Begum Jaan music review: Puraana zamaana naya ho gaya? Yes, indeed!

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Begum_Jaan 

Music: Anu Malik (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anu_Malik), Khayyam (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mohammed_Zahur_Khayyam) [Woh Subah Kabhi to Aayegi]

Lyrics: Kausar Munir (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kausar_Munir), Rahat Indori (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahat_Indori), Sahir Ludhianvi (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sahir_Ludhianvi)

Singers: Asha Bhonsle, Sonu Nigam, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Kalpana Patowary, Altamash Faridi, Shreya Ghoshal, Anmol Malik, Kavita Seth and Arijit Singh

Anwar Sardar Malik, popularly known as Anu Malik, is the son of yesteryear composer Sardar Malik and the uncle of new-age composer-singer duo Amaal Malik (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amaal_Mallik) and Armaan Malik (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Armaan_Malik). Despite enjoying a decent lineage and (perhaps) opportunities, Malik claims he had to struggle over the years to prove himself. In the process, he has also been laughed off over the course of his career. Methinks there have been 2 sides to the coin – one which mocks plagiarism in his work, his egotistic appearances/interviews, self-crooned cacophonous commercial numbers like ‘Ek garam chai ki pyaali ho’ (Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega; 2000) , ‘Aaja meri gaadi mein baith jaa’ (Miss 420; 1994), Dekho Baarish ho rahi hai (Yai Yo album; 1997). The other side, though, is his perseverance as a musician who has braved years (in fact, decades!) and spanned across generations and composed some hummable scores and numbers in Sohni Mahiwal (1984), Phir Teri Kahaani Yaad Aayi, Baazigar, Sir (all 1993), VijaypathImtihaan (both 1994), Border (1997), Refugee (2000), Asoka (2001), Main Hoon Na (2004) and Dum Laga Ke Haisha (2015) to name a few. With Dum Laga Ke (also read: https://shailendra19.wordpress.com/2015/02/21/dum-laga-ke-haisha-music-review), Anu almost started second-innings as a composer.

Begum Jaan is a period partition drama set in 1947 so we have Anu doing the honours given his success with JP Dutta-created Border, Refugee and LoC Kargil (2003). We hear that film director Srijit Mukherjee heard Anu’s Aisa lagta hai (Refugee, 2000) and asked him to be the tunesmith for Begum Jaan. With Anu at the helm, one starts hears the score with some skepticism though Srijit clearly indicated otherwise to the media. Here goes then…

Prem mein tohre aisi padi main puraana zamaana naya ho gaya (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_EvOW0mr90) croons the evergreen Asha Bhosle @ 83! Phew…old wine in a new bottle? We are told this is how ‘Begum Jaan’ is introduced to the audience. The diva weaves her magic into the number – it is soulfully sung and her alaaps/murkis will steal your heart! A melody-lover is bound to be thrilled to hear the number with a touch of raag bhairavi/yaman given the rushed/cacophonous era of raps and remixes. The number has minimal instrumentation, some earthy riffs but the beginning has a striking resemblance to Aaoge jab tum saajna (Jab We Met, 2007; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPwTPhFMm3k – 0:40 onwards). The discernible listeners may also notice a slight turn towards Rajesh Roshan-composed Pyaar mein hota hai kya jaadu (Papa Kehte hain, 1996; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5EgeVXqsDUk – 0.33 onwards). The antara also meanders in the Moh Moh Ke Dhaage territory (Dum Laga Ke Haisha, 2015; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d9X3H9wPb5A – 1:26 onwards). The beauty of Prem mein, though, lies in its expression and instrumentation especially the sitar and the tabla. The lyricist Kausar Munir goes ‘kab saans thaami, kab saans chhodi, har dard mera bayaan ho gaya’ and then ‘aankhon se chhalke shaamein awadh ki, subah hai hoton pe banaras waali’ – that’s one of the most beautiful wordsmithing that I have heard in recent times to say the least. Prem mein is very hummable and will grow on you.

My rating for the song: 8/10
Will you likely hit the replay button?: Definitely Yes 

Aazaadiyaan (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iAX7-HWCVcI) tries to convey the pain of partition with Sonu Nigam and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan representing their respective nationalities. This high-pitched number has Sonu and Rahat match word for word, note for note and pain for pain! Once again, Kausar Munir’s words stand out. Sample this – aah nikli hai yahaan, aah nikli hai wahaan, wah ri wah yeh azaadiyaan; natkhati si meri galiyaan, nazron ki chhuppan-chhupaiyaan or ‘reh gayi rassi pe chunri, reh gayi khoonti pe kurti, reh gayi woh laaj kahaan’ – very poignant expression of the era and the associated pain people had to bear. Rhythm-wise, Anu seems to have remembered his own Chhup gaya badli mein jaa ke (Hum Aapke Dil Mein Rehte Hain, 1999; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G7JRMTo0y6w). Aazaadiyaan is no Sandese aate hain (Border, 1997; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XNzUJ25gq-w) that launched Sonu Nigam into a different orbit altogether. However, one may find the theme/pain slightly Sandese-like but it is difficult to reach that level of emotion again. Once again, some really nice and rustic instrumentation here with the nagaada and shehnaai. With some real magic to be experienced here, Aazaadiyaan is quite hummable.

