Monday, November 27, 2006

A. R. Rahman's Guru: A review...

Over the weekend, I listened to music from Mani Rathnam's movie "Guru". The movie is slated for release late in 2006. The music was released a few weeks ago.

I don't somehow think there will be too many 'hits' from 'Guru' as most hits these days seem to me to be of the dhol-type or the club-mix-type! This is more kick-back-and-relax-genre. Rahman tunes Gulzar's lyrics in Guru. Guru is a Ratnam-Rahman combination; a collaboration that worked really well in blockbuster movies like Roja, Bombay, Dil Se and Alaipayude (Saathiya).

Guru is Rahman's first (Bollywood) movie music release since Rang De Basanti, which was towards the end of 2005. It was therefore, quite an anticipated release. I have to say that it did not match my expectations completely. This does not mean that the songs are bad in Guru. Not at all! Indeed, some of the songs are actually quite good. However, after many super hits from movies like Earth, Roja, Taal, Dil Se, Pukar, Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities, Rangeela, Saathiya, Lagaan, Kisna, Yuva, Swades, Rang De Basanti, etc, one expected much more. Maybe that's more because of the standard of music we have come to expect from Rahman.

But after listening to Guru, one can't help but admire Rahman's versatility and courage. Gone are the days when he used to just belt out tunes that the Producer or the Director of the film felt the audience would like. He has, one feels, entered a phase where he makes music that defines himself as a musician. One feels that he is not content with just belting out tunes. He wants to leave a stamp; create an impact. In Guru, I feel that he is starting to break free of the Bollywood formula stranglehold. Guru is, one feels, a statement from Rahman although not an indulgence. Good luck to him.

As B Rangan says in his blog review of Guru: "There’s very little in his music that’s instantly catchy and fun anymore, because he’s no longer just making soundtracks; he’s painting soundscapes."

The movie has seven songs.

Two of these are, in my view, not that great ("baazi laga" and "ek lo ek muft"). Three songs are just awesome ("tere bina", "ay hairathe" and "jaage hain") and I feel that one other song ("mayya") will grow on me. And I am undecided on one of them ("barso re").

I did not get the point of a simple song like "baazi laga" (sung by Udit Narayan, Madhushree and Shweta Bargavee). I did not quite get this song and where it came from. It may be a situational song with a lot of prancing around aimlessly. But, w have come to expect such lofty ideals for Rahman's music that this song falls short.

Rahman's tunes are normally extremely melodious and are solidly based on classical or folk idioms. There is a sheer craftsmanship to his music. To him, composed music is a carefully sculpted piece of art. he takes it seriously. Therefore, one tends to find many layers to his music and the more you peel (for those who want to peel) the more you see. Rahman's music, therefore, caters to a wide audience. Those who want to hear a song in order to discover something new, will! And yet, his songs also cater to those that didn't want to tax themselves. The songs are fun enough for them too!

Bappi Lahiri sings "ek lo ek muft". Perhaps Rahman wanted to re-create the "mumbai se aaya mera dost" mood in a tapori-type bhang song? Especially since the movie also has Mithun Chakraborty, the original "mumbai se aya mera dost". All of this is random speculation, of course. However, what is certainly not speculation is that this song doesn't work for me... yet! And I have heard it only 5-6 times now. But then again, maybe this song will grow on me too?

Then we have "barso re", a song by Shreya Ghosal and Uday Mazumdar. While it is certainly not in the "baazi laga" category, it is not a sit-up-and-take-notice type of song, in my view. The beat is simple and effective and there are a few clever loops that run through the song. But the song just doesn't lift. It does have some fascinating layers in it though -- like the nice staccato beats. So perhaps the song will grow on me through these layers. Who knows? I felt a bit frustrated with this song though. The vocals by Shreya Ghosal are terrific and Naveen's flute is magic. The soundscape suggests a folk setting, but one can never be too sure with Rahman. There is always this tension between the imagined soundscape and the actual. But therein lies my frustration with this song. Just as the rustic drums worked in "chinnamma chilakkamma" (from Meenaxi) the strange drums (B. Rangan calls it "fire crackers in a tin can" -- how appropriate!) sometimes drown out the sweet vocals in this song. Maybe this is a layer-thing? I am hoping that a few more listens will move this one from the "undecided" category to "I can't get enough of this"!

