Friday, December 26, 2008

Ghajini - Forget it!

Despite being one of the finest star-actors of Hindi filmdom, Aamir Khan remains an enigma to me. On the one hand he successfully projects a carefully crafted image of an intelligent actor who, in his quest for perfection, would go through countless discussions and deliberations before taking on a film. Yet, from time to time, he goes on to do films with the dumbest of scripts ridden with countless loopholes. After the emotionally engaging Tare Zameen Par last year, he went on for a Fanaa encore by agreeing to do Ghajini this year. But unlike Fanaa, which tried to take itself too seriously and eventually turned out into a film that was unsure of the tone it should take – mushy mish-mash or a tantalizing terrorist tale, Ghajini has no pretensions. There is no effort to make it look like anything but a hardcore masala flick from the 80s, a time when masala and brainless were found next to each other in the lexicon of Hindi films. Therein lies the root cause of my disappointment with Ghajini.

A. Murugadoss's Ghajini is based on an interesting premise, borrowed unquestionably from Christopher Nolan's Memento (is there anyone who would believe the disclaimer at the beginning of the movie?). A man must avenge his girlfriend's murder, only the event has left him with anterograde amnesia, where he is incapable to creating any new memories for more than 15 minutes. Just imagine the delicious possibilities this premise opens up. How does the protagonist first discover his problem, how does he first chance upon the idea of preserving his memories by using a Polaroid camera and body tattoos, how does the metamorphosis from a prim and proper corporate type to a maniacal killing machine take shape? Wonderful ideas to explore, but for writer-director Murugadoss these are inconsequential, even redundant questions. He is undeniably from the old-school that consciously avoids complexity in a quintessential masala flick? But Aamir Khan, the perfectionist? How can one ignore his association with the film and his inability to impart the film with even a modicum of intelligence that one expects in a film he chooses to associate with. The problem probably lies with me – much like the protagonist of Ghajini I too suffered a short-term memory loss and forgot completely that Aamir Khan is not so perfect after all. He did Fanaa not very long back. Didn't he?

My main problem with Ghajini is with the writing. The screenplay is full of glaring loopholes and scant regard for the audience's intelligence. After an engaging first 15 minutes, which boasts of Aamir Khan displaying in equal measure his newly sculpted (possibly steroid-aided) eight-pack body and one of his best acting demonstrations ever, the story takes off to an elongated romantic flashback, which though enjoyable, is quite ridiculously scripted. Asin as the protagonist's love interest lends an infectious charm to the flashback, but only after the viewer has got accustomed to her animated style, which can be a bit irritating to start with.

In fact, the film takes the concept of suspension of disbelief to unimaginable extremes. You're made to believe that hardly anyone knows what the brightest corporate whiz-kid in town looks like. Or, that the police don't investigate what words like "Find Ghajini" or "Kalpana Was Killed" tattooed on the 'killer's' body mean. On the contrary, they let him off believing the ridiculous explanation the villain gives them for his cellphone number being tattooed on his body. Even the crux of the film, the reason why the heroine is killed, lacks the punch necessary to make the whole plot of the film believable.

Ghajini is one of the rare films in the history of Hindi cinema, which are named after the villain. Is it wrong to expect the role of the villain in a film named after him to be meaty? But Murugadoss' Ghajini seems like Ajit's sidekick from a 70s film. It seems that no effort went into writing his character, which is as uni-dimensional as can possibly be. Most importantly, where's the menace? It just doesn't justify why the film is called Ghajini and not like the Dharam paaji films of yore – Main Intaqam Loonga and the likes.

It isn't that the film is a lost case in its entirety. Despite all its flaws (including the hammering background score and some gimmicky editing of fight sequences), one must grant it to the director for having created a film that moves at pace fast enough for the viewer to ignore the flaws. Not even once during the 180 minutes plus duration of this film did I feel bored. If I'm disappointed it's only because I expected a much more cerebral fare from an Aamir Khan film. Had it been any other actor, the flaws would not have grated so much.

Talking of Aamir the actor, he is the single most important reason why I found the film watchable. His tour de force performance saves this film from degenerating into a routine masala potboiler. He is best when he doesn't have any dialogue to mouth and conveys his helplessness, aguish and rage through his eyes. Just Aamir Khan's performance in the first 15 minutes and the climax is enough for me to justify the price I paid for the tickets. But I still feel a bit let down because I foolishly expected much more from an Aamir Khan film.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Lata Mangeshkar Songs With Less Famous Composers - Part 3

Continuing from my earlier posts on Lata Mangeshkar songs with relatively less-famous composers (Part 1, Part 2), I would like to talk about some music directors with whom Lata Mangeshkar has done very little work, but their collaboration has resulted in some great melodious songs.

Pt. Amarnath – Not to be confused with Pt. Amarnath, the elder brother of the composer duo Husnalal Bhagatram, Pt. Amarnath Chawla was essentially a classical musician. He composed music for only one film – Garam Coat – where each song was a real gem. All songs in the film were sung by Lata Mangeshkar. My favourite from this film is Kahiyo Roye Dukhiyare

Kahiyo Roye Dukhiyare (Garam Coat, 1955, Majrooh Sultanpuri)

Some other songs from the film are also available on youtube: Ghar Aaja More RajaZulfon Wale Ko Kya Pata, Nanha Mora Dole and Jogia Se Preet

Jagmohan Sursagar – Jaganmoy Mitra a.k.a Jagmohan Sursagar was a noted Bengali musician. He composed for just one Hindi film. The 1955 film, Sardar, had two Lata Mangeshkar solos, among which I rate Pyar Ki Ye Talkhiyan among Lata’s best for any composer.

Pyar Ki Ye Talkhiyan (Sardar, 1955, Kaif Irfani)

Sailesh Mukherji - To the best of my knowledge, Sailesh Mukherji composed music for only two films – Parichay and Savera. Parichay had an intricate tune in the form of Jal Ke Dil Khaak Hua, that is another one of my favourite Lata Mangeshkar song of all time.

Jal Ke Dil Khaak Hua (Parichay, 1954, Keshav)

Chic Chocolate – A.X Vaz, an assistant to C. Ramchandra, took on a unique sounding name, Chic Chocolate, when he composed independently. So strong had been his association with C. Ramachandra that many people thought that it was C. Ramachandra himself who was composing under a pseudonym. Listen to this light and frothy number composed by Chic Cholocolate in Rangeeli, and you can hear a lot of similarity with some of C. Ramachandra’s scores.

Chanda Ko Sitara Mile (Rangeeli, 1952, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan)

Nisar Bazmi – Talking of Chic Chocolate, reminds me of Nisar Bazmi, who had joined hands with Chic Chocolate to compose music for the 1956 film, Kar Bhala. Nisar Bazmi never got much success in India. He migrated to Pakistan in 1962, where he was more successful. Interestingly, he reused one of the tunes from Kar Bhala for a Pakistani film. It is probably the only instance where Lata Mangeshkar and Noor Jehan have sung the same tune separated by 14 years.

Balam Ji Bade Nadan (Kar Bhala, 1956, Majrooh Sultanpuri)

Nainwa Chalaye Baan (Anjuman – Pakistani Film, 1970)

V. Balsara - A noted pianist, V. Balsara, worked as an assistant to the likes of Khemchand Prakash, Ghulam Haider, Madan Mohan and Shankar Jaikishan, before he moved to Kolkata and settled there . As an independent composer he composed a lovely melody for Lata Mangeshkar in Madmast (1953)– Sunaayen Haal-eDil

Sunaayen Haal-e-dil (Madmast, 1953, Madhuraj)

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lata Mangeshkar Songs With Less Famous Composers - Part 2

In a previous post I had talked about some songs Lata Mangeshkar has sung for relatively less famous music director. In continuation of that post, I present to you a few more music directors.

Sardar Malik – Anu Malik's father did not meet with much success. In one of his early films, Thokar, he had some nice compositions, but if at all he's known today it's because of his compositions in Saranga. Ironically, he did not get much work after Saranga and virtually disappeared into obscurity. One of his songs for Lata Mangeshkar in the 1954 film Chor Bazar makes one wonder why someone who could create such an evocative melody did not get enough work.

Huyi Ye Humse Nadani (Chor Bazar, 1954, Shakeel Badayuni)

Datta Naik– N. Datta worked as Sachin Dev Burman's assistant before he turned into an independent composer in 1955. His very first film as a music director – Milap – had a lovely Lata melody – Ye Baharon Ka Sama. He did limited work with Lata Mangeshkar, but their collaboration almost always resulted in great compositions. Just as an example, listen to this song from Black Cat.

Sitare Rah Takte Hain (Black Cat, 1959, Jaan Nisar Akhtar)

Sudhir Phadke – Strictly speaking, Sudhir Phadke cannot be categorized as a "less famous" composer, as he was quite a name in the Marathi music industry. However, his output in Hindi films was limited. Most of his compositions for Lata were based on classical music, the most famous being Jyoti Kalash Chhalke from Bhabhi Ki Choodiyan. Here are two of my favourite Sudhir Phadke creations for Lata:

Lau Lagati Geet Gaati (Bhabhi Ki Choodiyan, 1961, Pt. Narendra Sharma)

Baandh Preet Phool Dor (Malti Madhav, 1951, Pt. Narendra Sharma)

Iqbal Qureishi – I have to admit that I don't know much about Iqbal Qureishi, except for some of his compositions. Lata Mangeshkar sang around 8 songs under his baton. The first time I heard Itna Na Sata from Bindiya (1960), I absolutely fell in love with the song.

Itna Na Sata (Bindiya, 1960, Rajendra Krishan)

Another interesting Iqbal Qureishi composition is a Lata-Rafi duet from Banarasi ThugAaj Mausam Ki Masti Mein, which was reproduced by him note for note a few years later in a Rafi-Asha duet from the film Cha Cha ChaEk Chameli Ke Mandwe Tale.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Drona - An Interesting Idea Gone Awry

"You're special", young Aditya's foster father tells him when he is bogged down by his Harry Pottersque existence at the Dursley's…sorry, his uncle's/ foster father's house.

