There is Shah Rukh Khan and then there is My Name Is Khan.
The biggest names in motion pictures are associated with the latest venture of Karan Johar; Dharma Productions, Fox Star Studios, Fox Searchlight Pictures, Red Chillies Entertainment and Sony Music. Karan Johar attempts a “difficult” subject which delicately deals with Islam, the Asperger syndrome and touches on topics like terrorism, relationships and religion. As such the main protagonists, Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, will go through several circumstances in their lives – both emotionally touching and painful.
Following the musical success of Kal Ho Na Ho and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (KANK), the thirty-seven years old Karan Johar is among the handful of directors in Bollywood, who remains loyal to one music director. Shankar-Eshaan-Loy is repeated – with record breaking music sales for the above mentioned movies, it would pose a risk to experiment with another team or music composer. Dialogue writer Niranjan Iyengar’s lyrics are used for the mega project.
Let’s clear a first misconception: the soundtrack of My Name Is Khan is based on situational events of the script and will be extensively appreciated, when watched on screen.
Soul searching is a turbulent exercise. Sajda invites listeners to a world where one’s identity is lost and the soul is roaming around, essaying to find its role, responsibility and relationship. Surging orchestrations with synthesizers open up the quasi meditative piece, which is further beautified by the truly matured sufi voice of Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. The creative force, Shankar Mahadevan, joins in to complement this atmospheric sufi extravaganza – which is pure, poignant and artistic. Richa Sharma’s prelude is deep enough to set the right mood for the rest of the soundtrack; a mood which neither makes one excited nor sad, it’s very much about the inner side of one self.
If there is enough meditative and spiritual power in ‘Sajda’, then the orchestration follows a perfect route. Employment of instruments like tabla and dholak supports the piece perfectly in the background, allowing the singers to express their emotions to the fullest. A sense of deep awakening exists in the interludes with reflective musical pieces bound to evoke emotions and more thoughts. The trio has ensured that the piece will be echoing in listeners’ minds for a long time. Interestingly, the chorus transforms the piece into a surprisingly high-class track, without being too harsh on the ears. ‘Sajda’ is a spiritual journey which involves connections with the heart, mind and one’s own spirit.
Inner peace and the deeper meaning of life find a new dimension in Noor E Khuda. A sense of vital association with the spirit and the mind is translated through the exquisite voices of Adnan Sami, Shankar Mahadevan and the eloquent Shreya Ghoshal. The healing for the souls aching for the definition of life is musically expressed powerfully and emotionally through the acoustic guitars, which subtly open the grandiose piece. The concept of peace, according to My Name Is Khan, is exploited and redefined – this time, by the way Adnan Sami handles ‘Noor E Khuda’ in the lower octave with amazing versatility, displaying extraordinary control over the pronunciation of the lyrics by Niranjan Iyengar.
Highlights include the various use of the guitar at specific spots in the track, which will be better translated on screen. In this particular case, the acoustic guitars represent the good and bright days whereas other guitar sounds represent the opposite. Insertion of the female chorus captures the melancholy side of the protagonists and projects the grandeur of the movie. The twist in the piece is presented when Adnan Sami tackles the first “antara” and the music which follows after is pure bliss. Listeners are thrown into a world of rustic feelings and mysteriousness. Shreya Ghoshal brings her semi-classical touch in the middle of the track and immediately elevates the repeat value. Her entry is flawless and spreads an angelic feeling from there onwards.
The hypnotic blend of spirituality and meditation in the piece transports an important message and appears to be pivotal in the script. The inclusion of melody is questionable and this brings the question if the song is perfect. Melody is put to the backseat, and it would have been magic if the composers could have amalgamated melody as well. The orchestration fits perfectly the theme of the movie, with the noticeable synthesizers’ sound keeping the music concise and clean. ‘Noor E Khuda’ is a highly pondering piece, which will be better consumed by people having a distinct taste in music, as well, as those with a strong spiritual inclination.
After doses of meditative and highly spiritual music with an everlasting emphasis on the soul, spirit and mind, the heart is now given importance with the rhythmic Tere Naina. Shafqat Amanat Ali is entrusted with two roles – firstly, to relax the audience and secondly, to pump up the tempo as the track shifts genre in the middle. Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy gets into the musical comfort zone with familiar notes, which is often re-used for big budget movies like Salaam-E-Ishq and KANK, except that 'Tere Naina' does not cross the boundaries of being too Bollywodish. It still keeps the overall mood of the soundtrack, due to the controlled voice modulation of the talented singer. Supported by a chorus from the beginning, ‘Tera Naina’ injects the romantic flavor associated with Shah Rukh Khan before turning into a moderate qawalli for a moment and then reverts back to the romantic feel. No doubt, the piece has a Karan Johar influence from the prelude and hence, is instantly likeable. ‘Tere Naina’ is entertaining, lively and a relief too.
The soundtrack would have been incomplete without Allah Hi Rahem as it deals with Islam. Rashid Khan completely takes control over the song, which has a strong sufi flavor. Furthermore, the harmonium, the male chorus and the heavy strings music in the background, put the piece into a different category. ‘Allah Hi Rahem’ is the epitome of My Name Is Khan.
The Khan Theme is performed by Bombay Film Orchestra and is very similar to a Hollywood style theme. With the electronic piano, violins and strings dominating the instruments’ scene, the piece explores the various themes of the movie. The orchestration is vivid throughout and one can instantly perceive what the movie is about. However, the short duration of the piece does not qualify it to be presented in such a classy soundtrack. The ‘Khan Theme’ has the standard ethereal electronic vibes.
