You’d think the combination of Vishal Bhardwaj, Gulzar and Sukhwinder Singh would be incapable of delivering a soundtrack that’s easily forgotten, but even after multiple listens, Kuttey (2023) does not make a case for a hit. The one spark is the phenomenal vocalist that is Jyoti Nooran teaming up with Bengaluru-based rapper Hanumankind on “Ek Aur Dhan Te Nan.” The track is a double whammy because you don’t expect Hanumankind on a Hindi film OST and neither do you expect Bhardwaj to experiment with trap music, but the composer knows how to throw a surprise. The familiar refrain of “Dhan Te Nan” invokes nostalgia, but does not impress. Of course, the bar was exceptionally high with inevitable comparisons to Kaminey (2009) and that is perhaps the soundtrack’s greatest failing. It is impossible to reimagine the explosive “Dhan Te Nan” from Kaminey as anything else, which is why “Phir Dhan Te Nan” too fails to score despite Vishal Dadlani and Singh reuniting for the track. TLDR: Dhan tan no. Disappointingly, even the slower, moody tracks like “Tere Saath”, even at their most soulful, are perfunctory at best.
It’s always thrilling to witness artists make the leap across the pond, as it were. In India, the ultimate crossover is when artists appease Hindi-speaking audiences. Tamil film composer Santhosh Narayanan (co-composer of “Enjoy Enjaami”) made that jump with the music and background score for the web series Faadu, directed by Ashwiny Iyer. “Haseen Mushkilein” and “Saath” are tender, languorous love songs that remind you that lazy Sundays are around the corner. They also sound nothing like the raging hits that Narayanan has composed for Tamil cinema — think “Kabali” — and perfectly complement Kausar Munir’s Hinglish lyrics, accommodating everything from jazz to clap beats with ease. The background score is equally contemporary and shows off Narayanan’s range.
However, music from Tamil cinema for the big Pongal film releases this month, Varisu and Thunivu (2023), has been disappointing. If last year was all about raucous drum beats — the Golden Globe winner “Naatu Naatu” from RRR (2022) being an example — this year has been comparatively low key so far. “Jimikki Ponnu” in Varisu is the most striking track from the album and it is not just because of the versatile Jonita Gandhi on vocals, but beneath the lush production is a heavily inspired mid-section that reminds one of “Telephone Mani Pol” from the soundtrack of Indian (1996). Whether this was a nod to A.R. Rahman or composer Anirudh Ravichander losing his grip is difficult to tell, but “Telephone Mani Pol” was ARR in his prime and therefore, it’s hard to miss a slip like this one. The soundtrack of Thunivu, composed by Ghibran (Vishwaroopam 2, 2018; Papanasam, 2015), struggles to stir up a single hit even though “Chilla Chilla” has all the elements of one — tappan koothu beats and Ravichander’s vocals.
Amidst all this dreary business of lo-fi flip versions and mash-ups of old hits that one can’t seem to avoid nowadays on music streaming platforms, an original is a reminder of why you’re subscribing to these platforms in the first place. “Sooravali Pola” from the soundtrack of the Tamil thriller Regina marks the debut of music composer Sathish Nair, who has also produced the film. The inimitable Sid Sriram, who has recent hits such as “Srivalli” from Pushpa - The Rise (2021) to his credit, has rendered “Sooravali Pola”. His vocals are fluid — expansive and intimate at once — as track ebbs and flows. The song with its rousing orchestration makes you want to believe the impossible. Could Nair be the true successor to Illaiyaraaja? Maybe it’s too early to say, but the song has been on repeat. Lyricist Yugabharathi (who previously wrote songs on the Suriya-starrer Soorarai Pottru and Naane Varuven starring Dhanush) writes lines that fill you with joy and has a truly evocative phrase-making ability. If there’s one wish that we have for the new year, it’s that Nair is not a one-hit wonder.