The opening reels of Goldie Behl's Drona are so unabashedly close to J K Rowling's magical creation, that you expect something magical to unfold in the subsequent reels. You wait with bated breath for the protagonist to discover how and why he is special, somewhat akin to Harry Potter's realization (the opening exposition in the form of Amar Chitra Katha like comic book sketches pretty much lays down the 'why' of it, but you really want to know the 'how').You wait. And you wait. But the director is in no hurry to oblige.

That is the main problem with Drona. It is too ponderous for a film of this genre. A fantasy works when the inevitable conflict between good and evil unfolds at a pace that keeps you glued to the screen with anticipation. Unfortunately, in Drona while the protagonist and the antagonist are established early-on in the film, the conflict between them unfolds at a leisurely pace through uninspiring monologues and equally uninspiring sequences. I was so bored after a while that I didn't care if the universe could be saved from the evil designs of the buffoon-like asur incarnate.

It is obvious that Goldie Behl believed in the concept. Taking cues from Hindu mythology, he creates a story that sounds compelling enough. At least on paper. It has all the elements of a fantasy. It is a traditional good vs. evil story with loads of magic and the supernatural, and, what's important, it is internally consistent. Where he fails – and miserably at that – is to execute that on celluloid. I strongly suspect that the Drona comic book will be much more satisfying than the film.

Once the rich tapestry of details was all laid down on paper, the writers apparently could not figure out how to translate that into an equally compelling screenplay. From the point where Drona realizes what he must do to save the world, the sequence of events unfolds at a painfully laborious pace. This results in a completely lack of emotional connect with the characters. The writing team probably felt that a mother-son track (played by real life mother and son) would lend the necessary emotional core to the film. But Jaya Bachchan's shockingly flat portrayal of the mother takes away the emotional appeal of this track. When Riz Raizada (the buffoon-like antagonist, played by Kay Kay Menon) transforms her into a stone statue, there is no visible difference in the expressions – that's how expressionless Jaya Bachchan is in the film.

It is not only the screenplay, the director's visual translation also leaves a lot to be desired. Even though the plot had many elements from Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, what was the need to even borrow visual elements from the films, especially the LoTR trilogy. Riz's Army is exactly like Sauron's Ringwraiths, the monstrous attacker at the city of Raazpur is a curious mix of Uruk Hai and Haradrim, the white wizard from LoTR makes an appearance here (even his staff is borrowed totally from LoTR)….there are many such examples here. What takes the cake is the composition of the shot when Jaya Bachchan shows Drona's costume and the sword case to Abhishek. It is almost an exact replica of the scene in LoTR when Aragorn first sees the Shards of Narsil at Rivendell. Later on, even the way Abhishek holds the sword is straight from LoTR. Maybe, Goldie Behl saw it as a homage, but to me it seems like lack of originality.

What worked for me in this otherwise disappointing film was the conceptualization of the character of Drona. He is not a typical super-hero. He is more of a brooding character upon whom greatness has been thrust. For many, a super-hero who doesn't kick butt can be a major flaw in this film, but I loved the fact that Drona was more human than heroic. And this aspect of this character sets the stage for another interesting character - that of Sonia, played by Priyanka Chopra. Despite being given the most irritating lines to mouth in the form of "Babuji kehte the....", Sonia's character is more heroic than the hero himself.

Visually speaking, the film is quite a treat to watch. The special effects might not be the best of class, but they are fairly well-done in places. And the visuals of the desert are absolutely arresting. The train sequence in the middle of the desert is the highlight of the film, as is the scene where Riz captures Sonia on a ship.

Alas, a miserly sprinkling of interesting characterization and visual richness alone cannot make a fantasy work!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Lata Mangeshkar Songs With Less Famous Composers - Part I

If there is any artiste I absolutely worship, it's Lata Mangeshkar. As she turns 79 this weekend, I'm wondering how I can pay a tribute to her on her birthday. Earlier this year, I did a series of posts on my favourite Lata Mangeshkar songs from 1946-2007.

This was a very effort-intensive exercise, but ultimately very satisfying. What can I do differently on her birthday this year? Why not talk about some of her collaboration with less famous music directors? That should be a good tribute on her birthday.

When we talk about her famous songs, around 15-20 music directors come up as the usual suspects. But Lata Mangeshkar has sung songs for more than 180 music directors, many of whom have composed great songs for her. I thought it would be a great idea to talk about some of those music directors, who might not have been very prolific or terribly under-rated or maybe not so consistent, but did some good to great work during their time.

Before I talk about these music directors, let me emphasize that the songs I list below are just meant to give a peek into their compositions, and in no way represent their best work with Lata Mangeshkar.

Chitragupta: This may seem like a controversial choice among less-famous composers. Connoiseurs of old Hindi film music surely know about him, but his name gets kind of lost amidst more popular names. Chitragupta Srivastava, in my opinion, is one of the most under-rated music composers of Hindi film industry. Despite having composed from close to 140 Hindi films and numerous Bhojpuri films, he was never counted among the A-list music directors. Most of the films he composed for were not very successful, but he never compromised on the quality of music. It might come as a surprise to many that Lata Mangeshkar sang around 240 songs under Chitragupta's baton, which is more than what she sang for Madan Mohan, or Sachin Dev Burman, or Naushad, or Roshan. I pick two Lata songs by Chitragupta as a sample of his output.

Haye Re Meri Zulfein from Burmah Road is a sensuous number, rendered beautifully by Lata in a style one doesn't normally associate with her.

Haye Re Meri Zulfein (Burmah Road, 1962, Majrooh Sultanpuri)

The other Chitragupta number I pick is a classical Tarana from Shiv Bhakt.

Kailashnath Prabhu Avinashi + Tarana (Shiv Bhakt, 1955, Gopal Singh Negi)

Shri Nath Tripathi – Like Chitragupta, his mentor S. N Tripathi composed music for a lot of films (90+), but he was never considered in the big league thanks to the fact that most of his films were B-grade historicals and mythologicals. His compositions were mostly based on classical music. His most famous film is Rani Roopmati, which had the popular Aa Laut Ke Aaja Mere Meet as well as the beautiful classical-based Rafi-Lata duet, Jhananana Jhan Baaje Payalia, which I like for Lata's effortless taans towards the end of the song.

Jhananana Jhan Baaje Payalia (Rani Roopmati, 1957, Bharat Vyas)

Bulo C. Rani – Best known for his compositions in Dilip Kumar's Jogan (1950), Bulo C. Rani is hardly a known name now. He was not very prolific but his compositions were steeped in melody. Lata Mangeshkar sang around 22 songs for him, most of which are quite rare and hard to find. Surprisingly, I found a youtube clipping of a Lata Mangeshkar song from his last film, Sunehre Qadam. Listening to this melodious composition will give you an idea of what his other songs would be like.

Na Baaz Aaya Muqaddar (Sunehre Qadam, 1966, Mahendra Pran)

Sunhere Qadam also had another gem by Lata - Mangne Se Jo Maut Mil Jaati sung with loads of pathos by the legend.

Maagne Se Jo Maut (Sunehre Qadam, 1966, Mahendra Pran)

Jamal Sen – Hailing from Rajasthan, Jamal Sen was given his first break by Kidar Sharma in the film Shokhiyan (1951). The film was a commercial disaster, but it has some really great song. Being a Suraiya film, majority of the songs were sung by Suraiya. There was, however, a Lata gem that I would probably include among Lata's best of all time – Sapna Ban Saajan Aaye.

Sapna Ban Saajan Aaye (Shokhiyan, 1951, Kedar Sharma)

While Jamal Sen demonstrated his grip on classical music in the above song, he turned to folk music for another song from the same film. The rambunctious percussion and the catchy chorus in Door Desh Se Aaja Re make it one of my favourite chorus songs of all time. This song is also noteworthy in that it is one of the only 5 Lata-Suraiya duets.

Shaukat Dehlvi 'Nashad' – Given the phonetic affinity of his name to that of the much more popular composer, Nashad's most famous compositions are wrongly credited to Naushad in sections of media. He did not do too many films, and later migrated to Pakistan. Baradari is his most famous work in India, where there is a folksy Lata number that I love.

Ab Ke Baras Bada Julm Hua (Baradari, 1955, Khumar Barabankvi)

Dilip Dholakia – Dilip Dholakia worked as an assistant to Chitragupta, S N Tripathi and Laxmikant Pyarelal. In 1962 he worked as an independent music director for a film called Private Secretary. It had a few Lata solos, my favourite being Ja Ja Re Chanda, which starts with a charming piano piece.

Ja Ja Re Chanda (Private Secretary, 1962, Prem Dhawan)

This was just a random list of a few music directors about who probably are not very famous, but who created some great compositions for Lata Mangeshkar to sing. I will try to talk about more such music directors in subsequent posts. Any suggestions are welcome.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Last Lear - There's Something About Harry

The key to establishing a connection with the retired Shakespearean theatre actor, Harry, in Rituparno Ghosh's The Last Lear is to know your Shakespeare well. A neophyte journalist in the film learns it the hard way when he is quite literally thrown out of Harry's house because he doesn't know his Oberon from Oberoi, and Robin, for him, is – so obviously – Robin Hood. On the other hand, his friend, Siddharth, a film director, is welcomed with open hands because he can precisely quote the play, act and scene from where Harry picks a few lines to recite.

It's not much different for the audience of the film as well. One doesn't necessarily need to be extremely well-versed in Shakespeare to appreciate the film. But one definitely needs to have the same quality of mind and sensibility that is required to understand and appreciate Shakespeare. Appreciating the art and technique of Shakespeare's work also requires a certain level of patience and an open mind to decipher a language that is possibly alien in today's times. The same holds true for The Last Lear. The vocabulary and grammar (and I don't mean it in only in reference to the spoken word) of this film is markedly different from most films we get to see these days.

