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It’s the singer, stupid

But after the first five tracks, the album sheds Akhtar’s sleeveless jacket and wears dance-floor tights, writes Amitava Sanyal.

music Updated: Mar 13, 2010 00:55 IST
Amitava Sanyal

Aamir Khan spoilt it all in 1988. Before Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak, two things did not happen automatically in Bollywood — long film names were not crunched into confounding acronyms such as QSQT, and an actor’s face did not come to mind every time you heard a song. Nobody used DABH for Do Aankhen Barah Haath. And I’ve never had scary visions of Ashok Kumar’s all-too-hairy head from Meri Surat Teri Aankhen while listening to ‘Poochhon na kaise maine’ — all that it makes me conscious of is Manna Dey’s superb singing.

In the three-wheel carriage that’s a song — the ‘wheels’ being melody, rhythm and lyrics — all three wheels are important. At a push, I would vote for melody as the most important one. It’s the singer who drives it. The actor is just the pretty face who rides on it.

But life isn’t so simple — or hasn’t been so since 1988. Making it more complicated in recent times has been the ugly spat between lyricist Javed Akhtar and — who else? — Aamir over who deserves the cake for a song’s success. As we wait to hear the end of that debate, let’s check out father Javed’s hand in the success or failure of the songs in son Farhan’s Karthik Calling Karthik.

Here’s how the first song in the album, ‘Hey ya’, opens: “I see you walk in through the door/But won’t you look across the floor?/I got to tell you how I feel/Oh baby, you’re the only one for me.” Hmm, I wonder what Javed was on when he wrote that. (In fact, I wonder who writes all the cheesy English lines that are used as fillers in so many Hindi songs these days. Are they thrown up by computerised poetry generators?)

If the beginning is the father, there isn’t much hope for the son. The trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy does try to earn back some of it with the help of KK’s open voice in ‘Jaane ye kya hua’, and the lurching, tambourine-marked rhythm of Kailash Kher and Sukanya Purakayastha’s ‘Kaisi hai ye udasi’. Kher proves once again that he’s one of the few artists who can splash a mood with indigo by just bringing down the tempo.

But after the first five tracks, the album sheds Akhtar’s sleeveless jacket and wears dance-floor tights. With Karthik 2.0, a techno arrangement by Midival Punditz and percussionist Karsh Kale, and their remix of the signature track, you start thinking whether this film is meant strictly for techies from Bangalore, Chennai or Hyderabad. The insistence on the ‘h’ in Karthik (though the backup vocalist keeps whispering ‘Kartik’) doesn’t allay the feeling of being stuck in a ghetto of code-crunchers where poetic metres aren’t a priority.

So this is not the album that can decide the debate. Shall we leave that to the Akhtar family’s next show?

Shafqat calling Amanat

Thankfully, there’s no confusion over the credits for Shafqat Amanat Ali’s latest album, the non-filmi Kyun Dooriyan. Ali has written, composed and sung all the songs except the last one, which is an extension of a composition that his father Amanat Ali (of the Patiala gharana) used to sing. So I, a fan of ‘ustaad’ Ali’s singing since his days in the band Fuzon, can justifiably wring my fist in front of his ‘rockstar’ face.

Ali had given us hope that a Hindustani classical singer can stand up, grab the mike by its throat, and sing classical songs with aplomb while rocking to the rhythm. That’s why Salim Merchant dubbed Ali the “rockstar ustaad”.

But the halo started slipping with ‘Mitwa’ in Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna. It’s one thing to sing in a high pitch and quite another to belt out a number at an unmatchable high. This album is graced neither by the balanced arrangements of Imran ‘Emu’ Momina of Fuzon or the tempering hands of Ehsaan or Loy at the controls. So Ali lets it rip, as he did in Tabeer, his previous album that wasn’t worth the beer. Don’t bother to strain your ears to the lyrics — they are all sweet-nothings about separation.

Ali ‘recommends’ tracks 2, 4, 8 and 9, as if the others can be skipped over. Well, here’s the paisa-vasool take: skip straight to No. 8 (named ‘Paharhi’, after the raag). It has enough of Ali’s old magic to keep us hoping he will get the right hands to help out his voice the next time.