My rating for the song: 7.5/10
Will you likely hit the replay button?: Yes 

O Re Kaharo (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0s-FnWb82Ho) is very soulful with vocals from the multifaceted Bhojpuri singer of Assamese origin, Kalpana Patowary (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kalpana_Patowary). She pours her heart out here in this very hummable number that has instant appeal and will haunt you. Kalpana almost pulls off what Jaspinder Narula pulled of in 1990s with her strong but differentiated vocals…and maybe I will fall short of saying she does what Reshma did with Lambi judaai in Hero (1983; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QWFy19pXNeY). Some part of the prelude seems to be somewhat in the range of AR Rahman territory – reference Hai Rama (Rangeela, 1995; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54RFwMO_T3E) – but has Anu take over with elan in mukhda and antara. The part of the interlude will take you back to Anu’s Bol do meethe bol soniye (Sohni Mahiwal, 1984; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ftx4eTUT-I – 1:11 onwards). Once again, Munir stands out with her words – ‘takiye pe tere taare bichhaaye, chand yeh tere liye thumriyaan gaaye’.  One word – Beautiful!

My rating for the song: 9/10
Will you likely hit the replay button?: Definitely Yes 

Holi Khelein (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5_2d7n1PFQ) is classically laced, racy and quite catchy! Shreya and Anmol Malik (Anu’s daughter; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anmoll_Mallik) render this quite effectively and energetically. Shreya, in particular, is awesome in her taans. The classical/tabla-based crescendo makes for a nice ending on this one.   

My rating for the song: 8/10
Will you likely hit the replay button?: Definitely Yes 

Prem mein tohre (Reprise) (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BlJ5E49NQUY) has Iktara singer Kavita Seth (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kavita_Seth) as the vocalist. You will miss Asha Bhosle’s vocals and compare it with her version. Kavita hasn’t tried to do an Asha but puts in a fresh, flat and sufi feel to the number.

My rating for the song: 7.5/10
Will you likely hit the replay button?: Yes 

Murshida (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1OV3-ECjCk) is ‘marketed’ as a ‘bonus track’ and does not find a place in the film. Arijit Singh has soulfully rendered the number but it just does not seem to go with the soundtrack’s theme and has no spatial harmony whatsoever with the other songs. Rahat Indori’s words too are heavier (esp. in Urdu) than what Munir wrote but they go decently with the tune. Singh’s opening alaaps will make you reminisce Ishq bina kya jeena yaara (Taal, 1999; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ3VjjS8J2w – 0.16s onwards). The antara is higher pitched and is strikingly similar to Anu’s antara in Aisa lagta hai (Refugee, 2000; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9eY6c3gEhcg – 2.58 onwards). Arijit does excel with his trained vocals here. Singh takes this number to a different plane altogether proving again why is one of the most sought after names amongst a bunch of other talented singers. Having said so, I still don’t understand the logic of releasing this number 2 days before the film’s release.

My rating for the song: 7.5/10
Will you likely hit the replay button?: Yes

Woh Subah (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSw7reboFnQ) is the Arijit Singh and Shreya Ghoshal-studded re-hash of Woh subah kabhi to aayegi (Phir Subah Hogi, 1958; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3g1nivv0-A). This one is a bit of a let down given the Begum Jaan original soundtrack. However, to be honest, Arijit and Shreya more than justify the number’s existence…and so do the poignant lines – Mitti ka bhi kuchh mol magar insaanon ki keemat kuchh bhi nahi, Insaanon ki keemat jab jhoothe sikkon mein na toli jaayegi and Woh subah hami se aayegi. They give a listener some positive reinforcement and hope in this day/age! Hoping that this is true for more albums to come and humanity as a whole.

My rating for the song: 7/10
Will you likely hit the replay button?: Yes

Final verdict: Begum Jaan is a critic and connoisseur’s delight! Kausar Munir is the star of the show though Anu isn’t far behind. If you are looking for a score with numbers that will play in clubs/discos, have remixed 90’s numbers or a have a Baadshah rap, you might as well give this album a miss…but at the risk of losing out on hearing something really special in this day/age. If you are the type who is willing to listen patiently to a ‘slow’, retro-sounding, semi-classical and traditional-instrument laced score, you will be thrilled! On top of that, it seems to be a perfect narrative to one of the biggest and painful events in Indian history – its partition during independence. ‘Very good score’ I say. Go listen…

Songs to look out for: All the numbers are good

My favourite number: O Re Kaharo

My rating: 7.5/10

[Please vote via the poll. Thanks!]

About Shailendra Singh

A music lover, critic and self-proclaimed aficionado!
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