"Omkara" kaa Da.nkaaraaIt's been a struggle getting to the music of Omkara. The music was to release on the 3rd of July which, it may be recalled, was one of the rain-direct-from-Hades days in Mumbai, which ultimately rained off the official music launch. It seems this, for no clear reason, also stalled the distribution of the music to stores. I made at least 3 trips (braving the rain) to stores in Pune; the 1st two were those nearby places where the lack of such CDs could be explained away by them not having heard of the track in the first place (judging from my bad experiences looking for the music of Maqbool and later Bose). But once "Thakkar's Music Bank" confirmed no such music release having reached them, it meant a snafu that posed the first of several entry barriers to the enjoyment of the album had occured.
The music, however, was released without fanfare outside India. I do not know if the official music release has since happened, but judging by the slow trickle of local reviews appearing (I haven't been able to go to a shop in Bombay yet), it may have made it to the stores. The guys in charge of the distribution need to understand that tracks like "Omkara" will unfortunately not sell in numbers merely due to the good offices of fans of Vishal and Gulzar who have looked forward to this for many days. Nor will a slew of trailers featuring the top stars translate into sales if there is nothing to sell in the first place. Worse, what use is a website that has absolutely no mention, especially of the rescheduling, of the music launch? Vishal, as was seen with "Maqbool", always starts off on the backfoot with such films, and here you have him going so far back as to trod on his stumps before the bat can hit the ball.
But the tracks have now been heard. Normally, I would have merely pointed to the venerable senior's rapturous music review, but since I have some differing and additional points to make, here're some of my opinions on Vishal Bhardwaj's music for "Omkara".
* Bii.Dii: Normally, I'm not a fan of Sunidhi Chauhan's full-throated and stereotypical "thrill" numbers, but here I have to make an exception. First, this song is a lot more believable given the rural orchestra setting and establishes wonderfully the "Billo"1 character. The richly coarse (intentional oxymoron this) lyrics by Gulzar (whose guN-gaan we shall sing throughout this post) are brilliant. Thanks to Deepa Mehta's "Fire", I knew what "lihaaf"2 meant. So entry barrier #2: the Urdu and the dialect Hindi is perfectly placed, but will the spoon-fed-on-kindergarten-Hinglish ears of the public respond to the challenges of decoding both the obvious meaning along with the innuendo implied? Sukhwinder Singh's roguish rolling of the "r"'s as in "sasurrii" is elevated by the failure of his male co-singers to emulate him :-)
To paraphrase a review I read, this is a high-class low-class song3.
* Jag Jaa: The immediate points of interest was the chance to hear Suresh Wadkar after a long while. This gem of a song took a long while to sink in, which is entry barrier #3. This album needs a lot of time and contemplation and patience from your listener, especially those who are not immediately inclined towards the Vishal-Gulzar combo. Please provide it to this album, for these guys deserve it.
This song is a great example of the situational aptness that this combo has provided in the past. If you have read your Othello, you can make a pretty good guess based on the lyrics as to where this song will appear (I will be shocked to not find it there - go on Vishal, surprise me!). Superbly counterpointed. One of the best slow songs I've heard. The arrangements leave Wadkar to quietly take centre-stage.
* O Saathi Re: This is a slow romantic duet sung by Shreya Ghoshal and what turned out to be the surprise of the album, Vishal himself making his full debut as a singer4. Sweet to hear with Vishal being competent (no immediate stunning impact, but let's hear more and we can be more judgemental) and Shreya doing a restrained rendition.
* Laaka.D: The voice of Rekha Bharadwaj. I remain very ambivalent about this, especially her uncanny modulations of pitch and voice texture. More on this later. This is another slow number that eventually grows on you, especially when Rekha gets fervent about the lament later. There's a lot more to this song than I'm able to immediately comprehend with my limited musical knowledge, and like the riparian setting, perhaps I will be able to dive deeper. The accompanying strings in the song are very beautiful - I am smitten with them even though I lack the devices to describe them.
* Nainaa: This song features some very creative lyrics by the man in the stiff-starch-cast kurtaa on the theme of deception. I did not like the rendition very much. This was probably because of the opening bars of the song. It improves a lot in the middle with the changes in tempo. I'm afraid I still prefer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan in "man ki lagan" from "Paap". However, the composition conveys the right sense of restlessness.
* Namak: This is a medley of folk, qawwali and mujra styles. Rekha Bharadwaj switches voice texture (admirable for technique), but some of her modulations later in the song were a little harsh for me. But this song again smells richly of the region (from whatever limited music I have heard from there)5, with the accompanying chorus and harmoniums. Entry barrier #4 is the fact that most of Vishal's efforts are wonderfully situational and works very well with the screenplay. A standalone sampling of his songs just for pleasure is usually unable to compete on just user-friendliness with the songs from other films. A decent song, overall.
* Omkaaraa: This is a ballad-style song that introduces, in detail, the character of Omkara. Much as in the original play where the legendary exploits of Othello are a key factor in the romancing of Desdemona. The rhymes of Gulzar work very well, and interestingly, Omkara is not completely glorified. However, the beginning of the 2nd half of the song suddenly seems dissonant6, which I didn't think much of. Sukhwinder is the voice behind this song. Perhaps we will see a montage accompanying this song.
* The Tragedie of Omkara: This is an instrumental theme piece evoking the necessary drama befitting such a tale. The progression seemed vaguely familiar for some reason.
In conclusion, let me offer the last entry barrier: the key to perhaps enjoying this film more than your average viewer could be in whether you "revise" your Othello before watching the film or hearing this album. In a sense, Shakespearan plays are like a bunch of raagaas - a plot framework is available and well-known, so a rendition of it acquires a lot of interest not only if the creators stick to the structure, but also work their way around it from time to time. We saw this with "Maqbool". Hopefully, we'll see it with "Omkara" too.
A word of thanks to Vinay Jain, whose excellent efforts in transcribing the lyrics provided me with the opportunity to decipher the rich strands of poetry (for that's what it really is, in several places). As a next step, hopefully, I'd like to attempt a shallow translation.
1. "Billo Chaman Bahaar" will surely go down in Hindi film history's hall of fame of names!
2. "Lihaaf" means "Quilt" and is the name of the Ismat Chugtai short story that "Fire" is based on. My Urdu learning is restricted to such inputs, I'm afraid.
3. Keeping political correctness aside for the moment.
4. I have a feeling that the uncredited voice in the interlude singing "O maajhi re..." in "Satya"'s
5. No expertise claimed - I could be wrong about provincial provenance.
6. Adjective borrowed from George's review.
Update: 22 July
Manish Chauhan writes about the references in some of the Omkara songs; he does so appreciatively, being from the same region as the setting of the film.