Mohammad Rafi’s Khoya Khoya Chand from Kala Bazar (1960) is not a song one could associate with a bloody shootout between cops and gangsters.
But Bejoy Nambiar did in his hyperkinetic debut feature Shaitan (2011). Recreated by Mikey McCleary as a rhythm and blues song featuring Suman Sridhar’s lazy vocals, the song stitched together a violent shootout and a desperate escape sequence.
Earlier in the film, Nambiar set a road rage scene to a death metal song by Bhayanak Maut and a chase sequence to a Prashant Pillai composition that began as a traditional Dahi Handi song but turned into a fast, electronic track.
Selecting songs from diverse composers, bands and artists who have had none or minimal film composing experience to create genre-spanning soundtracks has been Nambiar’s modus operandi. Nambiar uses his songs to support the audio-visual mood of a sequence, often leading to anachronistic results, rather than imbibing them as tracks to be lipsynced to or as thematic fillers for what is unsaid by the characters.
He upped the ante in his second film David (2011), whose soundtrack had 15 songs created by eight composers that included bands and artists with no film experience, including Maatibaani (Tore Matware Naina), Modern Mafia (Bandhay), Bramfatura (Ghum Huye) and The Light Years Explode! (Three Kills).
In his latest bilingual film Solo, starring Dulquer Salmaan in four roles, Nambiar has outdone himself: an hour-long soundtrack of 17 songs, spanning classical, folk, metal, electronic, kuthu, rap, blues, ambient music and everything in between. The film was released on October 5.
Like David, Solo is an anthology film about four men who represent the four elements: earth (Rudra), fire (Siva), water (Shekhar) and fire (Trilok). Each character’s story has a set of songs.
Fourteen of the 22 songs are original compositions, of which three have alternate versions, and five Tamil versions of the Malayalam songs.
The first track, Roshomon, composed by Prashant Pillai – a longtime collaborator of Nambiar – is from the story of Rudra, a soldier. Roshomon is a short, fast-paced, infectious track with a martial left-right-left beat. Next up is Sajan More Ghar Aye. Composed by electro-ethnic outfit Filter Coffee, the mood piece is embellished with Swarupa Ananth’s konnakol, Jahnvi Shrimankar’s vocals and Govind Menon’s (Thaikkudam Bridge) violins. Malayalam film composer Sooraj S Kurup chips in with Sita Kalyanam that weaves the traditional kriti Sita Kalyana Vaibhogame into a slow, electro-ambient track.
The songs of Siva’s story, set amidst the workings of a criminal gang, are rock-infused and harder on the ears with the exception of Masala Coffee’s 2016 hit Aal Ayaal. Originally conceptualised as a women’s anthem, the tune is included in the soundtrack along with another version stripped off its instrumentation, called Aal Ayaal - Reprise (Walk & Kill Mix).
The hardest song Aigiri Nandini Eye for an Eye, a cross between the traditional stotram Aigiri Nandini and an iconic tune from the song Engeyum Eppotham from Ninaithale Inikkum (1979), takes its time to build up to an unstoppable assemblage of heavy guitars, blast beats and chanting. The final song is classical singer Ragini Bhagwat’s composition Shiv Taandav recreated by Govind Menon as a haunting fusion track.
Rap and kuthu beats come together in Singa Kutty Bring On The Chaos, the first song from the ‘World of Shekhar’. Ex-The Local Train member Abhinav Bansal’s entry Kandu Nee Enne (Tamil version: Thoovaanam), sung by playback singer Vijay Yesudas, is a relaxed romantic track that is nothing out of the ordinary.
Carnatic rock band Agam composes two songs for Shekhar’s segment: Oru Vanchi Paattu and Thaalolam. While the first one is a melodious, energetic track, the other, sung by Shashaa Tripathi, is a soft number that builds up on a melange of acoustic guitar and nagaswaram to eventually become a soulful rehash of Oru Vanchi Paattu’s hookline.
The songs for Trilok’s story are subdued and sombre compared to the previous songs. A mournful violin and Ashita Ajit’s syrupy voice is the mainstay of the two-minute long Separation. The real star in Trilok’s set of songs (and one of the best songs of the album) is Karaiyaadhe / You by Gaurav Godkhindi, who had composed Wazir Theme in Nambiar’s last film. Siddharth Basrur (who previously sang David’s theme song in three languages) lends his vocals to both the Malayalam and the English versions of Godkhindi’s pensive, soft rock composition. The Cyclist Theme, an instrumental also done by Godkhindi, brings an end to the proceedings.
Two other songs, not particularly belonging to any of the four characters’ stories, are a reprised version of Sajan More Ghar Aye and Shiv Taandav. The first with additional vocals by Aditya Rao and Shriram Sampath is a sparse recreation possibly meant to disappear into the background as part of the score. Shiva Omkara, sung by Bindu Nambiar, is a quieter rendition of the Shiv Taandav track.
Bejoy Nambiar is, of course, not the first Indian filmmaker to use multiple composers or music from independent artists. The 1962 film Pathan, for instance, had four composers. More recently, Dibakar Banerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy! (2015) and Pan Nalin’s Angry Indian Godesses (2015) have had a bunch of indie artists coming together.
Nambiar’s music for his films brings to mind the soundscapes of Michael Mann and Danny Boyle’s cinema, which jump from genre to genre and yet define their films in a wholesome manner. Nambiar’s ambition for having eclectic OSTs and his talent to hold together his films with a diverse array of songs is currently unmatched in Indian cinema.