While listening to the Drona soundtrack the one thing that jumped out at me was that composer Dhruv Ganekar seems to love mellow stuff. More accurately: his heart is set on simmering rather than exploding. (He's the anti-Himesh!)
What does the music of Drona sound like? Its touching, sometimes visceral and its different enough that it stands out. But despite Ghanekar exploring (relatively) new musical territory its also very commercial. There are a couple of reasons for this.
First, Ghanekar isn't in Sajid-Wajid territory (Partner, God Tussi Great Ho) when it comes to commercial tunes, but he sure knows how to create a mainstream hook. And second, thanks to the influx of mavericks who have cut their teeth on the independent music scene in India, Bollywood music is undergoing a slow but sure change. And that change is beginning to redefine what mainstream hits sound like. This suits Ghanekar's sound well.
Take the title track for starters on which Ghanekar man's vocal duties. There is a soft percussion and a neat edge in Ghanekar's voice. There is a simple up-tempo beat that is paced with an electric guitar. And despite building up the drama, Ghanekar leashes it enough that it doesn't quite blow up in your face. And this bit of restraint makes Drona a neat piece of counter-programming as far as title tracks go.
Ghanekar constructs Oop Cha gradually with nifty tribal beats. He's playing to the galleries here because he asks Sunidhi Chauhan to sing with that singular high note followed by the speaking note that adorns so many of her hits and unfairly marks her as having limited depth. Predictably, the rap hooks follow.
But for some reason Oop Cha is tremendous hook to have in a song. I couldn't get it out of my head the first time I heard it. And there is a reason this singing formula works for Sunidhi - it just sounds really good! So it is that Oop Cha is hugely listenable - even when the mandatory remix arrives.
Past these two songs, Drona gets more interesting. On Bandagi, Sunidhi and Roop Kumar Rathod sing a laid back semi-classical composition. Ghanekar uses brief harmonies combined with a spare set of instruments: mostly synths and tablas to create a clean, almost still sound.
He uses the same Rahman-like formula to create the one truly memorable composition of the CD - the gorgeous lullaby Nanhe Nanhe. In a terrific move, he hires Sadhana Sargam to sing the song. And Sadhana is such a singer that although she lacks Lata Mangeshkar's legendary throw, she can hold some of the legend's notes without losing the sweetness that left Lata's voice with age. Its a long song (it clocks in at 6:04) but a lot of the tedium is resolved by Ghanekar who introduces new instruments or arrangements with each verse - a rousing, strident percussion that appears by the second chorus being one that I loved in particular. Ghanekar brings the song to a close with an extended rendering of the melody by flute. Its a nifty move because he uses your memory of the sound to tie in his next composition with the CD.
Which brings us to Khushi, Ghanekar's hugely interesting pop-jazz composition, notable for being uncompromising in its musical arrangements' fidelity to its genre. Shaan - who sings this song - avoids mimicking jazz-swing straight notes, thus giving Khushi a somewhat distinctive sound. Suzanne D'mello sings backup on this and unleashes her gorgeous wail to end the song - its worth a listen.
There is one more song on the album - a version of Drona rendered by Sunidhi which has more of the mainstream drama and pace you'd expect in a big title track. And despite the fact that it showcases Sunidhi's vocal range in a way the other tracks don't, I was happy with Ghanekar's original choice.
I have only one critique of Ghanekar to make. Yes, its a big break (congratulations are in order on producing a gutsy set of compositions) and the expectations and schedules have to be met. But I would have loved to have seen a better variety of voices on the tracks.
It would have been a fitting way to announce the arrival of a talent who will - in all likelihood- continue to nudge if not push the envelope.