Rituparno Ghosh's films are an acquired taste. Given his predilection for long conversations between characters, it is easy to dismiss most of his films as ponderous, boring or verbose. But that's his style – his vocabulary, his grammar. Once one gets used to it, just listening to two characters talk in his films can be delightful. The way he sets up the conversations, the way the dialogue slowly develops, the way a scene builds up – I have come to appreciate all this after having watched Rituparno's films like Unishe April, Utsab, Chokher Bali, Raincoat and Antar Mahal. Having said this, I realize that I am generalizing the characteristics of his films based on a very few examples, which probably do not represent his best work even But this helped me set my expectations when I went to watch The Last Lear, and I must say that I came out mostly satisfied.

The film uses a fragmented, non linear narrative where the protagonist, Harry (Amitabh Bachchan), is revealed to the audience through two parallel recollections by a journalist (Jishu) and the conversations between women (Priety Zinta and Shefali Shah) who have been associated with Harry. Harry, as it is revealed, was a Shakespearean theatre actor who in his heydays had played almost every major Shakespeare character on stage – from Prospero to Oberon – but due to a whimsical decision walked away from the world of theatre and an opportunity to play the role he always wanted – King Lear. He has become a recluse, confined to his house, with the only connection with the outside world being the window of his room that provides his distractions in the form of shouting at casual passers-by who urinate against the wall of his house.

Enter Siddharth (Arjun Rampal), a film director who is making a film about an ageing circus joker. He wants to bring Harry back from self-imposed retirement and act in his film. There is a hitch, though. Harry has a strong dislike for films, which he believes is not an actor's medium as the director and technical areas like camera and editing shape a performance. It is here that Rituparno Ghosh brings to fore the theme of difference of approach between films and theatre. As the celebrated Russian film director, Andrei Tarkovsky, had observed:

"To me, it is easier to work with film than with theater. In the case of film, the sole responsibility for everything rests on me. In theater, the responsibility of the actor increases tremendously.
(In films) When an actor arrives at the set, it is not at all necessary for him to be acquainted with the director's ideas and intentions in their completeness. It is even disadvantageous that he himself shapes his own role. The film actor should act in a spontaneous and intuitive manner under the various circumstances prescribed by the director."

How Siddharth convinces Harry to act in his film sets the stage for some of the best moments in the film. Like the one where Siddharth and Harry develop a bond by watching the goings-on of the street outside on a CCTV. Or, the one where Harry demonstrates his theatre acting prowess by reciting Prospero's soliloquy from The Tempest. This particular scene takes on a surrealistic hue as the room suddenly transforms itself as though he was performing on stage.

When Harry agrees to be a part of Siddharth's film, the director wonderfully sets up a contrast. A man who has led a claustrophobic existence for a very long time gets a release when he returns to his love of acting. The director underscores this point by taking Harry out from the confines of his house to an outdoor location in the hills.

What happens after this point is immaterial, for instead of being a plot driven film, The Last Lear is a character driven film. There is an entire sub-plot with feministic shades that takes a whole lot of screen time, doesn't add much to the story, but works brilliantly in adding depth to the three female characters of the film. Shabnam (Preity Zinta), Vandana (Shefali Shah) and Ivy, the nurse (Divya Dutta) are holed up together in Harry's house on Diwali night and through their interactions, we not only learn more about Harry, but also about them. Then we have the journalist, who, at the surface, might seem like just a character introduced to frame the narrative, but really represents Siddharth's conscience.

There were a few things that did not work well for me in the film. I would have liked it more, had the director explored a bit more about the differences between theatre and film acting and how Harry copes up with it. A further insight into how Harry adjusts himself to the piecemeal, director-driven acting of films, would have made this theme richer for me. Secondly, the ending was a bit too open-ended for my liking. But these were minor deterrents in a film that was on the whole quite satisfying.

The performances by all the supporting actors are good, but Shefali Shah and Arjun Rampal really shine through. Shefali's is a finely nuanced performance, one of the very best by any actress this year. She is usually good in any role she plays, but having watched her ham uncontrollably in Subhash Ghai's Black and White earlier this year, I am convinced that she needs a good director to bring the best out of her. Film is, after all, a director's medium!

That brings me to the performance of this film. Amitabh Bachchan as Harry is charismatic, very powerful, and entirely believable. If he appears a tad over-the-top it befits the character he plays. Theatre acting is all about loud expressions and gesticulation, after all, and a person who has worked on stage for "30 years and 9 months", Harry had to be a bit over-the-top. Whenever he switches to Shakespeare, it might not be the best rendition of Shakespeare one would have seen, but his charismatic screen presence and commanding voice is such that you cannot but stay glued to the screen. That, in my opinion, is the hallmark of masterful performance. As the movie ends, you realize that Amitabh Bachchan demands applause from you, much like Prospero's final speech in The Tempest where he asks the audience let their indulgence set him free.
Now my charms are all o'erthrown,
And what strength I have's mine own,
Which is most faint: now, 'tis true,
I must be here confined by you,
Or sent to Naples. Let me not,
Since I have my dukedom got
And pardon'd the deceiver, dwell
In this bare island by your spell;
But release me from my bands
With the help of your good hands:
Gentle breath of yours my sails
Must fill, or else my project fails,
Which was to please. Now I want
Spirits to enforce, art to enchant,
And my ending is despair,
Unless I be relieved by prayer,
Which pierces so that it assaults
Mercy itself and frees all faults.
As you from crimes would pardon'd be,
Let your indulgence set me free.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Rock On!! - A Very Personal Connection

I get a little uncomfortable and self-conscious every time I watch a film where there is a character who shares my name (that's been happening a lot in the last couple of years). Sometimes it is easy, especially when you have nothing in common with the character on screen (for example, the three films where Akshay Kumar was called Aditya). In those cases it does feel odd to have people on screen call out your name, but that's not a problem. But if you see even one trait similar to you in the character with the same name as you, it's a terribly uncomfortable feeling. It almost feels like standing naked in full public gaze. This happened to me when I saw Rock On!!

Not that I have a lots in common with Aditya (Farhan Akhtar), the lead singer of a rock band Magik in Rock On. But the fact that he cuts himself off from his friends, almost erasing them from his life as if they didn't exist, and is visibly uncomfortable when meeting them after 10 years, was something uncannily close to me. Although there's no 'past' or 'guilt' that prevents me from doing so, as it is in the case of the character in Rock On, I have hardly been in touch with any of my friends from college, avoiding re-unions or get-togethers for no particular reason. I just feel terribly uncomfortable. Why? If only I knew.

Rock On also opened the flood gates of memory for me. It took me back almost 20 years when I was in college. At the time I was closely associated with a college rock band. Not as a member, but as a close friend of the lead singer of the group. I saw them from extremely close quarters, from being around during their jamming sessions, to accompanying them for the various gigs they performed at five star hotels, to closely observing the differences of opinions and serious tiffs among the five members of the group. I saw all of that in Rock On!! And that made this film special for me.

Plot-wise there's nothing remarkably new in Rock On. Even the way some of the scenes unfold is quite predictable. Yet, the entire film is put together with such warmth and honesty that it does not fail to talk directly to the audience. It's the film that appeals to the heart. The credit for this must go to Abhishek Kapoor who has written and directed this film with utmost honesty and conviction. The primary theme of achieving your unfulfilled dreams is universal. Almost everyone at some point in one's life would have had a dream that got sidelined in favour of a more secure future. As Aditya says in the movie, "Compromise kaun nahin karta…."

One of the reasons why the film works so well is that almost every actor comes up with an instantly relatable performance. Farhan Akhtar as Aditya gets the meatiest character and he does remarkably well, even though I wonder if he really has a wide range. For this film, however, he is just right. He also uses is slightly croaky voice to good effect in emotional scenes. Prachi Desai as his wife is endearing. The subtlety of her expressions surprised me quite a bit, especially after having seen her in an irritatingly melodramatic performance in an Ekta Kapoor serial. Purab Kohli as "Killer Drummer" and Luke Kenny as Rob, the keyboard player, also suit their roles to a T. However, the characters that worked best for me were that of the on-screen couple Joe (Arjun Rampal) and Debbie (Shahana Goswami). Arjun works well within his limitations as an actor and comes up with a performance that is undoubtedly his best ever. But the real knock-out performance comes from Shahana Goswami. I seriously believe that Shahana's is the supporting performance of the year. She truly deserves every single supporting actress award next year, but the mechanics of most awards are such that it is unlikely that she would bag it, which will be quite unfortunate.

In a film about a rock band, music has an important role has to play. Shankar-Ehsan-Loy's rocking score works very well in the context of the film. Whether it's Socho Zara that plays right at the beginning, setting the tone of the movie, or the climactic medley of Tum Ho To and Sindbad the Sailor, each song is picturized extremely well. The climax is also emotionally uplifting, despite being predictable. A lot has been written about Javed Akhtar's seemingly 'pedestrian' lyrics, but I felt they were perfect for the genre.

While talking about how writers tend to take shortcuts when they can't think of any innovative ways of moving the screenplay forward, playwright Rebecca Gilman had talked about the 1983 Oscar winner Terms of Endearment - "Look at Terms of Endearment. We’re going along and going along, and there’s not really a plot. Then...oh, she gets cancer. You get it all the time when people don’t quite know what to do, and I think in those cases it is a shortcut to tragedy." This can very well be said of Rock On as well. The plot point about brain tumour clearly points towards a writer (Abhishek Kapoor) who just didn't know how to add an emotional element to the final act.

However, I connected with it at a very personal level. It literally shook me up. And my connection with the film was complete….

Last year I had received the news that lead guitarist of the college rock band I talked about earlier had succumbed to lung cancer.