The songs in the movie that are worth raving about are "tere bina", "ay hairathe" and "jaage hain". A mild warning though. You can easily get hooked on these songs! They are awfully catchy and they are incredibly melodious. Hariharan's voice in "ay hairathe" is awesome and so is Alka's. Chinmayee is a revelation. A. R. Rahman's singing is also awesome in "tere bina".

Of these three songs, "tere bina" is Rahman's tribute to Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. There is no doubt that Rahman, like a whole generation of sub-continental musicians (and music directors) has been hugely influenced by the great Nusrat. The "tere bina" tune is simple and the song is good in (or maybe because of) its simplicity. Chinmayee adds to the layers of the song. She sings quite mellifluosly and effortlessly. Rahman's rapid-fire solfeggio-singing as part of the first interlude is nice and quite Nusrat-esque. However, although it is quite good and while it is a nice tribute to Nusrat, it falls somewhat short of a total Nusrat impression for me. If you want to hear a take that is a bit truer to Nusrat style of rapid-free-solfeggio, listen to "ali ali" sung by a singer called Krishna in the movie Deewar! Of all the names for a person singing a Sufi Qawaali, the name Krishna seems almost as bizzarre as Imran Khan donning whites to turn up to play for India in a game of cricket! The song "ali ali" is from Deewar with music by Aadesh Shrivastava. I have been quite impressed with Aadesh Shrivastava lately. He has had a few clever songs like "ali ali", "rang deni" (the Kailash Kher offering), etc from movies like K3G, Dev, Deewar, Chalte Chalte, etc.

Anyway, back to "tere bina"... It is a lovely song with a catchy refrain. Chinmayee is quite good in this too. The segment that Chinmayee sings in the lower octaves towards the end of the song is quite haunting. She projects her clear and sweet voice right through the song. It is quite Alisha-Chinoy-ish in some parts too! Perhaps Chinmayee is in her more mature phase and one hopes that she lives up to the immense promise she showed when she burst onto the scene as a teenager! The "dum tara dum tara" refrain is sung by Murtuza Khan and Kadir Khan (who sang the terrific "noor-un-ala" Qawali from the movie Meenaxi). The acoustic guitar chords that play right through the song create a wonderful backdrop for the song. Overall, "tere bina" is quite good and I can see that this will become a favourite soon.

By the way, the "dum tara dum tara" refrain sounds very similar to the "ga ga re ga ga re ga re ga" solfeggio that Shankar Mahadevan and Sadhana Sargam sing in "goonji si hai" from Kyon! Ho Gaya Na. There's nothing patently wrong with that mind you. Just an observation. The refrain is also quite similar to "maangalyam" in Saathiya (Alaipayude)!

The song "ay hairathe" is a wonderful ghazal-type number sung by Hariharan and Alka Yagnik. The song starts of in a wonderfully quirky manner. An accordian plays softly accompanied by only the dayan beats of a tabla, also played in a muted manner. The entry of the bayan of the tabla is, therefore, quite dramatic and creates an immediate impact before the synth and electric guitar join in a melodious fusion. The "dum tara dum tara" refrain is heard in this song too, this time sung by Rahman in quite an impressive high pitch.

Anyway, "ay hairathe" is a good song that shows of the versatility of Hariharan and Alka. The movement from a ghazal arrangement (simplicity of arrangement with tabla, accordian, synth, electric guitar) to a Scottish highland tune in the first interlude shows Rahman's ability to switch genres seamlessly (as he did in Lagaan, Bombay Dreams and many more of his projects). Towards the end of the song, Alka Yagnik launches into singing "dum tara dum tara" and turns what is essentially a Qawali refrain right through the song to create a bhajan-type mood. Quite nice.

