It’s been more than a month since University of Pennsylvania a capella group Penn Masala released “Evolution of Bollywood Music,” their catchy compilation of Bolly music through the ages. Since March 29, the video has garnered a million views and counting. As a native Philadelphian and long-time Penn Masala fangirl, I had to reach out to the boys to find out how they were feeling. We connected a few days before they went on to perform at the International Indian Film Academy Awards in Tampa, Florida.
Did you anticipate the popularity of “Evolution of Bollywood Music”?
We truly hadn’t expected the reaction to be as stunning as it actually turned out to be. Seeing fans, press and celebrities reacting so positively to “Evolution of Bollywood Music” showed us that our efforts had been genuinely appreciated. That is the best reward that we could have received.
How long did the project take?
We have been brainstorming this idea for a while, ever since we saw another a cappella group, Pentatonix, release their “Evolution of Music” video featuring Western music. We started discussing it and thought, “Wouldn’t it be incredible if we could show how Bollywood music evolved over time?” The genre has undergone so many incredible changes over its lifetime, and we thought that it would be really fun to show that in a medley of songs. We did want to celebrate the amount that Indian cinema has impacted our lives in our own creative way. The entire process took a few months, and we spent countless hours practicing to make sure that we could perfect the piece.
Of course you did. You’re Penn kids. Oddest reaction to the video so far?
I think the oddest reaction to the video so far has been someone commenting that Chetan (bottom right in the video) looks very similar to a young Josh from Drake and Josh! We got a good laugh out of that.
So how many Bollywood celebs have watched the vid thus far?
We have had the privilege of having numerous celebrities watch the video and share their positive thoughts with us! Here’s a few. Bollywood superstar Hrithik Roshan. YouTube Musician Alaa Wardi, British newscaster Sonali Shah. Blogger Miss Malini. Playback singer Shreya Ghoshal. Music director Vishal Dadlani. Pop star Arjun. Singer Sid Sriram. Actress Parminder Nagra (Bend It Like Beckham, ER). Playback singer Sunidhi Chauhan.
How did you explain this phenomenon to your parentals?
Our families have been extremely supportive of this entire process, but it is definitely funny seeing them react to YouTube and other social media comments. Parents, uncles and aunties, grandparents are all informing us when our video hits a new increment—so it is extremely entertaining and sweet that they are so actively interested in our endeavors.
Who did the music arrangements? It had to be incredibly difficult to narrow down the choices.
For this project, we had three members of our music committee focusing on arranging the medley: Anil Chitrapu, Dilip Rajan and Prashant Ramesh. The entire group whittled down the list, and the arrangers sat down over the course of a few months to find the best way to incorporate dozens of differing songs in a cohesive piece. Choosing the songs was the first hurdle — arranging them together were the second, third and fourth!
What’s next for Penn Masala? Please tell me you plan to audition for “The Sing-Off”?
No plans for The Sing-Off just yet, but we definitely have some exciting other content and news to share over the coming months!
Has Pentatonix heard the song?
We’re still waiting to hear back from Pentatonix; they’re extremely busy with their own tour. It’ll definitely come full circle once we know that they have heard our tribute to them.
Songs that didn’t make the cut?
We had about 200 total songs handpicked from each decade that had passed our initial criteria. Everything from “Awaara Hoon” to “Suhana Safar Aur Yeh Mausam Haseen” to “Rang Barse” to “Bumbroo” and more were on our shortlist. The group spent many a night debating which songs to put into the Evolution of Bollywood Music song. Maybe the sheer number of songs means that we can make another one sometime soon…
I made a list of the songs I thought y’all sang in that five minute and nine second video. I’m going to channel my inner Ivy League student and ask how well I did on my playlist…
You hit the nail on the head! This is an awesome playlist that you made. Lots of the Masala guys have been listening to this for weeks now!
Kishwer Vikaas is a co-founder of and editor at The Aerogram. Follow her on Twitter at @phillygrrl or email her at email@example.com.
With additional editing by Andrew Thompson.