For many it may be “oh what a long four years it has been”, for, after 2001, Aamir Khan is back after a long hiatus in the epic tale of The Ballad of Mangal Pandey. The biggest film of 2005 sees the successful Khan portraying a historical hero making it no surprise that A.R. Rahman is with him. But it’s not all glamorous. For all the commercial projections that Mangal Pandey-The Rising has, it’s quite obvious after listening to the soundtrack that it’s not going to be forgotten that it is a period film re-telling a historical story. A.R. Rahman, as usual, hasn’t forgotten this either while composing the music. Unlike his work for period films like Lagaan and 1947 Earth to name a couple, the music for Mangal Pandey is quite non-commercialized and not aimed to a universal acceptance. Rahman has once again created several unique compositions, made use of Javed Akhtar’s fruitful lyrics and for the most part has kept his music enriched with a qawaali, mujra and three theme tracks which in themselves tell the film with the music. Yet this is one is arguably not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.
Javed Akhtar is at his pensive best in the soundtrack’s theme “Mangal Mangal”. A sharp and distinguishing piece, Kailesh Kher leaves an impression in his almost devotional impression of the tracks which tell the story of Mangal Pandey and his progression as seen in the second version, “Agni”, and the ultimate version, “Aatma”. Telling a story more than anything else, these tracks come on quite strong to the listener on first listen but are ultimately worth the listener’s attention as the experience progresses. Clearly the last version, “Aatma”, is the best not only because of Sukhwinder Singh’s contribution but because as it closes the soundtrack gives the listener a sense of not only satisfaction but resolution.
Perhaps it is the long lost vocalization by Kavita Krishnamurthy or simply the undeniably irresistible tune, but Krishnamurthy’s “Main Vari Vari” is the best song of the soundtrack and perhaps the most appealing to any listener as well. It’s Rani Mukherjee’s turn to dance the mujra after Madhuri in Devdas’ “Mar Dalla” and it is without question that “Main Vari Vari” is the better of the two and probably the hardest to tap one’s feet to. Whatever the case is, Kavita and Reena Bharadwaj (the revelation in Rahman’s own “Yeh Rishta” from Meenaxi), are simply exquisite for lack of a better word in the addictive tune.
The other female based composition is ironically an item number, if you may. And again, it stands out as a sultry piece de resistance that only Rahman could have created. After all, in these days of English lyrics and rap beats one can imagine how hard it must have been to create this one lyrically and musically and make it as great as it is. “Chaliya” is irresistible thanks to Richa Sharma’s sulky vocals, an Arabic beat and a haunting chorus. Certainly a Rahman classic. “Chaliya” and “Main Vari Vari” are probably the only two songs that could find some appeal beyond the non-typical listener but they are strong enough to promote the album and help it gain some recognition.
The much publicized Holi portion of the film will contain the track “Holi Re”. As fun as it looks the song is unlike its contemporaries and ends up being a tad verbose, which is no discredit to Akhtar’s very festive lyrics. Aamir Khan himself opens up the song and Udit Narayan is at his playful best yet the song doesn’t seize the listener or make you want to get up and celebrate. Considering that Rahman created “Radha Kaise Na Jale” and “Pal Pal Hai Bhari”, “Holi Re” seems like a more unconventional approach with too many things going on at creating the mood of the season and the results are as such not as one would expect.
It’s not often that A.R. Rahman repeats himself and certainly not so obvious as he does in the beginning portions of “Takey Takey” which is lifted from Rahman’s earlier work ‘Saaiyan’ from Nayak. One gets the feeling that perhaps it was his own way of trying to catch the listener’s attention for much thereafter is not going to. The purely situational track is on the lines of “Bar Bar Hum” from Lagaan and “Yuhin Chala” from Swades, but sadly not as catchy as those are.
Rahman chooses the qawaali for his obligatory vocal rendition in “Al Maddat Maula”. Rahman’s voice is great to listen to and what stands out the most but the song is otherwise another situational one with very short shelf life.
Having created nothing short of masterpieces in thematic albums like Lagaan, Zubeeida, 1947 Earth and such, one expected The Ballad of Mangal Pandey to be more appealing with theme and situations combined. It is clear that Rahman has worked hard on the compositions and the soundtrack and his work has paid off. Mangal Pandey is a very excellent soundtrack for a historical film. However, for a grand film that is aiming at a commercialized audience and clearly so, some might find that the music is quite un-grand in that aspect and that aspect alone.