Save for one track, the Bunty Aur Babli 2 album is so appallingly bereft of any originality, and so short (13 minutes), that it could only have been conceived as a hack-job for a film that actually has no interest in songs, or under circumstances where the composer and lyricist were held at gunpoint by the music label and asked to give them a blowjob. This is true for most Hindi films made today, except this one happens to be the sequel of a film whose very legacy is musical: Bunty Aur Babli (2005) is nothing without its songs, a kaleidoscopic and vibrant soundtrack that added the sort of intangible value to the movie the way only Hindi film songs can.
The legacy is not Bunty Aur Babli's alone and is all the more richer for it – it needs to be seen in context of the future Shaad Ali-Shankar Ehsaan Loy-Gulzar collaborations that were to come. The director was important in the equation. Ali's musical ambitions outsized his narratives in his later team-ups with the composer and lyricist (an exciting partnership in itself) – Jhoom Barabar Jhoom (2007) is one of our best bad-film-with-amazing-songs of all time, and that glorious title track from Kill Dil (2014) still rocks.
With all that history, the least you would expect from the makers of the sequel is some effort in the music department – it's not only appropriate, you'd think it makes business sense too. Instead what we have is two and a half songs and a remix masquerading as an album. The new director in the equation is Varun V Sharma, and Amitabh Bhattacharya has replaced Gulzar. Shankar Ehsaan Loy has been kept in charge but it could have well been Tony Kakkar. The first one, "Tattoo Waaliye", is actually a Tony Kakkar song that has been wrongly attributed to Shankar Ehsaan Loy. I'm kidding, but the song really made me check if it was indeed by SEL.
Which is an indication of just how desperate things are for composers of the stature of SEL, or an Amit Trivedi (whose standards, too, have alarmingly fallen of late). They must be vying for the attention of the casual listener while simultaneously trying to please the producer and the label. But it's something of a tragedy that SEL are at their lowest in the sequel of a film that found them at the top of their game, that too in a year that marks twenty years of Dil Chahta Hai, which remains their definitive work.
This must be Bhattacharya's worst too, who sounds almost helpless, with lines like 'Desi beat mein nachdi hai, jeans top mein jachti hai… Tattoo waaliye.' Or 'Chhappan karor ka thumka, laga de zara dhik chik dhik chik' from the song "Dhik Chik". (I'm currently unable to decide which one is worse: heart says "Dhik Chik", head says "Tattoo Waaliye"). The lyricist, who rarely has a bad day, has better things to do in the recreated Bunty Aur Babli 2 title track, giving us both a sense of the changing times ('Badla jahaan, badli sarkar hai. Note o ke bhi badle prakar hai…') and changing narrative of the new film, which sees the return of the con artist couple ('Bhale chanda sooraj ekdin istifa de de, par bhaiyya honge yeh retire na kabhi…'). But the recreation is musically vapid and it only makes things worse by making you want to revisit the original (which I did).
That leaves us with "Luv Ju", which reveals a couple of things: it's a glimpse of what the album could have been if there was ample creative freedom, and it leaves no room for speculation that the other tracks didn't have ample creative freedom. It's dance friendly and Punjabi like the rest of the album, but here the composer-lyricist get to have their way: the beats are groovier; the production has a sophistication missing in the rest of the soundtrack; Bhattacharya is in his element, having fun, with phrasings like 'Anyhow, mattipao'; and the composers have a good time tapping into the newfound gravelly textures of Arijit Singh's voice in the lower notes. It has a segue into a more plaintive section that finds both the singer and the lyricist in a different mood ('Chand jalakar dinner karange chhatt pe ek duje se kehkar… Luv Ju'). I wish the rest of the album was like this song.