For Bollywood, a film industry built on the foundation of great music riding on the airwaves in people’s living rooms, life fell through the cracks due to a bunch of reasons as movies with big stars failed to make a mark. A significant reason that plunged things into darkness was lack of anyone being able to compose and carry a basic tune. How we wished for a usual from the high-pitched Rahat Fateh Ali Khan!
While Kesariya’s earwormy quality at the back of Alia Bhatt-Ranbir Kapoor romance made some splash, the issue went beyond the term ‘love storiyaan’ and stopped at – can this one even remotely manage to stand the test of time? In fact, it’s already out of circulation. While the quality of music brought out by music companies plummeted to a new low with constant horrors delivered by Tanishk Bagchi by remixing old songs in slick packaging, even the established composers lacked fresh ideas. The two songs from Pathaan by Vishal-Sheykhar were an absolute disappointment. But there was some ray of hope from independent artistes, from across the border and one filmmaker who had it all figured out.
Pasoori, Coke Studio Pakistan
“I really hope that this song is able to cross borders, boundaries and binaries,” said musician and writer Ali Sethi in a ‘making video’ accompanying Pasoori, this year’s only song that mattered. Sethi’s hope was heard by the powers that be as the piece received overwhelming love from every corner of the world. A rock solid tune, brilliant lyrics and a sturdy hook from across the border, it spoke of estranged lovers and forces that kept them apart (an interesting metaphor for the two countries who eventually loved it the most). Pasoori, meaning difficult mess, topped the global charts, finding genuine affection and fandom around the world that mouthed its Punjabi lyrics. It was significant in giving Pakistan a massive boost on the pop playing field.
Muskuraahat, Gangubai Kathiawadi
Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s most underrated masterstroke in Alia Bhatt starrer Gangubai Kathiawadi. Sung by Arijit Singh, Bhansali got him to gently stroke the lowest of the low and highest of the high notes on the spectrum in a ghazalnuma piece in the sorrowful raag Madhuvanti. Lines such as Gham ko bhi itni khushi do, wo muskuraane lage from Bhansali’s go to lyricist AM Turaz were memorable. The piece may not even be a marquee favourite for the crowds, but musically, it was a gorgeous moment from Bhansali.
Jab saiyaan, Gangubai Kathiawadi
The gorgeous harmonium prelude merging into a sarangi piece and a cascading guitar is an attempt by Bhansali to take you back to the old kothas of a world that exists very differently even in his film. But the attempt delivers the lifeblood that’s needed to project his story. Shreya Ghoshal eases into this thumri-esque piece in the joyful Pilu to deliver one of the finest film songs of the year.
Aise kyun, Mismatched
Used in the web series Mismatched, Aise kyun, which was earlier sung by composer Anurag Saikia and Nikhita Gandhi, found a new lease of life the moment playback singer Rekha Bhardwaj touched it. Saikia got her into a studio and had her sing it like a ghazal and voila, the freshness was immersive. The gentle and tender poetry by Raj Shekhar with lines such as Sab kuch kehkar hi sabko bataana, zaruri hai kya, a reminder of that first instance of falling in love, took one into a space where one wanted to dig deeper. A surprise winner this year.
Alaikadal, Ponniyin Selvan 1
From the prelude which is a metered alaap, the scale temperings, the violin interludes, soaring synths, and edgy percussion, the tender melody – a reminder of Tamil music from the ’50s – is sung brilliantly by debutante Anatra Nandy and sticks. An enchanting piece from AR Rahman after a long time that was featured in Mani Ratnam’s popular film of the year.
Ghode pe sawar, Qala
Ghode pe sawar (Qala) is likely to have been a very tough composition to create because composer Amit Trivedi was supposed to place it in the golden era of Hindi film music. Amitabh Bhattacharya and Trivedi keep it on point with this simple, straight piece which tried to attempt an OP Nayyar-meets-SD Burman style. Sung as simply by Sireesha Bhagavatula, the song only makes it here for the beautiful way in which it manages to stick to the brief of the film and manages to be endearing in the same vain.
In this piece what stands out, much more than Trivedi’s tune or how the singers sing it, are Varun Grover’s arresting lyrics and song’s wonderful arrangement. It’s been a while since a fine line such as Bikharne ka mujhko shauq hai zara, sametega mujhko tu bata zara (I have a fondness for breaking apart, Tell me, will you come gather me) made it to a Hindi film. It’s mischievous, charming and profound in the same breath.
The Elephant’s Funeral, Home
It was the death of a pregnant elephant after being fed a pineapple stuffed with firecrackers in Malappuram, Kerala, that left Singapore-based Carnatic vocalist Sushma Soma devastated. As Soma grieved, she decided to turn her lament into The Elephant’s Funeral, a song that borrows from the Tamil tradition of mourning where crying is accompanied by ‘celebratory’ sounding percussion. In the sorrowful Mukhari, she sang the pain of death, her voice cracking as she wailed in one of the finest albums of the year.
Bai ga, Chandramukhi
A compelling Marathi composition from Ajay-Atul, the piece may not have found much attention beyond Marathi-speaking audience, but it’s one of the finest pieces to have been created for a film this year. The beginning of the piece in raag Paraj is a reminder of Kaahe chhed mohe from Devdas, but this one is opposite in execution. It’s intricate, demure and so watertight as a composition just as most of the work from Ajay-Atul usually is. The young Aarya Ambekar’s piercingly beautiful delivery will float in the memory for long
Amid her numerous concerts all over the country and promoting her documentary, singer Sona Mohapatra sang an Odiya love song as an ode to the balance in nature. Mohapatra picked an old tribal Sambalpuri folk and composer Ram Sampath paired it with the guitars and Afro dance sounds. Full marks to Mohapatra for bringing an Odiya folk to the fore amid the humdrum of the usual numbers and the story of Rawjaw, an Odiya festival that’s celebrated by not ploughing the earth for three days that it bleeds, a symbol of fertility.