What better way to start the new year for music fans than to be handed a soundtrack from the masterful composer Vishal Bharadwaj? His music for the superb Kaminey was clearly one of the High Notes of 2009 and it’s as if he has heard my personal plea for fresh music to kick start the new decade by gifting us the soundtrack for his latest movie, Ishqiya. Whilst he doesn’t direct the movie, he plays a number of key roles including producing, dialogues, screenplay and of course, composing the music! No prizes for guessing the lyricist however since Vishal sticks to his favourite (Gulzar) and who can blame him? There is no substitute for class.
Before we get into the music itself, it’s important to point out expectations because one thing you realise very quickly with Vishal jee is that he doesn’t do “run of the mill” stuff regardless of whether it is successful or not. Be that as a film-maker or music director. So you can expect something out of the ordinary, something unique, experimental, unpredictable and well….different. The proof of the pudding comes in the form of his recent projects all of which were 'hatke' in nature; Kaminey, Omkara, The Blue Umbrella, No Smoking, Maqbool etc. So, coming back to Ishqiya, is it another trademark soundtrack from the master?
Track 1 is the marvellous “Dil Tho Bachcha Hai” that is being aired on promos. It is a fresh take on the romantic genre although it sounds very much like a song from the 1960s! The beauty of this composition is how uncomplicated it is. Vishal enacts a simple melody from an acoustic guitar and threads it through a soft but engaging background tune, supported by a delightful accordion, that is just as uplifting as it is charming. Notice the leisurely pace throughout and the occasional lulls. That is deliberate and portrays a nostalgic atmosphere and mood. His choice of singer is a masterstroke because Rahat Fateh Ali Khan’s normally sufi styled high pitched vocals would not be the obvious choice for the soft melody here. However, Vishal keeps the singer's voice almost to a whisper level and by utilising the rustic characteristics (of his voice) present, he is able to give the song another dimension altogether. Gulzar’s lyrics are poetic and meaningful as far as the script of the movie is concerned where two men have fallen for a widower…but for different reasons! This is a unique but thoroughly enjoyable composition and a great way to start the album.
“Dil Tho Bachcha Hai Remix” can be found at Track 5 and is a complete blast! Clinton Cerejo does a brilliant job mixing the original and consequently making it appeal more to the wider audience. He achieves this by introducing some delicious beats and lends his own voice to some interesting English lyrics (by Ajinkya Iyer). Are you listening DJs? This is how to remix a song! Highly recommended.
If you found Track 1 a little too docile then move quickly onto Track 2: “Ibn-E-Batuta” because that will surely awaken your senses, the Bharadwaj-style! The musical arrangements whilst catchy and peppy have this lazy almost drunken feel to them thanks to a chilled out dhol melody and some hilarious but easy-go singing by the fantastic jugalbandi of Sukhwinder Singh and Mika. They bring so much life into the song with their gesticulating vocals uttering words such as "Brrrrrrr" and "Phurrrr". Lyrics are absolutely amazing by Gulzar sahib, they are fun if you are chilling out and don’t pay attention, but listen closely and they are full of wit and dark humour! This is such a unique and colorful song with mind-blowing charm equivalent to that of say “Dhan Te Nan” (Kaminey) or "Beedhi" (Omkara) and whilst many will think the songs are poles apart, the reality is they ooze the same qualities we come to associate with Bharadwaj; a catchy but unconventional melody on the exterior, a meaningful track when you dig deeper, fantastic singing, and most importantly full of freshness and charm. Now imagine how it will sound onscreen? Brilliant!
The song has two remixes. The first one appears at Track 6: ”Ibn-E-Batuta (Nucleya Remix)” and is a bit too heavy on the beats for my liking but give it a try. The other remix by Jackie V is plain silly but if you want to try it you will find it at Track 7: ”Ibn-E-Batuta (Remix)”. My suggestion? Stick to the superb original.
Track 3: “Ab Mujhe Koi” is similar in execution to the opening track, very soft, experimental and charming. This time however the pace is even slower and the guitar strumming is joined by a beautiful piano and percussive drums to give an almost jazz like feel to the proceedings. The uniqueness present here is not in the music itself but the unusual vocals that support it. You see the singer in question is the acclaimed Rekha Bharadwaj (who is also wife of Vishal Bharadwaj) and whilst her vocals suit songs like “Namak” (Omkara), they bring a perverse charm to light romantic numbers such as this one. Whilst undeniably a good song in its own right, this one is strictly for the Vishal / Rekha fans out there but probably a little too hardcore for the masses!
Track 4: “Badi Deheere Jali”, is the final original track and another fine proposition for those that can peel away at its multi-layered beauty and bewitching qualities. The truth is if Rekha’s voice does not appeal to you then you will give up on this long before it has grown on you and that would be a shame! Vishal jee is in his haunting mood here and few can rival him in this form. The song starts off slowly with the sound of a sarangi but soon explodes into life with some progressive rock beats that are just so enchanting in the way they are meshed with the otherwise classical sounding arrangements. But this is not a song to be blasting out moreover it’s there to be appreciated and its layers peeled away slowly…if you do that you will notice the use of authentic Indian instruments in the interludes including the sarangi, tabla, another string instrument similar to a sarode and god knows how many more…together they bring a mysterious charm to the overall atmosphere of the composition. This is the kind of track that is made for the vocals of Rekha Bharadwaj and she is just amazing in her rendition here. Gulzar’s poetry is just as mysterious as the music! Overall, this track requires patience to be fully appreciated. Not for everyone admittedly but a must for Vishal / Rekha fans.
Overall, Ishqiya has the hallmarks of Vishal’s multi-faceted take on music. It is a mixture of the unique, dark and subtle music we hear in unappreciated movies such as The Blue Umbrella as well as the catchy, mass-appealing music that we all loved in Kaminey and Omkara…interestingly whilst the masses enjoyed these soundtracks, the music connoisseurs got even more out of it once they got beneath the delicious exterior. That’s the beauty of Vishal’s music, it’s significantly deeper than you think. If you stick to it and let it grow on you, chances are you will fall in love with its finer intricacies, nuances and characteristics. If you don't then you miss out, simple.
When you have one genius at work, chances are you are going to do well but when you bring two of them together (Vishal and Gulzar) to work hand in hand, the music speaks volumes and the music of Ishqiya does it in a big way. Sadly the audience will be limited as there are only four original tracks and two of these (the Rekha Bharadwaj songs) are pretty hardcore. However, music of this quality only adds to the suspense factor as far as the movie is concerned and I for one am now intrigued to see it on the big screen. This is just what the doctor ordered and a great new year’s present for us all to savour!