It’s always a rare treat to reap the pleasures of a complete Rahman soundtrack. And after 2004, in which he released a whopping four [Hindi] soundtracks, we’ve merely been getting quick glimpses of the musical phenomenon either once or twice a year. That’s all about to change, as we have TWO back-to-back Rahman albums releasing simultaneously – JAANE TU YA JAANE NA and ADA. If you add in January’s release of Jodhaa-Akbar, then we already have THREE Rahman soundtracks in a short span of just five months. Let’s take it one step further, shall we? IF (and that’s a big if) release dates are expected to remain constant, then by the end of the year we may very well witness the release of two additional Rahmantic scores in GHAJINI and YUVRAAJ. Now, if you told me a few years ago that in 2008 the Industry would listen to the music of Rahman in five separate and complete soundtracks, I would have said you’re crazy!
Nevertheless, today we’re zoning in on just one – ADA…A Way of Life. The music of ADA is intriguing to me for a couple of reasons. When you look at Rahman’s resume (1998 and onwards), barring just a few cases, all his projects have been highly anticipated scores. ADA is definitely not one of them. If you clicked on this review thinking it’s just another low-budget disaster with forgettable music only to soon realize, in a dazed and confused state, that the music credits read A.R. Rahman, I guarantee you’re not the only one. In fact, the music of ADA was conceived and recorded some six years ago, while the film was still in its prime. ADA, a film that had seemingly joined the countless other projects sitting on the backburner has now been given new life with the release of its music on May 20, 2008, six years later!
“The music of the film actually took six years to make because the film started six years back in 2002. The music has a very old school melody feel. But it also has other tunes so it does have a color of different genres in it.” – A.R. Rahman [CNN-IBN]
It will be interesting to experience what Rahman terms as “old school melody.” Since he’s always maintained a very distinct class of melody, ADA will give listeners the perfect opportunity to witness a live progression in melodic genres first hand. It’s also refreshing to see Rahman stop on a dime to compose for a more modest film (which he hasn’t done in years) after just delivering music for one of India’s grandest films, Jodhaa-Akbar. Lyrics are provided by Raqueeb Alam (Water) and Nusrat Badr (Devdas).
Rahman packs a peppy punch in the very distinctive Ishq Ada IMale Version). From first-hand experience I can tell you that the number one struggle for composers and arrangers who are trying to get ahead now a days is the ethereal fusion of universal appeal with avant-garde sound. Rahman isn’t the Madras Mozart by fluke, he has mastered this union to provide us with both soul-stirring melodies and foot-tapping beats, while maintaining that never-before-heard sound. Ishq Ada is a pure synergy of both elements.
Let’s first look at Element 2: Rhythmic Background. Rahman differentiates the rhythm from the very get-go by commencing the number with an instrumental rhythm, as opposed to the more conventional percussion rhythm. The catchy rhythmic riffs of the guitar immediately bring the playful atmosphere to the forefront of the composition. As the melodic lines progress, so does the rhythmic build-up, as Rahman casually throws in some arabic percussions to give more spice to the musical aura, while the instrumental rhythm remains beautifully camouflaged beneath the percussions and melody.
