The qawwali is one of the few traditional forms that is doing quite well for itself, partly due to Rahman's own interventions, and partly because the rhythms and energy of certain qawwali traditions are easily transposed in bastardized form into more contemporary film music forms.But the specific kind of qawwali pays homage to -- more reflective, and specific to the Gangetic plain (as opposed to, for instance Punjab; recognizing that these are both rather sweeping generalizations that conceal a variety of differences) -- has never found much of a following in Hindi cinema, except through the rather diluted medium of (admittedly splendid) songs like Na To Karavaan Ki Talaash Hai/Ye Ishq Ishq (Barsaat Ki Raat).But Rahman's own attachment to the quiet devotional song, and his many contributions to that tradition, are also grounds for optimism.
Bachchan "acts" wonderfully here (aided by Prasoon Joshi's lyrics, of course), etching all this in under a minute in a manner worthy of a radio play.
But the very existence of this track itself took me down memory lane -- back to a time when film soundtracks often featured dialogs from the film as well (and certainly, the likes of Sanjeev Kumar, Pran, and of course Bachchan, had voices crying out to be heard).
I needn't have worried: at around the forty-second mark Rahman jettisons the generic lovelorn song in favor of some glittering stringed arrangements; when Ash King's vocals return, it is with a stunning love song that is lean, yet not so much minimal as imbued with the sort of precision we heard in Ye Haseen Vaadiyan (Roja).
In both songs Rahman allows the words the freedom to be surrounded by an instant of silence that is just a shade longer than expected -- the effect is that of notes hanging on the winter air, their meaning amplified.
Perhaps it is only appropriate that I begin my review of an album that seems to channel just about every significant Hindi musical genre from the film industry's (now mostly dead) past, with the track featuring the central figure in Hindi filmdom is a fifty-second declamation by Amitabh Bachchan, preaching a neo-Sufi message of loving God by loving those around us.
It would be a mistake to approach this track as simply an opportunity to listen to Bachchan's legendary voice in action; rather, the man is an actor, and this track only makes sense in the context of the role he is playing -- evidently that of a genial, old-world figure whose ideas seem at once high minded and noble, but perhaps also a tad quaint.Joshi isn't kidding when he has a lyric in one of this album's other tracks say "ye sheher nahin mehfil hai" -- for Mehra, and thus Rahman and Joshi, seems to be paying tribute not just to a place, but to a state of mind, perhaps even a way of being.is a reminder, if any were needed, that Rahman is perhaps the last composer in the Hindi film industry who produces anything like a devotional song.This isn't a first for Rahman, who seemed to hew quite closely to the traditional paradigm in Banno Rani (1947: Earth); but scratch the surface and it is Genda Phool that perhaps more authentically represents the tradition, largely by way of Rekha Bharadwaj's singular voice, which could manage to suffuse both sex and sorrow into an advertising jingle (to be fair, Banno Rani didn't need to do much more than juxtapose the incongruity of the lyrics with the horrible child-old man marriage that occasioned the song).Combined with the simulated horns and street calls that punctuate this song, it seems Mehra doesn't have an idyllic wedding celebration in mind, but one in which the world has already intruded.is quite obviously the weak link in this album -- so obvious, in fact, that it merits some closer attention.