This one is for you, Shiva.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Jaane Tu.... Ya Jaane Na - Pure, Unadulterated Fun

"What kind of films do you like?" I'm asked this question a bit too often for my comfort. After all, I'm someone who likes the thematic vacuousness and in-your-face insouciance of Jhoom Barabar Jhoom just as much as the philosophical subtext of Mithya, the over-the-top melodrama of a Bhansali film as much as the let's-see-if-you-get-this arrogance in Anurag Kahsyap's No Smoking, the shameless emotional manipulation in a picture-perfect Karan Johar film as much as gritty, raw feel of, say, Vishal Bhardwaj's Omkara. So much so that people often feel that I have a very 'erratic' (read weird) taste in films.

How and why one ends up liking a particular film is never easy to enunciate, for there are so many different things at play at the sensory level that it is impossible for put a finger on one easily explainable reason. If I'm really forced to point one thing, I would say I end up liking films where I get what (or little more than what) I have been promised. In other words, a film that meets or exceeds my expectations. Yes, there's a school of thought that one should not go to a film with any pre-set expectations and then view it at an 'objective' level. But, objectivity is an over-rated virtue. How can one be truly objective when a film is supposed to talk to you at a very personal level? Anyway, this is a topic of another debate and I wouldn't dwell on it here.

What I want to do here is to talk about Abbas Tyrewala's Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na. So, what is my opinion on the film, did I like it? Oh yes, I loved it. For the simple reason that I got exactly what I had bargained for. I walked into the theatre expecting a stereotypical college rom-com with some instances of clever writing (given Abbas Tyrewala's reputation), and that's exactly what I got.

At the story/ plot level, Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na is indeed a stereotypical college romance. There's a boy and a girl, best of friends, but their relationship is purely at the platonic level. Everyone thinks they're a couple, but thoughts of love have never entered their minds. College over, boy and girl meet another girl and boy and try to forge relationships till they realize they're in love and return to each other. Add to that the horrendously clichéd airport climax.

But wait a minute. As I have observed earlier on this blog, films are not about one-line plot descriptions. Abbas Tyrewala proves that with some clever and inspired writing the most irritating clichés of Hindi films can be given a delicious zing. Add to that the effort that has clearly gone into providing flesh and depth to most of the characters, even the most peripheral and stereotypical one.

Take the character of Jai (Imran Khan in a confident and endearing debut) himself. The confrontation-avoiding, non-violent, non-hero character has hardly every been done this well on Hindi cinema. Jai Singh Rathore, despite being from a family of feuding Rajputs, is raised by his mother to stay away from confrontations of any kind. So the 'violent streak' is suppressed under layers and layers of false stories about his father that his mother keeps narrating to him. He remains a 'darpok' and 'fattu'. So if he comes face to face with situations that demand him to do something hero-like he would rather use brain than brawn. If a college mate calls him fattu, he would talk him out of the confrontation. If his best-friend's brother taunts him, he would just come out with a witty repartee and cool things down. And when the most hackneyed of all sequences meant to show heroism comes up – saving a damsel in distress from a seemingly lecherous duo – he thinks of a brilliant (almost bizarre) way of saving the girl. The cheesiness of the idea actually works big time for this scene. Great, inspired writing.

Next we have Jai's widowed mother, Savitri (Ratna Pathak Shah in the best supporting performance of the year so far). With a name like that, one would almost visualize a lady in white whose only occupation would be to stand in-front of her dead husband's portrait and say lines alternating between 'aaj tumhare papa zinda hote…." and "dekh rahe ho jai ke papa….", depending on who the lines were being spoken to. No, not Savitri Rathod. Of course, she has conversation with the dead father's portrait, but it's always a delightful, husband-wife banter. She lies to her son about his father. And when she is not playing the role of a mother she is a social activist always rubbing a certain Inspector Waghmare (Paresh Rawal) the wrong way.

Oh yes, we have Aditi (Genelia) too, but hers is just a stock character. Probably it was meant to be that way. There no added depth to her character. Genelia, however, lends an infectious charm which is difficult to forget. Her interactions with her brother, Amit, show glimpses of a very real, believable brother-sister relationships.

Talking of Amit (Pratiek Babbar), this was one character I developed the most affinity too. With the entire college crowd being portrayed as the happy go lucky kinds, he adds that element of angst that's missing from the film otherwise. He is a recluse, who has no qualms about being job-less, and finds solace in painting only for himself. He 'hates' Jai, but for a reason. His parents look at Jai and wonder why their son could not be like him, and he lost his only friend, his sister, to Jai. All this comes across in just a few scenes, but adds enormous depth to Amit's character. Again, Abbas Tyrewala the writer scores. I felt that for his first film, Pratiek was brilliant. May be it is his resemblance to his mother (I'm way too partial towards his mother, willing to forgive and forget even travesties like Badle Ki Aag), but he came across as someone who not only did justice to the way the character was written, but added another dimension just by his dead-pan, unkempt looks and unusual dialogue delivery.

It is fairly evident that a lot of thought went into the film at the script level. The comic sub-plots of Inspector Waghmare and the brother-duo-who-come-to-a-disco-on-a-horseback seem superfluous at first, probably meant just to extract a few hearty laughs, but later on one realizes how inextricably they're woven into the narrative.

The film is peopled with actors who display their best comic talents in a really long time. Naseeruddin Shah as the dead father in the portrait has unbridled fun, while Paresh Rawal reminds us that he is indeed one of the best in business when it comes to comedy, so what if he had lost his comic shine in the quagmire of un-funny films mostly by Priyadarshan. And the Khan brothers, they're a revelation!

Finally, the climax - the much dreaded airport climax. Right from the time the final act starts rolling with Jai's one chance of living up to his father's name and doing something 'heroic', till the referential final shot the sequence of events is madcap, crazy, completely bizarre but so darn funny that one is convinced that airport climaxes can be interesting too.

All through the film, the writer-director works primarily for the audience by giving them dozes of fun. But, he reserves the final shot for himself. It is a brilliantly self-indulgent shot that has 'do-you-get-it' written all over it. That's pure, unadulterated genius!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Remembering Madan Mohan & Pancham

June is the month when Hellen Keller was born. June is the month when Thomas Hardy was born. Robert Stevenson, W B Yeats, Salman Rushdie, Donald Trump, Meryl Streep….all born in June – the month that has greatness written all over it!.

And, if I didn't mention it earlier, I was born in June too!  Smile

This week marked the birth anniversaries of two Hindi film music composers who I am quite fond of – Madan Mohan Kohli and Rahul Dev Burman. It is difficult for me to say exactly why I have such fondness for their compositions, but the fact is that I return to their compositions quite frequently.

As my tribute to Madan Mohan and RDB, I can easily come up with a Top 10 list or something like that, but after the hugely involved listing exercise I indulged in for close to 3 months, I don't think I want to do any other list (at least for some time).

I thought it would be cool to dig out some gems from the oeuvre of these composers, which are usually not talked about. Some of these songs might be well-known, but they usually get overshadowed by other creations of these composers.

Madan Mohan Kohli: When we talk of Madan Mohan today, it's mostly in reference to his association with Lata Mangeshkar. Together they created endless masterpieces. Given how much everyone loves to talk about the Lata-Madan Mohan combo, it would come as a surprise to many that the number of Madan Mohan songs sung by Asha Bhosle is not significantly lesser than those sung by Lata Mangeshkar. Agreed that the proportion of 'great' Lata-MM songs far exceeds those by Asha, but there still exist many gems. Here are some non-Lata compositions by Madan Mohan that I want you to savour.

Saba Se Ye Keh Do (Bank Manager, 1959, Jalal Malihabadi): This is one of Asha Bhosle’s finest songs not only with Madan Mohan, but with any music director.

Shokh Nazar Ki Bijliyan (Woh Kaun Thi, 1964, Raja Mehdi Ali Khan): This song would easily figure among the one of the best Madan Mohan compositions, and in my opinion is among Asha's best as well. Wonder why this song has been so badly ignored. Asha's singing in this song (particularly note the antaras) makes this song sound a bit like an O P Nayyar creation, but I guess that was because this song came at a time when Asha Bhosle was heavily under the influence of OPN's style.

Zameen Se Humein Aasman Par (Adalat, 1958, Rajinder Krishan) - Madan Mohan is mostly known for his solo compositions, but one of my all time favourite romantic duets is his composition - Zameen Se Humein by Mohd. Rafi and Asha Bhosle.

Ae Dil Mujhe Bata De (Bhai Bhai, 1958, Rajinder Krishan) - One could almost say that Madan Mohan's choice of a female singer started at Lata Mangeshkar and ended with Asha Bhosle, but this is one number by Geeta Dutt that ranks among the biggest hits of Madan Mohan's career.

Rahul Dev Burman: Like Madan Mohan, Pancham's pet singers were the sisters as well. Come to think of it, so complete was the domination of the sisters till the 70s, that a major chunk of any composer's work would include songs by either of them. I am picking up 3 songs from Pancham's huge repertoire of songs, which were sung by female singers other than Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle.

Hari Din To Beeta Shaam Huyi (Kitaab, 1977, Gulzar) - This song was sung by Rajkumari, one of the top female singers of the 1940s, who had settled into retirement in the 50s except for a few odd songs in between. This evocative song was penned and picturised wonderfully by Gulzar. Watching this song, there can be little doubt that this was the perfect voice for this song. The quivering in the voice brought about by ageing seems tailor-made for this song. Watch this video to see how Rajkumari's voice seems perfect for Dina Pathak.

