Every artist has the right to evolve.
When A. R. Rahman shot to an almost overnight-like fame with ‘Roja’ (1992), nobody knew how influential his music would make the entire Indian film industry. Of late, however, the appreciators of Rahman’s music-of-yore keep calling his latest efforts colossal failures, for more reasons than one. The most prominent of everyone’s complaints have been that his current efforts can’t seem to reach the levels created by the original music for feature films like – say – the M. F. Hussain experimental drama ‘Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities’ (2004), among the many reference-worthy ones of his illustrious career.
In the year 2011 however, something very, very important happened. A. R. Rahman made the decision to collaborate with Imtiaz Ali on ‘Rockstar’. And much like the initial responses I’ve been hearing right now over the first few listens of ‘Tamasha’, the one very unanimous initial response was that for Rahman, the soundtrack was one of his biggest failures. Sure enough, months later, you could see people beginning to eat their words, realizing finally enough, that the soundtrack deserved the honor of being called a masterpiece, if anything. The opinions on the soundtrack – all of that snap judgment, including the one from my then editor – did one thing, however. It made me question my presence as a reviewer in a world where everything comes with a set of some rather unjustifiable expectations.
Three years after having written my last music review. I had those very same questions in my head.
But by the time I was mid-way through “Matargashti” – the opening track of the film’s soundtrack – I realized that those questions were fading away. Except, in this case, I couldn’t seem to favor this very ‘Haawa-Haawa’ styled track so much. Credit where it’s due; it’s a great bit of mainstream pep, with Rahman going the absolute retro way to gain audience’s appreciation. Irshad Kamil gives a great wordplay, with some great, great homage to Dev Anand (you’ll know it when you do get to hear it). Catchy as the track is, however, it may not have much of a shelf life beyond a point. Whether the song really does survive the test of time should be seen only after the movie releases. After all, “Tum Ho”, prior to the release of ‘Rockstar’, was indeed considered one of the weakest tracks of the soundtrack.
Most of one’s doubts really end up dissolving once “Heer Toh Badi Sad Hai” kicks in. Giving the listeners a pleasant reminiscence to Meenaxi’s “Chinnamma Chillakkamma” through its intro, the track suddenly changes gears to become a rather enjoyable single to listen to. Mika Singh is in absolute form here, with his playfulness being utilized with complete justification. This is an extremely uplifting song, and makes me want to do a little jig every now and then. Now this is a complete irony, because if you pay attention to the lyrics of this one, you end up noticing that Irshad Kamil spins a whole song on actually feeling like the pits. This is the happiest depressing song I’ve heard around the Hindi film music stratosphere, and it has the potential to speak to a lot of people on a very personal level without pulling their spirits down. And if not, it’s at the very least managed to win me over.
For those who have been complaining of Rahman’s inability to reach his old school of music compositions, there’s a nice little treat in store for you in the form of “Tum Saath Ho”, which is as old school as the definition gets. You have guitar and other strings which follow a passionate piano prelude that brings none other than (hold your breaths, people of the nineties) Alka Yagnik to the fore – and her singing back in vogue. Flute-pieces and strings envelop the listener in a world filled with an inherently old school of both Rahman’s own music and the ideal of romance. Arijit Singh ably supports her and croons with a certain passion in his pieces. (Watch out for the climactic overlap between Singh and Yagnik that is bound to take your breath away.) Irshad Kamil brings out a certain understanding of love (‘Har Gham Phisal Jaaye’), possession (‘Tum Saath Ho Ya Na Ho; Kya Farq Hai’) and a deep rooted sense of connection (‘Bin Boley Baatein Tumse Karoon’). This is the most attractive track of the lot for a whole lot of reasons; the primary one of them being its leverage of throwing the audience back to Rahman’s innate comfort zone. You’re made to specifically feel, right from the modern 8-beat and its eventual transition to the soft dholak that takes it to its eventual climax, that he is home.
For a whole lot of people who have a soft spot for “Matargashti” as their jam, if I were to choose something on those lines, it would most definitely be “Wat Wat Wat”. And why, you ask? The answer is simple: this is one of the most energetically sung and composed tracks of the whole album. Arijit Singh and Sashwat Singh lend their absolutely passionate vocals to a track that is bound to make you tap your feet, if not dance. The lyrics are very kitschy in their own nature of romance, and suit the entire feel of the track. Notice the beats carefully, and you’ll see a mixture of different worlds and genres. (Electronic music meets reggae and Middle-Eastern. With the sweetest bass-line ever. Beat that.) Add to that the exceptional backing of the shehnai, and you’re pretty set for the chartbuster of the year.
The track comes back in the form of a “Vengeance Mix” (what? just call it a “Dubstep Mix”, and we’ve got ourselves a deal.), and it has a very strong opening, except that it just very stereotypically uses the ‘mukhda’ like every other remix would. After a while most of the samples used in the production of the remix sound very redundant, and you feel that for all the Prodigy-meets-Skrillex spin the producer(s) were going for, one could have gotten a crazier, more abstract remix than the one we have here. Don’t get me wrong; this is a classier remix than most of them official remixes that get thrown in many a Hindi film soundtrack released these days. But for a good start, you have to give me more. That’s always how the deal goes.
