Music Review: Mangal Pandey

Posted on July 24, 2005


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AR Rahman’s terrific soundtrack for a film set in the British Raj unites a varied bunch of musical influences.

JULY 24, 2005 – HINDI FILM SONGS ARE USUALLY STRUCTURED around generic emotions, so when you pick up an album, you expect a love song, a sad song, a happy-family song, a heroine-and-friends-teasing-the-hero song, a hero-and-friends-teasing-the-heroine-back song, a college-campus-masti song, and so on. But with AR Rahman’s Mangal Pandey The Rising, the numbers aren’t apparently based on generic emotions as much as musical genres. There’s a mujra, a Sufiana devotional chant, a bunch of one-Indian-against-the-British patriotic items, a Holi song (not perhaps a musical genre in itself, but going by how much a staple of our cinema it is, it’s at least a Bollywood genre piece), a world-is-but-a-marketplace philosophical anthem…

And this mix has inspired Rahman to create some of the most market-be-damned music we’ve heard in a while. Only the Holi song (Holi Re), awash in the inevitable Radha-Krishna imagery and the done-to-death sararara chorus, offers little new. The voices of Aamir Khan, Udit Narayan, Madhusree, Srinivas and Chinmaye contribute to the revelry, and what keep things interesting are mainly a shehnai that snakes in and out of the main melody, and a varying set of rhythm patterns.

There are three versions of the patriotic Mangal Mangal – two by Kailash Kher, plus a melancholic variation by Kher and Sukhvinder Singh – and these are based on the simplest, most singsong of tunes. But combined with Javed Akhtar’s poetry, the songs take a life of their own. Even if the thumping jungle drums don’t rouse you, the (literally) rousing lyrics will. Jaago jaago ab tum/Neend mein ho kyon gum, Akhtar writes, and goes on to say, Surya kirnon ki talvaar taane/Aur andhiyaara sab kat jaaye. The sword of the sun’s rays slices open the darkness – how majestically, how, yes, rousingly, this depicts the birth of a new dawn!

Al Maddath Maula (AR Rahman, Kailash Kher, Murtaza, Kadir) is a moving ode to a higher power, and it’s worth listening to this track just to hear Rahman take off with his characteristically high pitch. Maula maula ho, he wails, apparently oblivious to being surrounded by his characteristically ambient sounds, and if that’s too heavy for you, there’s the lighter (though by no means insubstantial) Takey Takey (Sukhvinder Singh, Kailash Kher, Kartick Das Baul), which is propelled along by an infectious dholak and a surprisingly cheeky chorus. The message is philosophical, but the mood is pure pop energy.

Then there are the album’s two absolute beauties. The mujra, Main Vari Vari (Kavitha Krishnamurthy, Reena Bharadwaj), is set to a gorgeously sinuous tune, and Rahman digs deeper than usual into the lyrics – for instance, in the way he ends the line Badi mehengi mujhko padi tumse yaari on an almost off-sync note, bringing out the intrigue inherent in the words. Tremendous stuff! The one-two beats are catchy without being complex, and this may well turn out the album’s standout hit.

But the album’s standout is undoubtedly Rasiya (Richa Sharma, Bonnie Chakraborty). The opening lines suggest that the singer is writhing in love much like a fish writhing in a net, and there’s not a moment throughout the song that doesn’t suggest this pain-pleasure agony of infatuation. Richa Sharma has one of those Shamshad Begum-type, bass-rich voices that automatically adds a baser instinct to her words. Mora becomes a languorous mmorrrrraaaaa, kaske becomes a spicy kassske, the teasing in the way she enunciates chhaliya, the pleading in rasiya… This isn’t just singing; it’s a vocal performance. (The instrumental arrangements, though elegant, don’t dare cross her path.) In her hands, and in Rahman’s, love doesn’t become a merely generic emotion. It becomes an emotion that crosses the boundaries of genre.

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