There is something memorable about a ravishing finish — a rousing crescendo, a haunting chorus of female voices, a celebration that turns moist-eyed. ‘Kudmayi’, the glistening ivory wedding song that climaxes Rocky Aur Rani Kii Prem Kahani, composed by Pritam ends with this propulsive musical stretch which stirs the song into a full-throated being, as though only in the last 30-45 seconds of this 4-minute song, did it decide to bloom fully — to overbloom; Hindi cinema’s emotional excess finally finding a soundscape to match.
Pritam plotting his songs to finish with a stirring patch of sound where the song almost releases itself is, relatively, a new phenomenon in his 22-year discography. If the last 30 seconds of ‘Kudmayi’ pitches it one notch above the terrain of the song, the last minute and a half of the almost-5-minute ‘Channa Mereya’ from Ae Dil Hai Mushkil (2016) shoved the song into the stratosphere of melancholic exhilaration, every other syllable — even the ‘n’ of 'Chandan', a syllable previously considered unstretchable — stretched, Arijit Singh pushing his vocals to the edge, where it begins to slur.
In 2022, when the music of both Brahmastra and Laal Singh Chaddha — Pritam albums, both — topped Spotify Wrapped in India, I briefly spoke to him about how the idea of a song changed, structurally.
He seemed less apocalyptic about the seismic shifts that have taken place — the remixes of older songs, and albums cobbled together like a patchwork of rap, “Over the years, the DNA — the mood — of the song has been the same.”
Songs have become shorter, louder, and more invasively produced. You won’t find the elaborateness of Pritam’s ‘Toh Phir Aao’ from Awarapan (2007), which builds up in intensity, the guitar strings piling up into a rush, only to drop off gently into tinkles and piano bars and then, silence; or even an ‘In Dino’ from Life In A … Metro (2007), his calling-card song of the aughts, where you can sense a composer and his audience willing to hold onto syllables for a longer time, slowing down the tempo of the song. Even songs of longing, now, have picked up pace.
In this flux, one thing Pritam has experimented with is the structure of the song itself, “From 2015, from Phantom my songs have begun to have a “verse-antara-outro” structure. Basically, it was a “mukhra-antara” structure [before], and now I am using an outro.”
He was referring to the weep-ballad ‘Saware’, which ends with Arijit flinging sounds of ‘O’ over a chorus — the crumbling outro, a stamp that trails all through subsequent works, from the orchestral swell of ‘Gerua’ in Dilwale (2016) to the eruption of ‘Shayad’ in Love Aaj Kal (2020), the melancholic curdling in ‘Kabira’ in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani (2013), to the despairing alienation of ‘Tur Kalleyan’ in Laal Singh Chadha.
Thinking of my own history with music that plays repeatedly, I can think of a fixation on the chorus with Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s albums, a random throwaway melodic swiggle somewhere in the middle of an A.R. Rahman song that I scratch back towards like an insatiable itch. Pritam’s music always stood oddly there, because albums like Life In A … Metro, Awarapan, Jannat (2008), New York (2009), Tum Mile (2009) had a more consummate, beginning-to-end appeal — which was why, even inflected by his plagiarism, these albums stayed afloat. ‘Saware’ onwards, the appeal shifted. Like a strong climax staining a film’s memory in your head as you walk out of the theatre, a strong climax to a song keeps it from sinking, ringing in your ears for minutes, sometimes days after you've heard it.
When you hear ‘Channa Mereya’ on the radio, you feel terrible for the song that follows, given that you are still swirling in the aftertaste of the previous song. When you are walking around the city, listening to this choral swell, you quicken your pace, loosening the muscles around the eyes, slowly becoming a protagonist in your head. It aids cinematic existence in a way few things have. Perhaps, it is these architectural pivots in his artistry that sustain the wind in Pritam’s surf over this attention-deficit economy. Afterall, his “moment” has now stretched over two decades. Something must keep shifting in order to keep some things the same.