Once again, Arijit Singh stood tall as the best playback singer
For Hindi film music, 2018 was a much better year than 2017, even though we got no albums from Pritam or Vishal-Shekhar and the only Vishal Bhardwaj-Gulzar collaboration was a sorry dud. Amit Trivedi dropped nine soundtracks this year, and that sentence does not have the ring to it as it did five years ago. Once again, Arijit Singh stood tall as the best playback singer. He either sang most of this year’s hits or the best compositions in each soundtrack.
We got decent songs from films that weren’t song-driven, which shows that filmmakers still actively look for solid tunes in the era of the remix. Unsurprisingly, films with a strong romantic core had the best soundtracks: “Laila Majnu” (Niladri Kumar, Joi Barua, Alif) and “Manmarziyaan” (Amit Trivedi). The multi-composer soundtrack for “Jalebi” had some lovely, if old-fashioned, music.
Among the more experienced composers, only Trivedi and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy had soundtracks this year. While Trivedi had “Manmarziyaan,” none of Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s three soundtracks did justice to their talent, although “Raazi” had a couple of good songs.
This year also saw old hands Shantanu Moitra and Sandesh Shandilya creating some nice music for “October” and Daas Dev respectively. Sachin-Jigar had three soundtracks, which produced its fair share of hits, but nothing could hold a candle to their work in the films “Shor in the City” (2011) and “Badlapur” (2015). Meanwhile, Marathi stalwarts Ajay-Atul rose to the occasion and delivered some fine tunes, three of which have made it to our year-end list.
Binte Dil, Padmaavat
One of the strongest candidates for the song of the year came in January. The Sanjay Leela Bhansali composition reiterated that Singh is the undisputed king of playback singing in Hindi films. “Binte Dil” is a melodramatic masterpiece. The tune is extremely catchy, and the Middle Eastern vibe is not too far removed from an accessible Bollywood sound. AM Turaz’s lyrics bolster the passionate plea for romance Malik Kafur (Jim Sarbh) makes to his master Alauddin Khilji (Ranveer Singh) in a highly sensual sequence.
Aa Jao Na, Veere Di Wedding
Who is Shashwat Sachdev? Only the young composer who impressed with his fine debut soundtrack for “Phillauri” in 2017. This year, Sachdev composed four songs for “Veere Di Wedding.” The best tune in the 10-track album was Sachdev’s “Aao Jao Na” which, unsurprisingly, went to Arijit Singh. With lyrics by Raj Shekhar, “Aao Jao Na” is a simple song that asks for togetherness amidst momentary turmoil. Instead of creating a sentimental ballad, Sachdev creates an electronic song with a contemporary but subtle arrangement. With the score of Netflix series “Selection Day” under his belt, Sachdev enters 2019 with the soundtrack of “Uri,” which has already produced a pumped-up bhangra rock track.
Raazi title track
Audiences loved “Raazi” and its most beloved songs became the patriotic “Ae Watan” and the sweet “Dilbaro.” It is the six-and-a-half-minute title track, though, that towers over everything else. Arijit Singh brings back the mountain wolf in his voice from “Binte Dil” in the opening passages. Gulzar’s lyrics describe the apprehensions as well as the determination of Sehmat (Alia Bhatt), the young college-goer who steps into the dangerous world of espionage overnight. The words, the tune, the vocals, and how the song is cut up and used by director Meghna Gulzar, come together as a fine example of economical storytelling through songs in films.
Kar Har Maidaan Fateh, Sanju
We got a soundtrack with two guest tracks by AR Rahman (let that sink in, in case this is news), and the best song is by a newcomer. Vikram Montrose had composed for just one film before the release of Rajkumar Hirani’s “Sanju.” His “Kar Har Maidaan Fateh” is a by-the-numbers motivational song sung by Shreya Ghoshal and Bollywood music’s go-to booster shot, Sukhwinder Singh. Where the track wins is its extremely catchy hookline and its conventional yet perfectly adequate arrangement as a pop rock song.
