17/03/2016 6:00 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST

It's Time To Speak The Difficult Truth About Farhan Akhtar's Singing

Rolling Stone India/Instagram

In the spring of 1973, a soft rock number called 'The Cover Of Rolling Stone' by Dr Hook & the Medicine Show made it to no. 6 on the American pop charts. A satirical take on the sensationalist, commercial side of rock and roll, its lyrics talk about a band that’s desperate to make it to the cover of Rolling Stone magazine—an affirmation that all their years of practice and recreational drug use hadn’t gone in vain.

Here’s how its first verse went:

Well, we're big rock singers

We got golden fingers

And we're loved everywhere we go...(That sounds like us)

We sing about beauty and we sing about truth

At ten thousand dollars a show...(Right)

We take all kinds of pills that give us all kind of thrills

But the thrill we've never known

Is the thrill that'll getcha when you get your picture

On the cover of the Rollin' Stone

Let’s fast-forward to March 2016. Bollywood icon Farhan Akhtar has made the cover of Rolling Stone India magazine’s latest issue, dubbed the Playlist Special, as per a post on their official Instagram account. The 42-year-old actor-director, who ushered in a new era of filmmaking in mainstream Hindi cinema with the cult hit Dil Chahta Hai (2001), is also known as the industry’s very own "rockstar", after making his acting debut as a frontman in Abhishek Kapoor’s Rock On!! (2008). The hugely popular film featured him singing over Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s embarrassingly weak, synthesized rock soundtrack (which put the whole gang on the cover of Rolling Stone Indiaback in September 2008)

I’m not saying the man pops pills (I don’t know him and he does seem incredibly fit, so… probably not). What I am saying, however, is that he strikes me as the living embodiment of one of Dr Hook & the Medicine Show’s biggest hits. This will doubtless anger lakhs of fans but this has gone on for far too long and it's time to say it: Farhan Akhtar is a terrible, terrible singer. He is a Bollywood personality who is using his fame and position of privilege to tell an entire generation that actual talent doesn’t matter—good looks, a reed-thin voice, perhaps a little auto-tune software (?), and some charisma is all it takes.

The purpose of this rant isn’t to hate on Farhan Akhtar, the human being. It is certainly not a fervent appeal for him to 'stop singing' — hey, it's his life and he has every right to do whatever he wants with it.

Am I the only one who feels this way? Do his vocals not evoke memories of the weakest, machine-produced chai you’ve ever had in your life—the kind you’d get at a highway food mall? Does Akhtar’s singing not remind you of every karaoke night you’ve ever attended, especially with that one friend who insists on singing U2’s ‘With Or Without You’ even though he has a bad throat? Does it not, sonically, dwell within the frequency range of a Mahindra tractor engine that hasn’t seen a mechanic in over three years?

Today, Farhan Live, the band he formed in 2013, tours the country’s college circuit and plays to thousands of students. The band itself isn’t bad at all—it consists of stellar musicians who all sound quite tight together. Along with a successful career as an actor—he garnered tremendous acclaim for his performance as Milkha Singh in Bhaag Milkha Bhaag (2013)—he lives a parallel life as a legitimate, bona fide rockstar. This, despite being... well, at best, 'house party level' good, as one can see in this video of him playing U2's 'One'.

Meanwhile, genuinely talented indie musicians across India—you may have watched a few perform at your local Hard Rock Café, Blue Frog, or perhaps at a music festival—continue to toil and play for very little money, a few free beers, and food selections from a ‘Special Artist Menu’ (read: overdone burgers, a mayo-soaked ‘salad’, and soggy fries). Blackstratblues, The Lightyears Explode, Skrat, The Ganesh Talkies, The Circus, Blek, Spud In The Box, The F16s and a few others are terrific but don't get heard nearly as widely as they deserve to.

While the band usually performs Akhtar’s hits from Rock On!! and Dil Dhadakne Do (2015), amongst other films, here’s an original they released just last week, on the occasion of International Women’s Day, called ‘We All Are On The Goodside’.

Look, I know what you’re going to say. Rock music is full of singers who are considered iconic, but weren’t the greatest at hitting the notes. The legendary Jimi Hendrix, considered one of the greatest guitarists of all times, occasionally played hopscotch with target notes when he sang. Axl Rose of Guns ‘N Roses is, for my money, the worst singer who ever became a rockstar—but the guy, aside from being one of the most electrifying front-men in music history, is also a talented songwriter who wrote some of the greatest rock songs of all time (‘Estranged’? ‘Civil War’? Even ‘November Rain’ isn’t all that bad, I’ll concede).

On the other hand, the lyrics for Farhan Live’s latest song, by the son of celebrated Hindi cinema screenwriter/lyricist Javed Akhtar, read like the back-page scribbles of a particularly optimistic schoolboy.

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the good goodside

No wrong, no right

No black, no white

No line and no divide

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the good goodside

You may say I’m a dreamer

But I’m not the only one

Lennon mused over his piano

As he sat in the sun

Let love watch down on us

Let humanity rain

Let our hearts beat together

For each other again

No hate, no grief

No race, no creed

No lie and no divide

We all are on the good side

We all are on the good side

We all are on the good good side

Well the times they are a changin’

Said Dylan to me

Strip away your prejudices and

Set your mind free

People all over the world

We made the same reflections, of each other

With different names

No mine, no yours

No bias, no cause

No line and no divide divide divide

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the good goodside

We all are on the goodside (goodside)

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the goodside (goodside)

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the goodside (goodside)

We all are on the goodside

We all are on the good goodside

Okay, fine, to be fair, these cringeworthy lyrics were reportedly inspired by a drawing his 9-year-old daughter Akira made, which is a super sweet thing to do (#dadgoals, says my English-BuzzFeed dictionary). He’s also, commendably, one of our most outspoken stars when it comes to causes such as gender equality and education for the girl child. He comes across as witty, articulate, and sensitive in his interviews. At some point in the near future, we’ll get to see him direct another movie that isn’t yet another sequel to his insipid remake of Don (1978)—hopefully, it’ll be this period drama set in 1905 that he spoke about two years ago at the London Indian Film Festival.

My idea is not to hate on Farhan Akhtar, the human being. It is certainly not an appeal for him to 'stop singing'—hey, it's his life and he has every right to do whatever he wants with it. I’m merely pointing out that as nice and successful as he may be, the man is grossly unworthy of being as celebrated a musician as he is today. An entire generation attending his concerts, as electrifying as they may be (and to be fair, he’s a pretty good performer), should not be forced to think of him as good simply because no real counter-view exists. His appearance on the cover of Rolling Stone India should be seen simply as what it is—a magazine appropriating his fame to sell copies.

By the way, less than a week after ‘The Cover Of Rolling Stone’ hit no. 6 on the US charts in 1973, Dr Hook & The Medicine Show made the cover of the iconic magazine — only in the form of a caricature accompanied by the caption ‘What’s-Their-Names Make The Cover’. No such cheekiness here. Akhtar appears in all his bearded glory, looking good and serious, and embodying the message that it’s absolutely okay to be mediocre as long as you make it look good.

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