Planet Bollywood
The High Notes of 2009
- Atta Khan           Let us know what you think about this article

Past Features: High Notes 2003 | High Notes 2004 | High Notes 2005 | High Notes 2006 | High Notes 2007

Note: Aakash Gandhi, our Managing Editor and founder of this popular feature was sadly unable to write this piece for 2009. However the excellent news is that we are expecting him back sometime soon in 2010 so watch this space!

Welcome back to the annual High Notes feature from Planet Bollywood where we reflect on the music trends of the past year and then go on to select the best soundtracks from the 100s that were eventually released! Of course, the year also marked the final of a distinguished decade so did it end on a high note?

Well, on reflection 2009 has been another year of highs and lows but regrettably more lows and significantly less highs, so much so that the overriding feeling is one of disappointment. This trend runs from 2008 but whilst that year saw a savior in Rahman and the release of his mega soundtracks (Jodha Akbar, Ada, JTYJN, Yuuvraaj, Ghajini and the Oscar winning Slumdog Millionaire), no such rescue job came in 2009 as the music scene continued to plunge deeper and deeper into recession with an alarming absence of originality, freshness and innovation.

Of course this trend was not helped by the annoying strike that crippled the entire industry for several months leading into the summer. Admittedly when the strike ended we had a few good soundtracks but let’s face it even fewer, memorable ones. In fact from the 100+ soundtracks released in 2009, it was surprisingly an easy job picking the best soundtracks to make the High Notes of 2009 (the main challenge was in ranking them).

The reasons for this decline should not surprise music fans. In fact, the music scene in the main followed recent trends that focus on the demands of movie producers to promote their respective films. Cue high budget music videos and one or two songs that ‘click’ with the audience i.e. the masses. This allowed music directors to fall into the lazy habits of focusing on those big impact numbers and using fillers for the remaining soundtrack (cue Kambakkht Ishq, De Dana Dan, Jail, Chance Pe Dance and even blockbusters such as Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani to name but a few). This meant we got an awful lot of inconsistent and disjointed albums (personal and filmi). Not that it affected the likes of Pritam who had another successful year as far as sales and popularity is concerned.

Another linked adverse trend is the use of multiple composers e.g. RDB for Kambakkht Ishq. Not only is it irritating for music directors whose efforts are diluted, it just sends the wrong signals to hard working composers trying to make an impression. As you can see from the list below, not many soundtracks feature in the High Notes with multiple composers. Anyway criticism aside, this trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future so it will be interesting to see how many ‘complete’ soundtracks we get in 2010, the first year of a new decade...the signs are not good but we have to hope!

If we had to take one positive trend from 2009, it is the impact created by several new talents including Amit Trivedi, Sohail Sen and Sachin Jigar. These have succeeded in bringing some much needed freshness to a stale industry. Another positive trend is the increased use of new singing talents, which has brought a welcome change to what seemed a monopoly held by a few singers! Having said that, the award for the singer of 2009 goes to none other than Mohit Chauhan for his brilliant performances during the year for songs such as “Gulon Mein”, “Masakali” and “Yeh Dooriyan”…to name but a few. Anyway, enough of that, enjoy the High Notes feature and feel free to email us with your feedback!

The following are what this writer believes to be the top 15 soundtracks of the year, with credits and highlights of each. Also, please feel free to click the album title to read our full in depth review.

15) London Dreams - Shankar Ehsaan Loy

Shankar Ehsaan Loy had a disappointing 2009 (compared with 2008) particularly with their music for the movies Short Kut and 13B. There were further expectations with the release of the rock inspired London Dreams and even more so after the incredible success of their previous hit Rock On!! Ultimately, whilst London Dreams was no match for that superb album, the trio still managed to create an impression with a good mixture of rock tunes such as “Barson Yaron”, and the stylish “Khanabadosh”. On top of that we got the trademark experimental songs such as “Tapkey Masti”, “Jashn Hai Jeet Ka” which didn’t work as well but did the job for the movie. It was good to hear Zubeen again in "Shola Shola" but by far the best song was the ultra cool and reflective “Khwab Jo” in which the trio brought together a phenomenal singing duet in Shankar Mahadevan and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The end result was a brilliant song which can also be ranked as one of the best of the year.

