Thursday, February 19, 2009

the music of Billu Barber

While JR eloquently lavishes praise to the deserving outstanding soundtracks of Dev.D and Delhi 6, YT will revive the bags of wordy warble dedicated to soundtracks with a track list that marks a moderate return to form for Pritam, the Friar of Filch, who remained interesting with his "revisions" until he started sounding like assembly-line product. It seems quite fair to connect this to the presence of Gulzar (who first collaborated with Pritam on Just Married) on the soundtrack (well, at least part of it -- but more about that after a few measures).

The 15 tracks are really just 7 tracks, a reprise, a video edit and 6 remixes. The first track marajaaNii opens with a crescendo of triumphant brass, drums and strings that would not have sounded out of place on the outtakes of Muthu. Electronica sets in promptly after this before an energetic male chorus pan-tossed across the speakers. The booty-shaking beat almost distracts you from the surprising barrage of eloquence mouthed by Sukhwinder Singh. When was the last time you heard an item song where the lyrics drew your attention?

ठीक है ठीक ठीक सब कुछ ठीक है
पास है सब कुछ रब नज़दीक है

रब के हज़ूर में कसमें भी खा लीं
दुनिया की औनी-पौनी रसमें निभा लीं

Those last two lines got some people worried -- they thought hazuur was a (blasphemous) reference to the Prophet. One wonders why their sensors didn't kick in when the word floated by in bii.Dii. The meaning's plain to see. The rest of the song doesn't let up as Sunidhi Chauhan enters with a rejoinder. Everything mixes in Punjabi (which shouldn't be a surprise for those familiar with Gulzar's work) builds up to a chorus telling the world to go to hell (civilly, of course). The a.ntaraa offers more excursions into ridiculous rhyme and you can't help smile at जो सर में सोच आयेगी तो पाँव में मोच आयेगी. There's an interlude mixing gibberish (until further notice, that is) followed by the bogus tongue-in-cheek rock guitar storm of notes that, for me, works less as a Pritam trademark than a tribute to the coda of jaaved bhaaii so rele (surely you know where that came from).

We'll stay in the garden of roses, since the big G contributed just two more songs. The first one's the pick of the album. Gulzar's acknowledged skills at adapting to the milieu of the film are put to fine use as he chops up delicious slices of dialect in billuu bhaya.nkar with Ajay Jhingran, Raghuvir Yadav and Kalpana doing enthusiastic justice to the film. Yadav's verbal break offers an interesting counterpoint to the recent silliness about the derogatory casteist overtones of the word barber:

किसी राजा महाराजा को राजू राजू कह के बुलाओगे का? ये बिल्लुआ को हज्जाम नाही Barber कहकर बुलाओ और ऊ भी इज्जत से ... बिल्लू Barber

This clearly tells you that the word that people should have scorned was hajaam. Unfortunately, those that gripe and protest are rarely known for their appreciation of the subtle, let alone the obvious. They choose to throw pebbles at large objects (which must explain why the past is laced with some really interesting stuff got by with ease).

Gulzar's final contribution Kudaayaa Kair is marred by an unexciting arrangement that mixes catchy motifs into a blend that is annoyingly familiar and punctures the promise of the lyrics. There's only so much that Soham Chakraborty, Monali Thakur and Akriti Kakkar can do (and that dying echo of a male chorus going pyaar promises to get as annoying as the Salim-Sulaiman motif that was scattered all over the soundtrack and aural scape of Fanaa turning lassii into brine. Pritam ropes Abhijeet in to assuage any fans of the Jatin-Lalit-championed smooth singer who has the music track switched to a different key to suit his nose ... um... needs.

And this brings us to what happened after the big G had penned three songs. Enter the demand from SRK to include a catchy line in a song. This was reportedly not how the big G worked. There was no compromise and he bid goodbye to the project. Enter Ashish Pandit (Golmaal Returns) and Mayur Puri (Singh Is Kiing) to take SRK's "hit" line and churn out the Hinglish monster ##love## meraa ##hit hit##. It opens with an ominous wall of electronica, a female chorus chanting gibberish and a vibrant thump (which sounds like a reggaton beat), before Pritam regular Neeraj Shridhar warbles away, loading the gaps with orgasmic tributes to Kumar Sanu.

