Adding jhankaar beats to ghazals may sound out of tune to purists, but everything was in sync for Nadeem-Shravan, the duo that brought and taught ‘Aashiqui’ to the new romantics of 90s Bollywood. Lacing lovelorn lyrics (mostly Sameer’s) with a base melody and stock octapad beats was their bestselling formula through the early 90s. With sur, sangeet and Sanu, the duo shined their way into the Filmfares, securing a hat-trick from 1991-1993, with Aashiqui, Saajan and Deewana. As Saajan celebrates 30 years, here’s a good time to revisit the soundtrack: song after song, hit after hit.
The album opens with the conventional strings and frills of a Nadeem-Shravan soundtrack. Only this time, it gets a Dadra-dholak touch, later to feature in the songs of Hum Hain Rahi Pyar Ke (“Mujhse mohabbat ka izhaar karta”and “Ghoonghat ki aadh se dilbar ka”).
“Dekha hai pehli baar, saajan ki aankhon mein pyaar”, which you could call the title track, features Madhuri Dixit and Salman Khan recreating 70s saccharine, singing and dancing around the trees. While Alka Yagnik croons in her usual high pitch for Madhuri, Salman Khan staple S. P. Balasubramanium sings for him in his signature cheery low pitched yodel. But his best is up next, “Tumse milne ki tamanna hai.”
This is a song that escalates from romantic infatuation to a union of lovers real quick. An expectant and excited Khan wishes to meet his ladylove Madhuri, confess his love to her and make a lifelong promise, all in one song. Does that ring (marriage) bells? In fiction, surely.
“Tumse milne ki tamanna hai” looks and feels as if a Raamlaxman number in a Barjatya film (together with the trio of Salman Khan, Laxmikant Berde and SPB) has been given the Nadeem-Shravan and Sameer spin. The octapad based digital dholak pop of Nadeem-Shravan replaces the pacy acoustic drums of Maine Pyar Kiya and (later) Hum Aapke Hain Koun..!; the “la-la”s are replaced by “Tu-ru-ru”s and the lyrics could not get any more mainstream. That’s the best-selling trio of the 90s doing what they do best.
With Shravan, SPB and Berde lost over the years, this song remains alive half in memory, half in memoriam.
Featuring in Side-A, track 3, is “Bahut pyaar karte hain tumko sanam”. The song is a breath of fresh air, only for you to realise that it is not. Indeed, it is the first song of the album where a woman liltingly pines for the man of her dreams, but it doesn’t take long to recede into a N-S formula. It’s the same pattern of strings, the same odd octapad, the same T-Series-ey vocals of Anuradha Paudwal–everything is a cliche, but expertly done. It’s hummable and draws on a melody (and lyrics, too) from the other side of the border: Mehdi Hassan’s rendition of Tasleem Fazli’s ghazal “Bahut khoobsurat hai mera sanam, khuda aise mukhde banata hai kam”. The plagiarism feels alarming at first but later, much like the Coke Studio numbers, gives you the warm and fuzzy feeling of a shared Indo-Pak soundscape. (In other news, the song has a male version too, sung by SPB.)
Saajan’s tracklist, like any other 90s album, doesn’t marry the songs chronologically to the storyline. Thus, even before an actual union of lovers, the album features an ode of separation: “Jeeye to jeeye kaise bin aapke”
Circa 1986 Pankaj Udhas dominated Bollywood discographies with guest ghazals, often making a cameo with a typical Pankaj Nite. Saajan followed suit. The song turned out to be Udhas’ concert hit and has also been featured in a number of live compilations since.
Throughout its two versions and four singers, the song features the trio coping with heartbreak in different ways. Salman (SPB, naturally), remembers fond memories with ladylove Madhuri, Sanjay (Sanu) slips into disenchantment with the world, and Madhuri (Paudwal), well, contemplates drinking poison.
Udhas’ track is followed up by Sameer writing a love song to a writer of love songs. “Tu shayar hai”, invokes dream girl Madhuri, and after three santoor bars, declares her to be the muse of her poet prince. Alka Yagnik sounds cheerful and the music is catchy, but the lyrics play out as a Word Power Made Easy lesson on changing nouns (abstract or not) to verbs. “Shayar-shayari”, “Aashiq-aashiqui”, “Deewaana-deewaangi”, you get the drill. A predictable but exciting lyrical fare, this one.
If “Tu shayar hai, main teri shayari” is the Side-B version of “Bahut pyar karte hain, tumko sanam”, then “Pehli baar mile hain” is a reflective version of “Tumse milne ki tamanna hai”, the two identical SPB-Salman numbers separated by the thin line of ‘inspiration’. The melody of “Pehli baar mile hain” is lifted straight from Suzanne Vega’s “Solitude Standing”. Funny how N-S could accommodate a ghazal in a rock song. But it is what it is. “I saw the girl for the first time, and knew for sure, ’twas love!”
Last but not the least is the song which has been selling Saajan for thirty years: “Mera dil bhi kitna paagal hai”. The song marks the much celebrated union of the Dutt-Dixit pair on-screen. And the ceremonious fusion of the high octave sitar and the melodic digital pakhawaj (highly reminiscent of Pancham). It makes for a riveting listen. It is the title track, Sameer and the chorus declare.
Over the years, two films have overtly and covertly doffed their hat to Saajan: The Lunchbox (2013) and Bareilly Ki Barfi (2017). Bareilly Ki Barfi had a similar storyline: bubbly girl falls in love with a ghostwriter, and a lovetriangle ensues post the entry of an equally besotted doppelgänger.
The Lunchbox, on the other hand, fared well in assimilating the film’s spiritual essence: it’s soundtrack. Along with the steam from Ila’s pressure cooker, wafted the faint sounds of “Saajan Saajan, mere Saajan” from Auntie’scassette player; it was a punny ode to Irrfan’s character on-screen: Saajan Fernandes.
Three decades later, the leading trio of Saajan is still relevant in Hindi cinema but where is the director, Lawrence D’Souza? Where is the man who could be touted as a forgotten, lite version of Mahesh Bhatt, churning out stock 90s romances with memorable soundtracks? The man who gave us films, and consequently songs, like Divya Bharti’s superhit title track “Dil ka kya kasoor”, the Jackie-Dimple cameo in “Kabhi bhoola kabhi yaad kiya” (from Sapne Saajan Ke) or another upbeat Salman-Madhuri ditty “Kam se kam itna kaha hota” (from Dil Tera Aashiq)? Sadly, D’Souza’s filmography, like Nadeem-Shravan’s discography, was done, dusted and shelved in the 90s like an exclusive souvenir. All that is left now are these evergreen soundtracks, which have aged well and wide across from bars to barber shops. One such is the award-winning soundtrack of Saajan.