Monday, February 04, 2008

The music of Jodhaa Akbar

The first thing to note about an A. R. Rahman soundtrack - as rare as they come in Bollywood these days - is that they primarily serve the movie. Hooks are subservient to theme, glitz falls by the wayside of content. This is a significant diversion from today's Bollywood music, not to mention a risky one since singles power film sales (or at least punch up the pre-release media frenzy).

Hrithik Roshan Aishwarya Jodhaa AkbarOn Jodhaa Akbar, Ashutosh Gowarikar's attempt to romanticize a nebulous piece of Indian history, I am happy to say that A. R. Rahman balances art and commerce elegantly.

Jodhaa Akbar contains five songs and of note is the fact that in keeping with the theme of the movie A. R. Rahman has balanced Hindustani music with its more middle eastern influences. He creates playful interludes between the two genres to constantly remind us of what the movie is about. And he gives some exciting vocal talents big breaks on the soundtrack.

On the rousing opener, Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah, Mohammad Aslam and Bony Chakravarty praise and pray for the well being of Akbar. It is a song that is driven by a strident big drum beat with the sound of whips cutting air, chain jangles and clashing metal thrown in to paint a picture of a battlefield. And because Rahman breaks the vocals and beats in interesting ways and creates hugely catchy verses, its a song that is easy to get into.

Rahman hires Javed Ali to sing the traditional ballad Jashn-E-Bahaaraa and here let me pretend to be a judge on SRGMP. "Javed, sing something like KK. Ok now quick, sing something like Sonu. Hunh, meaning your tonal quality is a mix of the two. Now in this song Rahman saab has hurried you a little, no? Tumne yeh song ko poori tarah pukda nahi. Thoda mechanical ho gaya. Aur achha ho sakta tha! Lekin don't worry. Maa Saraswati ki krupa hain tum par. God bless!"

If there is one indubitable winner on the CD, its the sweeping Inn Lamhom Ke Daaman Mein which brings together terrific lyrics (Javed Akhtar writes), some fine vocal work by Sonu Nigam and beautiful changes of pace. Inn Lamhon is about a monarch discovering a love that is taking him by surprise and possibly going wrong by the minute.

Terrific as Sonu's voice is, it comes with some limitations. Sonu has a soft, flexible voice but can't lift a line by sharpening it mid-stream to give the song a rousing edge. This is worked around neatly by Rahman who adds a male chorus to do some of the more somber lifting in the track. He further works in some variety by giving a brief verse to Madhushree (who I dig quite a lot ever since watching her winning presence in a Rahman concert)

Finally Rahman surprisingly gives the gorgeous Mann Mohanaa to Bela Shinde - a song on which one of his favorites Sadhana Sargam would have killed. Bela has a misty classical-lite voice that thins a bit on the high notes but she carries Radha's lament at missing Krishna (analogy alert!) rather well. Rahman makes clever use of violins to fill out the sound and give it an edge of rising desperation.

I'm a sucker for songs that feature peti licks and are made for fakirs to sing (ok fine, call it sufi). One such song arrives in the form of the qawwali Khwaja Mere Khwaja on which the composer does vocal duties. I loved it, but I recognize its broad appeal might be seriously constrained by its genre.

The music of Jodhaa Akbar is by no means timeless, but given time its highly entertaining.

Click on any song title to play

Also:

30 comments:

anu g said...

Wah Aspi! am impressed by ur deep knowlege about music and singing...u deserve to be the nest judge on srgmp Lilchamps.
Madhusree was on the Jhoom India singing show as tv actor Sachin;s teacher/partner, and they won the finals!She sang the 'Kisna' songs beautifully.The movie flopped badly, but the songs were a hit. I think Rehman was the music director of that film.Possibly the song u heard on he concert was 'hum hain is pal yahaan....'.

anu g said...

I am not very fond of historicl movies (more put off after I see my kids having to mug up scores of dates and names of kings and their kingdoms).So I wasnt too interested in the JA movie. But I just heard the songs.Lovely! Thanks for the link Aspi.U have described the songs perfectly.
AR Rehman;s music certainly adds so much more to a song. But I am not sure if this wil do well commercially, cos as Sonu said on lilchamps, the crowd generally likes the 'mauja' and 'hareram ' songs more.
Is this the same Bela who was in ismails gharana in srgmp?

anu g said...

