Shantanu Moitra has to be one of today’s most underrated and underutilised composers in the whole of the Bollywood music industry. After a few unremarkable projects, he really set the music scene on fire in 2005 with the critically acclaimed Parineeta, which, to this day remains one of the few near-on perfect soundtracks of the new millennium (if you have somehow missed out on this sublime listening experience, then it is recommended that you grab a copy as soon as possible!). This was quickly followed up with the excellent soundtrack Yahaan. However, for some reason he has largely been ignored since then with only Lage Raho Munna Bhai and this year’s Eklavya to further showcase his undeniable talents. Neither soundtracks disappointed with musical scores befitting the theme of the movies perfectly (especially Eklavya).
His return in 2007 is largely due to his close association with Pradeep Sarkar (see further information below) whose latest directorial is Yash Raj’s Laaga Chunari Mein Daag (LCMD). As usual, expectations from movies carrying the Yash Raj banner are huge but provide an obvious gateway to widespread popularity and acclaim e.g. Jhoom Barabar Jhoom being one case in point. So can Moitra grab his chance here and take a giant leap towards his undeniable potential?
(Further information: Pradeep Sarkar’s directorial debut was Parineeta in which he was also the Writer and Art Director. He was also Visual Director for Eklavya)
The heavenly sound of running water caressed with strings and the intermittent chimes of a temple bell greets the opening of Hum To Aise Hai, the first offering of the soundtrack. It has the effect of enticing you into the world of Banaras; one of the pivotal locations of the movie, and its people (in particular the two lead actresses) and it succeeds in doing this with a signature Moitra piece! The soft but extremely crisp, upbeat and varied orchestration is held together by some harmonious instruments including the composer’s favourites; the strings, the flute and the tabla. On the main part of the track, Moitra keeps it lively but the effect of a slow verse towards the end is extremely touching. The composer also gets the best out of singing divas where Shreya Ghoshal’s bubbly and Sunidhi Chauhan often versatile vocals respectively add to the uniqueness of this track; put it simply they deliver some of their best performances this year! Swanand Kirkire and Pranab Biswas also render a few words in the background. The lyrics by Swanand Kirkire are fresh and achieve the desired output. No wonder he is the favourite lyricist of Shantanu Moitra. This is an excellent start to the soundtrack although admittedly, it’s very situational and not altogether catchy. However if you peel off the initial layers, you will find a quality piece with musical orchestration of the highest order!
The next track Zara Gunguna Lein Chalo begins with a strong Spanish flavour (in particular the classical guitar) but the track is progressively diluted with more common ‘filmi’ arrangements (particularly for the main chorus). The use of the saxophone gives further variety and style to make for a fresh and lively romantic number! Babul Supriyo and Mahalaxmi Iyer perform a good job but their vocals seem a little out of place in this track. The lyrics are adequate. Overall, it’s worth a listen for the interesting and fresh mix of arrangements but repeat value is questionable as the track lacks a USP. Could well grow on you with repeated listening though, so don’t discount it immediately!
We then move onto the poignant piece, that is the title track Chunari Mein Daag. Interestingly the lyrics are virtually unchanged from the original track bearing the same name from the classic movie ‘Dil Hi To Hai’ (1963). What you do get however is a haunting update to the arrangements that somehow manage to retain the classical feel of the original. Pay particular attention to Moitra’s use of strings which is exquisitely enacted. In addition, the restrained and whispered vocals by Shubha Mudgal and Meeta Vasisht (background support) replacing those of the original (of the maestro Manna Dey), are extremely befitting of this track. All in all, it is an excellent background piece for the movie and an enjoyable update for listeners. This is classical Moitra!
The penultimate track, Ehi Thaiyaa Motiya, is a ‘mujra’ based song. Now let’s get one thing clear; there is absolutely nothing wrong with the classical arrangements here which are very well structured, however this song is not for everyone due to its unrepentant hardcore nature! At least you should recognise the superb vocals of Rekha Bharadwaj from last year’s scintillating ‘Omkara’ (Namak Ishq Ka) and she performs just as well here. As a listener you either love this type of song or hate it and in all honesty, most will hate it. This one is best for the movie only!
Having listened to the final track Kachchi Kaliyaan, you sense Moitra had some fun composing this one! It’s an all out peppy dance track that combines a number of western themes (to give it a USP and freshness) together with an underlying classical tone. Nothing proves this more than the manner in which the track opens with a brief taste of a classic track which softly rings in the background until it is overtaken by a current fusion that contains English rap amongst other arrangements (very similar to what duo Vishal-Shekhar did with the introduction to ‘Sajnaji Vaari’ in Honeymoon Travels PVT earlier this year). All four singers (including K.K, Sunidhi Chauhan and Shreya Ghoshal) do a thoroughly good job but nobody sings better than Sonu Nigam, another favourite of Moitra’s. Lyrics are top notch! Overall the track works a treat (especially on screen) but it’s classical tone may not be to everyone’s taste. So remember to keep an open mind when listening and with some luck it should connect with you!
Being from a lesser known composer, the soundtrack of LCMD could be deemed to have been a marked achievement, oozing quality orchestration, consistency, variety and originality whilst retaining a strong classical feel throughout (remember this last aspect is an integral part of the movie). But from someone as talented as Shantanu Moitra, you have to conclude that the soundtrack is a tad disappointing. Yes it is unusual and ‘hatke’ and so you will need to have an acquired taste to appreciate it fully. As a listener, that particular aspect of this soundtrack should be welcomed. However virtually all the songs appear to be situational in nature which means that they will sound better on screen or post viewing (however one can also argue the songs were even more situational in ‘Eklavya’, yet the soundtrack to that contained more evidence of the great work we know Moitra is capable of).
The soundtrack is therefore a difficult album to judge especially from a purely audio point of view and somehow you sense it is perfectly fitting for the movie. On the one hand you applaud the composer for being different, innovative and fresh and yet on the other hand, you question its appeal, both in terms of an audience perspective and in terms of time span. Although originality and freshness are plentiful here, there is nothing truly outstanding either (the best of the bunch are ‘Hum To Aise Hai’ and the title track ‘Chunari Mein Daag’) and for something to play on your CD player or iPod, the soundtrack generally lacks that killer USP required to grab your attention and then keep you hooked for repeated listening e.g. a catchy melody which is possibly its greatest weakness as regards to widespread popularity especially for a movie carrying the Yash Raj banner. Incidentally one should take nothing away from the lyricist Swanand Kirkire who does a fabulous job.
In reality most of the disappointment here is linked to the composer’s masterpiece (Parineeta) that set the benchmark to compare all his work to. This is of course both unrealistic and unfair as soundtracks of that quality are few and far between. At least Moitra has another imminent soundtrack coming (Khoya Khoya Chand) to appease his fans and critics alike. We all await with bated breath!