My Favourite Music of 2009: Gulaal & Kaminey

This last post of the year is about two Hindi film albums released this year which I have enjoyed the most. “Gulaal” and “Kaminey”. The piece which follows is my take on these two albums and the reasons why I like them. If you read my blog you would know that I very rarely review music CDs or movies here. But I thought I must let you know about the music which has really excited me in 2009.

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The contrasts could not have been starker.

One album is raw, unfinished, just like the movie. The other a gleaming, finished product complete with orchestral arrangements and great sound engineering. The former is rooted in the beats, tunes and silences of the Hindi heartland, the other revels (well, almost) in the pulsating beats of the metropolis of Mumbai.

A hitherto unknown music director versus someone who has unveiled the beauty of his craft in his earlier ventures too. A relatively unknown lyricist against an established doyen of Hindi film lyrics, and indeed, Hindi/Urdu/Hindustani poetry with published anthologies of his own.

The differences end here.

Both the albums break the stereotype of Hindi film music. Both have music which has not been heard before. The lyrics are a syncretic fusion of Hindi and Urdu (with some Sanskrit and Urdu/Arabic thrown in as well). Sheer poetry, nevertheless. Both use relatively lesser known singers And both these musicians create magic.

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Gulaal:

I knew of Piyush Mishra as a lyricist. The movie Black Friday is one example. But this effort of his straddles multiple facets; lyrics, music and voice. With verve, panache, a deep understanding of the “hinterland” psyche, and a supreme command over language. (And, as an aside, he has a fairly major on-screen role as well in this film.)

There is this famously famous mujra number “Ranaji” with references to global current affairs, seemingly flippant mentions of post-war Afghanistan, Iraq, 9/11?

Or the soulful number “Aisi hawa” which speaks of unspeakable sadness and longing. Sample this:

Aisi sazaa deti hawaa, tanhaai bhi tanha nahi

Neendein bhi ab soney gayeen, raaton ko bhi parwaah nahi.

Just some disjointed strums of a guitar, and some thunder and lightning, that is what accompanies Shilpa Rao as she explores the depths of desolation.

Can you visualize the punishing breeze, the desertion of solitude and slumber and the unrelenting nights?

Or would you rather prefer the other mujra? “Beedo” which talks about iliicit love? “Beedo doojey thali ka, lagey bada majedaar…”. The distinctive voice of Rekha Bharadwaj who seems to be enjoying herself completely.

Or would rather immerse yourself in the sheer poetry of “Duniya”? Piyush Mishra strong vocals accompanied by table playing the basic dadra matra as he sings about the hopelessness of it all.

“O, ri Duniya!

Surmayi aankhon ke pyaalon ki duniya,
Satrangi rangon gulaalon ki duniya,..o duniya!”

Duniya” is unabashedly based on the classic “Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaye toh kya hai.” In fact it is a tribute to the shayars of yore.

Ghalib ke, Momin ke, khwaabon ki duniya
Majaazon ke un inqualaabon ki duniya
Faiz, Firaaq aur Saahir o Makhdoom
Mir ki, Zauk ki, Daagh ki duniya

The vigorous “Aarambh” is all vim and vigour with a supremely energetic- in fact warlike- feel to it while the doleful and brooding “Musafir” with just a guitar for accompaniment is sad, very sad.

Sheher”, a duet featuring Piyush Mishra and Swanand Kirkire is all about impending sense of danger, doom, and the utter futility. Sample some words:

“Kahin pe wo jooton ki khatkhat hai

Kahin pe alaavon ki chatpat hai
Kahin pe hai jhingoor ki aawaazein
Kahin pe wo nalke ki taptap hai
Kahin pe wo kaali si khidki hai
Kahin wo andheri si chimni hai
Kahin hilte pedon ka jattha hai
Kahin kuch munderon pe rakha hai”

A chill runs down your spine when the words “Kahin pe wo nalke ki taptap hai” come on. It is as if the tap is dripping ice-cold water on you naked back past midnight in the middle of the killer Rajasthan winter.

Thanks you Piyush Mishra for the lyrics, music and your singing. Thank you Rekha Bharadwaj for you two mujra pieces and thank you Anurag Kashyap to continue being the non-conformist you have always been. Ever since Black Friday and the quirky music of Dev D (“Emosanal Atyachar”) I have expected a lot from you movies and the music of your movies.

On a personal note, let me confess that I searched far-and-wide for a CD of Gulaal, but of no avail. And I was forced to, for the first time, to search the net for a download. This is what I listened to for months till the Gulaal CD was formally released which I bought with alacrity.

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Kaminey:

The polished and sophisticated track of Kaminey is a confluence of magicians.

The ever popular lyricist Gulzaar who weaves common Hindi words into a web of magic. Remember his earliest song: Bandini’s “Mora gora ang lai ley, mohe shyam rang dayi dey” to “Aa, ee, aa gayi chitthi” from the film Kitaab which he directed himself, to the soulful Asha Bhosle number “Mera kuchh saaman pada hai” to the recent “Beedi” from Omkaara. He does not let you down, one bit, in Kaminey. He transforms common day-to-day Hindi speak to sheer poetry, as only he can.