Kabhi Kuchh Pal Jeevan Ke (Rang Birangi, 1983, Yogesh) - Hrishikesh Mukherjee's Rang Birangi is one of my favourite comedy films of all time. Who can forget the character of Dhurinder Bhatawadekar? The film's music never caught on, but it had a lovely same-sex duet by Anurada Paudwal and Aarti Mukherjee. Who would have thought that Anuradha Paudwal, who had been the most vocal 'victim' of the so-called 'Mangeshkar Monopoly', would  be called to sing by Pancham, a ghar ka aadmi? This could well have been a Lata-Asha duet and there is nothing special that Anuradha or Aarti lend to the song, but as a composition it's an under-rated gem. Watch this video (Anuradha sings for Deepti Naval and Aarti Mukherji for Parveen Babi... ignore the minor goof-ups -once in the middle and once at the end - when the two actresses seem to undergo an sudden inexplicable change in voice)

Do Naina Aur Ek Kahani (Masoom, 1984, Gulzar) - Talking of Aarti Mukherji, one cannot help but talk about this wonderful song from Shekhar Kapur's Masoom. This solo fetched the singer a Filmfare Award. Personally, I don't like Aarti Mukherji much. She has a nice voice, but what is lacking is the clarity of enunciation. The words do not come out very clearly when she sings them. Anyway, we're talking about Pancham here and this is surely among his many good compositions.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Aamir - When the Leader is Led

Twenty minutes into Aamir, Raj Kumar Gupta's impressive directorial debut, we see the protagonist – Aamir – getting stuck in a traffic jam and, in his desperation to reach the destination defined by the abductors of his family, he gets down from the taxi and takes it on himself to smoothen out the traffic. Within minutes, he is in complete control of the situation. Ironically, at this very moment he is losing control over his own life.

चिराग़ कब तक यहाँ जलेगा ये कौन जाने
हवा की रफ़्तार तय करेगी जले कि हो गुल

Here we have a free-thinking man who believes in writing his own destiny…

हमको करेगा ये जहाँ अन्जाम से आगाह क्या
जिसको हो मन्ज़िल की ख़बर वो होगा फिर गुमराह क्या

Someone who knows exactly what he wants….

है ऐतिमाद जिनको न ताले’अ शिनास पर
जेहाद-ए-ज़िन्दगी में वो मन्सूर होते हैं

But, someone is hell-bent on taking control over his destiny and making him do things that his rational mind would never endorse. Aamir - the leader - is being led now!

Traffic under control, but Aamir – an educated, secular-minded Muslim – is getting hopelessly sucked into the irrational world of Islamic fundamentalism. Like Orwell's Big Brother, his seemingly ubiquitous tormentor keeps a close tab on every move of his, and sends him on a mindless 'treasure-hunt' through the most squalid bylanes of Mumbai, with the objective of opening his eyes to the dichotomy that exists within the community – uneducated vs. educated, poor vs. financially sound, independent minded vs. easily manipulated. The idea being - if Aamir sees the pitiable condition of his 'brethren', he would not feel any remorse in accomplishing the mission he has been put on.

Aamir is one of the better efforts of filmmaking in recent times. Many films have been made on the subject of Islamic fundamentalism, but in most cases – like the recent Black & White – these films end up sounding like a sermon, their preachy-ness in fact turns counterproductive. Where Aamir scores is that the entire film is structured as a thriller – and a very good thriller at that. So you get the 'message' without getting a feeling of being talked down. A few minutes into the film I was completely engrossed in Aamir's ordeal, and as the film accelerated to its climax – a predictable but truly heart-rending one – I was completely bowled over.

हो जल्वागर कुछ देर तक फिर राख में तब्दील हो
क़िस्मत में है हस्ती-ए-फ़ानी एक अदद चिन्गारी की

If one were to look at the various aspects of the film, almost everything seems just right for the script. The camerawork is simply superb, as is the wonderful background score. The songs have also been used very well, my favourite being Ha Raham Farma Aye Khuda – a Sufi Qawwali.

Rajeev Khandelwal as Aamir is impressive. If I'm saying this, it must mean a lot because I simply hated him as Sujal in Ekta Kapoor TV Serial – Kahin To Hoga. However, I would wait for a few more films before calling him a good actor. Who knows he might as well follow the footsteps of Vivek Oberoi and Shiney Ahuja, who impressed me hugely in their first film and then the cracks began to show!!

There has been enough debate about how Aamir is 'plagiarized' from Cavite (2005). If Anurag Kashyap (the film's "Creative Producer") says it isn't, I would take his word. Yet my rational mind is unable to understand how two ideas coming from two different parts of the world can have such uncanny resemblance. I guess I need to watch Cavite now!

Sunday, June 01, 2008

How Thomas Hardy Introduced Me to Allama Iqbal

I have a few obsessions in life: old Hindi film music (specifically Lata Mangeshkar songs) and Urdu poetry. My initiation into the wondrous world of old Hindi film music was through a Lata Mangeshkar compilation called I Remember Madan Mohan, so Madan Mohan is also special. Although I wouldn't call it an obsession, I'm very fond of reading classic literature as well.

It isn't very often that all of one's obsessions converge in the same thing. At the time when I had just started dabbling with Urdu poetry, I watched a 1967 Dharmendra-Nutan starrer Dulhan Ek Raat Ki on video. My primary reason for watching that film was that it was based on Thomas Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles. While Indian literature had been a source for Hindi films in the 50s and 60s, there hadn't been very many instances of Hindi film taking inspiration from an English classic.

The film was expectedly quite Indianized, but retained the primary thematic thread of the original. But it isn't great cinema. What stayed with me was the soundtrack that had some melodious compositions by Madan Mohan, which included the lovely Mohd. Rafi solo Ek Haseen Shaam Ko and exquisite Lata Mangeshkar solos like the Piloo based Maine Rang Li Aaj Chunariya, the quintessential piano song Kai Din Se Jee Hai Bekal, and the melodious Sapnon Mein Agar Mere. But the song that I got completely obsessed with was the qawwali Kabhi Ae Haqeeqat-e-Muntazir. The heavily Persianized Urdu of the lyrics were very difficult for me to understand at that time, but the sound of the language appealed to me and was, in a way, an incentive to get deeper into Urdu as a language.

Watch this video that has all my obsessions converging: classic English literature, Madan Mohan, Lata Mangeshkar, Qawwali, Urdu Poetry:

I was so fascinated by this qawalli, that I wrote a poem on this tune. Since I did not understand the lyrics, I didn't realize the coincidence that my poem was about religious tolerance and the original has strong religious undertones. This is what I had written:

फ़ितरत नहीं ऐसी बची है आज कल इन्सान में
जो गुफ़्तगू हम से करे इन्सानियत की ज़ुबान में

है दीन क्या, मज़हब है क्या पूछा किये हम से सभी
है काम क्या ईमान का इस आपसी पहचान में

दीन-ओ-धरम के नाम पर कटते हैं कितने सर यहाँ
गीता में है क्या ये लिखा और क्या यही फ़ुरक़ान में

ये मन्दिरों की घन्टियाँ जैसे हों ख़न्जर की खनक
देती सुनाई मातमी आवाज़ आज अज़ान में

ये जज़्बा-ए-इन्सानियत गर कुफ़्र है काफ़िर हूँ मैं
आये नज़र है बेइमानी मज़हबी फ़रमान में

It was much later that I found out that the poem was written by Sir Mohammed Iqbal (best known in India for Tarana-e-Hind aka Sare Jahan Se Achchha, and officially recognized as the national poet in Pakistan). Thus began my quest to learn more about his poetry. I haven't read a lot of his work, but I have read his most famous poems Shikwa and Jawaab-e-Shikwa. These two poems constitute a poem-set in that they should be read together to get a complete insight into Allam Iqbal's strongly religious bent of mind. Shikwa is a complaint of a frustrated Muslim to Allah, while Jawaab-e-Shikwa is Allah's response to the complaint. It does not matter whether or not one is a believer of Islam, the eloquence, language and conviction in the two poems can be felt by anyone.

Kabhi Aye Haqeeqat-e-Muntazir also has strong religious undercurrents. In the opening verse the poet is asking God to come in an illusory form so that he can prostrate before Him. What is interesting is the way the poet uses two theologically opposite terms – haqeeqat vs. majaaz – in the first line. Urdu poetry is replete with instances of ishq-e-haqiqi (divine love) and ishq-e-majaazi (earthly love), and here the poet sort of requests for a merger of the two in the opening lines. The poem comes a full circle in the closing lines where the poet realizes that he is so engrossed in earthly love that there's no need to seek divine love. This can be interpreted in many different ways. One could be the belief that if you seek God, you need to denounce earthly love. But the way I read it is that ishq-e-majaazi is another way to reach Him.

Kabhi ae haqeeqat-e-muntazir nazar aa libaas-e-majaaz mein
Ki hazaaron sajde tadap rahe haim meri jabeen-e-niyaaz mein
Jo main sar ba-sajdah hua kabhi to zameen se aane lagi sada
Tera dil to hai sanam-aashna tujhe kya milega namaaz mein

Honestly, I don't think I have really understood this poem completely. There are still a lot of open questions. That, in a way, is the beauty: you keep working your mind to 'get' it.

It is not the intent of this post to get into the philosophical profundity of Allama Iqbal's work. I just wanted to point to an instance where a song composed by my favourite music director and sung by my favourite singer in an old melodramatic Hindi film inspired by Thomas Hardy led me to explore the profound writings of a great Urdu Poet.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

My Favourite Lata Mangeshkar Songs - 2000s

Finally, I enter into the current decade i.e. the 2000s. Lata Mangeshkar has not sung very many songs in this decade. Between 2000-2007 not more than 35 Lata Mangeshkar songs were released, and I have possibly heard every single one of them. This makes my task much simpler.

If there's anything noteworthy about Lata songs in this decade, it is her collaboration with A R Rahman. Unlike other music directors who for some strange reason continued to make Lata sing romantic songs that just didn't suit her aged voice, Rahman continued to compose songs for her that suited her age (barring one exception).

2000: Two Lata Mangeshkar songs were released this year. The first one was a typical Yash Chopra romantic duet composed by Jatin-Lalit for Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein. In my opinion, Humko Hamise Chura Lo (a duet with Udit Narayan) was the only good song in an otherwise tepid soundtrack.

The other song, which is my pick of the year, was a prayer picturised on Lata Mangeshkar herself in Raj Kumar Santoshi's Pukaar. Though Lata  appeared clearly uncomfortable on screen, it worked well in the film because her voice was at least not being forced on 20-somethings. Composed beautifully by A R Rahman and rendered with feeling by Lata Mangeshkar I just love the overall feel of Ek Tu Hi Bharosa. I particularly like the way the composition is structured, starting off with Lata singing a passage with minimal instrumentation, which makes way for a lovely piano piece, which then merges seamlessly into the chorus section and finally back to Lata's voice underscoring the chorus. The song is light on instruments, with just a few simple notes on the piano comprising the interludes. Javed Akhtar's lyrics were also quite good.

