"Ghanan Ghanan Ghan Ghanan Ghanan Ghan" - folks - rain has never sounded so exhilarating! "WOW!" is all one can say while listening to A.R. Rahman weave his magic web in the opening track of the soundtrack for Aamir Khan´s "Lagaan".
This is A.R. Rahman´s 3rd "period" album in Hindi after "Earth" and "Zubeidaa" and this is arguably the best of the lot. Mixing sounds from Indian classical, folk, and Western classical music - Rahman succeeds in creating a mood for the world of the film that somehow we know will be integral once the film releases. Combine his music with Javed Akhtar´s command of language and the result cannot be less then shear poetry.
The Kohinoor amongst the gems of this album is "Ghanan Ghanan" and its ode to rain as I mentioned before. There is a moment in this song where all of the singers - Udit Narayan, Alka Yagnik, Sukhwinder Singh, Shankar Mahadevan, Shaan, and Kishori Gowariker - throng together in chorus and for that moment you think "it cannot get any better than this". OK, it may not - but still the other songs hold up with a life of their own.
"Mitwa" and "Chale Chalo" are the "desh ki dharti" kisaan songs of the album. "Mitwa" has a great melody and powerful percussion that carry the chorus through with nice romantic interludes in between. Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik (supported by Sukhwinder Singh and Srinivas) are at their best here as usual. The anthem-like "Chale Chalo" with Rahman himself and Srinivas doing the duet thing succeeds in revving up the listener as much as it´s meant to rev up the kisaan. Here´s another combination of powerful percussion and great melody.
"Radha Kaise Na Jale" is the ched-chaad song done purana ishtyle with the hero and heroine teasing each other in religious analogy. Asha Bhonsle does something different from the sexy routine she´s done and done again (and done so well, though) with Rahman in the past. Listening to her, you realize that none of the current crop of singers has the expressiveness of this diva. Incidentally, Udit Narayan is also singing here (which is easy to forget in Asha´s presence).
"O Rey Chhori" is the run-of-the-mill love song elevated to a cut above by novel instrumental´s and the trio aspect of this song. Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik sing the Hindi portions of this song while Vasundhara Das (of "Hey Ram" fame) does her best Elaine Page (for lack of any better English musical theatre women). The portions combining the three singers are when the song gains more appeal. The English-Hindi/Western-Eastern contrast is actually quite cool. And Ms. Das is quite, quite competent at her new job. (One wonders if this is any incite into the forthcoming "Bombay Dreams". Doubt it, but at least it puts my fears about Rahman in musical theatre to rest.)
"A great album is like a bhajan" Rahman has said in a recent interview, so he decides to include a bhajan in this one. But what more beautiful a bhajan can you get than with Lata Mangeshkar singing in a comfortable range and devoid of the "processed" sound Jatin-Lalit seem to re-master for her? Even Udit Narayan - known for his belting at times - is toned down to sing in a soft, soothing manner. This is bhajan heaven.
The two instrumental tracks here are so vastly different and thus show off A.R. Rahman´s immense range. Not many a Bollywood composer would know that composing a true waltz requires 3/4 measure (basically the 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3 feel for the song). And the strings ensemble in "Waltz for a Romance" is used so beautifully here that if you close your eyes, you might for a second believe that you are sitting in the London or New York Philharmonic. Even the dramatic title theme is friendly on the ear. Anuradha Sriram provides the singing in this mostly instrumental track.
This is great music any way you look at it. And for a Hindi film - it´s even better. The album seems to serve the film well - or at least one senses that when they hear it. And the music is true to the time period (the British Raj). This is also one of the most intelligent albums I´ve listened to recently. It makes the anticipation for the film´s release even greater!