Rapidly emerging singer Suraj Jagan and Shankar Mahadevan embark into a fun journey with the second very commercial song of the soundtrack. Aptly titled Rang De, Shankar Mahadevan brings the rock influence into the piece through his enthusiastic singing and composition. The orchestration is very much similar to Rock On!! and London Dreams. As usual, Suraj Jagan is superlative in his performance, defining the new rock voice in Bollywood and is at the forefront of this emerging trend. ‘Rang De’ is a welcoming change and its high energy is sure to bring a smile on everyone’s face.
The soundtrack also comprises of quality bonus songs from previous Karan Johar’s movies such as Kuch Kuch Hota Hain's title song, 'Suraj Hua Maddham' (Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham), Kal Ho Na Ho’s title song and Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna’s title song.
Considering the figure of Karan Johar and his sense of music, a concise analysis is provided to complement the review.
The new decade is seeing the release of one of the biggest and most ambitious movies ever. Composers Shankar, Ehsaan and Loy are at the helm of affairs and there is not much room for mistakes. It can safely be assumed that the score for My Name Is Khan strictly sticks to the various themes of the movie. Considering that most of these themes are serious, important and quite controversial as well, the music has not navigated away from the core essence of the themes. The family entertainer Karan Johar, who re-discovered the alternate facet of the composers through Kal Ho Na Ho and KANK, has again thrown another challenge at the composers.
The composers have gone back to the ABC of music making, without relying on current gimmicks like substitute voices, remixes, over-the-top programming and most importantly have worked hard on good instrumentation complemented with accurate orchestration, through programming. Classical Indian instruments like the tabla, dholak and harmonium have made surface, which have been skillfully mixed with the new age synthesizers' sounds to re-create the sufi feel.
Despite the existing need to stay on top of the technological change in Bollywood and also in the overseas market by Hollywood standards, My Name Is Khan does not exactly score in the melody department. This begs the question if melody and spirituality do make a good match in music making? The answer is debatable in general, but in Bollywood, the answer is a definite yes. This is exactly where composers like Anu Malik and Jatin-Lalit have never failed. Write them off, but their melodies will stand the test of time.
Shankar-Eshaan-Loy has unconsciously and probably deliberately not given melody the importance it deserves. For example, 'Tera Naina' by Shafqat Amanat Ali, can be considered as a missed opportunity where melody would have made a world of difference to the soundtrack. 'Tera Naina' (Chandni Chowk To China), composed by Shankar-Eshaan-Loy and sung by Shankar Mahadevan and Shreya Ghoshal had more melody to offer.
Looking back at Bollywood’s repertoire of similar movie themes and the contribution of illustrious music directors, one can observe that melody is somehow not a requirement. For example, A.R Rahman’s 'Piya Haji Ali' (Fiza) by A.R Rahman and Shaukat Ali was appreciated for other reasons at its time of release, as it matched the theme of Fiza. Similarly, Shoaib Mansoor’s 'Allah Hoo' (Khuda Kay Liye) is a futuristic piece praising the Almighty and has new age music. The point is Shankar-Eshaan-Loy has not tried a new age or world music soundtrack or what Rahman has done, but something offbeat, with a little more experimentation and possibly less risks with tracks like 'Tere Naina' and 'Rang De'.
Over the years, Karan Johar has developed his own brand of music and this is sometimes dependent on where the movie is shot and its theme. Locations are important for the director and for this particular movie, each sequence of the non-commercial songs, give the audience the magnum opus behind My Name Is Khan. Listeners get the feeling that the movie is shot abroad on a large scale – this is classy cinema one is expecting. For example, listeners will not be treated with a 'Bole Churiyan' or Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham’s title song, but songs like the Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna’s title song and 'Noor E Khuda' do give us an indication what one can expect from such a Karan Johar’s project. And the composers have ensured that the sounds match the perception.
Dharma Productions also recently has a strong penchant for sufi songs such as 'Iktara' (Wake Up Sid) and also 'Rasiya' (Kurbaan) – which both had high production values and singing. However, the soundtrack does not try to be catchy, too melodious or instantly likeable, and this could have been easily achieved, considering the track record of chartbusters of Shankar-Eshaan-Loy and Karan Johar have delivered. Instead, it amazingly keeps the momentum within a particular genre, although it did experiment with the rock genre in 'Rang De' for a change.
One interesting observation is that Sonu Nigam is missing from the soundtrack, as well, as Alka Yagnik (who has been the voice of Kajol for so many years). Sonu Nigam’s Kal Ho Na Ho's title song is one of the most memorable songs of the last decade and the title song of KANK is also a well-composed song (Sonu Nigam and Alka Yagnik). Contemporary singers have been replaced in the soundtrack, to give it another appeal. This is one of the reasons why the soundtrack can be referred to be in a league of its own.
The album’s shining moment is definitely 'Noor E Khuda' – the passion in the song is clearly visible by all those involved. Overall, lyrics by Niranjan Iyengar are a class above and are very complementing.
The soundtrack of My Name Is Khan can be intriguing, but this is what the movie is about after all. It’s very much about transcending the boundaries set by Bollywood by venturing into an emotional state through Sufism and spirituality. My Name Is Khan is equipped with a soundtrack which will definitely moves the story forward and each layers of programming is bound to capture each one’s attention in the theatre. Listeners are hit with the stunning fact that this is one great record – a score synonymous with class. And with additional songs from the director’s past movies, My Name Is Khan is a recommended soundtrack.