Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Palate Cleansers: Soundtracks

Bluffmaster (2005), Vishal-Shekhar, Trickbaby
Seven years later and I still love every inch of it; it makes me laugh; it makes me cry; it makes me dance. Yeah, I'd call that restorative.

Love Sex aur Dhoka (2010), Sneha Khanwalkar
Kinda hard to believe all of these songs are by the same person, isn't it? And she can sing, too! AND SHE IS A SHE. One of my top soundtracks of all time is by a woman. This album reminds me why I, for one, am going to keep talking about how the relative lack of women in creative positions (among others) in Hindi cinema diminishes the whole industry. I have no idea if Khanwalkar herself is interested in such a fight, but I am.

Raised fist aside, which maybe it will be for good someday, this album is mindblowing—as standalone music, as complementary to what's happening in the film as you see it, as evocative of the film afterwards. As much as I love sassing around my living room to "I Can't Hold It Any Longer" (a lot), I will never forget what happened after this hilarious but discordant moment in the film. This album is a badge of the impact of good cinema, of being unforgettable. 

I haven't done a proper blog post on Love Sex aur Dhoka despite my huge respect and love for the film, but it features in the Masala Zinabad podcast on films of 2010 and in my piece in the Wall Street Journal India Real Time blog "Bollywood Journal" column on why I love Dibakar Banerjee's films generally.

Taal (1999), A. R. Rahman
What could restore faith in cinema like being swept into one's very own melodrama with rich and gorgeous music? That's how I feel whenever I hear even just one song from this album.

Taal
has some serious problems as a film (my complicated thoughts on it are here), but its music is flawless. Within the context of the film, it does all the right things at all the right times; even on its own (that is, just listening to it rather than watching it in the context for which it was creative), I find it beautiful and rich, in turns dramatic and simple, unusual and satisfyingly cheesy. For example, just when I am about to sigh "Okay, that's enough of that" during the rippling, 80s pop ballad piano of "Nahin Samne Tu," up sneak the orchestra and chorus and I am lost in the lushness. I can't pretend to know about the folk music of whatever mountainous region Aishwarya and Alok Nath are supposed to be living in, but it sure sounds like Rahman worked hard to create some interesting and distinctive sounds for that side of the story, then combining them perfectly with the bombast of the world ofAnil Kapoor's overblown, ridiculous music director (Vikrant). It must have been a dream script to score, giving Rahman the perfect setting to use whatever instrumentation and vocal styles he wanted. Vikrant would never say "no" to an approach or ingredient he thought might be dramatic or manipulative, and Rahman didn't hold back one little bit. Weird bird-like coo-coo-coo with synthesizers and strings? Yes! Chimes and water droplets while chords with a whiff of 70s bom-chicka-wow-wow pulse underneath before brass blares? Let's give it a whirl! Sunkhwinder Singh cutting loose on more than one occasion? Certainly! 

There is no restraint in 
Taal (though many, many very smart decisions), which is one of the (admittedly stereotyped) appeals of Bollywood in the first place. It blasts the fog off of whatever grumbles I'm suffering from. 

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're determined to keep me from working this morning huh? :) For me, it's any of the following:
- Munbe Vaa from Sillunu Oru Kaadhal. Shreya Ghoshal does such a good job with the Tamil (one of my peeves w some other singers), and the song is so mellow.
- Bhanwara mann from Hazaaron Khawaishen aisi.
- Maula Mere le le meri jaan from CDI
- Hum bekhudi mein tum - SDBurman really hit it out of the park on this one, at least for me.
- Jaane Kaise sapnon mein from
Anuradha - Ravi Shankar.

- Maith

Banno said...

Oh, I love the music of 'Taal'. Full-blown fantasy. :)

WellOffCourse said...

Sneha Khanwalkar is awesome - you should check out this series on MTV India where she travels all over India to create songs from local sounds - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q2PXi2wpKFM

Ken said...

Ah,TAAL! Even after all these years the scores of DIL SE and TAAL remain the gold standards for Rahman and - by extension - for Bollywood. I still consider DIL SE the best Bollywood film ever. But I'm probably fonder of TAAL for a number of reasons. I was already an Akshaye fan. I jumped on the bandwagon in '98 when he was the fastest rising male star on the scene. The teaming with Aishwarya in "AA AB LAUT CHALEN" sealed the deal for me. Also solidifying my enthusiasm for Aishwarya. So when word got out that their re-teaming (TAAL) was going to be shooting a sequence in Toronto (my hometown), I was beside myself. There was a call out for people to fill the Skydome "playing" the audience for the scene. So I took the day off work to be Johnny-on-the-spot. Result: I got to spend 8 hours or so watching Subhash Ghai, Aishwarya and Anil Kapoor in full creative mode. The main thing being filmed was Aishwarya's solo reprise of "Ishq Bina". And throughout the day, Ms Rai exhibited incredible concentration, patience and grace - with hair stylists, make-up retouchers, technicians and lackies constantly buzzing within inches of her (but just out of camera range). All the time, of course, she was going through mini-increments of the song and keeping track of her marks, ever-shifting camera movements and a barrage of instructions from Ghai. "Ishq bina" was new to all of us them. But by the time we piled out of the auditorium, it had become everybody's favorite song. Imagine getting to watch Aishwarya for hours between takes interacting (charmingly) with fellow cast and crew members. Talk about the ultimate voyeuristic Bollywood high! The film opened that summer. And I caught its Imax premiere at Toronto's massive Cinesphere (with an excited capacity crowd, pretty much all Indian except for me). We loved it! Seldom have I been so looking forward to a film - and been so undisappointed. These were the years when Bollywood star shows regularly came to Toronto. And around New Year's 2000, Akshaye and Aishwarya headlined one. They recreated several numbers from TAAl to dreamlike effect. Needless to stay, in star shows - as in the movies themselves - the vocals are dubbed. And everybody's quite okay with that. After all, we still get to experience the beauty, charisma and dancing prowess of the stars. But - and I still can't believe this happened - Akshaye elected to sing "Nahin Samne Tu" live. And he was terrific. Over the years, I've seen several Bollywood stars take a fling at live singing. But I only recall three who were actually good at it - Juhi Chawla (accomplished enough to be a professional playback singer) plus Priyanka Chopra and Akshaye, both of whom revealed excellent pop voices. Anyway, for these - and so many other reasons - TAAL remains for me a seminal experience and a magnificent memory.