देखा तुझे देखा मैंने हुआ मैं तो crazy
तौबा मेरी तौबा मेरी कुड़ी है तू s*xy
आजा मेरी बाहों में तू आजा baby love me
आँ आँ आँ आँ आँ आँ

मुझे तू ज़रा-सी हाँ इस दिल में entry दे
छुपा ले यूँ मुझको ना रहे कोई exit

है love मेरा hit hit सोणिये
तो फिर कैसी खिट-पिट सोणिये
तू baby बड़ी fit fit
न कर ऐसे खिट-पिट खिट-पिट

There isn't much Tulsi Kumar can do once she comes in with the a.ntaraa extolling the equality of pahalii aarazuu and aakhirii tamannaa. This isn't a spoof of the silly lyric but a virile gym-going cousin. One wonders if the Talwalkars could have made something of this paean to female fitness.

Sayeed Quadri pens the lyrics for the welcome Rahat Fateh Ali Khan break with jaauu.N kahaa.N, but it makes the return to MoreEnglishThanHinglish territory with you got me rockin' and reelin' quite painful (don't be so curious / nothing mysterious / it's only love that's moving all around us / love is so glorious / love is so marvellous / it's gotten so fine since the day it found us / love is glorious). Kudaayaa Kair's here too but only as a phrase tossed into the soft RnB mix.

And this brings us to the pinnacle of Neeraj Shridhar's contribution to his patron, Sir Pritam. He pens the lyrics for a 70s/80s rock anthem tribute belted out by KK, Rana Mazumdar and Suraj (Jagan?). Once the choral chant channelling Carmina Burana and Jerry Goldsmith's work on The Omen served with an icing of brass fades out, the silence is broken by an electric guitar riff (so familiar!) before a chorus belts out some incendiary nonsense:

Burn 'em up like the sun
Make them burn, make them run
No control in their hands
Burning fire he's a man

Whatever that means.

It's Hinglish all the way as KK breaks in:

आगे आगे चलूँ मैं सदा
यही है मेरी अदा
Don't wanna be looking behind

मंजिल की राहों में हूँ
सब की निगाहों में हूँ
I'm on the move all the time

मैं जाऊँ जिधर भी
ये अम्बर ये धरती
कहे मुझे पुकार के

At which point, the chorus returns announcing the name of the song (and presumably the call of the land and sky) e aa o. Very primal monophthongs. You can hear Rainbow's All Night Long and I Surrender as the song goes on (I'm really curious -- is that riff a lift or a clever inspired original lick?). Perhaps more. KK doesn't get as adventurous as Ian Gillian, Dio or Graham Bonnett and the song doesn't get past being a collection of echoes of good old rock.

The remixes exist to serve the purpose that all remixes on Bollywood soundtracks exist to serve. If you are dying to listen to exhortations to lassies to send their dirty derrieres into motion look no further than the Kilogram's Balkan Mix of mar jaaNii -- any merit that the song had claimed is completely lost as things get lost in a trance of punchy whammy dance floor frenzy.

Try telling people that this was the soundtrack of a film about a hairdresser. That'll get you a laugh louder and richer than any of Priyadarshan's PreviouslyProducedProducts could have.

addendum [february 22, 2009]: There's an interview of Sukhwinder Singh that, unless the transcriber got it wrong, offers something interesting about the soundtrack; when asked about the songs of the film, here's what SS had to say:

I have composed one song for Billo[sic] Barbar, written by Gulzar Saab. It is a very interesting song. After 'Beedi Jalile', Gulzar saab has again experimented with the lyrics and one must listen to the song to understand what I mean.

One wonders which song this is, given that there are just three songs to choose from. Or is this a track that didn't make it to the album?

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