How unfair is it (by all means) to start with comparisons for this soundtrack? It is also unfair to say that X,Y,Z music director or lyricist or singer would have done a better job instead of the ones being credited. It’s neither discussion nor concise arguments as one cannot predict the work of an artist as it all depends on inspiration, circumstances, producer’s demand, and market trend. In a word, it is called gossiping. It just does not make any sense.
The man who has seen it all in the music industry – failure, success, betrayal, backstabbing, glory, depression, loneliness and fame – is strongly assigned to compose one of the most awaited soundtracks in the history of Bollywood. Providing music to a classic remake is not a small thing. There is a mountain of work behind; like understanding the classic story of Mirza Haadi Ruswa's 'Umrao Jaan Ada' (1905) as well as Urdu literature, the Nawaab culture and most importantly, the music being played in that century. J.P Dutta trusts Anu Malik and it really shows. Malik’s task is an immense assignment. Javed Akhtar has also been required to scribble exclusive Urdu poetry which can be easily converted into tunes. For music played a century ago, where the Nawaabs were ruling, expect something very classy, melodious and a good dose of ‘ghunghroo and tabla’ sounds. After all, the period was different.
Classy, melodious and catchy are the only three words to describe Salaam. Alka Yagnik dominates the track with a solo rendition, which leaves a lasting impression. An addictive deepness is present in her voice. Orchestration by Malik is magnificent where he masters all the instruments perfectly and introduces a wide range of them – building the atmosphere of the soundtrack. Indian classical music never fails and this is where Malik scores. His approach in mixing Indian Classical with the period feel will leave listeners asking for more. Impressively, the tabla and sitar have been used in the best way, while the background music is supported by the elegant chimes of the ghunguroo.
Note: The melody of ‘Salaam’s title line has been lifted from Nadeem-Shravan’s ‘Dhoom Machi Hai’ (Ansh). Whether the original source pre-dates ‘Dhoom Machi Hai,’ is yet to be discovered.
Alka Yagnik comes to perfect form in Pehle Pehel, which is a very difficult song to sing and to tune music to. Javed Akhtar’s words embody a deeply embedded meaning;
“Ishq taabir hain. Jiska dil naam hain, woh to ek jaam hain. Jaam chalkaa gaye…Tum bhi pehle pehel…Hum bhi pehle pehel.” – Javed Akhtar
The rhythmic notes follow an unusual pattern and this makes the track special. The vocal modulations are a delight. Moreover, Malik keeps the composition concise and doesn’t deviate from the music earlier introduced. Melody is at its peak while the low tempo has been maintained throughout the song. Soft tabla beats provide the background score while the use of Sarangi is in sync with the theme. Pehle Pehel is a beautiful composition overall.
Behka Diya Humein is the only duet in this album, but a precious one nonetheless. Sonu Nigam and Alka Yagnik render in finesse. Sonu Nigam goes into the character of Abhishek Bachchan and Alka continues in the same trend but gets the chance to be less classy and exposes other variations in the voice. A more relaxed Alka is heard. This light and simple number is made special due to the minimal arrangements by Malik. Malik doesn’t neglect the core melody and delivers in generous doses. Poetry by Akhtar is another plus point.
Classical and palatial music are ubiquitous where Nawaabs live and where empires are present. The sounds of tablas, violins, sarangi, harmonium and ghunghroos fill the aura and adorn the dwellings with musical ornamentation. This is exactly what Jhute Ilzaam is all about. An audience is needed for this song and the track has been composed with this in mind. Malik goes into the dynamics of such genres and delivers with impact. The male chorus reciting the classical alaaps complements the traditional music while the harmonium heartily brings an ancient era alive – which tends to be dictatorial. Alka Yagnik is again splendid in her rendition and gets the chance to sing in a high pitch mode in some stanzas. This slow-paced song takes time to grow and that must be appreciated.
