After his excellent debut in 2003 with Ek Haseena Thi (apparently achieving cult status!), director Sriram Raghavan decided to stick to the same genre i.e. dark suspense thriller, for his next project but to maximise potential for success it had to hold it’s own USP, so he decided to go for a modern retro 70s flick (based on his self proclaimed ‘love of 70s movies as a kid’). To put this into perspective, we are talking about a Bollywood movie applying a formula used in past Hollywood retro cinema including Fargo, Pulp Fiction and Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels….what a prospect! Despite several difficulties along the way which nearly resulted in the project being shelved, it progressed sufficiently to the point where the Director needed a fitting noir soundtrack. Something that would have the effect of creating a stir and an impact that would evolve the movie into another cult…hmm easier said than done! So who does he turn to but the well known trio of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (S-E-L), one of the so called pioneers of ‘new age’ music (although if truth be told their efforts over the past two+ years have been anything but ‘pioneering’), handing them the storyline but more importantly the FREEDOM to express themselves and produce what turns out to be a gem of a soundtrack, the ultra slick Johnny Gaddaar (see further information below for the origins of the title)…Incidentally the trio decided to waive their fees due to a tight budget in favour of a profit share of the movie, an incentive that appears to have worked a treat! (Further information: The name JG has no relation to the movie at all and is the director’s tribute to 1970 thrillers ‘JOHNNY Mera Naam’ and ‘GADDAAR’). AN EARLY WORD OF WARNING TO YOU LISTENERS! The soundtrack is not your average mainstream bollywood affair; in fact, it is probably like nothing you have heard before (coming from S-E-L or for that matter Bollywood! Remember the trio gleefully accepted the project because they felt it was something different for them to work with). It is therefore imperative that as a listener you allow your ears to welcome such ingenuity that the trio have put together. To bypass or belittle it for being different is akin to signing a contract to listen to the routine music from Himesh and Pritam for the rest of your lives! The choice is therefore clear: Embrace change and innovation for a wider (and ultimately more enjoyable) listening experience or stifle it through ignorance! The soundtrack boasting of 15 tracks includes four original songs (with accompanying remixes all supervised by S-E-L), the first two of which are given a repeat in different tongues including Tamil and Telugu. On top of this we get several intriguing instrumentals to boot! Each of these will be reviewed in their respective clusters. Original Songs & Remixes First up is the supremely cool and funky retro track titled Johnny Gaddaar. Each stanza halts the pace of the music and throws it into the background whilst the singers utter their lines softly and slowly…eventually culminating into the peppy and ambient rock chorus with cries of ‘Hey Johnny!!’ and ‘Hey Johnny Gaddaar!!’…Classic drums (by Darshan Doshi) accompany the stupendous sound of Ehsaan’s electric guitar that provides a golden thread throughout this stylish and enjoyable track! Imagine now for a second how it would sound on screen... Relatively unknown singers Suraj Jagan and Akriti Kakar provide the necessary zing and their fresh vocals are perfect for this reckless outing! The lyrics by Jaideep Sahni are simple but effective. In short one of THE best tracks on offer from this album! You then get the wicked remix Johnny in the House (by DJ Shane) which arguably enhances the flavour of the original and quite literally has the effect of blowing the house down! Honestly if all remixes were made like this we would have never stop dancing…we get more bass, acoustics and other toppings that generally jazz things up to superb effect! Listen out for the slow dimming effect for extra styling…It’s also lengthier than the original but I can’t see anyone complaining about that. WOW! And then just when you thought things could not get better we get a perfect homage to Vijay Anand’s classic Johnny Mera Naam. The brilliantly titled Johnny Breakbeat Mera Naam (by Gulraj Singh) does not disappoint and rekindles old memories with the use of original dialogues (‘bhol kya naam hai tera…Johnny mera naam hai!!’) and even sounds from action scenes! As the track progresses you can feel the underlying original Johnny Gaddaar tune but in a 70s context. Ehsaan’s brilliant guitar is the highlight once again! If you listen to anything here make sure it is this FANTASTIC piece! Next up is a high octane club track; Move Your Body. As if the title of the track was not enough to give away what’s on offer here let me explain! This is one of the most intoxicating and hypnotic dance tracks to come out of Bollywood this year and has the effect of pulverising your mind- thank god it