Dhadak title track
Good for this thoughtless remake that its makers retained the original’s composers, Ajay-Atul. The superb title track adds some heft to the on-screen romance between two cookie-cutter leads trying to recreate the fiery chemistry between Rinku Rajguru and Akash Thosar from the Marathi original, “Sairat.” Ajay-Atul’s work in Nagraj Manjule’s film became so iconic that two key compositions were featured with Hindi lyrics. Among the new songs, the title track has a beautiful sweeping melody that comes with characteristically lush orchestration. This is possibly the one (and only) good thing that came out of “Dhadak.”
Amit Trivedi’s dull work stretched over nine Hindi films in 2018, but his spectacular “Manmarziyaan” soundtrack kept his reputation unsullied. This album was chock-a-block with superb songs, and even its ordinary tunes were better than other entries in our list. The best one was “Hallaa,” which showed that heartbreak could sound like pulsating war drums rather than a wailing shehnai. “Hallaa” is electronic. “Hallaa” is sufi. “Hallaa” defies definition. With lines such as “Ishq’e lafz da ei tutt ke gireya” (a syllable broke off from the word love), lyricist Shellee goes into interesting directions to describe the loss of love. The album did have other great songs, such as the anguish-filled “Daryaa” and the sublime “Grey Walaa Shade,” but it was “Hallaa” that was the most successfully sonic experiment.
Chaav Laga, Sui Dhaaga
Joining Shellee to write about love in all its shades of grey was Varun Grover. In “Chaav Laga,” Grover calls the feeling of new love a curse and then a wound. Sweet melodies come naturally to Anu Malik, and with his “Dum Laga Ke Haisha” (2015) collaborators, director Sharat Katariya, Grover, and “Moh Moh Ke Dhaage” singer Papon, he once again creates a song that is as comforting as the warm winter sun. Papon aces the gentle tune and is suitably supported by Ronkini Gupta, who won hearts with “Rafu” (“Tumhari Sulu”) in 2017. Grover’s lyrics, however, give the song its strength, especially when he writes about the heady first days of a romance: “Reh jaaye chal yahin / ghar hum tum naa lautein / dhoondhein koi na aaj re.” And his unique imagery to describe it: “Preet ki chaadar choti maili, humne usmein pair pasaare.” If this has started to remind you of Gulzar, well, Vishal Bhardwaj has worked with Grover for the music of Abhishek Chaubey’s “Sonchiriya,” which is due for release in 2019.
Bol Ke Lab Azad Hain, Manto
When Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s nazm “Bol Ke Lab Azad Hain Tere” comes alive on screen at the end of “Manto,” you know that the film was building up to this moment. The poem aptly sums up the life and legacy of the film’s central character, writer Sadat Hasan Manto, whose acidic prose, sharp social observations, uncompromising political temperament and stubborn genius took him to his grave. Sneha Khanwalkar’s composition makes this a good song, but what makes it great is the arrangement, particularly of the strings section, and the layers of sounds in the mixing that demand repeat listening.
Mere Naam Tu, Zero
Three Ajay-Atul songs make it to the list even though the composers did not deliver a top soundtrack. Ajay-Atul’s musical sensibility when it comes to slow-paced romantic or pensive songs is distinctive as well as fresh, as can be seen in “Sairat,” “Dhadak” or the 2012 “Agneepath” remake (“Abhi Mujh Mein Kahin”). “Mera Naam Tu,” written by Irshad Kamil and sung by Abhay Jodhpurkar, is the kind of Shah Rukh Khan-romantic-movie-standard we once used to get by the dozen from composers like Jatin-Lalit. “Mera Naam Tu” is also a typically panoramic Ajay-Atul romantic song whose hookline has burrowed itself deep into the ear since it was first released.
This article was first published on scroll.in and is being republished under special arrangement
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