Tamil composer Anirudh Ravichander, along with actor Dhanush, lit the fuse on cheeky, genre-shaping dance music that drew from Tamil koothu (folk) music from the start of his career a little over a decade ago with songs like “Why This Kolaveri” (from 3, 2012) and more recently, “Thaai Kelavi” (from Thiruchitrambalam, 2022). In the age of Instagram reels and OTT releases, it is no surprise his sound blew up to gain pan-India appeal.
For his Bollywood debut, Anirudh could not have asked for a bigger release than a Shah Rukh Khan film. What is interesting about the Hindi, Tamil and Telugu versions of the Jawan soundtracks is that the crossover is seamless. For instance, when you listen to “Chaleya” from the Hindi soundtrack, its Tamil version titled “Hayyoda” or the Telugu track “Chalona,” at no point is there a feeling that the track sounded better in Tamil. Apart from the musicality that does not sound incongruous, regardless of the linguistic adaptations, the choice of vocalists plays an extremely important role here. Arijit Singh and Shilpa Rao render “Chaleya” with as much fire and soul as Anirudh and Priya Mali in the Tamil and Telugu tracks.
Maybe Anirudh would have done better if he hadn’t been the vocalist for “Zinda Banda.” The track may have just sounded less laboured if Anirudh had chosen someone else to sing it. By this, I mean the vocal range that Anirudh was going for, a vocalist like Vishal Dadlani may have effortlessly delivered a banger in “Zinda Banda” a la “One Two Three Four (Get On The Dance Floor)” from Chennai Express (2013). And this is exactly what you hear in the latest song from the film, “Not Ramaiya Vastavaiya,” with Dadlani bringing his rockstar rumble to a melody that is driven by underlying EDM beats.
On the other end of the music spectrum, there is the soundtrack of the Deepti Naval-Kalki Koechlin film, Goldfish. Composer Tapas Relia, who is a trained keyboard player, has deep-rooted Hindustani classical leanings that go back to his childhood and his compositions are truly richer for it. Relia, who has previously worked on soundtracks such as Lakshmi (2013), has masterfully curated the lineup of singers and compositions for Goldfish. To singer Pratibha Singh Baghel, who has made a name for herself amidst fans of ghazals, Relia gave the playful “Piya Padh Lena,” which has a distinct vintage Bollywood sound of the Fifties. Yet another classically trained singer Madhubanti Bagchi shines in “Bachpan ki Galiyan,” a track which has all the makings of a heady thumri. The song includes a luminous interlude featuring just the tabla and sarangi, which is also rarely heard in a Hindi film soundtrack.
The standout track for me is “Chanda Se Chhup Ke,” sung by one of the most emotionally resonant voices of the Rampur-Sahaswan gharana, Ustad Rashid Khan. The album creates a deep sense of nostalgia for a time gone by, but there is great joy to be had in the thought that composers like Relia can set the clock back for us.
MM Keeravani is another inventive music director, who recreated the sound of Eighties’ Tamil film music two decades down the line in a Telugu film, Gangothri (2003). The Academy Award win this year for “Naatu Naatu” from RRR sounds like it has placed tremendous pressure on the composer, however. There’s possibly no other explanation for why his latest release – the song “Moruniye” from the soundtrack of the comedy horror film Chandramukhi 2 – sounds like “Naatu Naatu” reprised. Sure, it doesn’t have the bombastic energy all through and the tempo is down two notches, but the beats sound like they could have fit right into the Oscar-winning track.
Composers, like most artists, flounder when asked to explain what lies at the heart of their creative process and how a song comes together. How does an artist tap into his core and not allow a stereotype to emerge even as they maintain a signature form? How does one create art that endures? These are difficult questions, but the answers hold the key to versatility and perhaps even timelessness. Fortunately, the rest of Chandramukhi 2 sounds nothing like the soundtrack of RRR. A self-confessed , Keeravani has created a soundscape that is suitably eerie in tracks such as “Nee Kosame” and “Raa Raa (Angry)”. But if the album were not part of the film, it wouldn’t have any legs, unlike, say, his early soundtracks for films such as Criminal, which continue to be remembered.