So Deepa Mehtaís prestigious trilogy on the elements finally comes to a close with the much anticipated and relentless Water. Itís no secret that the film underwent immense turmoil during its production, only to be banned in the country it serves to enlighten. Why? Only the film itself can reveal.
Back in 2000, Mehta was keen on completing her trilogy after 1996ís Fire and 1998ís Earth. She hoped to shoot and complete the film in Varanesi. Unfortunately, extremist forces didnít take to the sensitive/socially-oriented film and forced Mehta to cancel the film. By that time, A.R. Rahman had already composed five tracks. The film was indefinitely shelved, actors were replaced, and so Rahman decided to pull out of the project as well. It wasnít until four years later, in 2004, that Mehta re-ignited Water in Sri Lanka, under the fake name of River Moon.
Mehta signed Mr. Mychael Danna to compose the entire thematic score of the film, which consists of fifteen pieces. So, if you are one of the many who believe that Water only contains a half dozen songs composed by A.R. Rahman, then you are greatly mistaken. (Note: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack will not release in India. The producer, David Hamilton, hoped to regain some of the losses sustained by the aborted shooting of the film by selling the music rights to Varese Sarabande.)
Water had the enchanting opportunity of opening the Toronto Film Festival and went on to be listed as one of the top ten Canadian films of 2005. Itís been all praises for Mehta and the cast of Water, but letís take a deeper look into the voice of the film, the voice of Mychael Danna and A.R. Rahman.
*First off weíll take a look at A.R. Rahmanís five contributions to Water. Note: This is the only soundtrack of his that A.R. Rahman gives a 10 out of 10.
ďThe music that has been created for Water is simply breath-takingÖIt has the makings of a phenomenal soundtrack.Ē Ė Deepa Mehta [India Today, Dec 2000]
Rahman races out of the gates with the very lively Chanchan. As the track begins, you feel like Rahman is going to infuse the number with all sorts of instruments, however he tames himself quite nicely here. He strictly uses rich Indian-based instruments like the santoor to freshen the tune up a bit. The steady rhythm and quick pace provide Sukhwinder Singh and Sadhna Sargam with an open field to frolic in. Itís so evident that these Rahmantics are doing nothing but having plain fun! The Aayo Re Laayo Re refrains are just brilliantly rendered! Raqeeb Alam is a fresh lyricist to fly alongside Rahman and his words keep up with the pace of the track. All in all this is a fabulous piece to listen to.
So A.R. Rahmanís Holi Re from Mangal Pandey didnít sit well with the critics. Letís go back to the year 2000 for a truly special Holi track, Shyaam Rang Bhar Do. This specialty features Richa Sharma, alongside Naqeeb Alam and Surjo Bhattacharya. Now remember, this was composed in the year 2000, much before Richa Sharma got her feet wet in the playback industry with hits like, Maahi Ve, Kuch Naa Kaho, Dhooriyaa and Rabba. I must say, she sounds better than ever in this colorful energizer. Raqeeb Alam and Surjo Bhattacharya are excellent in their roles as well. Once again, Rahman reframes from using anything from the west, as he composes a beauty here. Raqeeb Alamís lyrics are innovative while writing on a subject that has been sung about numerous times in the past. Bravo to the entire crew of Shyaam Rang Bhar Do.
Rahman slows down the tempo considerably with Piya Ho. Even for Rahman, this romantic piece is quite off-beat. The strength of Piya Ho lies in the somber backdrops of the rhythm. Itís as if you listen close enough, you can almost feel the pain, seclusion, and misfortune of the ill-fated widows during the pre-independent era in India. You almost think this is going to be a Sadhna Sargam solo before Sukhwinder Singh makes a lonesome appearance during the end of the song. Although both renditions are up to par, one might have liked to hear a Kavita Krishnamurty or a Sujata Bhattacharya render this type of song rather than Sadhna Sargam. The solemn mood is augmented by Ganga, who seems to be intertwined in the musical rhythms in her chorus-like role. Raqeeb Alamís arenít as breakthrough as they are in Shyaam Rang Bhar Do but they fill the gap. This is a piece that I would love to see play itself on screen!
Naina Neer Baha is very similar to Piya Ho, except that it has a different rhythm and a different melody. Nonetheless, Sargam fits the part here in yet another mellow number. However, this one has a peculiar fragrance to it, as Rahman gives it a touch of the sitar and a unique synth flute sound that makes its way in the middle of the piece. As does Piya Ho, this tracks could belong to the ghazal genre, and definitely wont find a place with the masses. Lyrically, the song will be appreciated by the lovers of ghazals and poetry.