Ek Tu Hi Bharosa (2000 - Pukaar - A R Rahman - Javed Akhtar)

2001: This was the most prolific year for Lata Mangeshkar in the 2000s, as around a dozen of her songs were released this year. At one end you had a few insipid duets composed by music directors like Adesh Shrivastava and Uttam Singh. Adesh Shrivastava composed a Lata-Udit duet - Pehli Nazar Mein - in Uljhan, while was wrongly credited as the composer of another Lata-Udit duet - Sare Sheher Mein Charcha in the Doosra Aadmi remake Dil Ne Phir Yaad Kiya - which was actually an Uttam Singh composition. Uttam Singh's compositions for her in Farz were quite ordinary as well. Dekhein Bhi To Kya Dekhein (a duet with Udit Narayan) was like any other Uttam Singh composition in terms of the tune, chorus and arrangement, whereas Har Subah Yaad Rakhna had an interesting tune but something seemed amiss.

Jatin-Lalit came up with two songs for Lata in 2001. The title track of Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham was a nice song but Lata didn't seem in form and went distinctly off-key while singing the work khushi in the middle of the song. It is my belief that some young music directors are possibly so much in awe of Lata Mangeshkar, and feel obliged when she agrees to sing their composition, that they do not insist on corrections or retakes. And there are others who probably don't shy away from it. That probably explains that even with highly degraded vocal capacity, Lata's singing for some music directors is better than the others. The other Jatin-Lalit song this year was a decent (but typically JL) tune from Dev Anand's awful Censor - Mere Dil Mein Tum Nazar Mein Tum.

In 2001 Lata Mangeshkar sang 4 songs composed by A R Rahman in 3 films. Khamoshiyan Gungunane Lagi, a duet with Sonu Nigam from One Two Ka Four, seems like a routine romantic song at first, but has intricately layered orchestration, especially the wonderful use of flute and sitar in the first interlude. Then there was a prayer O Paalanhaare from Lagaan. In the film, a large portion of this song (passages picturized on Gracy Singh) was sung by Sadhana Sargam whereas Lata sections were on Suhasini Mulay, which was a good thing to do given the ages of the characters, but a big disappointment for Lata fans like me who could not hear enough of her in the film. However, the CDs and cassettes had all the female portions sung by Lata. Then there were the songs of Zubeida, which I count among the best Rahman has composed for Hindi films, including the beautifully worded (Javed Akhtar) Door Kahin Ek Aam Ki Bagiya, and two versions of the theme song So Gaye Hain.

In the late 80s when we were being subjected to Lata singing some horrendous compositions in Hindi films, Lata had collaborated with the maestro Ilaiyaraja in a few Tamil films, which resulted in melodious as well as popular songs. The first time I heard Engirundho Azhaikum (En Jeevan Paduthe, 1988), which had both a solo as well as a duet version with Mano, I couldn't get the tune out of my head for days. Then there were Aararo Aararo (Anand, 1987) and  Valai Osai (Satya, 1988), which are certainly not among Ilaiyaraja's best, but definitely very good songs. It was many years later in 2001 that Lata Mangeshkar and Ilaiyaraja worked together for a Hindi film. And we got Kaun Dagar from Lajja, which is my choice for this year.

Kaun Dagar (2001 - Lajja - Ilaiyaraja - Prasoon Joshi)

2002: Santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma's son, Rahul Sharma made his debut as a composer with YRF's Mujhse Dosti Karoge. His compositions for the film were just about average. The film included two Lata songs - Andekhi Anjani Si (with Udit Narayan) and Jaane Dil Mein Kab Se Hai Tu (with Sonu), which included a brief 'sad' version as well.

There was just one more film with Lata songs in 2002. Lal Salaam did not even get a proper release and it's soundtrack was also not distributed properly. The soundtrack included Hridaynath Mangeshkar's characteristic compositions, penned by Gulzar. In my opinion this is one of Hridaynath's lesser works, yet it is quite listenable on the whole. It includes Humkara Jaage, Chaand Gufa Mein, Mitwa and my selection for this year - Beeta Mausam. The mukhda of Beeta Mausam is a variation of the matla of a ghazal by Gulzar, which was made popular by Jagjit Singh in the album Marasim:

एक पुराना मौसम लौटा याद भरी पुरवाई भी
ऐसा तो कम ही होता है वो भी हों तन्हाई भी

Beeta Mausam (2002 - Lal Salaam - Hridaynath Mangeshkar - Gulzar)

2003: For the first time since her debut, Lata Mangeshkar did not have even a single release in 2003.

2004: Yash Chopra decided to use Madan Mohan's unused tunes for his directorial venture after a gap of 7 years. Madan Mohan's son, Sanjeev Kohli, took his father's tunes for Veer-Zaara and arranged them with modern orchestration to create 9 Lata Mangeshkar tracks. Lata's vocals in 2004 were inadequate for Madan Mohan's compositions, and one missed the magic the two had created more than three decades back when their collaborative effort resulted in gems in films like Dastak, Heer Ranjha, Dil Ki Rahein, Hanste Zakhm, Hindustan Ki Kasam and Mausam in the 70s. Not only that, even the tunes selected by Yash Chopra, though melodious, were not a patch on Madan Mohan's earlier tunes. Hum To Bhai Jaise Hain was just not suited for Lata's vocals, while Lodi and Aisa Des Hai Mera were clearly below average. Do Pal Ruka and Kyun Hawa were high on the melody quotient. The soundtrack of the film included three songs that were not included in the film - Ye Hum Aa Gaye Hai Kahan was shot, but left out at the editing table and released later as a DVD extra, while Jaane Kyun and the Lata-Jagjit duet Tum Paas Aa Rahe Ho were bonus tracks just for the CD. Incidentally, Yash Chopra had toyed with the idea of calling the film Ye Hum Aa Gaye Hain Kahaan, before he finalized Veer-Zaara as the title just a month or two before the release. Jaane Kyun showed how the amazing breath control that Lata Mangeshkar was always known for, was losing its battle with age, as Aur Main Hoon sounded like Haur Main Hoon in the song.

My pick for this year is Tere Liye Hum Hain Jiye, a duet with Roop Kumar Rathod. This was the only tune in this film that had flashes of Madan Mohan's brilliance as a tunesmith.

Tere Liye Hum Hain Jiye (2004 - Veer-Zaara - Madan Mohan - Javed Akhtar)

2005: This year saw the release of Lata Mangeshkar second song with Nadeem Shravan in Bewafaa (the first one was almost 18 years back in Hisaab Khoon Ka). Kaise Piya Se Main Kahoon was a typical Nadeen Shravan tune, with nothing great about it. She also recorded her first song under Adnan Sami's baton for Lucky - No Time For Love - Shayad Yehi To Pyar Hai, a duet with Adnan Sami. It was good that the song played in the background instead of teenager Sneha Ullal lip-syncing to it. That would have sounded really weird!

Her song with another new composer, Shamir Tandon, is my pick for 2005. Kitne Ajeeb Rishte was the theme song of Page 3, and played in the background through the film.

Kitne Ajeeb Rishte (2005 - Page 3 - Shamir Tandon - Sandeep Nath)

2006: Although Jai Santoshi Maa, released in 2006, included three Lata songs, I don't count them as this year's releases because they were released as a devotional album called Jagrata way back in 1995. Surinder Kohli had composed Lal Choodiyan, Aisa Vardan and Na Chitthi Aayi in 1995, but when they were included in the soundtrack of Jai Santoshi Maa they were strangely credited to Anu Malik.

A R Rahman's Rang De Basanti was the soundtrack of the year, and his duet with Lata Mangeshkar - Lukka Chhuppi - my favourite Lata song from this year. Lata's voice just seemed right for this song about an old woman remembering her dead son. The evocative composition culminating in a sort of sargam jugalbandi between Lata and Rahman (which wasn't used in the film), and the Gulzar-esque lyrics by Prasoon Joshi made this song a great song.

Lukka Chhuppi (2006 - Rang De Basanti - A R Rahman - Prasoon Joshi)

2007: It was just a few months back that I found out that one Lata Mangeshkar song was released in 2007. Jaane Thi Kaisi Raahon Mein was a duet from the film Strangers. Vinay Tiwari was the co-singer as well as the composer for this song. It is a nice composition, which sounds very much like a Jagjit Singh composition, but is quite good nevertheless.

Jaane Thi Kaisi Raahon Mein (2007 - Strangers - Vinay Tiwari - Javed Akhtar)

Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Favourite Lata Mangeshkar Songs - 1990s

After discovering Lata Mangeshkar's early output in the 1940s, literally gushing through the 1950s and 1960s, exploring the 1970s, and all but cursing the 1980s, I turn my attention to her songs in the 1990s. As she moved into the seventh decade of her life immediately after the phenomenal success of Maine Pyar Kiya in 1989, she continues to churn out hits after hits. Her rapidly deteriorating, sub-par voice quality notwithstanding, film producers and composers alike continued to make her sing. After reaching its nadir in the late 80s, there was only one way Hindi film music could go. Up. The quality of compositions started improving and melody made a reluctant return, although some music composers seemed to be in a terrible time warp making Lata sing really atrocious songs where she was made to sing for heroines one third her age and mouth lyrics that just didn't suit her ageing voice. Why she agreed to sing them remains the biggest mystery to me. At the same time, composers like Hridayanath Mangeshkar, Bhupen Hazarika and Vishal Bharadwaj were able to find good use of her degraded tonal quality by composing songs that would suited her. This list of my favourite Lata songs from the 1990s, that I present below, should be looked at from an overall composition point of view rather than the quality of singing, because barring an occasional Lekin, the deterioration of her vocals was a given.

