Qalandar’s Music Review: RAAVAN (Hindi; 2010)
The music of “Raavan” — supposedly a modern day re-telling of The Ramayana — wasn’t what I was expecting. Instead of a self-contained album confining itself to the world of the film like several other collaborations between composer A.R. Rahman and director Mani Rathnam (such as “Alai Payuthey”, “Yuva”, or “Kannathil Muthamittal”), this album hearkens to the music of the greatest Rathnam film of all, “Iruvar”, in its anthologizing of almost an entire film music tradition. But whereas Rehman’s mode in “Iruvar” was history, with each song representing a different Tamil film era (Rehman’s genius ensuring that none of the songs seemed derivative or stale, as merely nostalgic numbers would have), the “Raavan” album cannot imagine such continuity: the Hindi film musical tradition is here, but in shards as it were. The cumulative effect of the album is thus somewhat disorienting, as musical moments from Bollywood’s past — a 1990s song here, a Punjabi beat there, a tapori jig elsewhere, even strains reminiscent of some who have followed in Rahman’s wake, such as Mithoon — occur when least expected. Fitting: for nothing so linear as chronology (even where history is refracted through Rathnam’s eye) makes sense in the realm of myth (and the power of myth), even if, in the case of Rathnam’s Ramayana, by virtue of being a contemporary tale, the myth is itself is heir to several histories…
The first song on the CD, “Beera“, would have been more at home in “Yuva” than at least one song in that Rahman/Rathnam/Abhishek Bachchan film (think of “Kabhi Neem Neem”): the soaring, clean instrumentation, the in-your-face lyrics, the urban vibe (that is to say, not music targeted at the self-consciously urbane, but music that takes its bustle and restlessness from cities) that was practically invented in Hindi and Tamil cinema by Rahman — “Beera” shows that six years on, the Master still has it, and he doesn’t need to repeat himself to show it. Gulzar’s lyrics owe more than a few debts to his earlier work on the title song of “Omkara”, but musically the two are as different as can be; and if the lyrics of “Beera” are nowhere near the equals of those in the earlier song in terms of epic grandeur and the sort of myth-making this sort of “hero” song cries out for (although Gulzar shrewdly uses the word “Beera” (“brave”; or “warrior”) as a refrain for entire lines of song, almost seeking to obviate the need for any other poetry), musically the solid and assured “Omkara” cannot match “Beera” in fleetness of foot or deft touch. And if this emphasis on charm seems a bit incongruous in a film named after Hinduism’s most famous villain (or, from the perspective of Dravidian nationalists, its most vilified hero), perhaps it tells us something about the film: virtually all of the album’s quintessential “hero” songs are lighter, more upbeat, than its dark, fretful love songs. A quibble: at just a shade over three minutes, I wish it were longer — Keerthi Prakash, Vijay Prakash, Mustafa, and Rahman’s vocals didn’t begin to satisfy me, giving this song the air of a tease.
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