‘99 Songs’ music review: Why this AR Rahman soundtrack is what we need in these troubled times

Poster of '99 Songs'  

There are many reasons why AR Rahman’s latest soundtrack 99 Songs is special, and one of them is the timing of its release.

With zero fuss and fanfare, the Oscar winner has unleashed on us a musical tornado, that will surely give us hope, even as we are social distancing and keeping ourselves abreast with Coronavirus updates.

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The other speciality of this 14-track album is that it puts the spotlight on two supremely-gifted vocal talents in Shashwat Singh and Bela Shende.


Shashwat kickstarts musical proceedings in the hummable ‘Teri Nazar’ that begins with a whiff of Charukesi raga, which takes you back to the magical Rahman that gave us ‘Udhaya Udhaya’ (Udhaya) and ‘Aahista Aahista’ (Swades). There’s longing and pining in the vocals and with the flute as accompaniment, it hits all the right notes.

‘Jwalamukhi’ has been doing the rounds for some time now, and for the right reasons. There are two versions — one with Arijit Singh, who delivers predictably, but the Poorvi Koutish contribution stands out for its vocal texture.

If ‘O Aashiqa’ has a tightly-knit chorus that metamorphoses into a neat melodical line, ‘Sofia’ has an old-fashioned charm before it becomes a beast of its own, with the word ‘Sofia’ repeatedly hitting home musically.

With ‘Nayi Nayi’, Rahman taps into the world that he created so exquisitely with 2011’s hit flick Rockstar. Shashwat Singh’s vocals stand out in this heavy-on-guitars piece that could have well made it into a modern-day Aamir Khan or Shah Rukh Khan film and become a blockbuster song.

‘99 Songs’ music review: Why this AR Rahman soundtrack is what we need in these troubled times

Singer Armaan Malik gets a tough challenge in ‘Humnawaa’, an intricately-designed track that needs more than a few listens to get into your head. So does ‘Soja Soja’ (Shashaa Tirupati). The problem with many AR Rahman soundtracks, something well-known with listeners of film music, exists in 99 Songs as well — it requires more than a few listens to get into its soul. But once you devote that time, which you have aplenty now thanks to ‘social distancing’, you’ll be sold.

Bela Shende (the other vocal pick of the album) goes all devotional in ‘Sai Shirdi Sai’, an ‘Oh Paalanhaare’ kind of song that somehow doesn’t fit into the scheme of things here. She more than makes up for it with ‘O Mera Chand’, another throwback melody that’s right up there to match with the in-form Rahman albums of Meenaxi and Taal. ‘Gori Godh Bhari’ brings back vintage Alka Yagnik, but this classically-inclined number, with traces of raga Bageshri, would probably not appeal to the popular musical palate.

Among the stand-out pieces in 99 Songs is ‘The Oracle’ — an instrumental piano piece that builds some nice momentum before reaching a grand crescendo. In these times of crisis, all one requires is to plug your earphones and listen to ‘The Oracle’. The magic in its notes gives us hope.

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Printable version | May 6, 2021 1:24:08 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/ar-rahmans-99-songs-soundtrack-hope-in-these-troubled-times/article31153488.ece

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