1990: This year had a hang-over of the late 80s. In other words, Lata's songs released this year had a high noise factor. The success of Chandni in 1989 led to a situation where it became almost mandatory to have all choodi songs sung by her. Her biggest hit of the year was Gori Hai Kalaiyan (Aaj Ka Arjun, Bappi Lahiri). Bappi Lahiri also composed songs like Na Ja Re (Aaj Ka Arjun), Maahiya Teri Kasam Jeena Nahin Jeena (Ghayal), Aur Bhala Kya Maangoon Main Rab Se (Thanedaar). Riding on the high wave of success, Anand-Milind composed a Lata-SPB duet Maine Tujhe Khat Likha (Mera Pati Sirf Mera Hai), which also became quite popular. Rajesh Roshan had Krishna Krishna (Kishen Kanhaiya), while Raamlaxman copied a Pakistani song lock stock and barrel for a Lata-Amit Kumar duet in Police Public - Main Jis Din Bhula Doon.

Rahul Dev Burman's fortune was clearly on a decline, as he composed an average Lata-Amit Kumar duet in the unreleased Tadap. This rare song - Jise Pyar Zamana Kehta Hai - is definitely not bad, but coming from RDB it's a tad disappointing.

Anu Malik still stuck to his L-P style orchestration in Awaargi. However, the two Lata songs from the film had good tunes. Aye Mere Saathiya was slightly reminiscent of LP's Zindagi Har Qadam from Meri Jung, but I like the other song somewhat especially because of the opening alaap. Again it's not a great song, but given the other Lata songs from this year, it would be my pick of the year. I'm talking about Baali Umar Ne Mera, a duet with Mohd. Aziz.

Baali Umar Ne Mera (1990 - Awaargi - Anu Malik - Anand Bakshi)

1991: A very interesting year. Lata gave playback for multiple generation of actresses, from Waheeda Rahman to Dimple Kapadia to Sridevi to Madhuri Dixit to rank newcomers like Raveena Tandon, Chandni, Zeba Bakhtiar, Sheeba and Manisha Koirala. The songs she sang ranged from pure pain to melodious masterpieces; the composers were veterans as well as newcomers. The bhed-chaal mentality of Hindi filmmakers often results in replication of past success formulas. So we had Bappi Lahiri taking a cue from the kabootar of Maine Pyar Kiya to create the insipid Tota Tota Sajan Se Kehna in First Love Letter, which also had other Lata numbers like Deewani Deewani and Jab Se Mile Naina. Dev Kohli reshuffled the words of his hit MPK number to write Deewana Dil Bin Sajna Ke for Rammlaxman to tune in Patthar Ke Phool. The same film reduced Lata and S P Balasubramaniam to mere tourist guides in Tumse Jo Dekhte Pyar Hua or film historians reeling out names of films in Kabhi Tu Chhalia Lagta Hai. The choodi success of Chandni and Aaj Ka Arjun led to Sawan Kumar Tak asking his composer duo Mahesh-Kishore to create Choodi Maza Na Degi (Sanam Bewafa), which was again a hit!! The same film also included shrieky Lata songs like Mujhe Allah Ki Kasam and Tune Dil Mera Toda, which sounded even worse thanks to a bad co-singer.

Laxmikant Pyarelal composed really sub-standard songs like Badli Hai Na Badlegi (Banjaran) and Jind Tere Naam (Pyar Ka Devta), while producing slightly better Lata songs for Subhash Ghai in Saudagar - Teri Yaad Aati Hai and Radha Nachegi. It was painful to hear Lata sing something as frivolous as Saat Kunwaron Mein for Bappi Lahiri in Farishte. Rajesh Roshan's Khat Likhna Hai (Khel) wasn't as bad as some of his other songs during that period, while Ravindra Jain dug into Punjabi folk music to compose Chhalle Pade Baalon Mein for Yeh Aag Kab Bujhegi.

This brings me to the top three soundtracks of 1991, all of which had most of the songs sung by Lata Mangeshkar. The first is Ravindra Jain's Henna, a typically RK soundtrack, with melodious songs like Main Hoon Khushrang Henna, O Jaanewale, Bedardi Tere Pyar Ne, Der Na Ho Jaye and Anardana. The best song from this film was the evocative Chithiye, a song I can listen anytime anywhere.

Then there was Shiv-Hari's Lamhe, which in my opinion is a complete soundtrack. It included quintessential Yash Chopra romantic numbers like Kabhi Main Kahoon and Yaad Nahin Bhool Gaya, as well as wonderful folksy compositions like Megha Re Megha and Morni Baagaan Ma Bole, a lori - Gudiya Rani, and a krishna bhajan - Mohe Chhedo Na.

The best of this year, and in my opinion the best since Pakeezah in 1972, was Hridaynath Mangeshkar's Lekin. Each song from this amazing soundtrack is a masterpiece by itself and Lata also sounds extremely good. Gulzar's lyrics added to the classy feel of the soundtrack. It was surprising that a classy song like Yaara Seeli Seeli became extremely popular as well. The tune of Yara Seeli Seeli was actually a re-working of Hridaynath's earlier song in V. Shantaram's Chaani (1977) - Tumhi Ho Mere Apne, which in turn was based on Punjabi folk. Lekin had other gems like the classical Ja Ja Re, the heartbreaking Main Ek Sadi Se Baithi Hoon, and the brilliant maand - Kesariya Baalma. Kesariya Baalma had two versions, both apparently recorded at different times as is evident by Lata's tonal quality and vocal calisthenics in the two versions. Tumse Laage Nain pre-dates Baawri Bolein Log and includes more elaborate harkats and murkis. Finally, there's the song that I pick as the best of 1991 - Suniyo Ji Araj Mhari. The opening alaap of this song is one of the best I've heard in any Lata song.

Suniyo Ji Araj Mhari (1991 - Lekin - Hridaynath Mangeshkar - Gulzar)

: The days of Laxmikant Payelal's suzerainty in the Hindi film music industry were well and truly over by now. Their compositions were becoming increasingly monotonous and had to bear. In 1992, they composed Rab Ne Banaya and Ranjhna Ve Ranjhna in Heer Ranjha, Kitni Jaldi Ye Mulaqat and Mushkil Mein Hai Kaun in Angaar and Tu Mujhe Qubool in Khuda Gawah. None of these songs had anything unique to offer, except for the flute motif in Angaar. Sawan Kumar Tak went back to Usha Khanna, who composed Ye Dil Bewafa Se Wafa and Hum Jaisa Kahin Aapko for his regressive love triangle Bewafa Se Wafa. Anu Malik got a big opportunity in Radha Ka Sangam, which had Lata singing Do Bol Kah Ke, O Radha Tere Bina and.Bichhua More Sajna Ka Pyar. Maybe it was the theme of the film, but Anu Malik's tunes and arrangement style seemed to be in a time warp of sorts. The film was a disaster and got negative publicity due to Gulshan Kumar's act of getting Lata's songs dubbed by Anuradha Paudwal. Raamlaxman's compositions for Saatwaan Aasmaan had one nice Lata-Udit Narayan duet - Tum Kya Mile. I liked it because the tune was ear-friendly and it was unusual to hear lines like aji izzat-afzaaee ka shukriya, is na-cheez ko aap ne qaabil to samjha in the songs of that era.

I really took to Anand Milind's Vansh in 1992, despite the fact that they borrowed liberally from Illaiyaraja's Tamil tunes. The film itself was a remake of Mani Ratnam's Agni Natchathiram. This soundtrack had 3 Lata songs - Main To Deewani Huyi, Ye Bindiya Ye Kajra, and Aa Ke Teri Baahon Mein. Among these, my favourite and my selection for this year is the SPB-Lata duet Aa Ke Teri Baahon Mein, which had some nice lyrics by veteran Prem Dhawan.

Aa Ke Teri Baahon Mein (1992 - Vansh - Anand Milind - Prem Dhawan)

1993: Though this year didn't have a masterpiece like Lekin, it was still very similar to 1991. On the one end of the spectrum you had unremarkable Lata songs in films like Lootere, Dil Ki Baazi and Anmol, while there were solid soundtracks like Maya Memsaab and Rudaali at the other. Yash Chopra films like Aaina, Darr and Parampara fell somewhere in between in the at-least-one-decent-song category.

Anand-Milind composed two bland, but successful songs for Lata in Lootere - Mere Dil Pe Tune and Ae Sawan Baras Zara. Raamlaxman just didn't seem to get out of his MPK hangover and continued to produce similar songs in most of his films. The only difference was that he turned to the golden oldies for inspiration resulting in completely unimaginative rip-offs. The antara of Batao Tum Kaun Ho (Anmol) was a carbon copy of the antara of Kalyanji-Anandji's Ye Sama (Jab Jab Phool Khile). This could possibly be explained as Manmohan Desai's 'gift' for his special friend Nanda, but what is the reason for yet another version of Thandi Hawayen (Naujawan, Sachin Dev Burman) in Kaha Tha Jo Tumne in Dev Anand's Pyar Ka Tarana? Raamlaxam's other compositions like Tum Saaz Chhedo (Dil Ki Baazi), Sun Sun Sun Mere Saathiya (Anmol), and Dil Ki Lagi (Anmol) were in the MPK template.

L-P's Dil Na Kisi Ka Jaye (Kshatriya) paled in comparison to their Ye Isaq Dank Bichhua Ka for J P Dutta's previous film Batwara, even though it was designed pretty much in a similar fashion. Rajesh Roshan's Is Jahan Ki Nahin (King Uncle) was below par as well. Some of the relatively better songs this year came from the YRF stable. Dilip Sen- Sameer Sen found an entry into YRF with Aaina, which had the popular Goriya Re Goriya, but I prefer the other songs like Dil Ne Dil Se Kya Kaha and Aaina Hai Mera Chehra. The best song from this album was Ye Raat Khushnaseeb Hai, which is one of the rare cases where Sameer has penned meaningful words. Unfortunately, the lyrical brilliance of the mukhda is watered down by the relatively tame antaras. Shiv-Hari's Darr had the interestingly structured Tu Mere Samne, while their Parampara  had the nice Tu Saawan Main Pyaas as well as the wince-worthy Hum Banjare. Parampara was almost identical in its theme and content (and even some actors) to J P Dutta's Kshatriya. Both films flopped miserably.

