Familiarity of Rahmania
Allah Rakha Rahman has been the Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar of Indian film music ever since Mani Ratnam’s 1992 film, Roja. Many meteors have blazed across this pitiless sky since then, but only Rahman has shimmered on like a star. So much so that in recent times he has been sounding a bit too much like, well, himself. Despite his talent at introducing refreshing new voices, or using known voices in refreshingly new ways, some of his recent songs induce that familiar feeling: the gut knows what it sounds like but the lips can’t sing it.
Consider ‘Behene de’ from the new Mani Ratnam film, Raavan. It’s a rain song, a Ratnam standardum. And the opening bars of it brought on for me a fidgety déjà vu. But the earlier tune kept eluding me. I called up a singer who has recorded Rahman’s compositions and I played him the song. A few bars into it he started humming ‘Satrangi re’ — and the coin dropped. Sure enough, the new song, though not quite the same, had the all-too-familiar vibes of the old number from another Ratnam film, 1998’s Dil Se.
Now, predictability may be a virtue on the cricket pitch, but is it good for entertainment? In the unforgiving world of the latter, ‘good’ may spell as ‘boring’.
This way or that, the six songs of Raavan have the hologram of Rahmania all over. They all come with rich, multi-track arrangements, they cleverly intersperse raw voices with polished ones, and they are recorded impeccably. They come across on the car audio and the computer earphone as stereophonically as on the big-base sound system.
The tribal chanting of ‘Beera’, the first track and one which is titled after the film’s protagonist Beera Munda, a.k.a. ‘Raavan’, begins like a jingle for a jungle juice. Along the way, Mustafa Kutoane’s unintelligible incantations leave you with an oddly African feel.
In the martial ‘Thok de killi’, Deepak P.A.’s warm guitar leavens a cake that’s sliced by Sukhwinder Singh’s knife-like voice. In ‘Ranjha Ranjha’, the abrasive rrra-s of Rekha Bharadwaj work as an attractive rustic foil against the smoothness of Javed Ali in the foreground and Anuradha Sriram at the back.
We come out of the jungle with ‘Khili re’, a ballad that happens to be the only song rendered by a single voice. And Reena Bhardwaj stretches the balladry with typical Rahmanian sweetness. It’s also the only song in which the poignancy Gulzar’s lyrics floats above the sound.
By the time you get to Ila Arun’s ‘Kata kata’, there’s a distinct feel that the Indian tribal is lip-synching sounds pickled in Indian, African and West Asian traditions. As with Tendulkar, we expect the world of ‘Jai ho’ Rahman. And more often than not, like Tendulkar, he delivers.
Live for the Acoustic
If there’s one sound that Ankur Tewari has pursued across what he calls ‘Hindi-Urdu rock-n-roll ballads’ it’s the acoustic. The sharpness that comes of it makes his debut album, Jannat, a refreshing morsel amid the butter-chicken richness of arrangements that’s de rigueur today.
The 10 original tracks are stitched together by Ankur’s guitar. The neon riffs by the album’s Lahore-based co-producer, Xulfi, and Constantino Francorsi, its Mumbai-based co-producer, etch spaghetti doodles behind the simplistic lyrics.
If there’s one weakness it’s the kitchen department. Fahd Shah’s drums are boring when they’re not unimaginative.
The ‘Doped’ version of the first song, ‘Chand chahiye’, is the album’s final tribute to the acoustic sound. Yes, it twangs.