Tuesday, August 25, 2015

10 Awesome Bollywood Soundtracks

The close relationship between Bollywood and music can be traced back to the genre's earliest days. As the template for this new artform was being developed, filmmakers looked to the established traditions of Indian theatre, as well as the popular Hollywood musicals of the time. But while American audiences turned away from the lavish musical by the end of the 60s, Bollywood audiences couldn't get enough of the song-and-dance driven spectacle. Now many years after Bollywood's Golden Age (roughly the 1940s to 1960s), the musical is thriving and composers and playback singers (actors very rarely sing the songs) have become as popular as the movie stars. Soundtracks are now a key component of film marketing, generating buzz through the release of songs and item numbers (essentially a music video specifically created for marketing purposes). By the time the film is released then, the songs are therefore already dominating the pop charts. It's a method that works and for fans like myself, a good soundtrack can enhance the most mediocre of films.

With that in mind, I decided to highlight some of the best music Bollywood has given us over the years, with my list of 10 Awesome Bollywood Soundtracks:

(composed by Ismail Darbar, Monty Sharma and Birju Maharaj)

When I reviewed "Devdas" a few weeks ago, I described it as "a maximalist's delight", mainly referring to its stunning visuals. But the cinematic power of this lavish romantic epic owes just as much to its extraordinary score. The grand orchestrations are perfectly in tune with the film's extravagance, like the luxurious sounding harmonium of "Maar Dala" and the relentless beat of "Dola Re Dola". Playback singers Kavita Krishnamurthy and Shreya Ghoshal - in her Bollywood debut - also make the lyrics soar with their tremendous voices absolutely slaying those intricate melodies.

Dil Chahta Hai
(composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy)

Though I'm not the biggest fan of the film or its music (a sacrilegious opinion among Bollywood lovers), there's no denying the impact of this soundtrack album. When the musical trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (Shankar Mahadevan, Ehsaan Noorani and Loy Mendonsa) composed the score for "Dil Chahta Hai" back in 2001, it was considered a groundbreaking achievement for film music. While Bollywood music previously relied predominantly on traditional Indian styles, this score incorporated other international influences to create a truly cross-cultural sound. In "Jaane Kyon" for example, you can hear the Australian didgeridoo, while "Woh Ladki Hai Kahan" is backed by a distinct Celtic sound. This radical musical compilation was seen as a risk at the time, but looking back it's safe to say that this album changed the game forever.

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge
(composed by Jatin Lalit)

The late 90s in Hollywood gave us "Titanic" and "My Heart Will Go On", but in Bollywood it was all about "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" and its love theme "Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jana Sanam". Indeed, there are many comparisons to be drawn from the cultural impact of both films and their music. But while "Titanic" goes for tear-jerking sentiment, "Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge" evokes memories of pure joy and happiness. Like the scenes associated with them, songs like "Mere Khwabon Mein", "Zara Sa Jhoom Loon Main" and the aforementioned "Tujhe Dekha Toh Yeh Jana Sanam" make you want to jump up and frolick on rainy lawns, snow-capped Swiss mountains and fields of sunflowers as far as the eye can see.

Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na
(composed by A. R. Rahman)

With a filmography consisting of some of the greatest compositions of all time, A. R. Rahman's soundtrack for "Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na" is perhaps seen as a minor work. Still, it features some of the catchiest songs he ever wrote, in collaboration with songwriter Abbas Tyrewala. In particular, the jovial "Pappu Can't Dance" is one that I can't seem to get out of my head since watching the film some years ago. It seems like this was a common experience too, as the soundtrack was a chart-topping hit and won Rahman his 8th of a record 10 Filmfare awards for Best Music Director.