Element 1: Melodic Foreground. Although I don’t quite see the “old-school melody” in this composition, I definitely can say that Rahman has dabbled quite a bit with experimentation while conceiving this franticly cool tune. Despite having numerous variations of the same melodic structure, Rahman surreptitiously strips the piece of differentiated stanzas. Normally this would be devastating, but it’s Rahman’s versatile melody that keeps masking itself to keep you hooked! Rashid Ali is perfect in his rendition of the relentless tune. His vocals are just as playful as the melody itself, as he balances his performance with emotion and poise. Lastly, the only other instrumental performance, apart from the guitar rhythm, is the harmonium, which makes short timid appearances between melodic riffs. It’s Rahman’s way of adding a simple touch to a relatively simple song. Raqueeb Alam’s short and snappy reflections on love fit the mood of the piece with perfect lyrical harmony. Verdict: Let the soul-tapping beats and stylish tunes of Ishq Ada flow through you…grow on you…
We are in true Rahmantic heaven with the absolutely gorgeous duet Hawa Sun Hawa. I know I may catch a lot of flack for this, but this has to go down as one of Sonu Nigam’s and Alka Yagnik’s greatest duets – and that’s saying something! It all begins and ends with Rahman’s golden melody. I can perhaps see shimmers of old-school layers here, but it is an extremely pretty piece nonetheless. The rhythm is another spectacle of sound courtesy Rahman, who gives us his unique version of an Indee-pop ballad. Also look out for the invincible integration of the tabla during the interlude as well as towards the end of the song…it’s musical divinity. Adding to the touch of grandeur and simplicity all at the very same time are the Bansuri and piano add-ons, not to mention the strong atmospheric presence, all filling the gaps beautifully. Nusrat Badr is at his romantic best with his eclectic poetry on undiscovered love. But the highlight here is undoubtedly Rahman’s melody and the vocal chemistry between Sonu and Alka. Verdict: My vote for best duet of 2008 so far. Excuse me while I rendezvous with this beauty a few times more…
Rahman throws out an earthy upbeat track in the form of Gum Sum. Another Sonu-Alka duet that clearly pales in comparison to the magic we heard in Hawa Sun Hawa. Perhaps this is the old-school melody that Rahman was referring to? Nevertheless, the melody doesn’t quite fit within Rahman’s boundaries, resulting in a tune that won’t easily dance on your lips. However, it’s the foot-tapping rhythm that saves this number. Special mention to the Santoor-inspired instrument (if not the Santoor itself) which puts forth a wicked performance throughout the composition. It’s also worth pointing out the organ riffs that are added towards the end since Rahman hardly uses the instrument! Nusrat Badr’s lyrics are a bit more conventional than one would like to hear from a Rahman track. Verdict: Check this song out for the rustic beats and wicked Santoor riffs!
Gulfisha is special because for the first time Rahman is featuring one of India’s hottest singers – Sunidhi Chauhan – along with Sonu Nigam. There’s another first for Rahman hidden here as well…the Italian flavors. Melodically the song is much more chilled-out than the previous three compositions, aspiring towards the younger crowds, indicative of the decision to bring on Sunidhi. Hinging on a synthesized atmosphere and some catchy clap beats, the melody really flourishes as the song progresses, with both Sunidhi and Sonu shining bright. Nusrat Badr’s lyrics take a back-seat to the heavy vocal presence but do complete justice to the animated number. It’s interesting to note: If in fact this song was recorded four, five, or even six years ago, why hasn’t Rahman hooked up with Sunidhi again? There have been plenty of opportunities to feature her vocals. Makes you wonder… Verdict: Plug this frisky tune into your car and cruise to the stylish sounds of Gulfisha.
The tuned out chordal play of the piano nudges the soulful light-pop number Meherbaan into play. It’s almost a safe bet to say that if a track is rendered by Rahman himself, it’s probably because it is amongst the best, if not the best song on the lot. Meherbaan features Rahman’s moving vocals amidst a light-pop ballad with caressing acoustic highlights. The peacefully pure melody will give you complete rest, as Rahman’s soothing voice takes this number to cosmic heights. With Meherbaan, Raqueeb Alam clearly proves himself the better of the two lyricists. His poetic phrases depicting the relationship between two joint-souls through metaphor completes the simplistic musical trinity with grace and integrity. It’s quite astonishing, and I’ve rarely experienced this myself, but the passion of the melody and the emotion of the vocals enhance the lyrical meaning of the song without actually changing any words. Verdict: If there were ever any doubts that music is in fact potentially a metaphysical incarnation of peace and purity, one exposure to A.R. Rahman’s Meherbaan will put all that to rest.
