Between Reviews: A Ditty about Aditi

Posted on May 31, 2008


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JUNE 1, 2008 – AS IF TO PROVE HIS DETRACTORS WRONG, as if to silence those criticisms that his music cannot be got until you listen to it over and over – like imposition, filling that blackboard in your mind with grimly repeated resolves of “The next time around, I will like this song better” – AR Rahman has composed… Wait, that’s not the word, for “composed” gives the impression of a certain rigidity of structure, of a schema, of following a premeditated thought to its predetermined conclusion, whereas the instantly fall-in-lovable Kabhi kabhi Aditi (from the album, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na) sounds like Rahman did nothing more than cup his ear to the chest of a college-goer in love and translate those heartbeats into notes.

After a succession of stately, senior-citizen scores, how delightful it is to see Rahman strutting about in jeans again, an iPod stuffed in the back pocket. When I heard that this notoriously non-prolific composer had two soundtracks due to hit stores at the same time – and after a quick glance westwards to assure myself that the sun wasn’t about to rise there – I thought, this week, I’d record my thoughts about Ada and Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na in this column. But that’s not going to be possible – though I’ll admit that a one-time listen of Ada has resulted in no overbearing urge to return to it anytime soon – because the endless listens to Kabhi kabhi Aditi have left me with barely any time to get to the other tracks.

How do I love this song? Let me count the ways. I love the way the rhythm kicks in like an afterthought, well into the second line, changing – in an instant – the texture of the number that you thought was going to be coloured primarily by whiny pickings on an acoustic guitar. I love the gradual buildup and explosion in the stanzas, as the everything’s-gonna-be-okay shrug from earlier is fleshed out into doggerel universalities – that the bleakness of night will once again give way to the light of day, that the flowers will bloom once more. (The actor-playwright Noël Coward once expressed his astonishment at “how potent cheap music is.” When you’re a certain age, I guess the same could be said of dime-store philosophising.) And I love the repeated pleas to Aditi to please, please, please get out of her blue funk and crack a smile: Hey Aditi, has de, has de, has de, has de, has de, has de tu zara / Nahin to bas thoda, thoda, thoda, thoda, thoda, thoda muskura.

And yet, there was the nagging realisation as the song came to a close that had it been played for me in a guessing game and had I been asked to figure out the composer, I would have dithered between AR Rahman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy and Vishal-Shekhar. Does it appear to anyone else that the lines between the troika at the top are increasingly beginning to blur? When the compositional style is “Indian,” I find I’m able to instantly pick out Khwaja mere Khwaja as a Rahman creation (no other composer whips up such a spiritual fervour), or Goonji si hai as a number by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (their melody lines have the smoothest edges in the business).

But it becomes murkier when we’re talking pop-style compositions – like Kabhi kabhi Aditi, or Kahin to hogi (from the same album, which sounds like a throwback to eighties’ acts like Paul Young and Peter Cetera). If the composer’s names were scratched out from the inlay cover of the Taare Zameen Par CD, would you settle on Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy as the brains behind Kholo kholo and Jame raho? Or, for that matter, even with Vishal-Shekhar’s very Indian-sounding Main agar kahoon and Jag soona soona laage from Om Shanti Om, don’t they make you think of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy? And couldn’t Rahman’s Mayya mayya from Guru be seen as a furtive escapee from the Vishal-Shekhar camp?

I wish I knew where I’m going with this – based on the above, there seems to be some overarching summation to be made about modern-day composers, doesn’t it? – but the only conclusion (if it can even be called that) is that compositional styles overlap a lot more than they used to. I was listening, recently, to Dil sajan jalta hai from Mukti, and if I hadn’t already known the name of the composer, the stanzas would have left me with little doubt. It’s all a smooth rise-and-fall of melody, till we get to the phrases shabnam ke, girne se – early in the second stanza – where the luscious curves flatten abruptly to straight lines, as if, for those few seconds, something had caused the scale to sputter and choke to near-death. That something is the unmistakable RD Burman signature. Now, why didn’t we find this in anyone else’s music of that time? I’ll leave you to chew over that while I head back to clear my head with that ditty about Aditi.

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