is starting to gain worldwide appeal. I work as a physical therapist with a handicapped young woman named Alexis who loves to listen to music. When I first met her about five years ago, she would listen to Andrea Bocelli almost every day. Her Italian father said she likes Bocelli because she knows he is blind like her. I think she likes him because he sings in a gentle manner that you could listen to for hours.

As I got to know Alexis better, I thought that she might like some of my favourite music, the songs from Bollywood films. I introduced her to Bollywood songs by bringing over some of my CDs. I started with instrumental tracks by A.R. Rahman, the Indian composer who won an Academy Award for best original song for his song “Jai Ho” from the film Slumdog Millionaire.  Alexis listened to this music very carefully. I made Alexis a CD of different types of Bollywood music, including classical, modern and very contemporary pieces with a Western flavour. I named this CD “Alexis in Bollywood.” She loved to listen to it. I made Alexis dance by moving her hands and arms to the beat. Alexis’s Italian father likes to play the CD in the morning. “This is the perfect happy music to start the day,” he says.

Alexis seemed to respond to songs like “Jaadu Jaadu” sung by Alka Yagnik and Udit Narayan from the film Koi Mil Gaya,  and “Zuibi Dubi” sung by Sonu Nigam and Shraya Ghoshal from the film Three Idiots . I played these songs repeatedly for her for a few days and then played some of her favourite Italian tenors. Whenever I played the Bollywood songs, her face would light up as soon as the music started. I had the impression that Alexis recognized them by heart.

India enjoys one of the oldest musical traditions in the world. The system dates back to the Vedas. A typical Bollywood film has six or seven songs, often sung as solos or as duets in the manner of opera. And like opera, the words and music are often written by distinguished poets and composers. While the predominant language in these films is Hindi, songs have lines from other Indian languages such as Urdu, Persian, Punjabi, Bengali and even English. You hear Bollywood music in public places throughout India. Just as opera helped to spread Italian culture around the world, so too Bollywood film music is helping to spread Indian culture.

When I saw how much Alexis enjoyed listening to modern Bollywood songs, I made her another CD of my favourite Bollywood contemporary songs: I named it “Alexis in Bollywood, Volume 2.” I made Alexis move her arms to the beats of melodic songs like “Chand Sifarish” from the movie Fanaa and “Jab Se Tere Naina” from Saawariya, both sung by Shaan in a pleasing manner that is simply a joy to hear. There is a funny song in this CD, “Tum Se Hi,” from the film Jub We Met sung by Mohit Chouhan. This song starts with girls repeating the sound “a-aa, a-aa… a-aa.” Alexis listened to this song very carefully and loved the “a-aa, a-aa…” I think this is because it is one of the few sounds that she can make.

I also brought Alexis some soft music, including Qawwali (a musical expression of devotional poetry practiced by Sufis) sung by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. His “Allah Hoo,” a traditional Sufi chant is very pleasant to hear. Alexis’s father says that Ali Khan’s melodic singing reminds him of Gregorian chants. Alexis’s older sister also likes to listen to Ali Khan. I later introduced Alexis to ghazals – an Indian classical form of poetry. A CD I brought her titled “The Finest Moments” consists of ten solo and duet ghazals sung by Jagjit Singh and Chitra Singh. It has ghazals like “Woh Kaghaz Ki Kashti” that take you back to childhood, and beautiful hearttouching romantic poetry like “Hontoun Say Chou Lou Tum.” I like to play these soothing songs for Alexis when she is relaxing or during her exercise program because she listens to them very intently and it keeps her calm.

From what I observed, for Alexis music is not just a form of entertainment, it is a means of stimulating and focusing attention and developing memory skills. Alexis cannot speak, but she can tell you what she likes with her smile and her eyes. I think Alexis has a very good sense of beat. I do not know which language she understands, but I can see Alexis feeling the music from deep inside her soul. Her love of music was inherited by her music-loving parents. Music is a significant part of her day and it helps her to achieve greater fulfilment and integration in her life. My intention was to share some of my favourite songs with Alexis, but in the end I introduced Bollywood music to an entire Italian-Canadian family.

Manu Singla returned to India at the end of 2012.

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