Swades - the soundtrackMuch awaited, but I wasn't in town on the day of the audio release. Came back, looked around in the morning, but all shops still closed. Alas. Evening it took to get hold of a CD. Nice cover (T-Series!!). Even better inlay card, with extensive credits and full lyrics. Inserted with anticipation. Nine tracks! Liked some on first hearing. Lukewarm towards the rest. Great lyrics! Second round. The familiar "growing" feeling. Goosebumps felt with some interludes. Listening repeatedly since to get a complete feel. Settled opinion now.
The trailers were very interesting for Ashutosh Gowariker's Swades, especially among those who had been keeping an eye out. With a repeat offering of the Gowariker-Akhtar-Rahman-nationalism combination in store, most were inevitably looking for Lagaan - Redux. Sadly, that hangover is going to influence people's opinions, and given the choice of singers & song themes, that sentiment will not go away.
I found it curious that with this album, different people have reacted positively to different clutches of songs. Also that most have recalled whiffs of older ARR songs, but - and this is interesting - not every recalls the same songs! Perhaps, with a canon that is getting larger each year, this is inevitable. However, this is not to suggest that the score is repetitive. Anyway, let me plunge into some personal reactions to the 7 vocal tracks and 2 instrumental pieces.
Swades is an album that you can soak yourself in. It has a consistent texture (if that is the right word), for which I would primarily credit Gowariker. A music director cannot impose his will on a film's foreground score and contrast it with the possibilities in the script. In some sense Swades is to Lagaan what Lakshya was to DCH, in that the two scripts had (seem to have) music needs that people can (and they're usually dying to) draw parallels between. The lyrics are a huge draw, with Javed Akhtar being in top form in most songs. I say this because of the relative lack of clichés and the richly evocative words, to which ARR has responded well.
Yeh Tara Woh Tara is the pleaser that the trailers have chosen to launch from. A lone strumming begins and is followed by Udit Narayan. A short "mukhaDaa" and a long, early interlude isn't accompanied by the full-blown song, rather there is quiet but rich evocation with dulcet tones. We then get into more heavy strings ( strings & the flute are a preponderance in this album). A little bit of Navin on the flute, quiet philosophical optimism continues, and suddenly! - trademark higher-pitch voice, of a little boy (Vignesh, sounding better than Udit Junior has in the past). This is a lengthy song, and the lyrics on the inlay cover are a good accompaniment. At times, Udit gets a little too saccharine for me, an old failing. Third voice, small girl (Pooja), and now all in part-chorus. Crescendo follows soon.
It isn't surprising to hear people invoke "Mitwa" (with the singer, the strumming, the "type" of song). Somehow, I never felt that even once till date. I liked this instantly, without almost any reservation.
Sa.nwariya is all Alka Yagnik's, and reminded me of her efforts in The Legend
of Bhagat Singh. A single, fleet-footed beat accompanies her almost throughout, which
sometimes lapses (in my opinion) to a more conventional North Indian beat in the "a.ntaraa"s.
It's a really quiet song, with female harmony filling in the spaces. Interludes are quite
pleasing. It is one of those that needs some time to grow, but will never attempt to grab
you by the collar.
I remember a Lagaan interview, where Yagnik said she liked words like "Goriya/Sa.nwariya" in "O Rii ChOrii". Well, she got to repeat that.
Yu.n Hi Chalaa is the other song doing the rounds of the TV promos. "Lighthearted road" song is pretty much how I label it. It's got a lot of engaging strings and acoustic guitars that strum away in the near background. Rahman chooses to go in with three voices (Hariharan,Udit,Kailash Kher), though we see only two on screen in the trailers. Kailash Kher has the kind of unconventional male voice that Rahman seems to dig, so prepare to hear a lot of him in the future. Here, he'd fit Makarand Deshpande's persona well. Hariharan sounds a little flat and renders it in a western tone, while Kher delves into these "aalaaps", "sargams" and modulations quite well. The song has a pop/rock flavour, which sets it apart from the rest of the album, but is melodious nevertheless. One of my favourites.
Aahistaa aahistaa is my least favourite song in this album. A sort of subdued lullaby, I remain cool to this (though several people seemed to have liked this quite a bit). It has the usual Rahman synths and by now I'm a little weary of Udit. Sadhana Sargam pulls things up a bit towards the end, and their harmony together is a little redeeming. This song is going to remind people of "Cha.ndaa Re/VeNNilavé". Santoor (credited to Srinivasulu) is a focal instrument.
Yeh Jo Des Hai Tera/Swades wasn't my pick of the album at first hearing, but many people instantly took to it. I warmed up to it soon, and can now add it to that selective list of good songs that Rahman seems to reserve for himself, but more in the mould of "Vellai PuukkaL". The song essentially consists of a lone beat, a shehnai accompaniment, a faded chorus and the Rahman voice If ever there was a song tugging at nostalgic heart-strings, this is it. Rahman never loses control, and the lyrics don't pretend to be clever, but fit the situation perfectly. Great conclusion of the vocals with the plaintive shehnaai.
Pal Pal Hai Bhaari came as a surprise to me. Who in this age of filmmaking would have a Ramliila song? But Ashutosh Gowariker wants to have one, and Rahman jumps at the chance. Madhushree's "mukhaDaa" gave me that wonderful aural feeling at "aaO raghuviira O"! As the "Baje satya ka da.nka" piece highly resembles a rhythm portion of "If You wanna come along" (New), I was a little miffed at its reuse in this kind of song! But I'm getting used to it. All this is forgotten at the musical response to the harsh Ravana (Vijay Prakash) interrogative lyrics (a good contrast to the female tones): "gin paayegaa...maryaada purshottam" piece is melodious. The third voice (Ashutosh Gowariker is this male voice, I believe) sounds a little orthogonal, and provides a philosophical counterpoint. But the song is vigorous and engrossing, with its mood of despair & moral defiance leading to a happier outcome - quite like "Sarfaroshi ki Tamanna". Wow!
Dekho Na has appeared before, in the vigorously panned "Baba". I haven't heard the original that much, so I don't carry the same antagonism towards this song. I was prepared to be disappointed, but I found quite a bit to merit a repeated listen. The interludes especially. It tends to be a routine romantic song at many places though. I see a mandolin, oud & harp listed in the credits. Am I right is supposing that the mandolin is used in this song?
The two instrumental pieces are a flute rendition of Pal Pal and the shehnaai piece of the title track, both of which are good.
Swades is an instance for the non-Tamil audience that ARR can create albums with a dominance of melody, without having to resort to heavy (Western) rhythms. I think it's time for that debate to be quelled a little. Moreover, this has been about North Indian flavours in melody, rather than using more southern arrangements. It's definitely not up with his best, but it is above average. Rahman fans will obviously love it, and others may like parts of it. I reckon it would take about three passes around the album to make up your mind - that depends on whether you have the patience to make a special case of an ARR album. I'm not so sure if it will attract the greatest mass appeal, for it has no item/dance numbers and by extension, no lack of apparel. Three listens later, and I think one would be sympathetic to atleast 4 out of the 7 vocal tracks.