Jab We Met
(composed by Pritam Chakraborty)

Like "Jaane Tu... Ya Jaane Na", the soundtrack album for "Jab We Met" is filled with memorable songs by composer Pritam Chakraborty and songwriter Irshad Kamil. As befitting a road film, the soundtrack is diverse, capturing the tonal nuances of this endearing romantic comedy. Highlights include "Tum Se Hi" and "Yeh Ishq Haye", but it's the closing song "Mauja Hi Mauja" that really sends you out on a high. My dad once described it as an Indian version of soca (traditional club music of the Southern Caribbean) and considering the film's underlying celebration of fun-loving Punjabi culture, the analogy is certainly apt.

Kal Ho Naa Ho
(composed by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy)

Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy had a major breakout with their "Dil Chahta Hai" soundtrack album but it wasn't until two years later that they really confirmed their genius with "Kal Ho Naa Ho". The trio perfected their Western-influenced formula with an impressive set of dance tracks, including "It's the Time to Disco" and "Pretty Woman". Their greatest accomplishment to date however, is the title track "Kal Ho Naa Ho" which is one of the most beautiful ballads ever written. Just hearing the opening notes of the melody is enough to get me emotional. Appropriately, the soundtrack includes alternate happy and sad versions, mirroring the heightened melodrama of the narrative. Indeed, I can't think of another soundtrack that takes me to such extreme places of ecstacy and inconsolable sadness.

(composed by A. R. Rahman)

While his contemporaries were opting for a more modern urban sound at the turn of the century, A. R. Rehman went appropriately old-school for his 2001 "Lagaan" score. The result was one of, if not the best soundtracks of the decade, employing the use of traditional instruments like the ektara, tabla and dandiya stick. Highlights include the festive "Ghanan Ghanan" and the romantic "O Rey Chhori" but really, there isn't a single dud on this sonic masterpiece. Others would champion his work on "Dil Se" or "Slumdog Millionaire" etc. but for me, this is A. R. Rahman's magnum opus.

Mother India
(composed by Naushad)

I wouldn't exactly describe the music to 1957's "Mother India" as easy listening, but it's one that has a lot of impact when paired with the film's astonishing images. This film is about a mother's perseverance through a life of hardship and sacrifice, and its soundtrack conveys these themes through the powerful lyrics of its songs. Like those of "Duniya Men Hum Aaye Hain", which profess "We are born in this world so we have to live. If our life is poison we have to drink it." And its sung during a scene where the mother pulls a plough through a storm-devastated field, with striking similarities to Christ bearing his cross. With such devastating musical scenes like that, who needs spoken dialogue?

(composed by Shantanu Moitra)

Most romance films in Bollywood aim for an epic feel with their music, but "Parineeta" stands out for its lighter soundtrack. The plot follows the burgeoning love between two childhood friends and Shantanu Moitra's music conveys the sweet innocence this entails. Indeed, songs like "Piyu Bole" and "Soona Mann Ka Aangan" have a beautiful lullaby quality to them. The more ostentatious compositions of other romance epics get most of the love in Bollywood circles, but this refreshingly understated score is just as excellent.

(composed by Madan Mohan)

"Veer-Zaara", a tale of star-crossed love between an Indian and a Pakistani, is easily one of the most romantic films ever made. And much of its disarming beauty comes from its Madan Mohan's soundtrack, which sweeps you along the journey of life with the film's lovers. Songs like "Lodi" convey the cheerful optimism of courtship, while "Tere Liye" captures the tragic sorrow of thwarted love and destiny. This soundtrack will have you smiling and crying in equal measure.


  1. WAIT. The actors don't record their own songs anymore?!? WTF?!?!?!?!?!

    But anyway, LOVE the scores for Devdas and Lagaan (which is completely brilliant), and DIl Chahta Hai is kind of mind-blowing sonically, even if I share your opinion of the film and its music.

    1. Well, it's always been that way re: playback singers, which is understandable given how elaborate the vocals are. I suspect there's a lot of training involved for the women to get those high-pitched voices.

      Devdas and Lagaan are easily my favorite Bollywood soundtracks along with Kal Ho Naa Ho.

  2. Lagaan has a wonderful soundtrack! In terms of an actual song, Chammak Challo from Ra. One is such a guilty pleasure. Great series by the way, more people need to be educated in Bollywood!

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