ďWater was a wonderful experience. I didnít even realize I was singing for a film or that A.R. Rahman was recording a song. I sang all the variations I could conceive of. It was like rediscovering myself.Ē Ė Kaushiki Chakraborty [Indian Express]
As Rahman is known to do, he asked Kaushiki Charkaborty, daughter of acclaimed Pandit Ajay Chakraborty, to do a practice session. He provided her with no music and asked her to sing various variations of a given tune and ended up recording the entire piece while she was completely unaware. The tune: Vaishnava Jana To. Yes, Rahman waves his wand at the immortal Gujurati bhajan. Father and daughter sing side by side to come up with a purely classical rendition of Gandhijiís favorite bhajan. However, the chorus takes on the task of rendering most of the piece. We hear Rahmanís flute only for the second time in this album, as you only wish this piece was longer. Terminating at 3:00, the piece leaves you with a sense of dissatisfaction. Maybe if Rahman put more time in elongating the song, our anticipation would have been rewarded. Nonetheless, it is a fine entrance for Pandit Ajay Chakrabortyís daughter.
***With this comes the entrance of Mychael Danna and his thematic score. Let me provide you with a bit of history on Danna, so you know where his music is coming from. This forty-seven year old Canadian composer has been composing for films since 1987, when he wrote the score for ďFamily Viewing.Ē He has study Indian Classical and Middle Eastern music in depth and has infused Eastern elements with many of his Canadian scores. At Waterís press conference, Deepa Mehta was all praises for this very talented and versatile composer.***
If Mychael Danna shows off, itís only to prove his unparalleled versatility and unprecedented skill. Whether you want fun, tension, emotions, mellowness, or brightness, this score has it! Starting off with a bit of fun we have Fatty and Chuyia Explores. From the titles themselves you can tell Danna is in the mischievous mode. Both instrumentals utilize the tabla and santoor (which is one of the most widely used instruments in the entire score) to quicken the pace. While, Fatty relies on solely the drums, Chuyia Explores takes hold of the flute to create a wonderful piece.
Tension arises in the score in the form of Chuyia Is Gone. Danna creates a very somber piece with the help of some deep strings and a low-octave flute that resonates in the forefront. You feel as if you reach a climax in the score with this instrumental.
Ladoo Dreams is another piece worth mentioning purely because of the magical sound of the shehnai. After the shehnai, the sitar and tabla make their way to the forefront. Walk Into The River and Turn The Boat Around are two of the more western instrumentals of Water. This is because of Dannaís extensive use of the strings that donít make their way into Indian Music much.
Kaalu and Funeral both have a mysterious female voice that pervades over Dannaís music. In the former she simply renders alaap, while in the latter she recites sanskit shlokas. Both make for interesting experiences.
However, out of the fifteen pieces, three of them deserve honorable mention for their beauty and touch of creativity.
The first honorable mention would have to go to Train, which is the first piece that carries with it the extremely moving thematic melody of Water. Here, Danna uses many instruments while still keeping the piece simple and elegant. Danna deserves a standing ovation for coming up with such a touching melody that makes its presence felt in three of his fifteen pieces.
The second honorable mention goes to Across The River for its touch of simplicity and the invincible play of the flute. Just close your eyes and youíll realize how this piece resembles the tranquil flow of waterÖthe relentless movement of purity.
Hands down Dannaís best piece is House of Widows. You wouldnít have guessed it in a million years that this was composed by a man born and raised in the west! The brilliance of this score lies in the meddling of four instruments that are hardly ever heard playing together: Flute, Santoor, Sitar, and Strings. Whatís more beautiful is the eternal melody that resonates throughout your senses. Most appropriate for Water, Danna creates such a moving piece, whose beauty will only be enhanced as it visually tells the story of Water on screen.
Pen and paper will never be able to capture the essence of music. You need to listen to what A.R. Rahman and Mychael Danna have heard in order to realize the brute force of the score of Water. Deepa Mehtaís trilogy is not only a cinematic journey, itís a journey through politics, society, and religion. Only itís a shame that the country it wishes to enlighten is the country thatís turning a cold shoulder. As for Deepa Mehta, congratulations. Your four-year old dream has finally come true. This trilogy is your baby, always be proud of it.