is only 4mins long! Although it sounds very much like a slick Punjabi rap / bhangra track, the trio have been able to relate it to the movie by giving it a good topping of retro cue the opening line ‘Doob ja mere pyar mein’ which is repeated throughout. The singers are S-E-L themselves who do a splendid job! Rap lyrics by Hard Kaur and Hindi lyrics by Dec-C (on the theme ‘money talks’) are spot on. There is nothing further to add here, just listen to it pronto! If you can handle more bass then Move your Body (Phatt Mix) is right down your street although it’s not too different otherwise from the already highly charged original! Dhoka then brings you back down to earth with a well crafted piece that is closer to mainstream Bollywood which, is not a criticism in itself, it’s just that it does not sound as unique as the first two tracks....nevertheless it is a peppy number and contains situational dialogues in between the sweet singing (‘Hey Johnny, let’s go bang bang!’) by Anousha Mani (with support vocals by S-E-L and Tarannum). Lyrics are penned by Neelesh Misra. The song appears to reflect a betrayal theme in the movie and is another good listen! Bhule Bisre Gheet on the other hand is a one way ticket to the classic ‘filmi’ music of the 70s! As the title suggests, it is further homage to the classic 70s tracks. Everything from the music (by Daniel B. George), singing (Sabia Khan, Geetanjali and Sawanand) and the lyrics of this track (by Swanand Kirkire); it takes you back to the heyday for sure! And on top of that you get three distinct flavours as the track suddenly speeds forward twice mid song, jumping from one sub track to another (enacted brilliantly as if you were playing a cassette!)...Not sure if, where or how this song might feature in the movie but it’s an intriguing offering nevertheless. Give it a listen and rekindle those memories (or get a first taste for what the 70s music had on offer!). This is variety gone mad! Instrumentals Note: Do not underestimate for one second the contribution of these instrumentals (all produced by Daniel B. George) to both the movie and the audio attraction. Collectively they are the BEST offering of the entire soundtrack! As the title would suggest the first instrumental, Revenge of the 70s, is a full on retro feat where the ‘thriller’ theme is enacted brilliantly with the sound of an old fashioned trumpet melody that was so popular in yesteryear. Expect this short piece to provide a madcap mood for the movie! The start of the escapade in JG will most probably be greeted with The Caper Begins, another superb instrumental full of texture and orchestration! Starting off slowly with a sly tune akin to the intro of the Pink Panther Show (electronic guitar, flute and trumpet) it gradually changes shades whilst picking up ambience and pace, culminating in a James Bond type tune with splashes of drums and a booming saxophone- honestly instrumentals have never sounded this good! Toss is a very short instrumental but high on vibe and rhythm to make for enjoyable listening! Last but in no way the least we have Confidence which sees a return to the retro theme but this time with an eerie almost creepy tone to it. This is another brilliant piece which will hold it’s own on screen but the album gives you an early opportunity to preview it and why not when it sounds this good! Other languages Finally we have the various Tamil and Telugu versions of the first two songs (Johnny Gaddaar and Move Your Body) and it’s nice to see that a change in language has little effect on your enjoyment- yes the language is unfamiliar, what’s interesting is how the music comes to the rescue and appeases you. This is further proof that it’s the music not the singing that makes this soundtrack so special! Give them a try and see for yourself. Conclusion Every once in a while a soundtrack comes along that leaves you in awe at it’s sheer audacity and pizzazz. Not to mention style, inspiration, variety, innovation and all round brilliance! In this reviewer’s opinion, Johnny Gaddaar is such a soundtrack. The whole package here including the instrumentals is an integral USP of the movie giving it a (dark but hip) character that many soundtracks only dream of achieving. Yet at the same time it is a great stand alone audio product too. It’s unconventional approach challenges every listener to expand their listening horizon and it’s an offer everyone should wholeheartedly accept.
Of course ALL kudos to S-E-L (and also Daniel B. George for the instrumentals) who after a period of lull, have outdone themselves here to pull off one of their best ever projects. After such a long time they have finally proven that given the opportunity, they CAN return to their elements and bring us ‘pioneering’ sound. Johnny Gaddaar is the perfect example of ‘new age music’ that ‘pushes the boundaries’, in fact the retro modern sounds on offer here provide for one of the slickest and most polished soundtracks this year. Miss out on this stroke of genius at your own peril, simply a terrific soundtrack !