The last good song in the album is "jaage hain". Perhaps it is also the last song in the movie? It has a melancholic air to it and suggests a possible death-bed scene to it. I suggest that we be prepared for a few heart-string-tugs when we watch the picturisation of this song. Perhaps Dhirubhai Ambani on his death bed? [Guru is supposedly inspired by Ambani's life]. Chitra and Rahman have combined to make "jaage hain" a really nice song. It presents some really confident and strident vocals by Rahman. However, his entry into the song is a soft whisper. The horn and string arrangements in this are quite excellent. The string arrangement is presumably played by the Madras Qartret -- a group that Rahman uses in almost all of his movies (they travel on his live concerts too). The group includes V. R. Sekar on the Cello -- Kunnakudi Vaidhyanathan's son.

Lastly a song called "mayya" sung by Maryem Hassan Toller and Chinmayee. This is quite a nice song too. It is quite likely that Rahman got exposed to Maryem Toller's singing while he was based in Toronto (in preparation for his compositional magnum opus -- Lord of The Rings: The Musical). Maryem is an Arabic/Tukish singer based in Toronto, Canada. And "mayya" is an Arabic-inspired song supposedly picturised in Turkey with Mallika Sherawat dancing away. Rahman has always had a huge Arabic influence in his music (hear "satrangi re" from Dil Se). And "mayya" is a song that has a distinct "khalbali" (Rang De Basanti) hangover. It also has a "bhanno rani" flavour (the song from Earth:1947 that is said to have launched Sadhana Sargam), especially in its background loops, its rhythmic structure and its cleaver use of a heavy tambourine to accent the flowing rhythm. It is likely that the picturisation of the song, especially with the curvy Mallika Sherawat dancing away, will lift the song!

The lyrics and meanings of the songs are at:

You can watch a clip of "tere bina" at:

Finally Guru is not a funky KANK-type album. You won't be dancing to any of these songs in a tearing hurry! The songs will not play in pubs, bars and nightclubs. It may play in a few cafes. It will hopefully play in living rooms! I think that Guru is a good Rahman album. I wish he hadn't made "baazi laga" or "ek lo ek muft" or made something else in their place. I do want to wait and see what Mani Ratnam and Rajeev Menon do with the songs. If they don't pull it off, some of the songs will probably be forgotten.

But I have a feeling that the three-four good songs in this album will play repeatedly on my iPod...


  1. Wow! That's a nice and thorough review (unlike mine, which was a hurried attempt). Great job and thanks for commenting on my post. Why is Google making me login to post a comment? :-)

  2. Nice info you have provided bro, and a thorough review to say the least.

  3. Ek Lo Ek Muft is Gulzar's funny take on Guru's surprise at having twins..

    When u listen to it knowing the context, it grows on u superquick :)

  4. what a write-up!!! simply awesome......

    continue the good work...........

    all best wishes for the same.....:))

  5. Excellent write-up Mohan. I think I ended up liking this album more than you did (especially "Mayya") but do agree that Baazi Lagaa and Barso Re aren't all that flash. Very insightful, very thorough review bro, exactly as ARR deserves.

    In particular, these lines were superb: "There is a sheer craftsmanship to his music. To him, composed music is a carefully sculpted piece of art. he takes it seriously. Therefore, one tends to find many layers to his music and the more you peel (for those who want to peel) the more you see."

  6. Anonymous12:22 pm

    Lovely review, Mohan. I loved the detail in it. Baradwaj

  7. Thanks a lot for all of your comments. Sparks, you won't need to login now (I think). Harish, I do know that the "ek lo ek muft" song is about twins. The song starts with "jodi hai yeh"! But even with that context as backdrop, the song doesn't do much for me... yet! Thanks all...