Film music

And the top Hindi film soundtrack of the year is…

It’s a tie between ‘Tamasha’ and ‘Bajirao Mastani.’

The Hindi film soundtrack is no longer dominated by one music composer, and nowhere was this recent development more striking than in 2015. Most of the hit songs were from albums in which various artists shared credits.

The year started with the massy Tevar by composers Sajid-Wajid and Imran Khan, featuring the Salman Khan paean, Superman, and Radha Nachegi, the spin-off on Radha Likes To Party (Student of the Year, 2012). The soundtrack drowned in its cacophony, best expressed by the line Music bajega loud toh Radha nachegi (Radha will dance only if the music is loud).

Quick on the heels of Illaiyaraja’s slapdash soundtrack for Shamitabh came Roy in February, featuring three composers. The brief of coming up with one hit number each rather than an entire album seems to have been a relief. From Amaal Mallik’s Sooraj Dooba Hai on EDM groove to Meet Bros Anjjan’s Chittiyaan Kalaiyaan, which is a nod to its predecessor Baby Doll (Ragini MMS 2, 2014), to the mellow tracks by Ankit Tiwari (Tu Hai Ke Nahi, Yaare Re, Boond Boond), the soundtrack was an early contender for the year’s best.

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Badlapur and NH10, thrillers that had no place for songs, also produced surprise hits. Jee Karda from Badlapur is a zinger of a track, and NH10 summarises its spirit in Chil Gaye Naina. The sweet surprise of February came in the form of Anu Malik’s return with Dum Laga Ke Haisha. The soundtrack had a mixed bag of sounds coming from his 1990s repertoire. Dard Karaara, in the voices of Sadhana Sargam and Kumar Sanu, is reminiscent of Tumsa Koi Pyaara (Khuddar, 1994). In Tu, Kumar Sanu peppers the song with his trademark “hey hey hey” refrain. Moh Moh Ke Dhaage, the film’s elegiac love ballad in two versions by Papon and Monali Thakur, has the piety of a temple bell that echoes softly long after it has been rung.

The scene began to warm up in April, around the time of the summer releases. It started with the strange sounds of Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!, a period thriller with a bunch of eclectic sounds. Director Dibakar Banerjee lined up indie artists to interpret the mercurial moods of the titular hero. Composer Sneha Khanwalkar’s trippy Bach Ke Bakshy straddled alongside rock band Blek’s Byomkesh In Love and nu metal band Joint Family’s screechy Life’s A bitch. Mode.AKA’s Chase In Chinatown, Peter Cat Recording Co.s’ noir-ish Jaanam, and Ija’s Yang Guang Lives made room for Madboy/Mink’s Calcutta Kiss, which stood out for its jazzy throwback to the fifties. But the soundtrack had no lasting impact despite having a life outside the film.

Ek Paheli Leela arrived with five composers belting out item numbers designed for the lead, Sunny Leone. Tanu Weds Manu Returns tried to piggyback on the success of its predecessor with a soundtrack by two composers, Krsna Solo and Tanishk-Vayu. It had the popular Banno and Ghani Bawri, but one song that did not get enough airtime was the situational Old School Girl. Dil Dhadakne Do, by the composer trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, had just one song rising up the charts, Gallan Goodiyaan.

The Bhatt brothers, Mahesh and Mukesh, have a knack for propping up not-so-good films with chart-busting soundtracks. Hamari Adhuri Kahani featured three composers, Mithoon, Jeet Ganguly, Ami Mishra. Arijit Singh’s soaring vocals on the title track, Mishra’s soulful Hasi, Mithoon’s haunting Humnava and Ganguly’s ambient Yeh Kaisi Jagah are backed by powerful lyrics that express the myriad moods of love.

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Unrelenting earworm usually accompanies the release of a Salman Khan film. Pritam amped up the volume for Selfie Le Le and Chicken Kuk-Doo-Koo (about a chicken screaming murder from a saucepan). Bajrangi Bhaijaan featured the Sabri Brothers qawalli Bhar Do Jholi rehashed for Adnan Sami’s nasal voice.

Masaan sounded fresh in such times with just three songs. Tu Kisi Rail Si, adapted from the Dushyant Singh poem, had a dreamy lilt, evocative of travelling with one’s head poking out of the window of a train. Mann Kasturi and Bhor gave the band Indian Ocean some uncharted territory to test while remaining true to their sound. The words of lyricists Varun Grover and Sanjeev Sharma brimmed with philosophical musings about birds in flight and deer in search of musk.

