I still remember the day I set my eyes upon the bright yellow square my mother had brought in. It was the LP of Meera, set to tune by Ravi Shankar and sung by Vani Jairam and Dinkar Kaikini. Till that moment in the late 1970s, I'd not seen or heard such a well-produced Indian album (mastered and mixed abroad by the short-lived Philips label). The stereophonic sound was unlike anything I'd heard before — it brought alive the drums and sitar with goosebump sharpness. (You won't get the sharpness, but try tinyurl.com/35hjlhr for Ravi Shankar's haunting tune for 'Ae ri main toh'.)
The story of Meera, however, remained confined to the pages of Amar Chitra Katha for me. That is, till sometime in the 80s when Doordarshan telecast MS Subbulakshmi's 1947 film on the 16th-century Krishna-maniac. It brought alive the fact that blind love and absolute devotion could be, to some souls, two effects of the same hormone. And the versions of Meera's ouevre became a trail worthy of following.
So when a friend picked up Shubha Mudgal's Reimagining Meera, I wanted to hear it. Problem was, it also promised 'Readings' by Kiran Nagarkar. Now, the last time there was recitation in a Mudgal song, it was a disaster. Pritish Nandy's self-indulgent voice competed with — rather than complementing — Mudgal's soaring version of 'Hazaaron khwaishein aisi' in the eponymous film.
Thankfully, Nagarkar is no Nandy. The Marathi author's readings from his book, Cuckold, which tells the tale of Meera from the uncomfortable and uncelebrated vantage of her husband, the Rana of Chittor, segue in and out of Mudgal's melodies in well-set tandem. It heightens the drama by bathing the songs with the light of the proscenium.
The six tracks are cued in as chapters by Nagarkar — except the third one, which begins painfully with almost a minute of bhajan-like tabla by Aneesh Pradhan (he has fared better as the album's sound designer). Mudgal's 440-volt voice is at its langourous best in the first track 'Saajan bega ghar'.
Between the second track — featuring a loving rendition of 'Aaj rangeeli rain pritam' — and the third, Meera transforms into being Chhoti Santmai, as her hapless husband watches. The fourth track, 'The Parijaat Tree', rests solely on Nagarkar's voice and the gravelly twang of Niladri Kumar's Surbahar.
By the fifth, it becomes clear that this album is more about Nagarkar than Mudgal — and it's unique for that mix. As Nagarkar's Rana thrashes about, Mudgal's Meera comes out with the perfect foil: 'Neejar bhar dharo nathji'.
The other discovery that came while digging into the album — thanks to the same friend — were the podcasts by Underscore Records. Check out episode 7 on podcasts.underscorerecords.com — it's about Gauhar Jaan, the Armenian woman who became the first person to be published as a vocalist in India.
So many cooks
Faruk Kabir carries forward two Bollywood tendencies in his directorial debut, Allah ke Banday. The old one of naming films after earlier songs, and the new one of getting a gaggle of music producers to set the soundtrack.
The first song, the industry's umpteenth one titled 'Maula', is a scratch-and-spin composed by Chirantan Bhatt.
'Kya hawa kya badal' by Kailasa, descends the tonal depths before zooming up with Kailash Kher's voice. Its remix throws in more instruments but stops short of messing with your ears.
If a certain West Asian flavour lurks in the back of most of the songs, it comes forward in the beginning of Tarun-Vinayak's 'Rabba rabba'. Hamza Faruqui's tune for 'Mayoos' stands out as the most tortuous one of the lot, rendered competently by Sunidhi Chauhan.
If there's anything common to the songs, its their rock instrumentation. But the album as one is soulless. This lot's better as individual downloads, if at all. And if I hear any ringtones from it, I swear I'll go for the jugular.