14) Veer - Sajid Wajid

Sajid and Wajid had a most impressive 2009! In fact the year is arguably their best in terms of producing music on a consistently high level. First we had Kal Kissne Dekha, then later the chart-busting Wanted and Main Aurr Mrs Khanna. With each new release, the music improved peaking with their final soundtrack offering in Veer. What is particularly impressive about Veer is their professional treatment of a period based movie, which has hitherto not been their forte, normally when you think about the duo you think about dance music! “Taali”, “Meherabaniyan” and “Kanha” excellently support the period based theme whilst “Surili Akhiyon Wale” and “Salaam Aaya” are both super romantic numbers particularly the former in which Rahat Fateh Ali Khan stars with another bewitching rendition. It appears that Gulzar’s lyrics have inspired the duo since Veer was Sajid and Wajid’s most ambitious soundtrack to date but to their credit they responded with great maturity to produce a solid soundtrack. With this kind of form, expect plenty more from the duo in 2010 and beyond.

13) Blue - A.R. Rahman

Blue was Rahman’s first soundtrack after picking up an Oscar (for Slumdog Millionaire) but if truth be told it was a disappointment particularly for the ardent Rahman fans including this writer. However in retrospect we must not forget that Rahman had very little time to compose the soundtrack on top of his already busy international commitments and in addition the music had to fit in with the theme of the movie. So we had Kylie Minogue’s fun but limited “Chiggy Wiggy” and the catchy “Aaj Dil Ghustakh Hai” to promote the movie but in truth they were pretty average songs albeit ultra hyped. Thankfully there was more to the album including “Fiqrana”, “Yaar Mila Tha” and “Bhoola Tujhe” to appease the fans and critics alike. Lastly, the theme track for Blue was awesome! Overall, Blue was an experimental score by Rahman but was limited in its success. Still, if we are disappointed then it’s because of the expectations attached to Rahman. Truth is if anybody else had composed the score, we would probably be raving about them.

12) Ruslaan - Raeess Jamal Khan

Ruslaan was released just after the unfortunate strike in Bollywood and at a time when the music scene was full of new releases. In fact, there was a new release practically every day so chances are you have missed this one amidst the bigger scores. Unfortunately, very few of those bigger releases had much in the way of quality but thankfully Ruslaan was different! The music by little known Raeess Jamal Khan boasted of fresh and soulful tracks that simply oozed the essence of music. The album starts with the soul-stirring qawwali number “Maula Maula” that is evoked passionately by the impressive Master Salim. Raeess Jamal Khan sprinkled the composition with a hint of rock melody and it worked a treat! “Pyar Ki Parsayee” is a beautiful romantic number that ranks in the top 5 (romantic) songs of the year. The selection of singers is admirable as well with Master Salim, Hariharan and Sadhna Sargam the pick of the bunch. Whilst it only contained four original tracks, Ruslaan still ended up as THE soulful musical outing of 2009 and is consequently a must listen for music fans.

11) Aasma - Afsar Sajid

Aasma was a rare treat at the turn of the year and it deservedly ranks to be one of the most enjoyable albums by the end of the year too. Packed to the hilt with fresh sounds by newcomers Afsar-Sajid, the album just demands repeated listening! “Yeh Pal” and “Aasma” rocks with the help of some breezy vocals by the likes of Xulfi and Shaan. If you prefer something a little more enchanting try the glorious “Man Bawra” which reminds us all why Rahat Fateh Ali Khan is widely regarded as one of the biggest draws in Bollywood. Then we have the supremely catchy and uplifting romantic “Chalte Rahein”. The only downside to the album was that it contained only four original songs, the rest being remixes. Otherwise Aasma is a wonderful example of what you can do when you try and be creative instead of following the tried and tested formulas…kudos to Afsar-Sajid.

