(Update: Yashji passed away on the 21st October 2012 prior to the film's release)...
Picture this. The legendary film maker Yash Chopra returning after a hiatus of 8 years in his final swansong film, directing another epic romantic Jab Tak Hai Jaan with music by none other than Mr A.R.Rahman…a jodi made in heaven no less! Says Yash Ji “Music has always been the soul of all my films and I have always tried to inspire my music directors and lyricists to give their best. This is the first time I’m working with Rahman and Gulzar Bhai and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect team for this film”.
Before considering the soundtrack it’s important to note that Yash Ji prefers old school music and also, like all the great directors, gets very involved in the production of songs for his films, so it remains to be seen how he will collaborate with the legend (ARR) himself, says YC: “The music of this film needed to have an old soul but a contemporary modern approach”. Contrary to some views, Rahman has accomplished fantastic soundtracks in this (romantic) genre some of which include Yash Raj's Saathiya and more recently Ada and Yuvvraaj. From Yash Ji's perspective however gone are the classic music composers like Madan Mohan and singers of yesteryear like Lata Mangeshkar but can the new jodi make a winning collaboration for what might be a fitting finale for the ultimate romantic film maker?
The guitar riffs (Keba Jeremiah) and drums (Ranjit Barot) at the beginning of “Challa” reverb wonderfully in your ears giving you instant gratification! What follows is a modern groovy tune capturing the essence of a free spirited soul seeking the pleasures of life. Notwithstanding the quality of the music, Rahman provides an x factor by adding the soulful vocals of Punjabi musician and singer Rabbi Shergill. He certainly adds a third dimension to the song so kudos to Rahman for his selection. The Punjabi lyrics are simple and effective. Overall this a solid start to the soundtrack and since it’s instantly likeable we are seeing it aired in the promos. Job well done yes but memorable for a Yash Chopra song? Not yet…but it’s warming slowly!
“Saans” has all the hallmarks of a Yash Chopra song! The composition is rich, melodious and high on emotions so expect it to make a strong impact on screen. Rahman’s use of the cello and beats is effective but it’s also reminiscent of his music for Yuvvraaj and consequently you feel he’s either picked a song not used in that soundtrack or he’s been stifled by Yash Ji’s insistence on having traditional melody. To satisfy these requirements Rahman uses percussions and his favourite flute artist (Naveen Kumar) who provides a nice piece in the interlude. The end results are positive but the wow factor is missing. As expected Shreya Ghoshal helps elevate the song to a different level with strong vocals but she is let down by her singing partner Mohit Chauhan who struggles to keep up the high standard. I know he’s a favourite of Rahman but why Sonu Nigam wasn’t utilised is baffling, even more so given that it’s a Yash Chopra film. Gulzar's lines are intense and very romantic. Overall this is a decent effort and will probably turn out to be a hit especially on the big screen but memorable? Get real folks. Incidentally “Saans Reprise” is a solo that arrives later in the album and has some nice percussions for those interested.
“Ishq Shava” is a peppy dance song with an eclectic fusion that we have come to associate with Rahman’s unshackled style to making contemporary songs. There’s plenty of vibe and groove present here with some interesting use of the guitar (Joel Shearer) and other string instruments like the Mandolin and Saz (Tapas Roy) but it’s all very experimental and whilst we can applaud the effort you can’t argue that the end result is disappointing. Disappointing because while it might rock on screen it won't be remembered for a long time. Possibly the highlight of the song is a fab Oud piece in the middle adding Arabic flavours to the song but it’s all very short lived. Singing by Raghav Mathur and Shilpa Rao is lively but out of respect I would be surprised if the lyrics were written by a master like Gulzar saab. Overall it’s worth a listen but ultimately more forgettable than memorable. The soundtrack is going downhill at this juncture. Oh dear!
Hallelujah we are back on form! Rahman finally breaks his shackles once again to add some mesmerising loops in “Jiya Re” and together with Neeti Mohan’s youthful rendition, we get a breezy song that never tires on repeated listens. Chandresh Kudwa strums the guitar very stylishly here so kudos to him but add some foot tapping beats laced with modern instrumentation and the whole package works well to give you a pleasurable and uplifting experience. Gulzar’s writing is also fresh. Easily one of the best songs on the album, this will only get better after you see it on screen pictured on Anushka Sharma. A song with real substance then? Thank God for that!
Unfortunately, the title song “Jab Tak Hai Jaan” is another massive disappointment. It has an interesting start with a neat piano and cello playing alongside some catchy beats (Yuvvraaj again!) – these provide a grand entry for Javed Ali to add some nice vocals (later joined by Shakthisree Gopalan). A minute or so into the song and we are back into Yash Chopra territory with traditional instrumentation (dholak) but it’s all pretty lacklustre and very flat. And that’s how the rest of the song is structured. The lyrics hardly stand out either. Overall mediocre as a stand alone song but may be used well in the film, let’s see what Yash Ji has in store for us.
The “Ishq Dance” does nothing to sweeten any sour taste in your mouth. As far as Rahman instrumentals go it’s poor. What this is doing in a Yash Chopra romantic is beyond me.
Thankfully “Jab Tak Hai Jaan – The Poem” brings back some much needed class to the soundtrack! Firstly Rahman’s use of guitar strings is exquisite and appears inspired from the background score used for the brilliant biopic drama The Motorcycle Diaries (2004). The effect evokes the type of passion and nostalgia that we expect from a Yash Ji presentation. Secondly you have to say Shah Rukh Khan’s rendition is powerful to say the least and the poetry for once is superb with intoxicating metaphors courtesy of Aditya Chopra. This is arguably one of the highlights of the entire soundtrack.
What should have been a fitting finale for Yash Chopra turns out to be a pretty forgettable one as far as the music is concerned. JTHJ is a confused soundtrack because the collaboration between film director and music composer hasn’t worked as effectively as it should have done. Some of the songs have that classic Rahman touch (“Challa”, “Jiya Re”) whilst others have been imprinted with Yash Ji’s stamp (“Saans”, “JTHJ”, “Heer”) but most of the latter sound flat and none are memorable in any way, shape or form which suggests a distinct lack of effort or collaboration. It goes without saying that the songs will work well on screen but that’s the least that a legendary film maker like Yash Chopra can do. But as stand alone songs there is no magic from any composition that will be remembered in months to come let alone years. This was the sheer scale of the task.
Rahman is the same genius that worked so successfully with Imtiaz Ali to give us Rockstar last year. Ask yourself how good that was? The point is not making direct comparisons in the music but in the collaboration between composer and director. Likewise Yash Ji’s last venture Veer Zara remains a classic thanks to Madan Mohan’s digitally remastered songs so maybe he should have used the same approach? Surely there are more unreleased songs from the past era? Even the lyrics from JTHJ are not up to the usual standard that we expect from Gulzar saab. It almost feels like the pressure just got to all three masters.
Ultimately whilst the soundtrack is a decent listen, the collaboration between two legends has failed to create a lasting impression on the listener that is befitting of the legacy of Yashji films and whatever you may think, these expectations were well known by Rahman and Yash Chopra but especially the latter as it took him almost a decade to return to the big screen. We can safely conclude that Yashji's legacy ended 8 years ago with Madan Mohan's "Tere Liye" sung majestically by the great Lata Mangeshkar. Some would argue that was a fitting finale. Today it's proven to be so.