Monday, September 26, 2005

Film songs that I am listening to

When it comes to film scores, A. R. Rahman is a personal favourite of mine. More recently, I have become partial to the scores of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy too. Two of the songs I am listening to currently (and I mean over and over and over again!) have been scored by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy. I must say that between the two of them A. R. Rahman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy account for nearly 95% of the film songs that I like to listen to.

I must be developing some sort of an aversion to too much bass and monotonously thumping rhythms. Most of my recent favourites seem to be slow numbers with a strong accent on good vocals and strong chords. Moreover, most of the songs that I am listening to also seem to derive strength from a sound classical base.

The film songs that I am listening to these days are:

yeh rishta (Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities)
- kitni batein (Laskhya)
aao na (Kyon Ho Gaya Na)
- yeh jo des hai tera (Swades)
- dheemi dheemi (1947 Earth)
- noor-un-ala
(Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities)

Reena Bharadwaj's debut offering is in the form of
yeh rishta. This is a fresh and captivating song from Meenaxi and is scored by A. R. Rahman. I particularly like the picturisation of yeh rishta. The colours in it are wonderfully crisp and well accented. Reena Bhardwaj has since sung in main vari vari, Rahman's composition in Mangal Pandey: The Rising. She was, however, introduced in yeh rishta and what a wonderful introduction this is. It is said that Rahman called her over for an audition to his studio apartment in London and recorded the scratch version of this song on his kitchen benchtop! This is not the first time Rahman has used a scratch version as the real thing! It is said that the bhajan, pal pal hai bhaari (Swades), with Ashutosh Gowariker reciting Ravana’s lines, was recorded inside a hotel room in Panchgani. Apparently everyone who was present in the small hotel room (the cast included Gowariker, Shah Rukh Khan, Javed Akhtar, Rahman and playback singers Vijay Prakash and Madhushree) believed that a scratch was being recorded. The scratch was so good and natural that it became the real thing!

Back to yeh rishta, however. The song has great vocals, wonderful music, wonderful picturisation, breathtaking colours, and excellent cinematography to suit the pace of the song! The best part of the song is the splending blend of guitar, violin and tabla. One aspect of this song that makes me want to go back to it over and over again is the brilliant use of the tabla. Just as one anticipates the commencement of even the simple but supremely effective na-dhin-dhin-dha theka in the song yeh jo des hai (Swades), a similar sense of anticipation and build-up accompanies the commencement of the tabla in yeh rishta. Rahman has an uncanny sense of rhythm and music, but more and more, I think it is his sense of timing (the right time to deploy simplicity and the right time to increase the complexity of rhythms and of music landscapes) is what sets him apart from the rest.

While I found the film Meenaxi to be highly taxing, and perhaps even an over-indulgence by M.F.Hussain, I thought the songs were quite stunning. The Sufi-style noor-un-ala-noor by Murtuza Khan and Qadir Khan is a splendid compositional effort by A. R. Rahman, the genius of modern film music. The complex chords, the bass and the use of the harmonium in patches only, accent the song brilliantly. And of course, chinnama chilakkama is a masterpiece in the chaiyya chaiyya mould.

In recent times, A. R. Rahman has included
chinnama chilakkamma in all his live concerts. The flute interludes by Naveen are sensational. On closer observation (I did see Rahman and his troupe live in their recent Melbourne and Sydney concerts) it appears that he uses a very small (tiny, in fact) folk flute to belt out the powerful tunes.

For some time now I have been fascinated by Hariharan's vocals. His voice is extremely pliable and he manages to retain the voice projection consistency in the higher octaves, just as he does in the lows. Unlike Shankar Mahadevan, who only demonstrates his strong classical background sparingly, Hariharan tends to produce enough modulations in his voice to continually remind listeners of his strong classical background, leanings and abilities.

The films Lakshya and Kyun Ho Gaya Na throw up some interesting songs. Of the lot, I must say kitni baatein (Lakshya) and aao na (KHGN) are just pleasing. Sadhana Sargam and Hariharan have developed, in my view, a special chemistry. Their duets are often magic and this is abundantly evident in kitni baatein.
Although he is such a versatile artiste, I believe kitni baatein is a song which is, I think, just made for Hariharan.

Apart from the above songs, I am also partial to all songs in Swades -- this movie does have some brilliant songs in it.

The fact that ARR is able to blend in Western elements and Hidustani/Carnatic influences in almost all of his songs is amazing. He doesn't call it "fusion" and is not as pretentious as some of the other musicians who are running around, claiming to do "fusion" music! Frankly, a lot of the "fusion" music today is plain "confusion"! However, ARR, without claiming fusion as his way of life or his USP (and frankly, it isn't!), manages to blend various influences (Arabic, Chinese, Indian, Folk, Western, etc) in a seamless and wonderful manner. His is the true "crossover" genre of music today -- at least in the 'mainstream'.