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The August-September period saw a rush of over two dozen films. Drishyam rehashed a classic, Aye Zindagi Gale Laga Le (Sadma, 1983) and fittingly calling it Carbon Copy. The brothers Ajay-Atul tried to repackage their Marathi song into a shrill item number, Mera Naam Mary, for Brothers. The deliciously raunchy Afghan Jalebi from Phantom, sung by Akhtar Chanal Zahri, had such risqué lines as, Khwaja ji ke paas main teri chugli karoonga, angoothi mein qaid main teri ungli karoonga (I will complain to God about you, I will imprison your finger in my ring). Lyricist: Amitabh Bhattacharya.

Talvar knocked out the competition in October. Lyricist Gulzar and composer Vishal Bhardwaj arrived with a soundtrack in which each song holds a mirror to another, creating a kaleidoscope of plaintive but meditative sounds. Pakistani singer Arooj Aftab sounds the alarm in Insaaf with her haunting vocals, followed by Arijit Singh’s wispy Shaam Ke Saaye. Who wouldn’t pause at the lyrics Dil mein aise theher gaye hain gham, jaise jangal mein shaam ke saaye (Woe resides in my heart just as lightly as evening descends in the jungle)? Rekha Bhardwaj rouses with Zinda. The minimal musical arrangement of these songs took a turn in the Sukhwinder Singh ditty, Patli Gali, which mocks the “system”: Patli gali mein saare ganjje kangiyan bech rahe hai, Arre fansi galey mein daal ke maamu rasiyyan bech rahe hain (Bald men hawk combs in this street where louts sell rope with a noose around their necks).

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Shaandaar had a funky soundtrack. Amit Trivedi was in full form after the indifferent work in Bombay Velvet. Songs such as Gulaabo and Shaam Shaandaar had pure sass. Raita Phail Gaya took a jab at Honey Singh, punching holes into his genre with Amitabh Bhattacharya’s lyrics, Gulzar ke geeton mein jab Yo-Yo Honey Singh ghuss gaya, toh raita phail gaya (When Honey Singh’s music infested Gulzar’s words, then everything went for a toss). The ten-minute qawalli Senti Wali Mental was a curious experiment, at best.

Prem Ratan Dhan Payo had Himesh Reshammiya’s crowd-pleasing numbers Prem Leela, the title track, and the shimmering Jalte Diye sung by Anweshaa. But seven of the 10 songs were strictly middling.

Only three soundtracks were ultimately worthy of competing for a top spot. Tamasha, AR Rahman’s only Hindi film soundtrack this year, Dilwale by Pritam, and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic love story Bajirao Mastani.

Despite the scorching Agar Tum Saath Ho, in which Alka Yagnik levitated into a spiritual space with Arijit Singh, the boisterous flippancy of Matargashti, the easy rhythm of Heer Toh Badi Sad Hai, the breezy Safarnama, and Rahman whispering Tu Koi Aur Hai, the songs of Tamasha seem to be running in different directions, just like the movie itself. The soundtrack chased different genres and flitted through Western classical and Indian folk sounds. The album did not cohere into a unified whole or have an unmistakable Rahman sound, the kind that marks some of his best, be it Roja, Dil Se, Taal, Lagaan, Delhi 6, or Rockstar.

Dilwale remained true to its larger-than-life moorings. Gerua, Janam Janam, Manma Emotion, and Premika were all chartbusters with a limited shelf life.

That leaves Bajirao Mastani as one of the top five scores of the year. The music, by writer and director Sanjay Leela Bhansali, combines its unique blend of sounds with its theme. Deewani Mastani fuses elements of Marathi folk with Sufi, establishing its character’s exposure to both forms. The war cry Malhari and the devotional Gajanana are weapons in Bajirao’s armour. The album also meshes semi-classical with qawaali in Aayat, while Mohe Rang Do Laal has Pandit Birju Maharaj interspersing Shreya Ghoshal’s vocals with Kathak bols (mnemonic syllables). Albela Sajan, from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), gets a makeover with a sitar and chorus interlude. Pinga and Fitoori incorporate a lavani tempo with Bollywood trimmings to produce a fantastic melange.

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