Bombay Showcase

A Punjab state of mind

Udta Punjab will go down in the history of Hindi film music as the album with the most number of references to drugs.

Four out of six songs (excluding a reprise version) talk about the drug addict’s state of mind through innuendos. It has perhaps the first Hindi film song to use the word ‘weed’ (and get away with it). The thematic novelty of the album is not shocking considering it brings together composer Amit Trivedi, one of the most exciting composers of our times, and Abhishek Chaubey, a new-age filmmaker with a good taste for music and a penchant for the risqué ( Ishqiya, Dedh Ishqiya). For film music fans, it’s a thrilling proposition.

The album kicks off with a rap verse pumped with Punjabi male aggression in ‘ Chitta Ve’: cocaine is commonly referred to as Chitta in the region. This part is sung by Babu Haabi and there is a deliberate lack of polish in the lyrics and singing. It’s rough and sweaty. The rawness works well as it sets the stage for the electronic blast that’s coming. The track literally comes to a halt before it gets into trippy, trance zone. This one grew on me and the best thing about it is how Trivedi mixes up the film’s dark heart and pop catchiness.

Kanika Kapoor’s name will ring a warning bell for listeners allergic to ‘ Chittiya Kallaiyan’ and a number of other similar songs. Not that Kapoor gets a radically different song, but rather a better song of similar mould. It’s a choice driven largely by a marketing decision but to be fair Kapoor is not a Tulsi Kumar. Her singing is able to bring a sanitised, yet rooted vibe to a Punjabi female number. The song uses a surprisingly cheap keyboard in a representational way: specific to the film’s region and character. But it sounds musically unsophisticated. Barring the buoyant beats, I also felt in it a hangover of ‘ Preet’, the superb song by Sneha Khanwalkar from Khoobsoorat.

Thankfully, there is a pretty cool rap (Haabi, again) in the interludes that brings back fond memories of another Khanwalkar song, ‘ Superchor’, but in a good way. Lyricist Shellee throws some potent lines: “ Galla sukh da, saah rukk da, Paraan mere khichda, khichda,” that could allude to either of the worn out effect of drugs or the disturbed state of being rejected in love.

By now, most of us have heard ‘ Ikk Kudi’ sung by Punjabi actor-singer Diljit Dosanjh in the promos. But Shahid Mallya brings out the folk simplicity much better with the nuances with his singing. Dosanjh’s version understandably has a more interesting arrangement but his singing is too flat for the simple tune. Mallya does wonders here. Like a virtuoso, he controls it keeping it simple where it is required and decorating it with small flourishes in other places.

When a song begins with the words, “ Andar Da Kutta”, you know the composer and lyricist is really pushing the envelope. The title song ‘ Ud-Daa Punjab’ enjoys the very music it mocks, the flashy, synthetic beats-based Punjabi hip hop by bringing in a contrasting rawness. Trivedi switches on to the frenzied side of his singing while Vishal Dadlani puts up a great show in the rap verses and Varun Grover subverts the hell out of the kind of lyrics a Punjabi Rap King would write. It took me a number of times to get a hold of the lyrics but once I did, I found it both entertaining and powerful. Only that I’d expected a better hook-line from Trivedi here. It sounds too commonplace.

This brings us to the best song of the album: ‘ Hass Nache Le’ that feels like it has emerged straight from the grassroots of the Pind. The harmonium sounds therapeutic after the electronic overdose: there is a brilliant instrumental stretch at the three minutes 40 seconds mark. Mallya, one of the most underused singers in Hindi film music, croons beautifully. And Shelle writes the purest of Punjabi lyrics as if in the morning afterglow of a drug-addled night of euphoria.

The lyricist then goes on to writing a song about a possible acid trip in ‘ Vadiya’. Trivedi smoothens his voice in this one that plays out like an alternative reality, a state of mind that goes closest to invoking the feeling of flying — and the title of the film. It’s a nice, electronica-based easy listen but I suspect will work much better when heard in the film.

There are many things to like in the album of Udta Punjab: the composer’s willingness to push the boundary, clever lyric writing and the fact that it is driven by ideas and themes of the film. But one always expects Trivedi to hit it out of the park when it comes to working with musically inclined filmmakers. He does it here in places but somehow lacks the freshness and imagination that we associate with his early work: a song with a similar theme, for instance, ‘Motorwada’ from Luv Shuv Tey Chicken Khurana. It’s unfair to form a judgement about an album after a few listens but at the moment Udta Punjab is a good album that has moments of brilliance.

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Printable version | Apr 20, 2021 2:51:27 AM |

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