Feb 15, 2009

The music of Delhi 6, mere yaar

Hardly a month into 2009 and there have been two outstanding Hindi film soundtracks already. While Dev.D burst into the room and grabbed us by the scruff of our necks, A.R.Rahman's latest, Delhi 6, fluttered in through the window with a fragrant breeze. Here's why.

A credits page to weep for
The album's credits has a power-packed batting order: Mohit Chauhan opens with a bang. Javed Ali & Kailash Kher at one down. The music director snatching a dreamy song in the middle. And then all the cameos: the uber-talented Rekha Bhardwaj. A blast from the past in the voice of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. Amitabh Bachchan rounding things off. There's even Rajat Dholakia in the background as well.

Unusual, unpredictable, and largely unmatchable.

Dove, oh dear
It takes but a few seconds into masak kali to know this one is up there in Rahman's all time best, which is an astonishing feat even for the man himself. A splendidly onomatopoeic avian paean (take a bow, Mr. Joshi), Mohit Chauhan and the now-trademark accordion (played by Rahman) vie for top honours here. If ever there was a modern song made for Kishore Kumar (something Salil also observed), it was this one. Adding to nostalgia is the old device of the violin-backed lead-ins. I always wish I could find an instrumental dissection of songs - this one in particular.

The best explanation as to the meaning of the term masak kali came from Vibhendu: masak is a term for the roof (a.k.a the chajjaa). Thus, the eponymous pigeon is literally the the bud/darling of the terrace.

Another Rahman trademark is that of the Sufi song. So remarkable has he been in this genre, that a Rahman sufi/qawwali/devotional top 10 is merited. arziyaa.n would comfortably fit into the top echelons of such a list. Many of the others showered praise; this qawwali pleads for succour. Prasoon Joshi's notes for this song in the inlay (a nice touch that) say it was almost a year before he finished writing the lyrics for this tune. With phrases such as marammat muqaddar ki kar do, the time spent was well worth it.

Like khwaaja mere khwaaja, these songs are all about 'feeling'. The singers nail it. The ending with the Bulleh Shah kaafi mora piyaa ghar aaya is neatly placed.

Electric guitars and the rhesus factor
The title song is as far removed from the previous two as one can get. The French lyrics and drawn out female vocals, the electronic modulations, the clever hooks in lyrics and music - very snazzy. kala bandar is interesting: one is prone to dismiss it on a superficial level: we are quite conditioned by the mindless use of rap in Hindi albums. But the lyrics, loaded with some kind of political metaphor, deflect that simple interpretation. This song comes closest to the "the journey within" sub-title of the film. This causes some disorientation in our story expectations: along with the 'ramleela' scenes and the film sub-species of the returning NRI, are we in for a revisitation of the Swades territory?

Continuous delight
dil giraa dafatan taught me a new Urdu word (dafatan means 'suddenly', my dictionary informs). Ash King sings, croons, touches the falsetto ceilings, returns and dwells. The string section breaks out in a lush Celtic melody. There is no full takeoff - the singers soar and swoop. I wrapped my head round this to make sense. Many have spoken of how Rahman and Vishal subvert the traditional grammar of Hindi film music. This song is part recital, not full-blooded Bollywood song. As was rehna tu

The obvious faults in Rahman's Hindi diction are always overshadowed by the sheer sincerity in his singing. That he turns rehanaa tuu into rainaa tuu hardly matters when there are so many interesting elements dotting the canvas. Such as the guitar riff in the background, or the way the singing begins in the middle of the beat cycle, or the lyrics themselves (liked the imagery of people right-hand-in-right-hand).

My big complaint of the album was the lack of an instrumental track. But the 2 minute piece at the end of this song assuages this. Rahman's interest in The Continuum has been noted on this blog earlier and he chose a spectacular way to introduce it to Hindi film music. From what I know, the continuum is after all just an electronic synthesizer whose resulting instrumental feel can be controlled - say, strings or woodwind or others. Here, he goes in for an ethereal flute-theremine sound, playing it with great élan over 2 minutes in a Carnatic classical vein. Goosepimply stuff.

Special appearances
I've yet to get over the disappointment of finding out that Rekha Bhardwaj did not have any Rahman originals to sing. She features in two traditional songs ('supervised' by Dholakia): a smartly mixed folk song gendaa phool (intriguingly, a 'courtesy' credit to Raghuvir Yadav) and a bhajan. A similar effort is Shreya Ghoshal 'jamming' (as the inlay notes put it) with the voice Bade Gulam Ali Khan - a very interesting concept. Wonder what shape it takes on screen.

There's just 50 seconds of Amitabh Bachchan reciting a short ghazal called Noor, but that was enough to make me smile in contentedly. In 17 years, A.R.Rahman has never composed music for an Amitabh Bachchan film (discounting such narrations as in Lagaan or Jodhaa Akbar), and this guest appearance (in film and voice) is the first.

And so...
Delhi 6 is easily a career highlight for the composer and the lyricist. The album is not just figuratively heavy, but literally so, with an actual mirror on the front side! An 'in-your-face' rendering of the introspection referred to in the movie sub-title. A satisfying musical effort that awaits a similar outcome on-screen this Friday.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the word 'onomatopoeic' :).

Masak kali completely bowled me over.

Mohit's rendition of "phur phur phur" is simply spectacular.

Anonymous said...

Though 'the bud of the terrace' sounds infinitely more poetic, I still think the bird is called Masak Ali and this being another case of 'kajaraare' turned into 'kajara re', my original crib.


Anonymous said...

Wonderful review! It's especially heartening to see you giving importance to the credits here, something that most reviewers fail to do.

Really an enjoyable read! Keep writing!

J Ramanand said...

Anonymous, Arun: thanks.

Vibhendu: I'll prefer the poetic explanation any day!

Anonymous said...

Good Review.

>>The obvious faults in Rahman's Hindi diction are always overshadowed by the sheer sincerity in his singing. That he turns rehanaa tuu into rainaa tuu hardly matters when there are so many interesting elements dotting the canvas.

Rahman sings the line rehanaa tu only once at 3:40, otherwise it's Benny who sings those lines throughout. And Rahman's diction was perfect when he sings it, while Benny's is subdued and in a good way. For a change I actually liked Benny's way of singing more than Rahman's in this song.

J Ramanand said...

Shah Navas: that's a surprise to me. You sure it wasn't ARR at the beginning? Sounds to me like it was him, and that Benny (and Tanvi) are in the background.

Unknown said...

oh and dafatan is more romantically "at a moment's notice" ;)

J Ramanand said...

Upasna: your choice of words is much better.