Sorry, that was Nihari. But I remember there used to be a Bela on srgm some years ago...a young lass who sang beautifully.

megan said...

I am obsessed with the soundtrack and the movie. My favorite song is Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah, the song was such an innovative music and yet fits the era. The picturization is gonna be grand.

My second favorite is jashn e bahara, the song is so romantic without being too in your face. i love the dude's voice (he looks like a lovechild of himesh and rajpal yadav by the way)..

Khwaja is awesome too. I love QWALLI music like that.. its gr8

In Lamhon is the song that will play when Jodha and Akbar consummate their marriage. So I will make sure the paramedics are there when that song comes on because I will die and go to Ashthik heaven.

Mann Mohana, I don't like it but then again I haven't listened the complete song so i don't know.

The two instrumentals are awesome.

Its the best Bollywood soundtrack in years.

Bella said...

Gotta love A.R Rehman. This dude is totally fantastic, and his music definitely grows on you.

SkD said...

AR REHMAN ROCKS!!!!
Love this album!!Luking forwrad to de movie too...!!

anu g said...

Megan, I know Shakespeare said whats in a name. But I thought u had renamed urself.Now what do I call u?

Saritha said...

Wah Aspi.Fantastic Review.Agree with anu,I am amazed to see how well you analyzed each song.

Aspi said...

I think the song that Madhushree sang was "Kabhi neem neem" (among others). But she pitched perfectly and had a dazzling smile all the way.

payal said...

I really like the soundtrack too. I didn't know who Madhushree was but I looked her up, and indeed she sings that song "Kabhi neem neem". She does smile all the way! Here's a youtube link to it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fo47SqE617k

Anonymous said...

Oh I dig Madhusree too. Also, FYI, she's sort of been the Voice of Rani Mukherjee for a brief while now (Kabhi Neem Neem + various songs in Paheli + the Holi song in Mangal Pandey), which I think is perfect because her voice does suit RM really well.
-H&R

Aspi said...

Excellent link Payal, also had a great time seeing the most awesome Richa Sharma through a related link.

Bella said...

watched an interview with Hrithik last night. He looked a bit plastic tho... and then i had this thought...
What if he goes bald like his dad and uncle????
OMW i will just die :(

megan said...

no he won't, even if he does he can always get hair transplant

sidekick said...

i'll join in the waah, waah's aspi. loved the review - esp. as it pretty much captured my preferences, although your reasons are much more fine grained. "but can't lift a line by sharpening it mid-stream to give the song a rousing edge" - I'm not sure I even get what that means ;)

I'm with Megan on Mann Mohana and I've heard it plenty. Somehow it doesn't seem to evoke that devotion that o palanhaare in lagaan in did - one of the few recent lata M that I've enjoyed.

Khwaja o khwaja is fast rising to the top of my fave list with repeat listening. Perhaps its rahman's deep seated faith, but he seems to infuse songs like this with depth. case in point: piya haji ali.

finally i think it is refreshing that rahman can and does serve the movie rather than wave the populist baton. another album where the focus is on melody rather than blood pumping energetic numbers. i liked sonus's impassioned speech on this - anamika's pritam number had me scrambling to find the original in shreya's voice.

Aspi said...

Fair enough, I don't want to become a hoity toity critic who no one can understand so I'm going to scale back on that kind of stuff from now on :)

No one liked Mann Mohana? Aww. I thought Rahman tried a really fresh spin on a bhajan by layering it with orchestra. But anyways, maybe I have been listening to Sunday too much so anything traditional sounds good now.

sidekick said...

o, no.... now i feel terrible - aspi i was just teasing u!

on a more serious note, i'm sorta shallow in my listening - tend to focus on how the song makes me feel rather than the technical stuff. i particularly enjoy the opportunity to pick up on some of the nuances of the process. it defi heightens my enjoyment and appreciation of the music. however there's always the risk that someone will tease u for being a music snob :P --- bottom line, pls don't change how u review music!

sidekick said...

