Let's be honest. Some of the crap that is being churned out nowadays in the name of Hindi film music is despicable. The past decade especially has witnessed a severe deterioration in the quality of Bollywood songs. Barring a few talented musicians including Vishal Bhardwaj, Amit Trivedi, Ram Sampath, Shantanu Moitra and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (apologies if I missed out anyone good) operating in mainstream Hindi cinema, the majority of modern-day composers deliver at best mediocre quality of music. Many would assert that even the aforementioned names are not in the league of yesteryear musical giants like Naushad, SD Burman, RD Burman, Madan Mohan, Jaidev, Salil Chowdhury or Khayyam, who have created some magical compositions that continue to enchant music aficionados to this day. However, there is one name that stands taller than the others (in my humble opinion), and whom I regard as the 'G.O.A.T.' or the greatest of all time. It is the shy and reticent musical genius, Allah Rakha Rahman!
With so many masterful soundtracks in Hindi and Tamil cinema, it becomes difficult to pick out the numero uno by the Mozart of Madras. Although Rahman rates the soundtrack of Deepa Mehta's Water (2005) as his only album deserving of a 10/10, I consider Imtiaz Ali's Rockstar (2011) his best work so far. Every song in the film is exceptional and fuels the screenplay, thereby making the soundtrack the true rockstar of Rockstar. But what elevates the album to a magical level is the equally brilliant visuals that complement Rahman's music. The songs have been picturised so beautifully that Imtiaz Ali's visual artistry compares to that of legendary directors like Mani Ratnam and Vijay Anand. Also, one cannot overlook the sublime poetry by Irshad Kamil who bares the lead protagonist Jordan's (Ranbir Kapoor) feelings through his potent words. Simply by listening to the lyrics, one can trace the character-arc of Jordan and his state of mind. The other key contributor to the magic of Rockstar is Mohit Chauhan, whose soulful renditions pierce the heart as he voices Jordan's angst, agony and vulnerability. And, last but not the least, Ranbir Kapoor, whose career-high performance as an emotionally bruised rockstar adds layers of depth to the film's song sequences.
In this essay, I'll analyse a few significant songs of Rockstar in the context of the film's screenplay and their overall impact.
1. Phir Se Udd Chala
This is my favourite song in the film. It depicts the phase in Jordan's life immediately after the first exit of Heer (Nargis Fakhri) from his life. He starts gaining fame as a musician (his lifelong dream) but happiness evades him as he feels her void and reminisces about the time he spent with her. Towards the last part of the song, Rahman shifts the tone to a hypnotic trance and Jordan dances feverishly in an ecstatic state induced by spiritual love.
2. Kun Faaya Kun
Just when I thought Rahman couldn't better his Sufi composition 'Piya Haji Ali' in Fiza, he gave us 'Khwaja Mere Khwaja' in Jodhaa Akbar (2008). Then came 'Arziyan' in Delhi-6 (2009). There is no way he can better this, I thought. But the genius proved me wrong again. With 'Kun Faaya Kun', Rahman created a Sufi qawwali that touches the depths of mysticism and takes Jordan to a transcendental state while singing. It comes at a point where Jordan has been thrown out of his house and takes refuge at the Nizamuddin Dargah at New Delhi. There, he befriends the qawwals and imbibes their music. It is in the dargah that Ustad Jameel Khan (Shammi Kapoor) notices Jordan's talent and later helps him get the music contract that ushers Jordan into fame and success.
3. Aur Ho
The forbidden love between Jordan and Heer, ridden with guilt, passion, jealousy, and pain, can be felt in this intense rock ballad where Mohit Chauhan's vocals and Ranbir Kapoor's intense acting work magic on the screen. The helplessness visible on Jordan's face is piercing when Kapoor screams 'meri bebasi ka bayaan hai'. The song's charm is elevated further by Anil Mehta's cinematography, which is heavenly in the shot where Jordan runs towards Heer on the famous Prague bridge.
4. Sadda Haq
This rock anthem became the most popular song of Rockstar. An angry and frustrated Jordan, who is back in India from Prague after being released from jail, goes on to perform this politically charged number. He is at the peak of his angst after being turned away by Heer, who has asked him to go away forever. Post this song, Jordan's life veers towards emptiness and despair as anger dissolves into endless pain and suffering.
5. The Dichotomy of Fame
Probably, the most underrated and overlooked song of Rockstar as it is an instrumental piece. But what a track it is! The entire essence of the film is played out in this two-minute jugalbandi of guitar and shehnai. By living through extreme pain, Jordan has matured tremendously and experienced the depths of emotions, which render him capable of feeling and understanding the classical music (that he used to mock earlier) played by Ustad Jameel Khan. But in the process, he has lost the desire to be famous as it is no match to the intensity of love that has broken Jordan's heart beyond repair.
6. Nadaan Parindey
There are too many great things to say about this masterpiece. The kickass drumming, to begin with, followed by the maestro Rahman lending his vocals, and Ranbir Kapoor's excruciating display of rebellion. Irshad Kamil knocks it out of the park with his lyrics in this one as Jordan pleads to the bird to spare his eyes while eating his entire body so that he can catch a glimpse of his beloved. The song serves as a desperate call for the return of a happy and naïve Jordan (before fame). But it's too late as he has paid the price for fame and love with his innocence.
The remaining songs of the film, like 'Jo Bhi Main', 'Katiya Karoon', 'Tum Ho' and others, are great in their own right and definitely enrich the screenplay. Albums like Rockstar are produced once in a lifetime and we are lucky to have experienced it during ours. When older generations boast about being part of the golden era of Hindi film music, with soundtracks like Guide, Pyaasa, etc., we can also proudly say that we belong to the era of Swades, Jodhaa Akbar and Rockstar, thanks to one man – AR Rahman!