Movies, as Akira Kurosawa observed with such penetrating simplicity in his book Something Like An Autobiography, are not just a visual medium – they’re an audio-visual one. To ignore one is to harm the other.
In Indian cinema, we’ve taken this lesson so much to heart that sometimes the visuals suffer for the audio. Conventional wisdom, in Bollywood especially, runs that the ultimate factor in determining a movie’s success at the box office is its soundtrack. Examples to the contrary litter the field, including one of my all time favorite albums Dil Se, which went on to launch AR Rehman’s West End debut under the aegis of that purveyor of all things bound to make a million or two, Andrew Lloyd Webber.
That movie was remarkable in many ways (it introduced us to Priety Zinta, gave us – horribly miscast – Kashmiri and Malayalee lead characters, launched Sukhwinder Singh as a singing sensation, catapulted Malaika Arora Khan from the status of yet another hot model to ultimate item girl and was the only time Shekhar Kapur, Mani Ratnam and Ram Gopal Verma came together to make a movie) but it remains one of Shahrukh Khan’s biggest disasters till date.
But on the other hand, I have no explanation whatsoever for the success of, say, Hum Tumhare Hain Sanam, a dated, badly written piece of crap starring SRK, Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan that was apparently made as a bit of industry charity to help out struggling Salman-faithful producer KC Bokadia. The only thing that sleazoid movie had going for it was a halfway decent soundtrack with exactly two hummable numbers and a scene in which a heartbroken, drunk SRK talks (so said the subtitles) to a “horsie”. Hee.
Anyway, getting back to business, Om Shanti Om is director Farah Khan’s sophomore effort after the very successful SRK-Sushmita Sen starrer, Main Hoon Na. The plot seems to weave in the same Bollywood-insider-pokes-gentle-fun-at-industry vibe of her first movie: Om is an extra in 1970s Bollywood who falls in love with Shantipriya, the “Dreamy Girl” of the era (debutante Deepika Padukone). Things happen, the two fall in love, get murdered and are then reborn as Sandy and Om. It would have been all sorts of fun if Om had turned into Shanti and vice versa but I don’t think that’s going to happen, alas.
Now it’s been a while since I had any fresh Bollywood music to listen to, so suffice it to say I leapt on the soundtrack with cries of joy… Okay, so, no, I didn’t but I considered doing it. Here’s what I found:
Ajab Si – I’m a sucker for simple melodies, especially when they manage to trick me into thinking I can sing them only to realize a few minutes later that I’m now a big hit in the local frog world (“Sorry, Mr. Frog, but I can’t make it to dinner today. I’m taking the year off from flies.”) but my neighbors have already put their house on the market. Ajab Si is definitely one of my favorites off the album, its lyrics perfectly conveying the wonder of a man who can’t believe his luck as he observes the girl of his dreams from up close.
Dard-e-Disco – If my calculations are correct, Sukhwinder Singh has sung precisely two songs: Chhaiyya Chhaiyya by AR Rehman and this Other Song by every other music director out there. It doesn’t matter what they call it, the “dependable” Mr. Singh always sounds exactly the same. I’ve long since stopped listening to anything when I hear his voice because my brain has now received the message loud and clear – a Sukhwinder Singh song is not for listening, it’s for seeing. Shame, really, because given the right song, I bet he’d hit it out of the park. Not that he does anything wrong with this number. He really is a very talented man – half the numbers he’s given would have tanked out of sight if he hadn’t lent it whatever punch he has left. It’s just that it’s yet another variant of the Other Song. Question: if I’m this sick of this song he keeps singing, how do you imagine he feels?
Deewangi Deewangi – For the space of a quick second, I thought this was a qawwali. Never have I been disabused so fast or so rudely. Here follows a short letter to Javed Akhtar:
Dear Javed uncle,
I hope you don’t mind a complete stranger calling you ‘uncle’. I find it helps me pen this letter a lot more politely. I understand you are at the whim and mercy of the people who make the films. You’re just doing your job, satisfying the clients. But at the end of the day, when I pick up the disc, all I can see is that you are the man responsible for penning the immortal refrain “All hot girls, put your hands up and say – Om Shanti Om/ All cool boys come on make some noise and say – Om Shanti Om”. So, what’re all the fug girls and dorky guys gonna do, uncle? Hold each other’s hands and go see Saawariya, is my guess. Next time someone leans on you to write “cool” lines in angrezi-e-Amreeka, please throw a fit and then throw them out. You’re Javed Akhtar, for God’s sake! Just ask Shabana auntie. She’ll remind you.
Main Agar Kahoon – This is my second favorite off this album in spite of Sonu Nigam’s dedicated efforts to ham it up. Featuring what I later realized was the theme music, it’s elevated immeasurably by the brief appearance of Shreya Ghoshal.
Jag Soona Soona Lage – You know this is a sad song right away by applying the Bollywood Code for Displaying Emotion, Rule # 3, Section 11A (Sadness): When a woman with a voice deeper than Lata Mangeshkar sings, she is always sad. Unless she’s horny. She cannot be sad and horny at the same time, however. Sorry. So here’s Richa Sharma and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, all sad and lovely. By far my favorite song in this album. I’m going to be the hit of the frog world with my cover of this one. Yeah, baby!
Dhoom Tana – I had visions of Sridevi in the pre-Yash Chopra/ dedicated Jeetendra phase all through this song even if it has a habit of making sudden detours through Shammi Kapoor country for no rhyme or reason. I’m always skeptical about a track that tries too hard to be all old-timey, not because I’m fundamentally opposed to reinterpretation or nostalgia but because it’s really hard to pull off. This one takes a few minutes to get used to but ultimately, Vishal-Shekhar ought to get down on their dimpled knees and thank Shreya Ghoshal and Abhijeet for rendering it with just the right amount of conviction. Especially Abhijeet who keeps singing “Mrig-naini tu na jaane, prem kitna mere man mein hai” (“Doe-eyed one, thou dost not know the amount of love in mine heart”) without once breaking down into hysterical giggles. Kudos. Still, this one’s hardly likely to make it to my iPod. I am curious about its picturisation though.
Daastan-e-Om Shanti Om – When a movie about rebirth is called Om Shanti Om, it’s a given that Karz is the first thing that pops into your head… if you’re a fan of Bollywood at all events. Rather than ignore the elephant in the room, OSO takes it on head-first. And – I can’t believe I’m typing this but – does a really good job. Oh, the lyrics and the refrain of the updated version aren’t a patch on Ek hasina thi, which has been haunting Bollywood lovers for decades. In fact, the first thing that Daastan made me want to do was listen to Ek hasina thi all over again. And in a weird way, that actually helped. And how happy am I to find that Shaan sang this song? For a while there I was afraid he was going to devolve into the lightweight Cheshire Cat singer of Bollyworld. Good to know someone’s using him to good effect at last. Just don’t tell Sukhwinder.
Deewangi Deewangi (Rainbow mix) – see above. Also, note to producers: it’s very nice of you to go the extra mile and make a rainbow mix for the gay and lesbian community of the desi diaspora. I’m sure the non-fug and non-dorky bits are properly appreciative.
Soundtrack available at a shop near you or at your favorite pirated music joint. Movie releases November 9.
[Originally published at Desicritics.org]