10) Teree Sang - Sachin Jigar (other composers were Anu Malik, Bappi Lahiri)

I fear Teree Sang is one of the forgotten gems of 2009 which is an utter shame! Another album to get caught up in the post strike 'rush', it went unnoticed thanks to poor publicity and some major releases hogging our playlists. It was consequently ignored by many fans and critics alike. Whilst Anu Malik and Bappi Lahiri contribute with four of the nine songs, they make relatively minor impact compared with the scorching numbers by newcomers Sachin and Jigar (former assistants of Pritam). “Morey Saiyan” and “Maula Mila De” were two electrifying rock anthems that rightly got into the charts but they impressed just as much in the superb “Rab Milya” and “Leja Leja”. Note that Sachin and Jigar also contribute vocally in some of these songs which demonstrates their full talents. Teree Sang surely ranks as one of the freshest albums to come out of the year and if you haven’t given it a chance already, you are advised to get hold of a copy as soon as possible!

9) Wake Up Sid - Shankar Ehsaan Loy

From SEL’s perspective, it was Wake Up Sid that stood out to enthrall music fans eventually becoming one of the most enjoyable soundtracks of the year. Right from the title song to “Kya Karoon” and “Aaj Kal Zindagi”, the trio somehow managed to create a mix of super catchy soft rock melodies with their trademark groove that somehow also fitted perfectly into the theme of the movie. The result was a chart-topping score that was enjoyed before and after the movie release. To top it off we get a gem from Amit Trivedi in the form of the superb “Iktara”. The soundtrack is also one to treasure for Shankar Mahadevan fans who sings in four of the six songs. Overall Wake Up Sid ranks as the coolest and most chilled out soundtrack of the year and one that can be played 24/7, especially if you are in the mood for some chillaxin!

8) Love Aaj Kal - Pritam

Our favourite Pritam was busy again in 2009 although to a lesser extent and overall it worked for him because he largely lived up to expectations. And talking of expectations, none were greater than for his Love Aaj Kal and no doubt, thanks to some excellent publicity, it turned out to be a blockbuster soundtrack. But was it really that good? Did it match the standards set by his last soundtrack for Imtiaz Ali, Jab We Met? Probably not but it came close. There were several super hit video songs such as “Twist”, “Aahun Aahun” and “Chor Bazaari” which worked a treat to promote the movie but they just didn’t sound as good in the ears. Sure they were superbly catchy, fun and addictive but somehow they lacked the charm, class and longevity of the songs from Jab We Met. Saying that “Dooriyan” and “Ajj Din Chadeya” provided some very good support to make the soundtrack a winner overall, particularly onscreen.

7) Gulaal - Piyush Mishra

Gulaal’s musical score is incredibly unique, hardcore and authentic but admittedly not to everyone’s taste. However, if you give it a chance or delve into its beauty and complexity, preferably after watching the movie (the soundtrack is very situational), you are more likely to appreciate the underlying quality of the thematic and haunting orchestration on display here. Piyush Mishra’s debut soundtrack touches an era that most music directors stay clear of due to its limited appeal. However, the degree of authenticity and expression coming out of each song has to be admired! Right from the modern sounding “Yaara Maula” to the amazingly poignant “Aisee Saza”, the soundtrack majors heavily on creating an atmosphere of depression and quirkiness and achieves it with aplomb. But none more so than the awe-inspiring ode on life called “Duniya” sung incredibly well by Piyush himself. Another major attraction is the choice of singers since the composer experiments with some fresh vocals including himself, the lyricist Swanand (Kirkire), Rahul and Aushim as well as the experienced Rekha Bharadwaj and Shilpa Rao. Gulaal’s music was easily the most complex of 2009 and poses a challenge for even the most ardent music fans making it a proposition strictly for the connoisseurs amongst you!