Main Na Mil Saku Jo Tumse is another number from the same mould – the same orchestra and arrangements have been beautifully used. However, this one will take some time to make its own way but it will! Malik comes with a complicated tune – with the use of a raaga. Alka Yagnik is at ease with the rendering because the raaga has been simplified for singing. The music follows the same path but the interludes are very Malik friendly. The simple chord progressions are a treat for music lovers.
Pooch Rahe Hai has a terrific musical start and the attraction is in the alluring voice of Alka Yagnik. Malik builds the song from the prelude with the apt use of the tablas and the male chorus. Alka sings in the low pitch and is amazing in the antara. The music and arrangements have been kept constant with the previous songs. Pooch Rahe Hai is situational at places but maintains the standard.
Ek Toote Huye Dil Ki is a short alaap where Alka Yagnik removes everything from her heart while the music backs up this suffering with a lethargic progression. Javed Akthar comes next in Foreword who recites a few lines about the history of Umrao Jaan.
”Unnis wi sadi ka Lakhanau, Hindustaan ki gangaa jamuni tehzeeb ka gehwaaraa tha. Lakhanau us tehzeeb ka dil tha. Aur us dil ki dhadkan thi Umrao Jaan Adaa. Magar sitam yeh ke, us dhadkan ke seene mein bhi ek dhadakta hua dil tha, jiski awaaz uske jeetejii kisi ne nahi suni. Umarao Jaan ki har ghazal unhi dhadkano ki sadhaa hai. Usi dil ki pukar hai.” – Javed Akhtar
Pain and suffering are heard in the voice of Richa Sharma in Agle Janam Mohe Bitiya;
”Agale Janam Mohe Bitiyaa Naa Ki Jo. Jo Ab Kiye Ho Daataa, Aisaa Naa Ki Jo.” – Javed Akhtar
The start of the song is mesmerizing. The song turns out to be a complicated one again but Malik simplifies it with his arrangements, which have been meticulously crafted. This highly orchestrated song also comes with a strong flute accompaniment, which just adds more musical value to the painful and grieving piece. The usual violins and sarangi are played in the background, while the female chorus is sweet. Richa Sharma uses her voice as a beautiful instrument throughout the piece. The shorter version by Anmol Malik (Anu Malik’s daughter) is truly memorable. Anmol shows a lot of potential in her excellent debut rendition.
Track record apart, credit should be given where due. Anu Malik is obviously instrumental in the crafting of such a beautiful soundtrack, but most credit should be given for concentrating on these areas:
Technical Side: Anu Malik has done a formidable job in sticking to a real orchestra and has selected his instruments wisely. The use of music softwares would have destroyed the whole melody. Some Indian music (exceptions exist) and melody are not meant to be played on music softwares. Malik makes the distinction and uses instruments that take listeners back to the ancient era. Even the violins were used differently! The tablas and sarangi were at the heart of Malik’s compositions and are always front and center.
Melody and Ragas: Connecting Ghazals with melody is not easy, as the scope to do so is limited. However, Malik manages to do just that. He injects melody into the heart of each song. There has also been use of certain ragas, which can be spotted in certain songs but hard to be described as it is too technical.
“It was important to understand the culture of the backdrop of the film. I had to read about it. I have used raagas like maru bihag, kaushiki and jogeshwari extensively for the songs in Umrao Jaan. It’s as if the songs have come from my heart.” - Anu Malik [Newindpress.com]
The deduction in points comes from the fact that all his efforts were allocated to the orchestration, while at times the melody of some musical interludes was clearly neglected.
On the whole, Anu Malik proves his versatility once again by delving deep into the classical and ghazal genres. There is no lack of direction or cohesion in the music and certain sounds that pervade the album are uniquely Malik. The soundtrack also has its share of beauty in certain songs, where others receive royal treatment above the standard. Javed Akhtar continues doing the same good job. Alka Yagnik is genuine in her renditions and her unique vocals are enough to sell the album. And it shows that she remains Malik’s favorite female singer. Umrao Jaan is a quality album for those who like a balanced soundtrack. This is a sincere effort conveyed by Malik…but there’s a little magic missing that could have taken this soundtrack to even higher grounds.