Rewind: Melody and Magic in Mani Ratnam-A.R. Rahman’s Guru

From ‘Barso Re’ to ‘Baazi Laga’, the soundtrack of this Abhishek Bachchan-Aishwarya Rai starrer covers everything from lust to laundering
Rewind: Melody and Magic in Mani Ratnam-A.R. Rahman’s Guru

When Guru (2007) released, all anyone seemed to be talking about (in hushed whispers) was whether or not director Mani Ratnam had made his version of a biopic on business tycoon Dhirubhai Ambani. (Ratnam denied it.) Then, two days later, the film’s lead actors, Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, announced their engagement and suddenly, A.R.Rahman’s soundtrack as well as Gulzar’s lyrics felt all the more poignant. Sixteen years later, every song in Guru remains worth a relisten. Here are the songs, in the order of their appearance in the film. 

Jaage Hain 

This song is a wake-up call disguised as a lullaby, an ode to unfulfilled dreams that can only be realised when asleep. ‘Jaage Hain’ begins with K.S. Chithra’s voice crooning, “Jage hain der tak, hume kuch der sone do. Thodi si raat aur hai, subah toh hone do  (I’ve been awake for a while now, let me go to sleep. The night isn’t over yet, wait till daybreak),” and then the sounds of the orchestra and Madras Chorale Group swell and surge to take over. When Rahman sings those same lyrics, the cradle song sounds like an impassioned, quiet quitting anthem.  

Mayya Mayya  

Although Rahman composed the melody for ‘Mayya Mayya’ while on tour in Toronto, the song’s title is the result of the composer hearing the word “maiya” by chance while travelling abroad. It struck him that the word may have different meanings in other languages, but it feels comfortingly familiar to Indian ears. Rahman asked Gulzar to incorporate it into his lyrics, and the lyricist evidently obliged. For the song, Rahman mentored Egyptian-born singer Maryem Tollar, who can be heard on the track along with Chinmayi Sripaada and Keerthi Sagathia. Picturised on Mallika Sherawat (doing choreography inspired by belly dance) and Abhishek Bachchan (in a peaked cap), the song accompanies the film’s opening credits. 

Barso Re

Lust, longing and rain have long come together in Hindi film songs (think ‘Tip Tip Barsa Paani’, ‘Bheegi Bheegi Raaton Mein’ and ‘Rimjhim Gire Sawan’). Set in 1951, ‘Barso Re’ shows a young Sujata (Aishwarya Rai Bachchan) frolicking in fields and dancing in picturesque ruins. As the song progresses, we see her planning to elope with her partner. In a voiceover, we hear what she writes in a letter to her father. When the country is free, why shouldn’t his daughter also know freedom, she asks. ‘Barso Re’ celebrates newfound liberation and an abundance of confidence, but is bittersweet in its picturisation. “Gali gali mujhko megha dhoondega, aur garaj ke palat jayega” reveals its meaning when Sujata waits at the train station for a lover who proves to be too timid to leave the old ways behind. Still, she carries on. 

Ay Hairathe

The opening hook sung by Rahman sets us up for a gem of a ballad (you’ll hear it again in the soundtrack). A tender celebration of budding love, it’s the tune for the honeymoon phase of a relationship. Hariharan and Alka Yagnik bring a mellifluous playfulness to this song, in which two lovers go back and forth, chastising one another and flirting at the same time. The song’s lyrics are said to be inspired by  ‘Ey Sharbathe Aashiqui’, a verse composed by Amir Khusrau, the 13th-century poet often regarded as the father of qawwali. 

Tere Bina

Along with ‘Dil Se Re’ and ‘Jiya Jale’ in Dil Se (1998), and ‘Kabhi Neem Neem’ in Yuva (2004), ‘Tere Bina’ belongs to Rantam-Rahman’s oeuvre of sensual love songs, and is perhaps the jewel in the crown of Guru’s soundtrack. Performed by Rahman, Murtuza Khan, Qadir Khan and Sripaada, ‘Tere Bina’ is inspired by a Sufi aesthetic and Rahman dedicated the song to the memory of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (it was written at the time of the legendary Pakistani qawwal’s 10th death anniversary). ‘Tere Bina’ has remained a favourite and was excerpted in Planes (2013). It was heard most recently in the third episode of Ms Marvel (2022). 

Baazi Laga 

In many ways, the songs in the Guru soundtrack are in conversation with one another. For instance, this one, sung by Udit Narayan, Madhushree, Shweta Pandit and Bhargavi Pillai, feels like an answer to the question raised in ‘Ek Lo Ek Muft’ (see below). With lyrics like, “Haath ke mail ka hai paseena yahi/ Joh minton mein beh jaata hai (Money is like dirt, it disappears in seconds)” and “Ek ikka do, do be dooni chaar, Sau barabar sau de, joh baki sau udhaar”, the lyrics seem to respond to the question of “Bolo hoga kya ek ek cheez ki jodi hoti toh? (What would it be like if everything came in pairs?)” in the song that’s next in our list. Udit Narayan’s vocals, much like maths for Gurukant Desai, all add up. 

Ek Lo Ek Muft 

Sung by K. S. Chithra and Bappi Lahiri, ‘Ek Lo Ek Muft’ follows the birth of Guru and Sujata’s twins. The song wonders what life would be like if one could own two of the same thing. In a post-independent India, where Jawaharlal Nehru was pushing rapid industrialisation as the solution to poverty, this wasn’t an unusual question and in Ratnam’s film, Guru and Sujata take the business of being productive quite personally. Yet even as the song ends, Guru’s question remains unanswered. Meanwhile, Sujata, largely unmoved by Guru’s imaginative flights, remains the grounded one. ‘Ek Lo Ek Muft’ is packaged as playful banter between a husband who dares to dream and a wife who knows better. Delightful as Lahiri’s reverberating “Yema yema yema ye” may be, Gulzar’s witty lyrics are the reason this song remains special. 

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