6) Kaminey - Vishal Bharadwaj

People forget that Vishal jee is a just as brilliant a music composer as he is a film-maker. For his Kaminey, he produced a stunning score that sounded just as amazing off screen as it did on it! Dark, witty and stylish throughout, the composer reeled off one winner after another. From the amazingly (Pulp Fiction stylized) catchy “Dan Ta Nan” to the sparkling but unusual “Raat Ke Dhai Baje” and “Fatak”, this was Vishal at his very best. Mind you the romantic “Pehli Baar Mohabbat” wasn’t bad either. However as usual, the unique composer impressed the most in what was the most difficult song to compose on paper. How do you make a song which encapsulates the title word “Kaminey” sound so meaningful, soulful and touching? Well Vishal achieves it like all masterful composers do, with the help of some brilliant lyrics by Gulzar and his own singing that carried a touch of class about it. Kaminey is Vishal’s best soundtrack since Omkara (although that was on another level) and suited the movie to perfection!

5) Tum Mile - Pritam

After super hit albums of the past including Gangster (2006), Awaarapan (2007) and Jannat (2008), the golden collaboration between Pritam, the Bhatt’s and Emraan Hashmi continued in 2009 with Tum Mile. But amazingly, this time it was arguably the best of the lot! The soundtrack was an instant winner boasting some supremely catchy and melodic songs including "Tum Mile", “Dil Ibadat” and the utterly splendid “Tu Hi Haqeeqat”. The latter is surely one of the finest songs of the entire year. To top it off, Pritam dusted off his favourite rock instruments for the alternative 'rock' inspired version that, given the right mood, sounded even more fantastic than the originals! The return of the prodigal son (K.K) was just the icing on the cake. Forget the movie, Tum Mile turned out to be the most melodious soundtrack of 2009 and also Pritam’s best since Jab We Met and before that his holy grail, Life in a...Metro. Hat’s off to Pritam…and that is coming from one of his staunchest critics out there!

4) Radio - Himesh Reshammiya

Well what can you say about Himesh bhai? After deciding to focus on his acting a few years ago, one felt his music was all but sidelined. The critics laughed at his inept performance (as an actor and music director) for Karzzz. Fans were supportive as ever. And then BANG! Radio arrived like a tidal wave to blow away the competition and how. Never before has Himesh released a soundtrack with so much charm, variety and consistency. Not to mention the superlative lyrics by Subrat Sinha. “Man Ka Radio” was to become the ‘craze track’ of 2009 but the true gems were the emotional “Janeman” and “Shaam Ho Chali Hai” in which Himesh impressed with his low octave vocals. His use of co singers was particularly good including Kailash Kher and Rekha Bharadwaj (for the excellent “Damadji” and “Piya Jaise Ladoo”). Fans will argue it deserves to be at the top of this High Notes ranking and whilst it is hard to criticize such an enjoyable and well composed album, it is by no means perfect. Firstly for a composer (come singer), he sings far too often here, in fact in every single song. Why? This is not a personal album and he is not a perfect singer. Secondly if you listen closely, the music, whilst melodic and enjoyable, doesn’t really push any boundaries and relies heavily on Himesh’s tried and tested melody structures particularly in association with the tabla, dhol and strings. But admittedly that would be nitpicking because the music of Radio was good enough to be the best selling album of 2009 not to mention Himesh’s best soundtrack in a long while, and who knows, perhaps ever? This was an amazing return for Himesh and fans will be delirious to know that he has several projects lined up for 2010...

3) Delhi-6 - A.R. Rahman

A R Rahman picked up a deserved Oscar during the year for his music for Slumdog Millionaire. But before that he released the music for Om Prakash Mehra’s highly anticipated Delhi 6. Whilst the film flopped at the box office, no such criticism can be leveled towards Rahman’s music, which was right out of the top drawer after two years in the making! Whilst the masses flocked to the wonderful “Masakali”, others were mesmerized by the devotional “Arziyan” and the soulful “Rehna Tu”. However it was “Dil Gira Dafatan” that brought music connoisseurs to their knees in sheer awe at its beauty, such was the effect of that breathtaking guitar strumming melody…that was Rahman jee at his very best! But the soundtrack was by no means perfect. “Dilli 6” and “Kala Bandar” were disappointing (even onscreen) and the rest of the songs were short and situational. Compare Delhi 6 to the perfection achieved by his classics including Dil Se, Taal and Bose to name but a few, and you can see why it can never be ranked alongside his best soundtracks ever. In fact, Rahman's previous collaboration with Om Prakash Mehra (Rang De Basanti) produced a cult score that is more memorable than Delhi-6. Still, D6 has the hallmarks of classic Rahman and that is enough to feature in the top 3 of High Notes 2009.

