There are multiple reasons to be excited about the music of Manikarnika: The Queen of Jhansi . The last time Shankar Ehsaan Loy (SEL) composed a soundtrack of a comparable scale was for Mirzya in 2016 — while the movie was a dud at the box office, the music was easily among the trio’s career-best works. Another reason is that the film’s soundtrack sees SEL reunite with Prasoon Joshi (reprising his Bollywood lyricist role for the first time since he took over the Censor Board), with whom the composers have had a stellar track record.
The lyrics from the track ‘Bharat’ at one point say “ raag Bharat mujhpe chhedo ” — it is perhaps for that reason that the composers base the song partly on desh raag, the foundation for some of the best odes to our nation. This track too is a moving piece, with Mahadevan’s strong vocals. The spoken version of the song by lyricist Prasoon Joshi, set to a minimal version of the same arrangement isn’t half as appealing though. Joshi’s rendition isn’t particularly impactful — I would much rather listen to the musical version. Continuing in the patriotic vein but in a more belligerent manner are the two calls to arms — ‘ Vijayi Bhava ’ and ‘ Bolo Kab Pratikaar Karoge ’. The increased creativity in display makes me prefer the former among the two, for the classical-tinged segues the song makes in the second and third verses, and the fine use of live percussion (Dipesh Varma, Shikhar Naad Qureshi, Satyajit Jamsandekar) backing the rousing title phrase. ‘ Bolo Kab… ’ on the other hand is a lot more hackneyed in its fervour and despite Sukhwinder Singh and the chorus’s energy levels, the track generates only limited interest.
Ricky and Siva handle the arrangement for SEL’s take on the traditional ‘ Shiv Tandav Stotra ’ — which isn’t radically different from the usual renditions. As a result it is as effective as the devotional piece generally tends to be, helped by the heavy percussion element. ‘ Dankila ’s familiar sounding melody is bolstered by the upbeat folksy arrangement and a matching exuberant rendition from Prajukta Shukre, Shrinidhi Ghatate, Siddharth Mahadevan and Arunaja.
The soundtrack’s best songs both go to the relatively unknown name in the soundtrack’s line-up, Pratibha Singh Baghel. ‘ Tak Taki ’ (which means waiting), and the song’s gentle melody perfectly complements the longing and apprehensions with Joshi’s lyrics. The romantic ‘ Rajaji ’ does even better, the delightful melody and rich arrangement (splendid use of Naveen Kumar’s flute in particular) a pleasant throwback to the soundscape of such albums as Lagaan . While Pratibha Singh sounds fabulous in both songs, she is briefly joined by another competent singer, Ravi Mishra, in ‘ Rajaji ’. SEL have begun the year in style with Manikarnika , giving Rani Laxmibai’s story a befittingly grand soundtrack.