Ahh, and the addictive catch factor returns in grand form with the electric Tu Mera Hai. There’s so much going on at each and every moment of the song, yet never do you feel that the composition is crowded or cacophonic. The rustic rhythm is the first element of this rich and sultry song, paving way for the addicting catch line of ‘Tu Mera Hai Mera Mera Hai,’ rendered exquisitely by veteran Chitra, a Rahman favorite. Naresh Iyer’s smooth vocal undertones of ‘Ya Rab’ add to the immense catch factor. Sukhwinder Singh, another Rahman favorite, provides perfect support for Chitra’s power-house performance. While the tabla adds to the culturally rich heritage of the striking rhythm, the unrelenting play of the strings next to the vocal melody animate the composition with tremendous musical energy. Again, Nusrat Badr’s lyrics are quite competent, but the make-up of the song pushes the lyrics to the background and the melody/rhythm to the foreground. Verdict: Vintage Rahman, who once again weaves his magic over a song that liquefies the perfect blend of mass appeal and avant-garde sound.
Hai Dard tends to shy away from having mass appeal. The melody, although extremely poignant, seems to be slightly lacking the creative department. Nevertheless, there is melodic ethos. Rahman’s arrangements are quite non-engaging when compared to the rest of the soundtrack, and that contributes the most to my being disappointed overall. Udit Narayan delivers a fine rendition. Badr this times writes on…you guessed it…despair, but does so with little gusto. Verdict: Due to its situational characteristics, it will be better appreciated on the big screen rather than on audio.
Ishq Ada (Female Version) more than makes up for any shortcomings the previous track may have had. This is the exact same song as the opening piece, but has been completely rewrapped in brand new arrangements. It’s no coincidence that Rahman lightens up the background with a higher octave play of the rhythmic guitar and adds lighter bass lines…all these adjustments are characteristic of the female version not only with respect to vocals, courtesy debutant Parul Mishra, but also with respect to sound. Verdict: Just as stylish and breezy as its counterpart, I still tend to lean in favor of the Male Version. And that’s no coincidence either!
Milo Waha Waha, rendered by Alka Yagnik and Jayachandran, is a soft-spoken semi-orchestral love duet. Belonging roughly to the same genre as Hai Dard, the piece has a very steady rhythm throughout with slight variations in terms of the decrease and increase in percussions used. The hauntingly romantic melody blossoms towards the stanzas (pay special attention to Jayachandran’s chorus at the 5:10 mark, it’s eerily beautiful!). The song will appeal mainly to the lovers of ghazals, but if you give the song a chance it will surely grow on you. Alka Yagnik is a true revelation. Nusrat Badr’s poetic lyrics are finally given a chance to shine in glory, as he escapes the wraths of clichés to write a remarkable song. Verdict: More attractive than the aurally similar Dard Hai, Rahman conspires to give this song complete poetic justice.
Another reason why Rahman is so great is because he takes pleasure in even the smallest of things. Where 99% of composers would merely replace a male singer with a female singer, keeping everything else constant, Rahman saw the opportunity to give the entire composition a more feminine touch in Ishq Ada (Female Version). And yet again we witness the man’s humble approach to composition with Meherbaan (Instrumental) featuring guitarist Sanjeev Thomas. Although the song maintains the same sound as the vocalized version, the acoustic riffs and improvisations fit the composition beautifully. In addition to the acoustic guitar, we also hear the electric guitar throughout the stanzas, which adds to the sound value immensely. Verdict: Obviously not a substitute to Rahman’s tremendous vocals, but this instrumental version has its own flare of innocence and beauty. Enjoy!
The soundtrack of ADA may not be amongst Rahman’s best, but it surely is an admirable welcome to any music collection. Along with Jodhaa-Akbar, it’s one of the best scores the year 2008 has seen. With only Dard Hai slightly slacking, the music of ADA surely backs up Rahman’s statement of it having a color of different genres, with quite a bit of experimentation thrown in. And if you’re picky enough to pass on this Rahmantic score, than you don’t have to wait long to sample the next one – Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is already on stands everywhere. Long live Rahmania!
Aakash Gandhi is Managing Editor and Senior Writer for Planetbollywood.com. He also freelances for the Asian Variety Show at avstv.com.