What's Your Raashee? - Sohail Sen

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a young new music composer trying to hit the big time. Imagine being approached by a filmmaker of the caliber of Ashutosh Gowariker with an unusual project: “What’s Your Raashee”? Now consider the job on hand; having to create a mammoth soundtrack with each song requiring its own unique flavour to support the 12 zodiac signs. Would you accept the challenge? Well a certain Sohail Sen did and 18 months later he realized a dream with an effort that can only be described as outstanding! Not only did each song hit the bull’s eye on screen and gelled supremely well into the script of the movie but there is also immense appeal with each song from a purely auditory perspective. Everything you could possibly want from an album is here from jazz music (the title song), breezy uplifting tracks (“Jao Na”, “Aa Le Chal”, peppy dance music (“Aaja Lehraate”), classic and modern romantic melodies (“Sau Janam” and “Su Chhe”), touching and emotional numbers (“Bikhri Bikhri” and "Koi Jaane Na") etc. Make no mistake, this is an album for all music fans and suits all situations and moods and that’s arguably the reason why so many of us are still listening to it even now. The soundtrack is brimming with freshness, melody, variety and long-term value and is undoubtedly the musical extravaganza of 2009. Let’s hope it's not long before Sohail Sen gets another opportunity to impress us, one can hardly wait!

1) Dev.D - Amit Trivedi

According to an interview with the composer, the music of Dev.D is supposed to be the “Baap of different genres”. The end result is something that has the potential to truly knock your socks off! Relatively unknown music composer Amit Trivedi debuted in 2008 with a stunning score for the movie “Aamir” but no one could envisage he would follow that up with a mindboggling 18 (yes 18!) track album for Dev.D. In short, it’s a colorful mirage of innovation, beauty, wit and imagination composed through sheer talent, audacity and pizzazz! Most of the soundtrack provides background support to the movie but it is so unique and uber cool, you can listen to it on your ipod and still be left speechless (cue the repeat button). Let there be no doubt, opening your ears to songs like “Nayan Tarse”, “Paayaliya” “Pardesi”, “Duniya” and “Emosanal Atyachar” (to name but a few) will bring a new meaning, a new language to your taste buds and if it clicks then ecstasy! If it doesn’t then unfortunately you are stuck with the status quo (blame the usual list of composers for that!). I could carry on raving about the music, about the singing (Amit the singer anyone?), the lines (especially by Amitabh Bhattacharya) about how the soundtrack changed the entire script of the movie and about the plaudits it has been receiving worldwide by professionals in the industry but ultimately, it’s YOU the listener that must give it the chance it deserves. Dev.D’s music is path-breaking and a rare sign of brilliance! Thank you Amit Trivedi and long may your legacy continue…

(Other soundtracks that just missed out but recommended: Let’s Dance, Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, Sikandar, Jashnn, 3 Idiots, Aagey Se Right, All the Best, Luck, Paa, Main Aurr Mrs Khanna, Wanted and Quick Gun Murugun).

So there you have it music fans, the High Notes of 2009! Dev.D is a rare piece of brilliance to end to an incredible decade for the Indian Music Industry. Whilst overall, it may have ended on a low, the decade gone by was full of significant surprises and progressive music not to mention some memorable and path-breaking scores that will live with us forever. Let’s hope the new decade picks up for the better….and on that happy note dear readers, I would like to wish you all a Happy New Year on behalf of everyone at Planet Bollywood!

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