Here’s the description for Bandish Bandits on the Amazon Prime Video site: “Radhe a singing prodigy from a classical background & Tamanna, a pop sensation on the rise meet.” The TL;DR version is “East meets West”, and four numbers (out of 11) in Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s soundtrack follow this mandate. Armaan Malik and Jonita Gandhi come together for the folksy “Couple Goals”. (The folksiness is enhanced by the way the first word is pronounced: “cuppal”, rhyming with “chappal”.) Like in the other East/West songs (“Sajan bin” is written by Divyanshu Malhotra, the rest by Tanishk S Nabar), the lyrics blend East/West words, from Hindi and English: “Yeh hai hamaari cuppal goal…” In the peppy-but-somewhat-generic “Mastiyaapa”, sung by Jonita, we hear: “Aaj hai yehi hai tomorrow nahin.” In the catchy-as-hell “Chedkhaniyaan” (Shivam Mahadevan, Pratibha Singh Baghel), we get: “dhak dhak karke sound jo aaya.” In “Sajan bin” (Shivam Mahadevan, Jonita Gandhi), someone’s zubaan has become “viral” and raatein are devoted to “video calling”.
Some of this vocabularic mashup is wince-inducing, I’ll admit, but the East/West amalgamations in the music go down fabulously. Even amidst the pop/rock frameworks of these compositions, the classical phrasings stand out. Raag-s are hard to nail down in film songs without actually playing them on a keyboard, but I think “Couple Goals” is based on Bhoop. The classical-sounding line goes, “Likhne chale ambar pe lakhon pyar ke bol…” In “Mastiyaapa”, in the line “Dheere dheere neeche bhi aa jayega yeh aasman”, the notes dip suddenly (and a little more than what we expect, perhaps reflecting the phrase “neeche bhi aa jayega”) when we get to “aasman”.
In “Chedkhaniyaan”, the classical touch comes in the line “Tere saath beete jo lamhe…” That last word is elongated with taan-s, and the hitherto-chirpy number (you can imagine the notes wearing a yellow bikini and bouncing on a trampoline in Ibiza) is coloured, for just an instant, with minor-scale melancholy. “Sajan Bin” is the standout in this East/West set of songs. Like “Mastiyaapa”, it opens with pop percussion that feels like a pulse, and there’s a similar rush of arrangements in the antara just before we get to the line with the title of the track. But otherwise, Shivam’s portion (he’s East, Jonita’s West) is quite hardcore (raag Jonpuri, methinks). The pop percussion gives way to a tabla. If this weren’t a “film song”, you might be talking about its pace using a phrase like drut bandish.
Before I get to the other tracks, I want to talk about children. First, of course, there’s the ridiculously talented Shivam, son of Shankar. What can I say about him except that… He. Sounds. Just. Like. His. Father. And he moves across octaves with a similar felicity. Had I not seen the credits, I’d have thought certain passages were by Mahadevan Sr. The second child, of course, is our film music itself, with East for a mother and West for a father. Over the years the father had begun to dominate the household, but could this be another outcome of OTT — that an entirely classical (and entirely breathtaking) composition like “Garaj Garaj” has come to reside in a soundtrack album again? One version, labelled “Jugalbandi”, is by Farid Hasan and Mohammed Aman, the other by Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty and Javed Ali. There’s a bit where the singer pauses, like in a real classical concert, and the harmonium completes the line. There’s a stunning sitar-tabla interlude, right from the Naushad era. There are lengthy, goosefleshy lightning-taan flourishes. Is OTT poised to change the OST?
The rest of the songs are all mama’s boys, all East. There are two numbers with a “virah” sentiment. This sentiment, with phrases like “na jaao pardes” and “ae ri sakhi”, is… okay, was usually voiced by women in our film music, but here, both songs are sung by men. “Labb Par Aaye” (gorgeously voiced by Javed Ali) is shaped like a Sufi qawwali and studded with exuberant taal patterns on the tabla. The other “virah” number is actually called “Virah” (Shankar Mahadevan). Here the tabla goes almost silent, perking up only at every fourth beat-count, for a short tarang-like flourish. How lovely to find this music outside of a Sanjay Leela Bhansali soundtrack. The raag is Marwa, and it transported me to a superb Ravindra Jain-Asha Bhosle collaboration (see below) from Kotwal Saab.
All these classical-sounding songs are written by Sameer Samant, and set in raag-s like Brindavani Sarang and Megh Malhar. “Dhara Hogi” (Shankar Mahadevan), styled like Rajasthani folk, is another stunner. Had this been a live performance, had you been in the audience, the molten vocal stylings in the line “Aaj dharti par likhegi koi nayi kahaani” would have made you go “wah!” The closing section simply soars, with Shankar Mahadevan doing a mini tarana (with ta-nom syllables) backed by violins playing a near-staccato tune. The album closes with two smaller pieces: “Padharao Maare Des” (Shankar Mahadevan), a traditional Rajasthani composition in raag Maand, and “Bandish Bandits Theme”, which starts like folk music before an orchestral sound takes over. The opening words are “pooravi paschami seh liya…” East meets West, indeed.