out of

Director: Shyam Benegal
Music: A R Rahman
Lyrics: Javed Akhtar
Audio on : Sony Music

Reviewed by: Sunder

A R Rahman composes for a Shyam Benegal movie - is the result a classic? Certainly not! Is it a winner, perhaps not! Is it a letdown - not that either! The music of Zubeidaa has its charms and is certainly not a loser, but it is certainly what it could have been. It is still far from the musical treasures that the world of parallel cinema has given us, the likes of Bazaar, Umrao Jaan, Lekin, or even the recent Maya Memsaab and little known Daayra.

About a year ago, A R Rahman composed for Shyam's counterpart of the 70's, for Govind Nihalani's Thakshak. That was Govind stepping into the world of commercial cinema - and Rahman providing the music to make that happen. The music worked within the movie, and even by itself. On the other Zubeidaa has A R Rahman compose music for a movie that looks to be in the same genre of movies that Shyam Benegal is known for. Rahman has treaded in that direction before certainly - with 1947 Earth - but this time, he seems to have gone all out to fit into the world of Zubeidaa - and ends up sounding like a good score coming from Vanraj Bhatia (the little heard music director who powered a number of art movies in the last two decades and perhaps more). That certainly wasn't the case with Thakshak - but here, there is very little Rahman coming out from the music - and that is perhaps what could disappoint many listeners. Give a chance to the music, without expecting outright winners,! ! and then there is reason and opportunity to appreciate the music of Zubeidaa.

After this long introduction to the review - the songs themselves, despite two Lata Mangeshkar songs - the best is the album opener, Dheeme Dheeme - which is Kavita sounding as fresh and lively as Lata did a quarter century ago. The music is easy on the ears, complimenting the tune - and the lyrics measure up to the needs. Traces of Rahman emerge in the background in the transitions, the interludes - the few instances that they do in this album.

While I would credit Kavita to have done one better with her song - Lata is not far back. Pyaara Sa Gaon has simply amazing lyrics by Javed Akhtar - prosaic in parts and narrative in style, rather than being lyrical or poetic. And Rahman relies on Lata to bring the narration alive with melody for company. Her other song in the album, So Gaye Hain, comes in two parts. The second, shorter part has Lata sound as haunting as only she can in the opening notes before Rahman picks up the tempo with an instrumental arrangement to finish. This is perhaps the instance of supreme orchestration that one associates with Rahman - though one could look forward to the background track in the movie for more. The song itself sounds like it has been built around many of Rahman's solemn background or theme scores (Bombay, 1947, etc.).

If Kavita and Lata work wonders with their songs, so does Alka Yagnik with Mehndi Hai Rachnewali. This song has the same casual, easy marriage song feel that was characteristic of Banno Rani from 1947. Though this sounds more authentic, and not as next-door and natural as Banno Rani - it brings the same charm - but then marriage songs are just that, and we have been getting too many of these in recent years. Richa Sharma sings the semi-classical "Chhoda Meri Baiyaan" which is straight of the Vanraj Bhatia, period music - but unfortunately not in the same league of some of Khayyam's classics in this mold.

Now for the two songs that fail to impress. Hai Na, a romantic duet by Udit Narayan and Alka Yagnik. Not the singers, not the lyrics which are well up to the mark, but the tune is far too contrived with too many discontinuities to keep you interested. The song would perhaps impress on screen - with transitions that go with the discontinuities, but it doesn't work stand alone on the audio. And lastly, Main Albeli - sung with a lot of life by Kavita and ably supported in the background by Sukhwinder - just seems to be from a different generation. These are the songs where one feels Rahman has tried too hard to transition into the music of another era and an alien style - and his efforts don't seem to bear fruit.

For the upside, which Zubeidaa does offer in not insignificant terms - include Javed Akhtar's easy but effective use of words across all the songs. Kavita, Lata, and Alka doing full justice to their songs - and a couple of songs that can linger in your minds with their simplicity. And to give Rahman due credit for being diffferent - if not a classic, he proves here that he is as much a composer of music as a master of musical arrangement and orchestration. Yet, if one will insist on lending ear to the orchestration - beyond the simple tunes that don't quite draw your attention in that direction - there is a marked stylism and character to the instruments used, the transitions, and the typical complexity that one always observes in Rahman's compositions. The downside of the album is perhaps that it does not have the brilliance to keep you clued in - to observe these intricate details and brilliance.