Not much of a loss though, cause we have A. R. Rahman coming back to give us his dose of trademark musical dramatization with “Chali Kahani”, which is quite definitely one of the strongest tracks of the soundtrack. Audio theatre at its finest, the track makes a very expansive use of Sukhwinder Singh’s vocals as he musically recites Kamil’s wordplay like it were his. Haricharan and Haripriya come somewhere in the middle of the track, and take the whole song in a completely different direction. Dynamic in its range, and unpredictable in its graph of progress, the track is strongest with its ‘antaraas’ here, which is very unlikely these days. Most composers make the ‘mukhda’ catchy enough to get away with the rest of the limp song, but this is one of the few songs I’ve heard in which every ‘antaraa’ makes a lot of sense to be a part of the track. Fellow humans, if you dug the narrative-structure-like compositions of “Pal Pal Hai Bhaari” (‘Swades'(2004)) and “Dil Ka Rishta” (‘Yuvvraaj'(2008)), this is right up your alley; and a strong one at that. It’s not meant for easy listening, but when you’re in the zone for it, this is definitely going to be worth it.
Imagine a cold winter morning. You’re wrapped up in your blanket, holding a warm mug of hot chocolate. That is exactly how “Safarnama” feels like, as a composition. What really took me by surprise was just how the lyrics were made to be able to speak to the inner core of the humans of today. There are just so many nuggets of truth in the whole song (‘Jissey Dhoondha Zamaaney Mein, Mujhi Mein Thaa’) that it just ends up making you wonder about all your trivial pursuits in life; pursuits, possibly, of the things that you’ve only been holding back within yourself. Embellish them with Lucky Ali tearing you apart with his vocals, the liberating strums of the guitar, and some of that sweet accordion-play.
Remember “Tango for Taj” from ‘Rockstar’? Yeah, there’s your trademark motif piece Imtiaz Ali ensures you get to hear in the soundtrack of almost every one of his films (except, perhaps for ‘Socha Na Tha’ (2005) and ‘Love Aaj Kal’ (2009)). “Parade De La Bastille” is a very interestingly reprised version of a prime part of Matargashti’s chorus, but there’s a lot more to it than that, what with some of the most dynamically fused instrumentation I’ve heard in a while. This is an extremely expressive piece that may not seem like a great deal till the final minute kicks in. That’s when the composition takes a climactic turn, and you’re made to feel so worth it for actually giving this a listen. Unlike an “Implosive Silence” from ‘Highway’ (2014), however, this might not be as deep-rooted or melancholic to have the kind of shelf life one expects. Give it time though. Give this one time. (You’re free to skip “Matargashti” to do that, if you’d like).
I guess the best’s always saved for the last, like every composition in this track has proved to me within each of its final minutes. Also the longest track in this soundtrack (this clocks almost seven and a half minutes long), “Tu Koi Aur Hai” not only vocalizes the protagonist’s desperate need to form a mask in the society; it also calls us out for being in hibernation, asking us to come forward and show our true selves to the world. Rahman’s ear for electronic music is excellent, and fuses in well with the backing vocals (everytime ‘Rozaana Yaaram’ is sung, goosebumps will be felt by most). His vocals are extremely passionate, with very subtle nuances of perfection he puts in through his raw emotion. This is an excellent track that culminates to yet another dramatically accurate climax that effectively pains to hear by its conclusive strings, ravaging the listener enough to give them an aftertaste of thought and introspection. Can we please just also give a very good word to Irshad Kamil here? He gets humans and humanity, and most of his introspective collaborations with Ali and Rahman (“Kahaan Hoon Main”, “Main Kya Hoon”, “Naadaan Parindey”) speak to us ordinary mortals in ways no other modern-day poetry even attempts to. This broke my heart, and I have a feeling that (despite music being an extremely subjective art-form) this has the potential to speak to a lot more people in a similar fashion.
‘Tamasha’ is more than just a soundtrack meant to fill a film. And while imperfect, this, to me, is one of the very few soundtracks with an absolutely gorgeous – albeit uneven – set of sounds, where the mainstream, the old school and the reflective stand beside each other, meeting eye to eye on many, an aspect of quality. This is definitely recommended. For the long haul. Because Rahman usually doesn’t do short trips.
My last music review was in the year 2012, when I reviewed ‘Jab Tak Hai Jaan’ a tad unfavorably. And while it took me a whole lot of time of listening to the music of the world for me to get back to my feet on this, I guess the most poetic thing for me to have done was for me to have gotten back on track with the music of ‘Tamasha’. And poetically enough, it couldn’t have come at a better time. You pick up where you end your previous chapter after all, right?