At long last! After months of delays and countless rumours, the music for Ashutosh Gowariker’s monumental Jodhaa Abkar (JA) has finally been released. As you will no doubt be aware, the epic portrayal concerns the life and times of the 16th Century Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Mohd. Akbar and in particular his romance with a Rajput Princess, Jodhaa. Never mind the movie, there has been just as much anticipation for the soundtrack but why all the hype you may ask? Well it’s all to do with the magical partnership of the Director / Music Director and their previous successes.
Based on the critically acclaimed Lagaan and Swades, no one can doubt that he (Ashutosh) has been inspirational in pushing the bar as far as Indian cinema is concerned. No stone was left unturned in these projects. So when it comes to producing the music, it’s no surprise that he turns to his favourite composer, the undeniable genius that is AR Rahman (ARR). Globally recognised as an inspirational musician, his work (including that of Lagaan and Swades) has often stirred widespread debate and criticism but to his credit, it’s mainly been subject to widespread praise and popularity.
To his fans of which there are many including this writer, ARR is the epitome of the absolute finest that Hindi music has to offer and has been for almost two decades now. Apart from ‘how does he do it’, the biggest question on everyone’s lips is ‘can he produce another blockbuster soundtrack befitting the undoubted quality and grandeur expected of the movie?’ Well listeners, I am delighted to say that with JA the answer is a resounding YES and the partnership of Gowariker / Rahman has delivered another inspirational score to resonate in your ears for years to come. Here is why…
As if to make up for lost time for his fans and music lovers alike (let’s face it his last soundtrack Guru was disappointing), ARR makes an immediate and quite mind-blowing impact with the opening track Azeem-O-Shaan Shahenshah. Bellowing horns and thundering drums commence proceedings for the introduction of our emperor Akbar and what follows is a remarkable background piece that portrays his stature, aura and power in 16th Century India. Whilst the horns and drums remain intact for the majority of the track, they fade intermittently with the introduction of several unique but incredibly crisp arrangements composing of instruments used in battles e.g. sword thrusts etc which, when combined into one harmonious tune, have the potential impact of taking your breath away! And then you suddenly realise the stirring vocals by Mohammad Aslam, Bony Chakravarty and Chorus but such is the impact of the music you barely notice their presence. Javed Akhtar’s lyrics are very suiting of the occasion. Suffice to say this is ARR at his very best and proves yet again why he is the master of periodic / thematic compositions, quite simply awe-inspiring work here!
As if one gem wasn’t enough the maestro then offers another in the form of the absolutely dazzling Jashn-e-Bahaaraa. This extremely addictive and heart-warming romantic number blooms with the sound of a sublime string based instrument (guitar variant). If the soft harmonic resonance created by this instrument was not bewitching enough ARR goes one step further and brings in multiple string instruments to add further colour and texture to the orchestration…at one point they all collide together creating a most joyous effect on the ear! The slow but richly soothing melody is underpinned by a delightful percussion which flows through your soul as if to relieve your inertia, leaving you to hit the repeat button time after time.
As for the singing, well it sounds very much like Sonu Nigam but if you listen closely you will surely hear what turns out to be Javed Ali’s finest performance to date (one that Sonu would have been proud of himself), his soft and subdued vocals a testament to his underrated talents. And how can one forget Javed Akhtar’s poetry? It will make you cringe in sheer amazement! This track is another winner all the way and a love song that is befitting of life, love and emotions of any century, any time, any place. That’s the true quality of this composition. It’s a timeless classic.
As is the case for many of his soundtracks, ARR always enjoys a bit of singing and has proved to be extremely effective behind the mic (Yeh Jo Des Hai from Swades, and Roobaroo from Rang De Basanti being two examples).
For JA, he sings with verve and energy for the next track, the fabulous qawaali based Khwaja Mere Khwaja. This lengthy track starts with the sound of a harmonium and a short verse recited by ARR heralding the presence of the emperor Akbar...suddenly the delicious and uplifting sound of an organ interwoven with strings sweeps you off your feet and ushers your thoughts onto a different planet altogether- can a qawaali based song really sound this good (and more importantly perhaps sound this good to a non-qawaali listener?). Well just remember if ARR has blessed the composition anything is possible!
The underlying arrangements are typical of any qawaali based song, strong tabla and harmonium but what makes it distinct and enjoyable is the fusion of melodious ‘alaps’ and hand clapping provided by the chorus that attracts your attention until the very end. The lyricist (Kashif) provides for simple but attractive poetry. All in all, this is an extremely satisfying qawaali track (arguably the best since Allah-O-Ali from Thathatsu) and unquestionably another highlight of the soundtrack, ARR is clearly in top form here!
The opening of the penultimate track, Inn Lamhon Ke Daaman Mein, still sounds like the blooming Jashn-e-Bahaaraa from a few tracks ago! The soothing strings and percussion return for a second offering however do not be dismayed because if you give it time and effort, you will hear how it eventually blossoms into something potentially even better! Whilst Jashn-e-Bahaaraa was slow paced throughout, this love duet provides much more variety, energy and emotion, in particular listen out for the sudden upsurge in orchestration and the contrasting whisper quiet lulls. Sonu Nigam renders another emotional piece, proving why he is a favourite playback singer of ARR. Madhushree provides supporting vocals later and sounds talented. The lyrics by Javed saab are top rate as usual! Reviewing this track is like dissecting multiple songs that have been intertwined with a golden thread i.e. it sounds fabulous but you don’t know how the maestro has managed to keep its structure and melody intact. Nevertheless it sits proudly as one of the best offerings of JA.
The final track by the name of Mann Mohanaa is a situational song and definitely the weakest effort of the entire album. That’s not to say it’s bad, on the contrary; however it’s a notch or two below the benchmark set by the rest. Another slow and soothing number, this one relies on the catchy combination of the percussion and the tabla to give it melody and to lay the foundations for other instruments such as the flute to make an appearance. Bela Shende (last heard in Paheli) sounds like an accomplished singer but on this rare occasion the lyrics by Javed Akhtar are not up to par with his other contributions here. Overall this track is average by ARR standards.
The immense soundtrack ends with two ingenious pieces, Jashn-e-Bahaaraa (Instrumental), which concentrates on the flute and Khwaja Mere Khwaja (Instrumental) which highlights the oboe. These two tracks come with the highest recommendation possible and should not be disregarded. ARR’s approach to focus on specific instruments confirms his inspirational mind and attention to detail that is rarely matched by fellow composers. Each instrumental provides a unique alternative to the original. A must listen!
With only five full tracks, there was a risk that Jodhaa Akbar’s music would fall short of expectations and alongside all the delays; music fans were rightly getting frustrated. However the cliché ‘the best things come to those who wait’ is very fitting as the Gowarikar / Rahman dream partnership has pulled off another blockbuster score (after Lagaan and Swades). Let’s hope the movie can now pull it off as well!
In conclusion however it must be said that ARR triumphs where other composers have failed since his last major releases (Meenaxi and Swades); his JA compositions are magical, spectacular, invigorating and above all a wholesome experience you rarely get in soundtracks these days. When you cannot pick a favorite you know the benchmark has been set consistently high. Indian music has just added another soundtrack to its eternal treasure. I am sure you will join me in congratulating AR Rahman on his latest Magnus Opus which turns out to be an early but strong contender for best soundtrack of 2008 - more awards clearly await this phenomenal talent who simply never ceases to amaze!