Folksy tapestry, retro renditions

While Pataakha’s tracks are musically dynamite, Manto’s album signals that Sneha Khanwalkar’s offbeat repetoire is as dazzling as ever, says Vipin Nair

Updated - September 28, 2018 06:10 pm IST

Published - September 26, 2018 08:20 pm IST

Between fierce and calm: Stills from Pataakha (left); and Manto

Between fierce and calm: Stills from Pataakha (left); and Manto

Pataakha: short but explosive

There are very few musical combinations in Bollywood that generate as much excitement as the Vishal Bhardwaj-Gulzar team – even more so when it is the former leading the affair from the director’s chair. Pataakha checks both these boxes. The quarrelsome nature of the two sisters constituting the film’s lead characters is encapsulated wonderfully in ‘ Balma ’ where they are heard dissing each other’s lover. The vocals, of course come from Rekha Bhardwaj and Sunidhi Chauhan, both of whom are no strangers to fast paced songs, and nail the rendition. (An aside: does Chauhan sneak in a nod to Sridevi around the three-minute mark?). Gulzar’s lines are set in the dialect, and Bhardwaj’s arrangement is a folk instrument-laden tapestry. Rekha does even better in the solo rendition, ‘Hello Hello’ (with a fine chorus supporting her). The singer is clearly having a good time with Gulzar’s on-point rhymes. Also loved the way Vishal’s has incorporated the bass cameos at the end of each interlude.

It is probably something to do the movie’s title, that most of Pataakha ’s songs carry a raucous, celebratory vibe. After the aforementioned tracks, the explosive title song continues with the same energy. Here it’s the composer himself behind the mic – it is good to hear Vishal take on a different tempo from the mellow kind of songs we are used to hearing his voice render. The title song features a delightful array of live instruments – accordion, violin and horns; all of which lend the song a vibrant soundscape that’s far from Rajasthani, but highly engaging at the same time. Vishal gets Sukhwinder Singh to lead the Holi song ‘ Gali Gali ’ and the man produces a superb tipsy rendition – the way the chorus breaks the line after “ kullad phode ” on multiple occasions reminds me of the “ kaare kaare ” pause in “ Kajra Re” (also written by Gulzar saab). The album’s best is its only song that digresses from its dominant theme. ‘ Naina Kajraare ’, instead, is a delectable romantic melody, and is sung by the man who also sang my favourite songs in Vishal-Gulzar’s last ( Rangoon ) – Arijit Singh. While Singh is in exceptional form singing this one, equally stellar is Ankur Mukherjee’s work on the guitar which is almost as prominent in the song as the singer’s voice.

Pataakha is probably the shortest soundtrack that a Vishal Bhardwaj film has had. It remains a solid entertainer from the prolific team nevertheless, even if the soundscape isn’t always true to its setting.

Manto: winner tracks

After winning critical acclaim in festivals abroad, Nandita Das’s biopic of writer Saadat Hassan Manto has finally released in India. More significant for music lovers is that the movie sees the return of maverick composer Sneha Khanwalkar, whose last significant project was Dibakar Bannerjee’s Detective Byomkesh Bakshy in 2015. Given the composer’s track record and the movie’s pre-independence era setting, the film’s music offers huge promise.

Bann Titli ’ was composed by Khanwalkar for a scrapped Dibakar Bannerjee (who shares writing credit with Khanwalkar for the song) project, which explains the song’s cheeky gratis suffix. My curiosity about the Bannerjee project is piqued, as the song is a fabulous replication of Bollywood’s musical era of 1930s and 40s. Khanwalkar keeps the orchestration authentic, even as Rekha Bhardwaj nails the classical-flavoured rendition evoking the singing style of the time. In ‘ Nagri Nagri ’, based on a poem by Meeraji, we hear veteran singer Shankar Mahadevan pulling off the retro rendition in style. The arrangement here doesn’t sound true to the period always, but is no less captivating, particularly for the percussion which veers towards Arabic as the song progresses.

Through her career, Khanwalkar has shone the spotlight on multiple fine musicians (most significant of them probably being the Nooran sisters). With ‘ Ab Kya Bataun ’ (beautiful poem by Seemaab Akbarabadi), she goes to another lesser heard (in Bollywood) voice – the brilliant Shubha Joshi. The artiste is singing for the Jaddanbai character in the film played by Ila Arun. It’s fitting then that a song honouring the first female music director of the industry is composed by another in that league. While Joshi goes about her singing the traditional way, Khanwalkar’s backdrop moves from classical to jazz terrain, the contrast accentuating the song’s charm. The highlight of the jazz side of things is Joseph Vessoaker whose trumpet solos take on as prominent a role as Joshi’s singing. Khanwalkar’s final offering where she takes on a Faiz poem is my favourite. The composer gets a lovely yaman-flavoured (I think) melody in place for ‘ Bol Ke Lab Azaad Hain ’ that Rashid Khan and Vidya Shah deliver to perfection. The arrangement is a rich tapestry of strings (Anubrato Ghatak) to which gets added the occasional splash of harmonium (Zoheb Khan), tabla (Satyajit Talwalkar), and clarinet (Raj Sodha), all to delightful effect.

Manto also has a promotional song (not part of the official soundtrack), from rapper Raftaar. As expected, the song is totally different from the rest of the soundtrack in terms of sound; the rapper building a tirade (an explicit one, at that) with contemporary significance around relevant snippets of Nawazuddin Siddiqui’s quotes from the movie. It’s very effective verse, with a groovy arrangement to boot. Not something you might want to listen to alongside the other songs, if you want to stay with the retro mood, but a track worth looping for sure.

With Manto , Khanwalkar ends her break with another whopper soundtrack that is totally in character with her largely offbeat repertoire. Wish the album had more tracks though. Strange, that the makers did not choose any verse or prose by Manto himself for album.

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