The collaboration of A.R. Rahman and Mani Ratnam has brought us some truly memorable music including Roja (1992), Bombay (1995), Dil Se (1998), Saathiya (2002), Yuva (2004) and lately, Guru (2006). The most outstanding of these, Dil Se, still ranks as the holy grail of Rahman’s work till date. So how does their latest collaboration; Raavan, sound? Well fitting in with the theme and requirements of the movie, it’s largely traditional folk-based music, albeit superbly revitalised (with a modern / ethnic touch) in places but you will definitely have to give it time to grow on you like most of Rahman’s work! The best of the tracks includes the experimental but explosive “Beera”, the mesmerizing “Ranjha Ranjha” and the haunting “Behene De”. The rest of the tracks may be more appreciated after the release of the movie. Overall, the soundtrack is diverse, varied and very enjoyable but not quite comparable to Rahman’s best work. That said, it’s comfortably the best soundtrack of 2010 thus far and as such, is an essential buy!
This is it! This is the big one! This is where it all started. I am of course referring to the historic collaboration between music composer A.R.Rahman and movie director Mani Ratnam which takes us back to Rahman’s debut and award winning soundtrack: Roja (1992). What an awesome soundtrack that was and whilst he has gone onto bigger things since then (including countless domestic and international awards), perhaps we owe Ratnam some due for allowing such talent to hit the big time? And perhaps Rahman recognises that because arguably his best music has been reserved for Ratnam over the years; Roja (1992), Bombay (1995), Dil Se (1998), Saathiya (2002), Yuva (2004) and lately, Guru (2006). The most outstanding of these, Dil Se, still ranks as the holy grail of Rahman’s work till date. So does this immense legacy continue in the latest collaboration for the movie Raavan? Let’s find out double quick!
Track 1: “Beera” (3:15)
Track 2: “Behene De” (6:04)
After the experimental opener, Rahman gets down to business with the first truly killer track of Raavan. In contrast to “Beera”, “Behene De” oozes melody amidst the haunting orchestral behemoth that dictates the flow of the song from start to finish. However, its power is reined back during the singing verses and that is where arguably, the modern infused arrangements fall a touch flat. Having said that the guitar riffs work really well and the simple hand-clapping is most welcome! Moving onto Karthik (another singer from Rahman’s dynasty), he is a revelation here, performing like a superstar for his favourite musician. This must rank as one of his best songs to date, his tone is a complete contrast to his "Behka" from Ghajini (2008). Notice how his vocals become more intense in the build up to the chorus line. He is ably supported by Mohamed Irfan where the effect of the backing vocalist is powerfully received. Gulzar’s striking metaphors are a treat to listen to and visualise. On the downside you have to admit to having a taste of déjà vu (Dil Se hangover?) with some aspects of the music. For that reason, a slight tinge of disappointment may creep into your mind. But realistically, did you expect another “Beera”? Nevertheless this is a stellar track that can only sound better on screen. Raavan’s music is getting better…
Track 3: “Thok Di Killi” (4:58)
Wow, as a concept this one feels like “Beera” all over again. Lots of energy, attitude and style! But instead of drums, a short rhythmic blast of electric guitar riffs (by Deepak P.A.) pulverise your senses into submission. Add plenty of dholaks, background chanting and shenai fusion to the mixing pot and you have one crazy melody! Sukhwinder Singh sounds like he is having a blast singing for Rahman again and along with co singer Am’nico, they are the killer USP with some great vocals. Gulzar’s lyrics are full of short and snappy lines and the effect is subtle but effective. “Thok Di Killi” is experimental, fun and brilliantly stylish! Beyond that though it doesn't have much substance and as a result, lacks replay value. First disappointing track of Raavan.
Deep breath listeners…deep breath, are you ready? For we are now entering Rahman’s pinnacle offering for Raavan. And my word is it good. Actually give it time to grown on you and it becomes nothing short of amazing! The opening alaaps allure you to escape into the magic of the song that ranks as one of the most bewitching takes on the romantic genre to come from the Rahman stable for a while (yes “Dil Gira Dafatan” from Delhi 6 was amazing too!). The splashes of peppy modern beats, loops and guitar fusion on a traditional folk music platform works an absolute treat and sounds divine in your ears. Make no mistake this is Rahman close to his very best! Singing is palpably epic particularly the performance by Rekha Bharadwaj who takes your breath away (her sufi type chanting of "Ranjha Ranjha" is phenomenal) in what must rank as one of her best ever renditions. Javed Ali has been singing regularly since Jodhaa Akbar but thanks to Rahman (who could quite easily have picked Sonu Nigam for this one), he outdoes himself here with a stirring effort and can only move onto better things (Anuradha Sriram provides the alaaps). Gulzar’s folksy lyrics are fantastic (note the opening lines are credited to sufi poet Bulleh Shah's Ranjha Ranjha Kardi). "Ranjha Ranjha" is mesmerizing to the point of no return but beware, it might just take your breath away…song of 2010!
Track 5: “Khili Re” (4:11)
This track starts on a much slower and soothing note which helps you retrieve your breath after the amazing "Ranjha Ranjha"… but then it’s instantly brought to life by some beautiful vocals marking the return of an awesome singing talent! Reena Bhardwaj recorded her debut song “Yeh Rishta” for Rahman’s superb and under-exposed Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities (2004). That catapulted her straight to the top of the Indian music charts and that year she was also nominated for best playback singer. Since then her career has taken off but not so much on the filmi scene. However, Rahman never forgets his singing dynasty and she returns here to mark another fine performance. Musically, the arrangements rest on a semi-classical platform with a range of (classical) instruments including the flute by Naveen Kumar, tabla, and a sitar performed by Asad Khan, all meticulously crafted for a soothing and pleasurable listening experience. However try peeling away the layers and you might come away disappointed somewhat. Lyrically it is nothing special either. Overall it’s a good song no doubt with even better singing but a huge anti-climax after “Ranjha Ranjha”.
Track 6: "Kata Kata" (5:11)
Apparently Mani Ratnam goes all big for the song picturisation of this one calling on the services of five hundred dancers with the entire production taking four to five days to complete! So to make it sound equally amazing, Rahman himself calls on multi-faceted singers (including Ila Arun, Sapna Awasthi and surprisingly, Kunal Ganjawalla) and co-ordinates an amusing celebratory song with seamless efficiency. Expect plenty of drums, dholak, hand clapping, shenai, oud and other folksy dance instrumentation (arrangements by Ranjith Barot) alongside the percussive orchestra provided by Rahman's own Chennai Strings. The singing is very effective thanks to the folksy lyrics by Gulzar which are in tune with the situational requirements of the movie. This one will hit the bulls-eye on screen for sure but perhaps the impact, appeal or replay value isn’t up to the comparable dance based “Azeem-o-Shaan Shahensha” (Jodhaa Abkar) or "Mitwa" (Lagaan).
Overall Raavan is a fascinating and diverse soundtrack that deserves repeated listening to be fully appreciated. Forget anything else this year, you owe it to yourself to discover the music on offer here. There is a lot of experimentation as heard in “Beera” and “Thok Di Killi”. Also that experimentation extends to the singers- just check out the amazing talent and fresh faces on show here, most of whom we have never heard before! Elsewhere you will find other reasons to rejoice in the music (“Ranjha Ranjha” and “Behene De”) and although arguably it never consistently reaches Rahman’s best (the music doesn't always have multiple layers to peel away), Raavan is still one of his varied, folksy and interesting soundtracks in a long while. Mani Ratnam is surely happy and so should you be. A strong contender for soundtrack of the year!