Sunday, October 14, 2012

The music of Jab Tak Hai Jaan

What do I expect these days from an A R Rahman CD? Diversity of composition, a bunch of surprises and the steadiness of mind to let a tune percolate and find its direction. Its a lot to ask of a composer, but ARR does it all the time, so its not an unfair expectation.

So what is his score for Jab Tak Hai Jaan like? The movie has a few things going for it. For one, it stars Shahrukh and Katrina for the first time on screen. This sounded far fetched not so long ago when Katrina was still Salman's girl and both Khans broke up after an infamous fight during Katrina's birthday party. But Salman-Kat are no more and a number of cats are highly curious to see how SRK and Kat gel together. Jab Tak also sees Yash Raj Chopra in the director's chair after a long time. Yash Raj, 80, is a legend in Bollywood. With a clutch of superhits (a lot of them starring Shahrukh), he defined ishq and longing for an entire generation. This is his first movie as a director since 2004's laborious five-hanky Veer Zaara, and also - it is said - his last.

If you listen to the songs of Jab Tak, you realize that ARR had this sense of occasion front and center. His songs are lovingly crafted and are full of the longing you expect in a Yash Raj movie. His melodies are tight, he doesn't afford most songs his trademark linger. He reigns in the surprises. He plays it safe. It all sounds appropriately good. On Jab Tak, ARR makes himself sounds like an up and coming director about to hit his peak.

(Click the link on any song name and you'll get to YouTube for a listen)

Jab Tak opens with Challa, the only song that sounds like it was composed by ARR, Rabbi Shergill warbles about living in a daze. Its a straightforward folk rock arrangement - there is a nifty guitar lick, the drums are much like a 2 step percussion. By keeping its structure loose and its drums jittery, Challa pulls off the considerable feat of making you feel like you are on a journey through a place that feels disorienting.

The sweeping Saans begins with a pulsing cello, rising violins and a flute. ARR is going for the soulful jugular here. Because the song is most closely reminiscent of Yash Raj sentimentalia, this is the most maligned song on the CD. I have a different view. Saans is a gorgeous composition. Mohit Chauhan's worn-denim voice is a really good compliment to Shreya Ghoshal's  crystal singing. This type of song is so overdone in Bollywood, that its just tough to make it sound fresh. Why not, then, make it an all out YRF tribute? ARR pulls out a combo with the bass drum and timpani (a combination that Bollywood music fans refer to as 'dafli') and throws in a solemn humming chorus. Still, he has Shreya do an interesting falsetto that comes in an unexpected place.

On the most "itemy" of songs, Ishq Shava, ARR allows a Middle Eastern beat to build up frenetically before he launches into the melody. ARR takes a chance here and gives SRK's vocals to Raghav Mathur who is a Canadian-Indian R&B singer. It turns out to be a stroke of genius because Raghav is a revelation. Shilpa Rao sings Katrina's piece in low smoky notes and sounds drop dead sexy. Catchy as all hell, Ishq Shava is still a by-the-numbers tune. Momentarily when ARR allows the percussion to cut loose in the end, you feel that he could have omitted the mandolins and let the vocals drive the tune to create something truly unique. (Good example: on One More NightMaroon 5 drove the melody with vocals over a reggae and two-step beat and made it sound fresh)

Ok, we won't talk about all the songs here - you can explore them on your own and form your own opinions. One song worth discussing is Jiya Re, which is a funk jam. ARR, always one to encourage new talent, gives this to Neeti Mohan to sing. I really like Neeti - she's an exciting talent. (She recently did vocal duties on Ishqwala Love from Student of the Year, a song that allowed her to really shine). It breaks my heart to say that she wasn't a great choice for Jiya Re. You need some serious lungs to pull off something  like this. Neeti has a ringing voice - much like Shreya Ghoshal's when she was starting her career. Maybe ARR felt that Neeti's voice just suits Anushka Sharma. (Yep, but so does Shilpa Rao's - remember this song?)

Sometimes you can do vocal casting against type and pull it off. On the CD for Heroine, Salim-Sulaiman surprisingly picked Shreya to sing the rousing Khwahishein which was structured as a rock opera. But so gilded is Shreya's voice that she made it sound terrific. Jiya Re has neither Shreya nor Shilpa. So it becomes the song that could.

Just like Jab Tak Hai Jaan is the CD that could.


Anonymous said...

The music of jab tak hai jaan is not even a patch on previous Yash chopra movies.The only thing that can save it at box office is star power of shahrukh khan.


Sidekick said...

Aspi, thanks so much for this review.... I was hoping you'd break this one down. I'm a self-professed Rahmaniac, so I was curious about how a Yash Chopra meets Rahman album will turn out. I liked it - esp Saans, the slow Shreya reprise. I connected with it emotionally and I guess I tend to respond first and foremost to music that way.

Your review made go back and look for nuances, esp the orchestration, instruments et al --- and I like it more. That said, I do wonder... if I didn't know that it was a Rahman album, if I'd listened to it with no info on the composer or anything else whether I'd have liked quite so much or even at all! :P

My current fave Bolo Na by Shankar Mahadevan. I'm a sucker for classically based songs! :D

Unknown said...

I haven't heard Chittagong at all. But thanks for the reco, I'm going to listen to it now :). Your musical instincts are really good - you have to listen and like first before you analyze. I'm a sucker for catchy stuff so my ability to like stuff is limited by that. But I also listen to enough music that I enjoy people who tweak the formula. For e.g. I love Metric but not Bjork.

sidekick said...

Shankar Mahadevan and a song based on raag bhagyashee, what's not to love about Bolo Na? :D I'm not as enthusiastic abut the rest of the album.

Will you be following Saregamapa, Aspi? The show has begun in earnest this season I think. Along with with your music reviews, I enjoy your music reality show takes!

You reviewed JTHJ, Aspi.... and soon after the news of Yash Chopra's passing hits us - RIP Yashji!

Unknown said...

How could I not watch SRGMP - I absolutely am watching. And I'm loving Judge Valmiki, although they keep calling him Rahul Ram on the show.