It's a well-known fact that Karan Johar's Dharma Productions is perhaps the most successful production house in terms of Box Office popularity during the past decade. Let's not overlook the fact that the banner has also lit the music scene on fire with some of the most admired soundtracks, featuring tracks that will be remembered for generations. First it was the Jatin-Lalit hook-up that brought us the widely accepted scores of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (1998) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (2001). Then it was their relationship with the trendy trio of Shankar-Ehsaan Loy in the unbelievably popular soundtracks of Kal Ho Naa Ho (2003) and Kabhi Alvida Na Kehna (2006). And changing gears for yet a third time, Dharma has shaken hands with the in-vogue duo of Vishal-Shekhar.
It shouldn't come as a any surprise when I say that Vishal-Shekhar, the duo that ended 2007 with a BANG (Om Shanti Om), are having real problems in 2008. They started the year off quite miserably with Bhootnath, then slowly inched their way back up to mediocrity with Tashan. The silver lining is, however, that they have been improving ever since, as De Taali was slightly above-average, and Bachna Ae Haseeno was even better. And even though this has been a down year for the hip-hop fakers, they are given yet another grand opportunity to redeem themselves, as they make their debut foray into one of India's most renowned cinematic homes, Dharma Productions, in DOSTANA.
My friends, for the first time this year, we see shimmers of the Vishal-Shekhar of old. They return to their stylish mannerisms, with that potpourri of sound that differentiates them from the rest. It perhaps won't quite live up to their best work (Jhankaar Beats, Om Shanti Om), but they are able to keep the quality rising in 2008; and that's a huge personal victory for these guys. Enough small talk...let's get on with the music!
My Desi Girl is an improved take on V-S's other northern influenced number "Small Town Girl" from Bachna Ae Haseeno, both of which feature Shankar Mahadevan. What I love about this number is the raw energy, which is riveting and relentless throughout. Unlike most songs of this type, V-S have infused loads of creative ingenuity in the background, with some extremely cool and engaging new sounds. The dhol, although the driving percussion, never over-powers the song, which is the major downfall for many similar numbers. Throw in all the synths, beats, and blend of other newly synthesized sounds and you have a colorfully vibrant arrangement. Melodically, V-S have hit the bulls-eye! You really can't help but tap your foot and move your lips. Shankar Mahadevan is the perfect vocal compliment to infuse extraordinarily high levels of energy into his rendition. Sunidhi Chauhan provides equally animate support, while Vishal is brilliant once again with his vocal highlights. Kumaar's lyrics are actually very appeasing, contrary to what you may infer from the song's title. Verdict: The song explodes all over you, and has the potential to rock the house on screen. The perfect dance number for a Dharma film!
The tremendous journey of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa Challenge 2007 finalist Amanat Ali comes to beautiful fruition with a spectacular performance in his playback singing debut with the equally stunning romantic piece Khabar Nahin. Vishal-Shekhar deserve praise in this soulfully deep composition, which is simply ear-candy for the soul. The song starts off with a breath-taking programmed acoustic riff, panning into a hip-hop number filled with gorgeous bass lines, fragile acoustic highlights, an utterly entertaining beat, and a palliate of other complimenting tones. And as beautiful Ali's supporting rendition is, it's Vishal Dadlani who makes it two-in-a-row with another spell-binding and passionate rendition. The man is simply putting on a ridiculous show for us in Dostana! And just when you thought the ride couldn't get any better, in flies the tender vocal breeze of Shreya Ghoshal. Although a very brief special appearance, her voice entices, enthralls, tingles, mystifies...all in a matter of seconds. Guptan's lyrics are yet again perfection in romantic simplicity. Verdict: Rarely do I honestly find myself in this situation but...I'm at a complete loss of words.
Shaan, who was sadly missed in Bachna Ae Haseeno's soundtrack, makes another soulful balladry appearance in yet another V-S soundtrack. Not quite to the level of their previous ballads (i.e. Kash, Bekhudi, Suno Na, etc), it is still an extremely soothing number high on melodic and harmonic quality. The musical aura commences with piano that soon intertwines with a gentle acoustic riff, which paves way for a soft analog ballad filled with a mixture of dreamy tones and sounds. And despite some very soothing arrangements, it's Shaan's vocals and Vishal's lyrics (yup, the man is a beautiful poet too) that steal the show. Verdict: The one true soft number that gives this album ultimate depth.
What goes up must come down. And so ends the magical ride of Dostana with the highly commercial and mainstream Maa Da Laadla, which sounds like V-S's answer to Pritam's Mauja Hi Mauja (Jab We Met). The arrangements are quite straightforward, with no room for any creative interjections. The bass levels sound a bit too high, as the track is too over-powering and loud to fully enjoy. Saleem's rendition is adequate, since the vocal role does not demand much. Kumaar, who is usually more of a finesse lyricist, already surprised us with his work in the album opener "Desi Girl" and does so once again here. Even though it's a purely situational song, I'd recommend Kumaar to stick to his more poetic roots. Verdict: May catch the interest of some DJs looking out for a track worthy of remix. It won't find anything much more than that.
And my oh my, can it be? No remixes? I'm impressed!
Fortunately for V-S, the first four songs were so good that I had already fallen in love with the album before coming to the two mediocre numbers at the end. It's safe to say that Karan Johar has not made a mistake by signing V-S, and although he won't get as much out of them as Farah Khan did last year (OSO), he's well on his way to making it five-in-a-row on the music front with Dostana.
As for Vishal-Shekhar, DOSTANA is easily their best work of 2008. Whether it be through the touching vocal, musical, and lyrical poetry of Kuch Kum, Vishal's riveting vocal performance in Jaane Kyun, the soothing depths of Khabar Nahin, or the uplifting, feel-good breeze of Desi Girl; DOSTANA has music for everyone to savor. Keep rocking Vishal and Shekhar!