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Last Updated: Friday, 9 February 2007, 11:40 GMT
Mixing up a smash hit in Mumbai
By Mark Coles
BBC World Service's The Beat in Mumbai

Mark Coles
My song was inspired by a fight with a mosquito - which I lost
India's charts are dominated by the sound of Bollywood - over nine out of 10 chart hits come from the movies. But what makes an India number one? To find out, I decided to head to the city of Mumbai and try and record my own hit song.

Currently number one in the Indian charts is Doorie by Atif Aslam - from the Bollywood film of the same name.

Bollywood dominates music sales in the country, accounting for a staggering 93% of all music sold.

Since I am yet to make my debut on the big screen, my hopes of that high placing in the Indian charts are perhaps scotched at the first. As MTV India DJ Nikhil Chinnappa tells me - "unless you are wearing a bikini and you look very fetching coming out of the water, you've got a very slim chance of making it as a pop singer in India."

But - perhaps sensing my disappointment - he adds that there have been some pop singers who have emerged without Bollywood backing.

"The first winner of Indian Idol became very popular," he points out. Ah.

Long hard road

Nevertheless, I ask what the key ingredients for an Indian chart smash.

"You need to have a catchy hook - so that people can hum it," Nikhil says. Fortunately, my self-penned song - detailing an attack by a mosquito I suffered on arriving in the country - means I reckon I have cleared this hurdle.

Been in the city a few days now
Met a mosquito, had a big row
Ended up with bumps and bites on my head
Maybe I should have stayed home in bed
Got the Mumbai mozzie blues...
Went and took the view 'cross the bay
Spend time riding taxis the rest of the day
Got Bollywood stars on my TV
And endless cups of sweet, strong tea
The Mumbai mozzie blues... have gone away

"It also helps if you've got one of Bollywood's biggest stars lip-synching it on screen," he adds. That might prove trickier.

But I cheer up when he points out that there are over a billion people in the country, "so even if a very, very small percentage like your music, that could still be a couple of million people.

"So it's not entirely impossible, but if you were to do it that way it would be a long, hard road to climb."

Well, the first step on that climb is to get the song recorded. I meet producer Sandeep Chowta, who has worked in both Bollywood and pop music.

"Nobody will refuse anybody who comes with an 'item song'," he says.

"Item songs are like club songs in a movie. They are fast, with tons of hooks and powerful singing."

After hearing a few bars of Mumbai Mozzie Blues, he politely tells me I might well be a big star - in the UK.

"But not in India, that's for sure," he adds.

"In today's times, you need a sound that no-one has ever heard before.

"Everybody has this tendency to mimic a peer, or someone they like."

Video vision

I am a little upset and emotional about my performance - I admit it was a bit flat and not, perhaps, my best - but Nikhil cheers me up by pointing out that it is not just about the music and the song. There is also the music video, which is very much key to having a successful song in India.

Nikhil (Pic: MTV India)
The best indication of a hit is the cabbie or the man on the street, or the vegetable vendor and what he has playing
MTV India DJ Nikhil Chinnappa
To this end, I meet Kookie Gurlati - one of the country's leading directors, and indeed, the man behind the video for current chart-topper Doorie.

After I explain the concept for my song, he tells me his vision for the accompanying video.

"I would have you singing it - but if you could manage a few Bollywood stars in the video, trust me, it would help your sales," he says.

"I'd give it a hidden camera look, to cover your experiences in Bombay.

"I'd put camera in the rickshaws, wherever you are going."

He cheers me up - I think if I practice the song and polish it up a bit, I might make it yet.

Subtle leather

But now Nikhil warns me that, to be successful and make a good video, I still have a look to get. He thinks if I visit leading stylist Anshu Aurora, I can be Enrique in India.

Bring it on, I say.

Bollywood stars Vidya Balan and Akshay Kumar sing in the film Heyy Babyy
Bollywood songs utterly rule the Indian charts
"The scruffy look is quite in at the moment - so the more you look yourself, the better," she tells me.

"What I would do is maybe add a splash of colour - a linen or summer blazer on top, which is really flowery - and give very subtle leather accessories with a few beads teamed up with it.

"Image is so important. There are a lot of people who will want to fantasise and dream about you."

Ultimately, however, a lack of available Bollywood stars means that I have to quit my dream of an Indian number one for now.

But Nikhil tells me that the charts are not the be-all-and-end-all anyway.

"They don't have the technology that they have in the US or UK [for counting sales]," he says.

"The best indication is the cabbie or the man on the street, or the vegetable vendor and what he has playing on his little 2-in-1."

Mumbai Mozzie Blues may just have a chance yet.

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