Basu Chakraverthy (RDB's assistant) composed very melodious songs for an unreleased film called Nargis. The soundtrack included Lata solos like Are Tu Pawan Basanti, Kisi Aashiyane Mein and Kaahe Abke Ae Bahar, as well as a lovely duet with Jagjit Singh - Dono Ke Dil Hain.

Bhoopen Hazarika's Rudaali was one of the best soundtracks of the year. Lata Mangeshkar's Dil Hum Hum Kare was the best song of the track, while Jhooti Mooti Mitwa and Samay O Dheere Chalo were classy as well. Unfortunately, the picturisation of Jhooti Mooti Mitwa was at odds with the realistic feel of the film, what with the cameraman going overboard with back lighting and soft focus cameras. So while the song looked 'beautiful' on screen, it stood out like a sore thumb amid the gritty texture of the rest of the film.

After Lekin, Gulzar and Hridaynath Mangeshkar collaborated once again to create a knock-out soundtrack in Maya Memsaab. In terms of the overall feel of the music, however, there was no similarity between the modern sounding tracks of Maya Memsaab and the traditional compositions of Lekin. With songs like Ek Hagen Nigaah Ka, Khud Se Baatein Karte Rehna, Mere Sarahne Jalao Sapne, Ye Shehr Bada Purana Hai and O Dil Banjaare, Maya Memsaab is a must have for any Lata fan. My favourite songs from 1993 is Khud Se Baatein Karte Rehna.

Khud Se Baatein Karte Rehna (1993 - Maya Memsaab - Hridaynath Mangeshkar - Gulzar)

: This was the year when the whole nation just went crazy about an extended wedding video that might well be titled Two Weddings (Fourteen songs) and a Funeral. Hum Aapke Hain Koun became the biggest hit in the history of Hindi film industry. With songs taking more than a third of its running time and wedding ceremonies the remaining, it wasn't surprising that songs about wedding rituals and familial relationships became extremely popular, namely Didi Tera Devar, Samdhi Samdhan, Lo Chali Main Apne Devar Ki, Wah Wah Ramji, Joote De Do. Raamlaxman 's predilection for making Lata sing inane songs manifested itself in the irritating Chocolate Lime Juice Ice Cream (!!) In this Lata dominated soundtrack the ones that I found relatively better were the title song, Mujhse Juda Ho Kar, and Maye Ni Maye. Raamlaxman composed a relatively better Lata-Sanu duet in Kanoon - Main Bani Hoon Sirf.

Raamlaxman was not the only one to make Lata croon weird lyrics. Mahesh-Kishor's I'm Very Very Sorry (Chaand Ka Tukda) gets the 'honour' of being the worst Lata song of this year - possibly the worst Lata song ever! The other song from this film - Aaj Radha Ko Shyam - wasn't bad though.

Dilip Sen Sameer Sen's second association with YRF resulted in a decent soundtrack in Ye Dillagi, but the songs didn't have much shelf life. I liked listening to Hoton Pe Bas, Dekho Zara Dekho, Gori Kalai, Lagi Lagi Hai Ye Dil Ki Lagi when they were released, but not any more. Interestingly, YRF tried to save a few bucks by making the group dancers in Gori Kalai wear the same costume as they did in Goriya Re in Aaina the previous year.

Jatin-Lalit composed their first number for Lata in Gangster - Maine Pyar Kisi Se Kiya, while Shyam Surinder also got their first opportunity to make Lata sing their composition in Elaan - Nainon Ko Baatein Karne Do. This year also saw Aadesh Shrivastava composing 3 duets for Lata in the unreleased Jaan-E Tamanna - Suniye Ji Kahiye Ji with Kumar Sanu, Ek Dil Ki Ek Dil Se with Udit Narayan and Mujhe Laagi Prem Dhun with Roop Kumar Rathod.

My favourite Lata number from this year is from Rahul Dev Burman's swan song 1942 A Love Story. Though the Kumar Sanu version of Kuchh Na Kaho is better, the wonderful tune more than makes up for Lata's not-so-good rendition.

Kuchh Na Kaho (1994 - 1942 A Love Story - Rahul Dev Burman - Javed Akhtar)

1995: Not many Lata songs this year. What was Rajesh Roshan thinking when he made Alka Yagnik sing for Raakhee and Lata for Mamta Kulakarni in Karan Arjun? Ek Munda Meri Umr Da was an unbearable song. Incidentally, this song was shot at the same place where I spent my childhood and where Simti Huyi Ye Ghadiyan from Chambal Ki Kasam was shot. Naushad came up with an apology of a soundtrack in Guddu, where the only 'decent' song was a Lata bhajan - Mere To Radheshyam Re.

This year belonged to Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge, the longest running Hindi film ever. Jatin-Lalit's music in this Yash Raj film was melodious, even though Lata sounded jaded. The soundtrack included Lata songs like Mere Khwabon Mein Jo Aaye, Ho Gaya Hai Tujhko To Pyar, Mehndi Laga Ke Rakhna and my pick for the year - Tujhe Dekha To Ye Jaana Sanam, which I think is the best romantic track of the 1990s and 2000s.

Tujhe Dekha To Ye Jaana Sanam (1995 - Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge - Jatin-Lalit - Anand Bakshi)

: This year marked Lata Mangeshkar's last collaboration with Laxmikant Pyarelal, with whom she had sung the maximum number of songs (close to 700). It was good that L-P gave her a song that suited her age. Main Kamzor Aurat from Prem Granth was a good way of rounding off a long standing collaboration that resulted in superlative and pathetic songs alike. Raamlaxman composed some forgettable numbers for Lata in Megha, while Shyam Surinder's Vishwasghaat had equally unremarkable songs.

The soundtrack of the year was Vishal Bharadwaj's Maachis. While writing a review of the film in 1996, I had written - "The music of Maachis is simply divine, undoubtedly the best of 1996, Papa Kahte Hain, Bhairavi and Khamoshi: The Musical notwithstanding. Rarely does one come across a score that is a near perfect amalgamation of poetry, music and singing. The music of Maachis has this haunting quality about it that goes well with the grimness of the theme. Lata Mangeshkar, Hariharan and the criminally neglected Suresh Wadkar do full justice to the complexities of the tunes and give perfect expression to Gulzar’s meaningful poetry. It is commendable that Vishal has refrained from rank commercialism while composing the score, be it the songs or the evocative background score. The end result has not only found a place for itself on the charts, it can easily qualify as one of the best film scores of this decade." I stand by every word even12 years later. Each song from this soundtrack is a gem. The Lata numbers included Aye Hawa Kuchh To Bata (which was not used in the film), Bhej Kahaar, Tum Gaye Sab Gaya, Yaad Na Aaye Koi, and my favourite Paani Paani Re.

Paani Paani Re (1996 - Maachis - Vishal Bhardwaj - Gulzar)

: By this time, Lata's output had reduced significantly. In 1997, Aadesh Shrivastava composed two highly ordinary songs for Lata in Salma Pe Dil Aa Gaya. Raamlaxman committed a crime of sorts by asking Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle (both 60+ by this time) to sing for children (!!) in Lav-Kush. The film however had a decent SPB-Lata duet Barson Ka Rin Chukane, which was thankfully picturised on Jeetendra and Jaya Prada playing Ram and Sita. The soundtrack of Yash Chopra's Dil To Pagal Hai was a big hit, with Uttam Singh composed songs like Dil To Pagal Hai, Are Re Are and Pyar Kar turning out to be chartbusters.

My pick for this year is another Vishal Bhardwaj creation from the film Betaabi - Tum Mere Ho. I choose this song despite some uncomfortable singing by Lata because of its unconventional (typically Vishal) tune.

Tum Mere Ho (1997 - Betaabi - Vishal Bhardwaj - Sameer)

: The team of Gulzar and Vishal Bhardwaj created Geela Geela Paani and Tu Mere Paas Bhi Hai in Satya. However, Vishal's composition for Lata in Sham Ghansham - Tum Dono Ho Ek Se was disappointing to say the least. Uttam Singh created easy-on-the-ears tunes like Awaaz Do Humko, Pyar Ko Ho Jane Do and Chitthi Na Koi Sandes in Dushman. Jatin-Lalit composed an extremely melodious Lata-Sanu duet - Madhosh Dil Ki Dhadkan - in Jab Pyar Kisi Se Hota Hai.

This year marked Lata Mangeshkar's first collaboration with A R Rahman in Dil Se. The result was Jiya Jale Jaan Jale. Lata's voice might have sounded too old for  20 something Preity Zinta, but this song with its innovative use of chorus in Malayalam and Gulzar's great lyrics is one of my favourites from the 1990s.

Jiya Jale Jaan Jale (1998 - Dil Se - A R Rahman - Gulzar)

1999: After an OK Betaabi and disappointing Sham Ghansham, Vishal came up with good compositions in Jahan Tum Le Chalo and Godmother (for which he got the National Award) and above-average songs in Hu Tu Tu. Shauq Khwab Ka Hai (Jahan Tum Le Chalo) and Maati Re Maati Re (Godmother) were very good compositions. Hu Tu Tu was a mixed bag, but still quite good. Chhai Chappa Chhai had an interesting arrangement, while Itna Lamba Kash, and Ye Aaankhen (not used in the film) were decent compositions as well. Jai Hind Hind was the only disappointing song in Hu Tu Tu.

My favourite Lata song is a Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan composition in Kachche Dhaage. This song - Oopar Khuda - was recorded after Khan Saheb's death and was arranged by Amar Haldipur.

Oopar Khuda (1999 - Kachche Dhaage - Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan - Anand Bakshi)