A. R. Rahman. Gulzar. Yash Chopra. Three powerhouse names. This towering collaboration for Chopra's seeming swan song should be reason enough to expect nothing but sheer brilliance from the soundtrack of this much hyped film that many have come to know with the tad disappointing title Jab Tak Hai Jaan. This disappointment is more than made up for the sense it makes with Aditya Chopra's beautifully written poetry that has been the talk of the town ever since it released with the theatrical trailer, pre-which the film was deliriously known to be called A Yash Chopra Romance. But I digress. A soundtrack from A. R. Rahman is awaited with bated breath, what with the kind of behemoth repertoire of soundtracks he has composed, and the success overseas of late. The wait for this soundtrack heightens with the expectations to exceed last year's much debated, heavily experimental, yet critically and commercially successful soundtrack of Imtiaz Ali's mammoth project Rockstar. The soundtrack grabbed a host of awards, and is till date the most talked about soundtrack in a very long time. The buzz gets positive as the score that supports the Shahrukh Khan recited poetry gives the potential listener a slightly higher expectation level than the already mammoth one created by the year-long hype. The only question is to whether it exceeds or even fulfils the kind of expectation levels set through the mindsets of the listeners.
The album opens with Challa, the prelude of which is marked by the easygoing yet pacy guitar strums of Keba Jeremiah. The added foot-tapping pace is heightened by the drums of Ranjit Barot, which makes for an eclectic fusion of sounds, which the listeners will love. But as Rabbi "Bulla Ki Jaana" Shergill start crooning to this semi-spiritual, Sufi-esque song, written with delicacy by Gulzar, we get eerily transported to a deja¬† vu of the very song that put Rabbi in the limelight. Disappointing as it may be, the fluid nature of the song will make the viewers love it. Digging deep into the sub-textual nature of the lyrics, it is discovered that Gulzar has written some pretty smashing poetry that supports the original nature of the song, and fortunately isn't ruined by the composition. Speaking of a nomad soaked in love, unsure of where he heads in life, what does he want, and yet tries to spread goodness around people, by guiding them a bit, helping them some more, Gulzar completely kills it with his interpretation. With a good amount of wet mixing, strong guitar and percussions, and easygoing-yet-foot-tapping drums, this song wins. Unfortunately, the A. R. Rahman trademark stamp is heard very less, and far in between (the church-choir chorus crooning to a raag). Also, it sounds more like a Rabbi track than a Rahman track, and somewhere down the line, it seems Rahman's compositions are lost with the towering aspect of Shergill's voice, as also the strong deja¬† vu of his "Bulla".
The strong string orchestration, and the choir chorus comes back to haunt you further in the fantastic prelude of Saans, which goes the Do Pal (Veer-Zaara) way for a Yash Raj, and the Tu Muskura/Tu Meri Dost Hai (Yuvvraaj) way for Rahman. The intense feel of the track is heightened by Gulzar's sensual lyrics that highlight the intimacy and sexual tension between the protagonists played by Khan and Kaif. The tune does make you reminisce the above-mentioned tracks, albeit in a good way. The old-school orchestration and epic feel of the music is fused with pro-modern beats and arranged with the subtle dholak. The flute, Shreya Ghoshal's grounded aalaap, and the piano pieces in the interludes strike the right balance between classic romanticism and tension, which is what tracks from Chopra's previous films (Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum from Silsila; Aage Bhi Jaane Na Tu from Waqt) and Rahman's compositions (Tu Hi Tu from Kabhi Na Kabhi; the title track and Satrangi Re from Dil Se...) have highlighted over the years. Shreya Ghoshal sings with the kind of earnestness and fluidity one could expect from a female vocalist in this song, and kills it. As she sings with utter honesty and heart, she is complimented by an odd choice of Rahman's favorite from Rockstar, the voice of "Jordan", Mohit Chauhan. While one does wonder upon Rahman's uncanny choice for a track of this scale, Chauhan's voice seems to grow on you with more listens. This, however, doesn't warrant it's suitability to Shahrukh's overall caliber, which would be matched by Sonu Nigam more than Chauhan.
Well, if one couldn't get more intense, a melancholy driven reprise arrives, this time handling the solo vocal reins to Shreya Ghoshal, who sounds just as effortless as she did in the original. The strings are present this time around, but the overall atmospheric pads and the dholak very well mould the song into heartbreak mode. Though composed really well, this is a song that will warrant listens only as per mood, and doesn't cater to an audience as wide as the original does.
