Thoughts on the music of Rang De BasantiA Sikh devotional hymn, a fast paced Punjabi number, a rap/pop "college" song, a very slow romantic duet, an Arabic style song, a contemplative melody , a recited version of "Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna", a surprising mother-son duet and a rock-and-roll-ish carol to end - there is no shortage of variety in Rang De Basanti. Whatever credit accrues must go to the story/screenplay writer to provide a music director with such a range of situations, for it is that department (assuming no marketing interference) that holds the key to what a music director can make music for.
Now to the actual songs:
From the minimal research I did, I found this hymn is known as the Sikh "muul mantra" and begins the Guru Granth Sahib [link]. Harshdeep Kaur sings this in a very crystal clear production. So now ARR has an album with a Sikh devotional presence, after Hindu, Islamic and Christian before. Interesting.
Ra.Ng De Basa.nti
Punjabi number? Don't be afraid of listening to it - there is a complete
absence of exhausted clichés like soNi kuDiyaa.N and gali
de muNDe et al. This marks one in the merits column of the
Joshi : Interview
on the album) who provides a bhangra touch without sacrificing freshness.
"Dhiimi aa.Nch pe tu/Zaraa ishq chaDhaa/thoDi jharne laa/thoDi nadii milaa"
Quite minty to me.
Daler Mehndi and Chitra in the same song - I would never have bet on that combination being credited together. This is a rocking good song, though I'm not very sure about its shelf life yet. However, the minor electronic touches here and there, the delightful contrast between the male and female voices and the lyrics (Joshi points out "The song describes the method to prepare basanti ka rang") make this the song the album will lead into the marketplaces with. More lyrics appreciation: I learnt words like "dhau.Nkanaa".
Supposed to be a rebellious college number, the kind we've heard in Kadhal Desam. The yells of "Lose Control" and "I'm a Rebel" were unappealing to me (too old? nope, generally sceptical of these specious sentiments :-) ). Still, just a couple of notable crumbs and slight irritation at the singers (Naresh Iyer, Aslam) saying "tiita" instead of "thiita" (Greek "theta" if you're wondering). Let's skip along. I have a feeling this would probably work better in a film situation than as a standalone song.
PaaThashaalaa - Be A Rebel
While we are at it, let's get the second version of this song out of the way. Blaaze back rapping (usually causing a little trepidation to me) - but must say, interesting mix of lyrics. "Zi.ndaabaad/zi.ndaa-good"? Still figuring out if I like that. More electronic jhingbang with a recurrent beep and a sort of chorus scat. Again, not my line of affections.
Tuu Bin Bataaye
This is the kind of Rahman song that needs several warnings of "this will probably grow on you, so give it time". Very, very, very slow tempo and quite spare in orchestration. I have heard it several times now and must confess that I find it a little conventional in its progress, with the bell chimes and the sax - the standard signs of a romantic duet. Naresh Iyer (of whom we hear a lot in the ARR scene these days after he got "spotted" in the Super Singer of course) sings another leisurely duet with Madhushree (Ah Aah being the earlier one). They do sing well and there's a lot of scope for them to exhibit. On the whole, worth a few listens actually - I realise I have a slightly poor threshold of acceptance for our slower-tempo traffic.
Experimentation time - in many ARR albums, you'd find one song that sounds quite weird and has these esoteric arrangements. This song is the representative here. Composed in the Arabic style (or what is commonly felt to be the Arabic style at any rate), for me it was torn between the strangeness of the singing (the music director taking on the burden with Aslam, and Nacim providing the Arabic chants) with the vibrating pronouncements of the words and the compelling rhythms (credit: Hossam Ramzy). If you can get both past and used to the singing (I don't know how successful it is, but it is attention-grabbing to say the least), then you'll probably want to listen to this again. I found that hearing it under the influence of the headphones helped and the "hone hone de nashaa/khone khone ko hai kyaa" bit helped matters. Atleast we have a version in a Hindi film that has not been ripped off from some CD. According to the Joshi interview, they've used an instrument called the chenda which is an integral part of kathakali performances - you do notice a good percussion during the second part of the song, but I wouldn't have known it was this.
Listen to this one with your headphones and turn the volume up, for the song is so mellow that I didn't catch a lot at the first batch of hearings. Mohit Chauhan (more famous for being the lead singer of the band "Silk Route") is a fitting choice for this quietly intense song mixed with sonorous violins and piano which could have fitted into one of our better subcontinental rock albums. It's a pity this is a small song, for we could have done with more of the anthemic lyrics. According to me, it's a pity they chose to follow this up with the rap "PaaThashaalaa" on the CD quite upsetting the mood set up by this song.
Lata M, A R Rahman and lyrics starting with "Lukka chuppii" - frankly I was dreading this song :-) and expecting it to turn out to be some soppy sentimental song with less than perfect singing. And then came the guitars.
There is some cool strumming on acoustic guitars to begin with and a melody, followed by the seniormost Mangeshkar (singing for Waheeda Rehman, I read) singing some very pleasant lyrics without any trace of incongruousness. Guitars continue as Rahman joins in (with highly Tamil accented Hindi! - I guess that despite knowing his pronounciation is not really there, he pencils himself in for these songs because he thinks only he can communicate the feeling behind it).
Then come the tabalaas in the a.ntaraas and even better, soon to be followed by a very well-utilised harmonium interspersed with bits of the trademark flute. The real surprise arrives towards the end featuring an extensive alaap flourish by both singers. One will be compelled to overlook the less than perfect pronounciation and Lata's sibilant singing for the overall emotional content produced by putting all these elements together.
Now, according to the interview I cited earlier, this song is set at the funeral of a son with the mother reminiscing. In that light, the lyrics (another thumbs up for you Mr. Joshi) with the kite metaphors do acquire further depth and it's quite commendable the powers that be chose to take this approach for such a situation.
This is a recital by Aamir Khan, very much in the mould of Iruvar's "Unnodu naan iru.ndha ovvur.u maNi thuLiyum", of verses in the sentiment of Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna. Obviously for one of those "inspirational" and "rebellious" situations.
Wow! I love this song. More guitar strumming, this time chased around by cooing backing vocals. Naresh Iyer and A.R.Rahman croon this one to the accompaniment of what could easily be your college band. This 60s kind of rock and roll song could easily be performed by a four person band and that is hopefully the kind of frothy and upbeat mood they wanted to evoke. Nice lyrics once again which gel wonderfully into the song structure (assuming Rahman composed it first). Good support from the yodellers in the background.
In summary, Rang De Basanti gives A.R.Rahman the chance to get out of the ponderous "period" film scene and return to contemporary tunes. The variety means that one would probably like atleast one or two of the songs, but could also mean less acceptance of a majority of them. However, like always, when I get a proper ARR album, there are several points of interest to go and read up and follow to. Personally, the biggest positive was to hear so many newer voices rather than the usual syndicates, for only with newer combinations will the Hindi film music scene go ahead.