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After delivering a bunch of memorable performances in a talent hunt/reality show several years back, Pratibha Singh Baghel went on to sing in a couple of Hindi films. One of her best songs in her Bollywood journey so far has been “Jheeni Re Jheeni” from ‘Issaq’ (2013) which she had sung along with renowned classical vocalist Rashid Khan. However, the semi-classical songs which she got to sing and perform in the musical ‘Umrao Jaan’ are the ones that really gave her a good opportunity to showcase her prowess as a vocalist. But, the singer, who has had several years of training in Hindustani classical music, was probably looking for better and more appropriate opportunities to display her command over Hindustani classical music and that, perhaps, led to the birth of the album ‘Bole Naina’.

The ghazal album comprises of six tracks sung by Pratibha. The ghazals have been written by Gulzar and composed by Deepak Pandit. Apart from being a renowned violinist, Deepak has composed for a couple of films and private albums/singles. Some of his earlier compositions like “Tu Kahaan Kho Gaya” (‘U Bomsi N Me’) and “Dhadkanein Azaad Hain” (Single; Shreya Ghoshal) play in one’s mind as you wonder what is the kind of sound he would create for this album.   

Naino ki mat maaniyo, naina thug lenge….” – these were the lines which Gulzar had written and one heard Rahat Fateh Ali Khan sing in the song “Naina” from the film ‘Omkara’. The title song “Bole Naina” also starts off with these lines, though here it is Gulzar who recites these lines. The following lines, as a part of his recital, are not the ones you heard in the ‘Omkara’ song. Apart from adding gravitas to the song, Gulzar’s recital also sets the tone for the song and gives us a good idea about its theme.

Gulzar’s voice is heard for little over a minute and then, Pratibha registers her arrival with the lines “bole naina, naina bole…”. At 1:53, one hears a violin piece and that makes one realize that violin being the instrument Deepak has mastered, must have been used in the album quite frequently. Apart from violin, tabla is one instrument that is heard prominently in the song. Zakir Hussain’s expertise over the instrument make the table pieces shine. Deepak Pandit’s composition is pleasant and quite accessible. People who are only used to listening to ghazals from films and not the more refined pieces in this genre, should also be able to connect to the song easily.

“Beqaraan Kayanaat” also begins with Gulzar reciting a few lines. However, this time the poet makes a shorter appearance and is heard only for twenty seconds. The huskiness in Pratibha’s voice is more prominent here, perhaps because of the pitch at which she sings the song in. The song has a very somber feel to it which is accentuated by the way Pratibha renders it. The word “raat” (night) is heard multiple times in the song. The second antara, which arrives at the 3:24 mark, adds a nice melodic layer to the song and implores you to engage with it more keenly as a listener.

After a 20-second long recital by Gulzar, Pratibha sings the last few lines which one heard in Gulzar’s voice. Just like “Beqaraan Kayanaat”, “Behti Bhi Nahin Aankhen” also has a melancholic feel to it. Here, more than the tune and the singing, it is the lyrics that help in bringing this aspect to the fore. This is one of the songs in the album which speak about its core theme; how eyes convey so many emotions that otherwise remain unexpressed. As Pratibha sings “ek aandhi si chalti hai, bauraayi si aankhon mein….”, you can’t help but notice how beautifully she has emoted the verses written by Gulzar.

“Khushbu Jaise Log” turns out to as memorable as the strikingly beautiful title. Just like the song that arrived earlier, a sense of melancholy prevails across this song as well. While the composition has a classical base to it, the arrangements are very contemporary. There is hardly a trace of any Indian instrument that you hear in the song. Yes, one hears the sound of a sarangi very briefly and sporadically in the song but it is largely embellished by pads, electronic beats and some violin pieces. That is not to say that the song has not been arranged thoughtfully. Apart from putting together an immersive composition, Deepak Pandit also does a good job at producing the track.

Interestingly, this is a ghazal that Gulzar wrote two decades back. The ghazal was set to tune and composed by the legendary Ghazal singer from across the border, Ghulam Ali. The tune, put together by Ghulam Ali was completely different from Deepak Pandit’s composition. Another big difference is that while the twenty-year old track was sung by a male singer, this one has been rendered by a female vocalist.

Instead of Gulzar’s recital, we are greeted by some distinctive sounds and choral vocals in “Raat Ko Jaane”. Pratibha sings a few lines and then, Gulzar makes an entry at 1:18 for a brief but impactful recital. The song is as free-flowing as a light, filmy ghazal and has the kind of tune that gets stuck in your mind right after the very first hearing. “Aankhon se jab maile-maile aansoon behte hain, mere kachche ghar ki mitti galne lagti hai”, the kind of imagery Gulzar uses in this song is truly wonderful. The arrangements are minimal and largely electronic-driven. The violin plays an important role here in elevating the emotions.

Alfaaz khatm ho jaate hain, khamoshi khatm nahin hoti…”, these lines recited by Gulzar in the beginning of “Gin Gin Boonden” are indicative of the fact that we are now listening to the final track on the album. Though the song talks about a sense of sadness, it is one of the livelier songs on the album. It is also one of the most elaborately produced songs on the album. Indian and western instruments are used in equal measures and the track has what you could call a “70 mm sound”. A prolonged acoustic guitar piece, which is heard at the 2:14 mark, almost implores you to pause and think about the verses you just heard for a while. One hopes there is a video of this song too as it almost tells a vivid story.

Ghazal albums or non-film albums for that matter are a rarity in the times we live in. Instead of full-fledged albums, music labels ask artistes to release individual songs or singles. And, getting to hear a new classical or semi-classical song is even more rare. Therefore, it is refreshing to see a young artiste coming out with a ghazal album and a label (Sufiscore) providing her with adequate support.

‘Bole Naina’ is a labour of love by Pratibha Singh Baghel. Her passion towards coming out with an album that is remembered for a very long time is evident in the fact that she has got some of the best talents in the music industry to collaborate with her on. Pratibha’s singing, Deepak Pandit’s compositions and Gulzar’s verses make it a truly memorable album.