Vishal Bharadwaj began his Hindi cinema career as a composer with his big break in his mentor’s film, “Maachis”. Remember the hypnotic “Chappa, chappa, charkha chaley? He then went on to direct films which cut across several genres: His first film was “Makdi” for kids, then took a “U”-turn to do a couple of utterly Indian- and honest- adaptations of Shakespeare: Maqbool (based on Macbeth), Omkaara (Othello-based). Both were liked immensely by the average movie-goer and the critics. He also scored the music for these films. Soon after Omkaar followed a kid’s movie “The Blue Umbrella” based on a Ruskin Bond story. Kaminey is the latest offering from Vishal B., a complete departure from what he has done before. A film with the gritty and fast-paced feel of a Quentin Tarantino movie (Kill Bill I and II, Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs). Q.T., by the way, is a favourite director of mine.

The singer-duo of Kailash Kher and Sukhwinder Singh need no introduction. Kher’s dominating songs with a sufi feel to it, (remember “Allah ke Bande”?) while Sukhwinder had a big hand in spreading the popularity of the venerable A R Rahman in the Hindi heartland with his music in hits like “Taal”. Yes, he was the lead singer of the Oscar winner “Jai ho”.

The zingy “Dhan te Tan” was the first off the block on the popularity charts. The pre-release publicity of the movie even mentioned that this was one of the rare Hindi film songs to be played at the famed night club “Ministry of Sound” in London. I am not sure about that but I would not be surprised. The electrifying energy of the song would get any lay person to shake his leg or two. Never mind if he or she does not understand the magical lyrics of Gulzar:

“koyi chaal aisi chalo yaar ab ke,

samundar bhi pul pe chale.

phir tu chale uspey ya main chaloon,

shehar ho apane pairo tale.”

The only injustice to this number is the way it is written in English, “Dhan te tan”. Dhan-te-tan is essentially a sound which you use to preface your narration of a suspenseful piece of the story you are narrating. If you are an Indian you would know how you would actually pronounce it, that dhan-ta-dhan sound (impossible to write in English!). I wonder why this common sound was never employed in a song before!

Yes, and one more thing about this number. It is the way in which Vishal B. quirkily weaves in a completely unrelated string of words, probably in the Western UP dialect of Hindi (VB’s roots are in Meerut). I have been unable to catch the words clearly, but this little linguistic cameo adds to the charm of the song.

Talking about sounds, how about “Phataak”? That’s actually the name of another peppy number! Don’t you wonder again as why this very common sound-word has never been used before? The sharp, biting sound of phataak punctuating the voice of Sukhwinder Singh and Kailash Kher who sing about AIDS prevention, of all the things! And as only a Vishal B.+ Gulzar combo could do it, this song climaxes into a soulful, near saintly,

yeh ishq nahi aasaan, aji yeh isaka khatara hai

o patvaar pehan jaana, yeh aag ka dariya hai

ke naiyya dubey na, re bhawaraa kaate na

How about the utterly naughty “raat ke dhai baje”? The one which has gems like “ishq mein jaltey huye, saans tejaabi lage” and “ek hi latt suljhaaney mein, saari raat gujaari hai”. Coming back to the music director’s penchant for creating magic via mixing quirky, strange lyrics into a number,did you notice the western rap number inserted into this song?

And now for my favourite, the title song, “Kaminey”. Vishal Bhardawaj sings, that I knew. Gulzar writes well, we all know. But the confluence of these two gentlemen could create such magic out of the word “Kaminey”, I could never have guessed. To start with, Vishal B. was handed a set of words elegantly crafted by the maestro lyricist. Sample this:

kya kare, zindagi, isko hum jo mile,

iski jaan, kha gaye, raat din ke gile.

raat din gile.

meri aarzoo kamini, mere khwab bhi kaminey,

ik dil se dosti thi, ki hujur bhi kaminey.

The singer internalizes the angst inherent in the words and as the song progresses he carries it to the height of regret… and longing. A slow build-up leading to a heart-rending climax in the magical combination of words and voice:

“jiska bhi chehra chheela, andar se aur nikla.

Masoom saa kabootar, nacha toh mor nikla.

kabhi hum kaminey nikaley, kabhi doosarey kaminey.

kaminey, kaminey, kaminey, kaminey

meri dosti kamini, mere yaar bhi kaminey.

ik dil se dosti thi, ki hujur bhi kaminey.”

To my mind this one song alone is enough reason to possess this album.

By the way, I have not mentioned Mohit “Masakali” Chauhan’s “Pehli baar mohabbat ki hai”. It is good.

And the three remix versions of the numbers in the album, of which one is a sure winner. The pulsating “Go Charlie, go” which is a funky take on the word Kaminey. Furiously fast-paced, on-the-edge, it slows just for fractions of a second and then takes off again. A metaphor for life in Mumbai (the city in which the film is based)? Probably yes!

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