If I made you close your eyes and played you the Karaoke version of the OST for Paa, you wouldn't be faulted for thinking you had tuned in to any one of America's multitude of smooth jazz radio stations. (I have upside-down views on legal ownership and copyright, so this is just an observation).
Paa gives Bollywood listeners the rare opportunity to listen to the work of a much respected and decorated composer like Ilaiyaraaja so it's worth talking about.
What has Ilaiyaraaja done with this soundtrack? He's created a clutch of songs that sound like lullabies or hymns for children. But the music he's programmed around it is polished. Whether its intentional or not, it seems to fit in perfectly with the theme of the movie which is about a kid (Amitabh Bachchan) who ages physically at an accelerated rate.
Ilaiyaraaja uses simple melodies with simple lyrics. Twice he employs a chorus. Once he uses a younger singer. He keeps the lyrics straight and uses his instruments sparingly, often one at a time to construct linear tunes. Because Ilaiyaraaja uses a jazz-pop format in a lot of the songs, he is able to create instant sophistication to offset the simple tunes and lyrics. At all times, he fills his songs with more hooks than a fish and tackle shop.
Most notably he uses Shaan and Sunidhi Chauhan in ways they are rarely used. (There is a flagship song with a cool slapped bass called Mudhi Mudhi that he gives to the sensational Shilpa Rao - but more on her in another post).
Shaan sings Gali Mudhi Ittefaq Se as a slow burn. Because Shaan has a lovely timber to his voice, he is able to bring a sense of solitude and wonder to the song without sacrificing its pop sensibilities.
Sunidhi is entrusted with the lullaby Hichki Hichki and asked to reign in her powerful voice. Hichki is a bubbling brook of a song, evoking mischief and playfulness - and this is entirely done without help from Sunidhi who sings in straight notes. Instead Ilaiyaraaja uses a tumbling funk rhythm to give the song its bounce.
There are more tricks like this worth listening to on the OST - often Ilaiyaraaja patiently lets an instrument shine with delicious licks. On the gorgeous play-anthem Gumm Summ, he has his vocals and his backing chorus sing lines alternately before breaking out into a piano solo.
There is no hip-hop or R&B on this album and because of the way our ears have been tuned in recent times, Paa evokes a sense of lilting old Bollywood in new clothing.
The songs of Paa on Dhingana
The official web site of Paa