... forgot to add... on mann mohana and the more traditional devotional songs, i think the emotion tends to dominate and we look for a familiar/ comfort zone in terms of the format. then again, some of rahman's stuff is ahead of the times, so maybe more non-traditional versions of bhajans will catch on at some point.

headmistress said...

I eagerly await the day when you feature as a special judge of SRGMP, aspi!

I quite enjoyed this - soundtrack - love the sufi-flavoured stuff - I'm a sucker for anything like that, and Khawja is just gorgeous. Mann Mohanaa I liked it though it didn't grab me immediately - but I think this could be a grower.

I also agree that Rahman's created a soundtrack here that does really serve the film, rather than exist on its own weight. In itself, the songs aren't necessarily the best I've heard on a soundtrack for a while, but I think that's no bad thing - too often I've fallen in love with a soundtrack to be let down with how it's actually been visualised. I think here the music will be perfectly seamless with the visual element - there is a lot of grace and restraint to these songs which I'm anticipating will balance the film perfectly.

anyway, I can't wait to see it!

megan roshan said...

hrithik's doing a sexy thriller next and they are looking for some exotic looking chick who can do some racy scenes with him

ooooh i get mistaken for every single "exotic" race known to mankind so it could be ME having some sexy time with hrithik..

Aspi said...

If you make it - and I hope you do - remember your first real interview is with the Drift.

sidekick said...

aspi, bharadwaj rangan seems to agree (at least in part) on mann mohana.

http://www.desipundit.com/baradwajrangan/2008/02/02/between-reviews-the-mughal-ear/

ritha said...

Javed Ali's song is the winner hands-down for me. Still not the perfect song as the beginning lines in the stanza are not free flowing like the rest of the song, yet the song,overall, has a lingering effect. "In lamhon ki" is nice, but the beginning verses kinda remind me of 'do kadam' from 'Meenaxi' for some reason. Plus the song seems a bit stretched out and I am not a fan of madhushree's voice, I think its nasal (esp in Tehzeeb). Infact her voice only works for a few songs accord. to me (kabhi neem neem, hai rama yeh kya hua kinds).
Bela's song is real nice, Khwaja mere khwaja starts of well but thats about it.

ritha said...

I was pretty sure Mann Mohana was sung by Shreya Ghoshal when I first heard it..hmm...never heard of Bela Shende before.

Aspi said...

ritha, she used to be on some contest on TV I've heard. But now I've forgotten which one it was - maybe SRGMP.

anu g said...

Bela was the winner of srgm in 98. A true singer's calibre can be judged when they sing sans the accompaniments. Just check this out!


http://tw.youtube.com/watch?v=7BG8xDArc9o

Aspi said...

Thanks for the link, anu g. Whenever I see someone with big hair like that I'm reminded of Aamir Khan in Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar.

Joules said...

I use to love the song "Jashne-bahara" before visiting India. Hate it now. It is playing in every radio and tv chanel, wedding and b'day parties.

anu g said...

Joules, nice to see u active here. I was watching an interview with Vishal-Shekar. When Vishal was asked to sing a song, he said Farah Khan said that she hated the Dard-e-disco song, cos she seemed to hear it almost everywhere she went..so he said 'This song is specially dedicated to Farah'...and went on to sing Dard-e-disco! So its good that its been replaced.
But do u know which song the Aussie cricketers must be hating? Its the 'Chak de'song. I remember when we went to see the India-Aus match, the Chak de song was playing, and initially we were filled with patriotic fervour....as the day progressed, whenever Aus lost a wicket, it was Chak de, whenever India made a 4 or a 6 , it was Chak de. During the break it was Chak de. And when the Aussies played well, there was complete silence.I found this repeat in all matches.I am sure now they know it by heart.

Anonymous said...

Aspi,

I loved Manamohana - I think it is my favourite on the soundtrack, though Inn Lamhon is close...but then I tend to have a huge spot spot for Krishna Bhajans :-)

After I saw the movie, I really think Manamohana was also picturized the best...

Personally, I would have liked to hear Chinmayee sing this, (the girl who sang the female parts in Tere Bina from Guru) - I really dislike SS's voice, and am somewhat tired of Shreya Ghoshal now (tho she is very good).

-M