In Swades, I thought Rahman brilliantly brought out the folk setting of the movie through his songs. The songs (especially saawariya and pal pal hai bhari) are so tightly based and built on folk heritage themes of North India (where the film is set). Hence, there is a sense that the music, the lyrics and the film's setting are tightly interwoven; clearly an important feature of the ARR-JavedAkhtar-Gowrikar combination which accomplished a sense of coupling in Lagaan too. Clearly, ARR pays distinct attention to these finer aspects of arranging music in a manner that Bollywood has not seen much of before!

Of course, the classical base of several of the songs make the songs from Swades all that more appealing to me!

I thought yeh tara woh tara was a curious mix of the Carnatic raga-s, kapi and khamboji (the m-g-p-d-s keeps appearing several times in the tune) -- close to the hindustani khamaj perhaps? I'd need to to listen to it some more to be certain.
There is a flute segment in this song again, which is just sensational.

The alap for yun hi chala (provided by Khailash Kher and Hariharan) is sensational too.

The song pal pal hai bhaari has very strong traces of abheri (or karnataka devagandhari) or bhimplasi, its equivalent in the Hindustani system of classical music. It is really quite a well arranged piece.

The song yeh tara woh tara once again stems from a strong classical base. It has strong hues of the Hindustani kalavati (the Carnatic malayamarutam) which is close enough to the Carnatic valaji!

The best song of the album is, in my view, yeh jo des hai tera.
he chords in this song are so very complex, although that is a distinct Rahman feature in that he makes it very hard on himself as well as on other instrumentalists who want to learn and play his songs. This is mainly because in most of his songs, the chords cross-run and play differently each time a melody repeats. The shehnai feature in yeh jo des hai is so simple and yet, its effect is so stunning. Although it is a live sample that plays as a digitised loop all through the song (as is the "hai hai" that peels right through the song) and although I am not a great fan of digitised loops, I think it forms a stunning landscape for the whole song to be sculpted on as a wonderful edifice! At first I coldn't believe that it was ARR that sung this song. However, it bacame clearer in the first charanam (apologies to you die-hard Bollywood buffs for me using a Carnatic term here again!).

Overall, Swades is a current favourite of mine. It is a very well crafted album with many gems in it.

I have been threatening to write a blog on ragas employed in film music for quite some time now. I might just get started on that one of these days!


  1. A real enlightening blog. Don't stop now. I'm sure you'd be interested in How to buy & sell everything, like music on interest free credit; pay whenever you want.

  2. An excellent writeup. YOu have put accross your thoughts in a very meticulous and orderly fashion. If you are a new enterent into ARR's music world then I assure you that you have a lot more gems to unearth. Some of his early Tamil compositiona and lesser known Hindi compositions are worth doing a Ph.D. Anyway, I have included your site in my favourites and will visit you quite offen for more reading.

  3. Lovely! Just one correction, Reena Bhardwaj was introduced by ARR in the Tamil movie Baba, for the song 'Baba kicchu kicchu thaa'. It was recorded separately, long story, for the video in Switzerland with a different male voice and then SPB did the 'real thing' back in Chennai.

    Reena then went to Mumbai, took lessons with an ARR recommended Guru and is now spending a lot of time singing, songwriting e.t.c. with stalwarts like Nitin Sawhney and also doing some exquisite fusion work for Kathak exponent, Gauri Sharma!

    Can't wait to see your Raga Blog! Your knowledge and detail are very enlightening!

    Have a read of one of my Ragas in film music articles:


  4. Hello...its goood to read someone with a knowledge of clasical music analysing the great ARR's songs...bcos only they understand it tht way....the sheer brilliance is tooo much 4 the bollywood fans...anyway gudwork yaar keep it up....chkout my blog...

    i've written abt ARR'S unknown masterpieces...& meenaxi is one of ur valuable comments...
    with love, fellow arr fan Praveen

  5. Hi!

    Followed you through from 13j3 blog.

    Good to see your perpectives on film music.

    Would love to hear your opinion on film music composers other than ARR.

    Ilayaraja is an obvious one and some of the very good but largely ignored are a few from Kerala, like Ravindran, Sharath etc.,

    Unfortunately, I am not conversant with the film music of Andhra and Karnataka, otherwise I would have suggested them too.

    A lot of these composers are creating cereberal and innovative music.

    Please dont confine yourself to ARR.