The pace, feel and flavor changes yet again through Ishq Shava, with Rahman's true form of experimentation now being clearly seen here. The riffs of the electric guitar are combined with rock beats, which paves way for unpredictability, as the arrangements go Middle-Eastern, with the Oud taking over, before there's a fusion of two highly different genres. Gulzar's lyrics shift gear from being highly complicated to downright conventional. Here too, with Rahman seeming to be in form, experimentation is observed over the vocals as well, with Shilpa Rao and Raghav "Can't Get Enough" Mathur coming up. Though it was highly easy to spot his vocals in his first Hindi film soundtrack entry in Hey Na Na Shabana (Hum Tum Shabana), it seems hard to recognize his vocals here. The music is addictive, despite the slow pace for a dance number. Though the lyrics are a confusing let-down, the overall song more than makes up for them. Being progressive in nature, the song gets a terrific climax, with beats that make you reminiscent of parts of Mangta Hai Kya from Rangeela. Yes, this is one song that will take some time to grow on you, but is great fun to hear overall.
If you weren't satisfied with the beats of Ishq Shava, there comes a pacier Ishq Dance, which, just like the original, takes time to build up. However, as the chorus comes to fore, the song takes an exhilarating turn for the better. Just like the original vocal-driven experiment, this redux instrumental has a climax that takes the term thump to another highpoint altogether. Taking cue from Ishq Shava, Rahman takes part of the intro tune (Mila Mila Aankh Mila/Khushaamadeed-E-Marhaba) to incorporate it in the end as the song's motif. A great song overall, though even with the conclusion in hearing five songs, the IT factor just seems to be missing from the album.
We are now transported to conventional situation with Jiya Re, and within the first few lines of Neeti Mohan crooning, one knows it's Anushka Sharma's introductory song, brimming with how positive her life is, and how she's in love with her self-confidence and willingness to challenge herself (Khudi Se Maine Ishq Kiya). The problem with this, as is the trump card, is that it's conventionally made and catchy, which is both adorable, and nothing new from Rahman's stables. Moreover, there's an uncanny deja¬† vu again to the zesty Jalwa from Anushka Sharma's last moderate success Ladies V/s Ricky Bahl, which adds up to the downside factor. The silver lining here is that it has the potential to become a chartbuster is promoted well enough before the release of the film. Though the arrangements are very Rahman in every sense of the word (use of orchestrated strings, excellent use of wet stereo mixing), this song is too mainstream for our taste of his music. Neeti Mohan (of indi-pop band Aasma fame) adds the kick to this track, which should receive brownie points for the choice of vocalist.
80s soul pianos kickstart the title track Jab Tak Hai Jaan, which then transports us into pure Rahman territory, for the first minute or so before it suddenly shifts gears with beats and introduces dholak. The four-minute duration of the track is too short to help register the shift. What the composition loses steam in, it gains in writing. The romance in Gulzar's fluffy, epic poetry is elevated by Javed Ali's terrific vocals, as he reaches close to crooning softly. Shaktishree Mohan is a fresh new addition, and her vocals add the element of surprise. Her aalaaps in the midst of Javed Ali's vocals, and in the track's climax nail it right in the head, as do her soulful rendition. Unfortunately, the final output sounds more genre-confused than an attempt at Bollywood fusion. What surprises this author is that Rahman is usually pretty bang on with experiments there (Blue).
The album ends with the title poem written by Aditya Chopra, recited by Khan and composed to an elevated level by Rahman, and this, fortunately provides respite after three disappointing drags. Though of course, a sole instrumental would surely have been appreciated to give justice to the music more. Unfortunately, as the poem ends, so does the album, leaving the listener to wonder if the big names warranted such a humongous expectation level associated with the soundtrack.
Chopra's last release was Veer-Zaara, which gifted us an 11-track soundtrack with lilting melodies by the late Madan Mohan, recreated by Sanjeev Kohli to perfection. They still continue to be classics. So do the soundtracks of countless Chopra films like Waqt, Darr, Kabhie Kabhie and Dil To Pagal Hai. As for A.R.Rahman, we already know of him to create cult classics like Roja, Dil Se and Taal, and more recently Meenaxi, Swades, Ada, and now the milestone Rockstar. His association with Gulzar is also well known (Saathiya, Guru). Unfortunately, this album doesn't warrant the hype it's associated with, and disappoints massively. Although in generic terms the album is very good, and much better than the usual mainstream dump, the rating is however apt considering the mammoth collaboration. The listeners expect earth-shattering music; all they get instead are mere shades of it in (Saans, bits and pieces of the title track). Overall, the soundtrack's nice while it lasts, but never memorable; as Chhoti Si Aasha, Dekha Ek Khwab or even Bholi Si Surat or Tum Ho continue to be.
I rest my case.
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