An A.R. Rahman-composed soundtrack is usually the highlight of a film. Tunes are heavily promoted on radio and television months in advance and as with most Rahman soundtracks, the music is either an instant hit or it gently usurps, leaving no one untouched.
The music of Mom (2017), a thriller directed by Ravi Udyawar, starring Sridevi as a vigilante mother looking for her lost daughter, puts Rahman in the backseat over its suspenseful plot. The composer amps up the volume and channels mostly teenage angst, a common thread running through most situational tracks.
Rahman sings the lullaby O Sona Tere Liye in a sweeping high-pitch, a vocal trait that ennobles him to stretch his shrill nasal voice for worse. Tonally adrift and incorrect enunciation have been his hallmarks. His co-singer Shashaa Tirupati's wispy vocals instead are a relief on the grandly-orchestrated screechy track. Lyricist Irshad Kamil's twee-poetry, "O sona tere liye, farishton ne sajde kiye" (O dear for you, angels bow their heads in prayer) needs fewer musical instruments than drummed by Rahman's repertoire.
Sukhwinder Singh is always around when Rahman wants a voice sharper than his to shatter the glass ceiling his own voice has scaled and cracked. In Kooke Kawn, Singh leads the percussions mixed with a lovely interlude and the usual Punjabi rap by Blaaze. The tune has a lively chorus towards the end, perhaps prompting the deejay in the club to rewind.
In Raakh Baaki, where singer Jonita Gandhi reads out Kamil's poetic lines in a backdrop of discordant sounds (including a shrieking woman), the ominous techno beats are like step forward clues leading to an astonishing discovery. Its dark, serpentine layers are as much a mystery to unravel.
Freaking Life is ear-piercingly loud, but as the title suggests, singers are going to rupture their larynx to vent their emotions, yelling the refrain "freaking (8 counts) life". Singers Rianjali, Rajkumari, and Suzanne D'Mello perfectly mirror the anxiety of teenagers in rebel mood. Rianjali, Rajkumari and Rahman have co-written the lyrics, as is advisable on a track with incoherent thoughts to assemble as neatly as possible.
The calming sounds of a chattering stream opens the placid ambience where Chal Kahin Door resides. Tirupati's voice glides over glades, chasing the melodic riffs of a flute. The gorgeous imagery of the lush tune evokes wanderlust, although not as majestically as when the opening bars of Rahman's melody Yeh Haseen Wadiyan (Roja, 1992) transported us to a snow-white mesmerising terrain.
Muafi Mushkil, a sombre mood piece about love, despair and forgiveness, is stirringly recited by Darshana KT. The soundtrack's final tune, Be Nazaara, is not credited to Rahman. The traditional tune, with lyrics also mentioned as traditional, and sung by Hindustani classical vocalist Sudeep Jaipurwala, is anything but. Instruments producing ambient music oscillate between devotional temple and deep forest sounds. Be Nazaara, meaning without a view, vividly conjures up an imaginary landscape to get lost into.
Rahman's experimental sounds compliment the film's theme and genre, and might work better when heard in the background. Does the soundtrack stand a chance outside the film's mysterious universe? Not a day with your mom.
Listen to the songs of Mom here: